Health insurance commissioner OKs 2015 premiums

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's health insurance commissioner announced premium rates for 2015 that include single-digit increases for most insurers and a decrease for one.

Commissioner Kathleen Hittner announced the rates Thursday. Some carriers had sought larger increases.

The individual plan rate for Blue Cross & Blue Shield, the state's dominant insurer, will increase 4.5 percent. The rate will be 7 percent less for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, which is in its first year in the individual market. UnitedHealthcare will offer individual plans in the state for the first time in 2015.

Base rates for individual plans will range from $289 to $328; they'll range from $315 to $389 for small-employer plans.

The base rate is the monthly average for a standard plan for a 21-year-old, so what people actually pay is likely to be different. Rates depend on age and the benefits selected.

In the large group market, the average increase for Blue Cross is 8.4 percent; the carrier had sought a 9.8 percent increase. Hittner approved an 11 percent increase for United, which had asked for a hike of nearly 18 percent.

The commissioner approved a 5 percent increase for Tufts, which is what the insurer sought.

The increases were attributed mainly to the rising cost of medical care.

Hittner noted there will be increased competition and more plan choice next year in the individual market, in part because of the efforts of the state-run health benefits marketplace, HealthSource RI. The marketplaces are a centerpiece of the Obama administration's health care overhaul.

HealthSource RI's long-term future is an unsettled question, as some in the General Assembly argue Rhode Island can't afford to operate it. The marketplace will continue to be funded with all federal dollars through the end of the current fiscal year next summer. Costs estimates for future years have ranged from $17 million to nearly $24 million a year.

HealthSource Director Christine Ferguson, who has worked closely with Hittner on the rate process, said Thursday the marketplace is working to finalize the plans that will be offered next year.

Ferguson said her aim has been to add at least one new carrier and offer one "innovative plan" where rates didn't go up. "We've far exceeded those goals," she said.

United will offer individual plans on the exchange for the first time. Tufts had been expected to join in 2015, but will not.

"I think there's no question that the existence of the exchange and the information and options that we've presented to small businesses and individuals have sped up the move toward innovation, competition and (affordable) price," Ferguson added.

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