Highmark president says premium rates for 2015 are competitive

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the first month of 2015, more than 31,100 people have individual health insurance plans from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield that was obtained through West Virginia’s federal exchange or directly from the company, as required by the Affordable Care Act.

During the second year of exchange enrollment, Fred Earley, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia, reported the process went much smoother than the bungled launch at the close of 2013.

“The functionality, the operability was much, much better. We’ve seen very heavy usage, particularly when it got up close to the cut-off periods, as you would guess,” Earley said of traffic at www.healthcare.gov.

For coverage to begin on Jan. 1, enrollments had to be completed by Dec. 15. The numbers from Highmark reflected enrollments up until Dec. 31.

It was not immediately clear exactly how many of those enrolled were new health insurance enrollees.

Those who have that coverage, though, are paying higher premiums — estimated at less than ten percent higher than 2014 rates, according to Earley.

“It was not one that we felt was clearly unwarranted,” he said in defense of the rate hike.  “It did fit the market.”

While marketplaces in other states include competition, Earley’s company is still the only company offering healthcare plans on West Virginia’s exchange, the marketplace for people who don’t have other insurance options like employer-sponsored programs or who are not eligible for Medicaid.

Kentucky Health Cooperative delayed entering West Virginia’s health insurance marketplace until later this year after initially planning to begin offering health insurance plans in the Mountain State last November alongside Highmark.

“When we set the rates, we did so with an eye toward having competition in the market,” Earley said of the rates that were filed last spring. “I would put forth the position that they are competitive rates because that’s how they were modeled.”

Earley was a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The deadline for enrollment for health insurance without penalty is Feb. 15.

For 2015, the penalty for not having health insurance after that date has grown to 2 percent of yearly household income with the maximum being the national average premium for a bronze plan in the healthcare exchange or $325 per person for the year, $162.50 per child under the age of 18, up to a $975 maximum per family.

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