AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s leading insurance regulator has asked Maine providers of Affordable Care Act plans to lower the double-digit average increases on health insurance premiums they requested this year.
Maine Bureau of Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa said Thursday he would approve revised increases that average between 17.5 percent and 27.1 percent for Maine Community Health Options, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Republican President Donald Trump’s administration also announced that insurers have more time — until Sept. 5 — to send final versions of rate requests to federal regulators.
In his decisions, Cioppa said that easing the burden on consumers is one of his “highest priorities” amid rising health care costs and uncertainty in Washington D.C. about the future of former Democratic President Barack Obama’s health care law. Cioppa said that while he found some hikes “excessive,” he “must nevertheless reluctantly approve another double-digit increase next year for Maine consumers.”
About 91,000 Maine residents purchase health coverage on the individual marketplace. Premium hikes would hit those who don’t qualify for subsidies, such as small business owners.
The insurance companies say that the hikes are needed because of uncertainty about the fate of federal subsidies for low-income individuals and the individual mandate under Obama’s health care law. The companies also point to analysis that shows its Maine policyholders are getting sicker and more expensive to cover.
“Neither one of those are things that are caused by consumers,” said Steve Butterfield, policy director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “It’s really unfortunate that consumers who will be impacted by insurance premium increases are paying for factors that are beyond their control.”
Republicans in Congress have been unable to deliver on a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. An analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Trump’s mixed signals on the issue have created significant uncertainty and led insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than they would have otherwise.
Low-income individuals who receive tax credits to lower monthly premiums are shielded from such hikes.
But retired Scarborough resident Gregory Levesque said he worries such assistance could be halted or changed. Trump has warned that he would halt the flow of billions in payments to subsidize copayments and deductibles for low-income individuals.
Levesque, a 60-year-old retired New Hampshire state employee who describes himself as healthy, said that his annual income is $12,000 a year and that he pays $111 a month for health insurance after his subsidy. “To be able to afford $700 or $800 would be impossible,” Levesque said. “And that’s what’s going to put people on the street and make more homeless people.”
Cioppa said he would approve revised increases of 27.1 percent for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, 17.5 percent for Maine Community Health Options and 18.8 percent for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The Attorney General’s office had said Anthem failed to justify that its proposed hikes weren’t excessive and asked state regulators to reject them.
The Maine insurers also submitted higher, alternative rate proposals that would go into effect if federal subsidies are eliminated.