Verma Touts 1.5% Drop in Benchmark Premiums for 2019

Health insurance premiums in 39 states- including Connecticut- will drop in 2019 some by double digits according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Azar heaped praise on Trump for the good news, but critics noted that rates are flattening out for 2019 after a significant jump for 2018 in response to the Trump administration's healthcare policymaking.

The average premium for the benchmark silver plan will decline by 1.5%, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Thursday.

Senate Democrats on October 10 tried to invalidate the rule expanding these short-term plans, which are meant to cover people facing a gap in insurance coverage, arguing that while they may have lower premiums, they can quickly become more expensive if someone has a serious health episode.

"Many insurers may feel like they've weathered the storm a little bit", said Sabrina Corlette, research professor at Georgetown University.

Another reason rates are dipping is that some states set up programs to subsidize high-cost enrollees. Those so-called reinsurance programs lower premiums by providing government funds to insurers to help cover the sickest enrollees.

For now, it's unclear whether the shift in Obamacare's fortunes will have a huge impact on enrollment, though Ms. Verma said the benchmark decrease "might attract more people to the exchanges".

"The prediction was that the offering of short-term plans would have negative impact on the market and increase premiums, but we're not seeing the impact on the market", Verma said.

Verma dismissed the idea that President Donald Trump's cut-off previous year of the cost-sharing reduction payments hurt the market, although the action was followed by a almost 40% jump in average premiums as insurers added the cost to benchmark silver plans in a move known as "silver loading". "After all allegations thrown at CMS time and time again", she said, "we have been working tirelessly to fulfill promises we made to stabilize the market, give Americans more choices, and make progress stabilizing premiums". Even with this reduction, average rates are still too high. The administration also expanding short-term health plans for all Americans next year and making changes to association health plans that make it easier for people to band together and buy plans.

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Verma added that the lower premiums were "by no means a celebration". But the loss of the "cost-sharing reduction subsidies" led to larger premium subsidies for most consumers - and unexpected profits for some insurers. Because the subsidies are tied to premium costs, people who do get subsidies may get less financial help and may want to look for cheaper plans to make the most of their subsidy. Maine's average premiums will decline from $482 in 2018 to $446 in 2019, still more than $100 per month higher than the $316 in 2017.

From 2017 to 2018, the bench mark rose 37 percent, officials said, and in the prior year it rose 25 percent.

This is a national average, and some states are projected to still see their premiums increase. North Dakota and DE are expected to see 20.2 percent and 16.1 percent increases respectively on the second-lowest silver plan, the highest of all the states, according to CMS data.

Critics argue that premiums are going down because insurers are just starting to recover from having federal funding pulled from their budgets a year ago. The number of counties with only one QHP for consumers has decreased from 56 percent of counties in 2018 to 39 counties in 2019.

About 8.7 million people signed up last fall for insurance using HealthCare.gov, the website for the federal marketplace.

Centene, the rare insurer that has remained bullish on the individual marketplace throughout the turmoil over the years, announced Wednesday that it is entering Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

It also comes during a bitter midterm congressional campaign season in which health care is a central issue following last year's efforts by Republicans to repeal the ACA.

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