Consumers in five Kansas City area counties will be able to stick with Cigna for their Affordable Care Act insurance, but only if they’re willing to accept big premium increases.
The Connecticut-based insurer had been keeping its intentions for 2018 close to the vest even as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City announced in May that it was pulling out of Obamacare and St. Louis-based Centene announced in June it was getting in.
Cigna’s decision became public Friday. The Missouri Insurance Department released 2018 rate requests that show the company plans to continue selling individual health insurance on the Obamacare exchange, but wants average premium increases of about 42 percent to do so.
Cigna spokesman Mark Slitt said via email that the rate requests are “based on our customers’ historical claims experience, expected medical costs trends, product changes, overall market performance, along with the evolving rules, regulations and design of the marketplace.”
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“The long-term success of the individual health insurance market starts with rational, competitive pricing, as reflected in our recent filing,” Slitt said. “We look forward to continuing to work constructively with regulators to deliver a healthy and sustainable individual health plan marketplace that benefits the health, well-being and sense of security of their citizens.”
Slitt said Cigna’s participation in the individual market still depends on insurance regulators finalizing rate requests, which usually happens at the end of September.
The minimum increase Cigna is requesting for its individual plans is about 17 percent. The maximum is about 73 percent, with average monthly premiums rising to $476.44. Centene is entering the Missouri market under the name of a subsidiary, Celtic Insurance Company, that has set average monthly premiums of $354.48. Those monthly averages are base rates that can changes based on geographic residence, age, family size and tobacco use.
Celtic and Cigna will sell in Jackson, Clay, Platte, Ray and Cass Counties. According to federal data, 44,129 people from those counties purchased an Obamacare plan last year.
Jackson County resident Pat Martin is one of them. Martin said she has been purchasing insurance through the exchange for several years after she had to go part-time at her job so she could take care of her elderly mother.
Martin, who has Cigna, said before Obamacare she couldn’t find a plan on the individual market.
“Now my huge complaint is the plans they sell are horrible,” Martin said. “Nobody takes them.”
In addition to a narrow provider network, Martin said her Cigna plan has a $6,000 annual deductible.
The Kansas Insurance Department released less detailed data on its 2018 rate filings Thursday. On the Kansas side, the average premium changes requested ranged from a decrease of about 9 percent to an increase of about 29 percent. But those were for all individual and small group insurance companies, on and off the exchange.
Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a Republican who is running for governor, called the 29 percent figure “another rung on the Obamacare ladder of failure” to add the Blue KC’s exit.
“This cost increase will force Kansans to cut their family budgets to obtain needed healthcare services,” said Colyer.
He urged Congress to repeal Obamacare. Republican efforts to do so stalled after a failed vote in July.
Centene and Minnesota-based Medica are selling plans on the Kansas side of the metro area, with Centene going by the name Sunflower State Health Plan.
There were 32,921 residents of Johnson County and Wyandotte County who bought Obamacare plans last year.
Julie Holmes, the director of the health and life insurance divisions for the Kansas Insurance Department, said their premiums will vary and most consumers who buy on the exchange will be insulated from increases by federal subsidies based on their incomes.
But consumers like Overland Park insurance broker Mike Breitenbach who make too much to qualify for the subsidies will feel them.
Breitenbach is 61 and his wife is 59. He said their premiums have almost doubled since they started buying on the Obamacare exchange, and they’ve got a higher deductible too.
“I’ve got a lot of people in the city that are the same way,” Breitenbach said. “People making that $75,000 to $100,000 range are just not buying insurance now. They can’t afford it.”
Holmes said the individual market rates only affect a small number of consumers who don’t get their health insurance from an employer or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid.
But those that do buy on the individual market will need to be aware that President Donald Trump’s administration has shortened the open enrollment period to Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
“The hope is people are aware of that and don’t think they can wait until January like they have in the past,” Holmes said.