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2016 Florida Obamacare rates could have been higher, but state helped negotiate lower rates

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Premiums for most health insurance policies sold on the federal exchange are increasing for Floridians this year, but state regulators used new authority to negotiate lower rates so the hikes aren't as big as they could have been, according to filings released Wednesday by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Aetna requested a 21 percent increase for plans sold in 2016, but the agency only approved 14 percent. Coventry requested a 16 percent hike and was approved for 8 percent.

Plans from UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, and Humana had the biggest increase at 16 percent, followed by Aetna and Preferred Medical Plan at 14 percent. Seven plans requested increases, while Florida Health Care Plan requested a 9.7 rate decrease. Three other insurers are also looking to lower their rates, according to state insurance officials.

Florida Blue, the state's largest insurer, requested a 4 percent hike but was approved for 9. The federal government must still sign off on the rates.

This is the first year the state had the power to negotiate with health plans over Affordable Care Act rates since the federal exchange launched two years ago. Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature, both largely opposed to the law, banned state insurance regulators from negotiating rates for the first two years, arguing they had no expertise with the law.

The Obama administration recently encouraged state insurance officials to use their power to make premiums affordable during rate negotiations, noting that more recent enrollees are healthier, meaning they won't cost as much to cover. A larger than expected number of sick enrollees gravitated to the exchange the first year, which insurers blamed for their 2015 rate increases.

"We are pleased that Florida was able to review rates and to significantly reduce proposed rates for more than half of the issuers in the state. Floridians will continue to have access to quality, affordable health coverage," said Ben Wakana, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Florida's increases aren't staggering, as health insurance rates rose as much as 20 or 30 percent before the exchange launched. If premiums increase, that also means the tax credits that consumers get will increase proportionately. Premiums and subsidies vary widely by factors including age, income, gender and zip code.

Despite opposition from Scott and fellow lawmakers, the Sunshine State led the country in Affordable Care Act enrollment, with more than 1.4 million signing up for insurance plans on the federal exchange. About 94 percent received a tax credit averaging about $294 per month, according to federal health officials.

Experts say consumers can save money by comparing different plans, instead of automatically enrolling in the same plan. More than half of the 4.17 million consumers in the U.S. who re-enrolled in coverage during 2015 came back and actively selected a plan, and more than half of those consumers selected a new plan, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Enrollment begins Nov. 1 and ends Jan 31.

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