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Open enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans starts Tuesday

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: October 30, 2016
  • Published October 30, 2016

The federal health insurance marketplace opens again on Tuesday and Alaskans can expect to see fewer health plans and higher premiums — though the average price jump is smaller than in the past.

Premera Blue Cross is the only health insurance provider left offering plans in Alaska's individual insurance market for 2017 after the departure of financially ailing Moda Health. The elimination of one company means Alaskans will have five health plans to choose from for 2017 instead of this year's 15. Alaskans can expect rate hikes from 7 to 40 percent, according to Premera.

Those who had a Premera policy in 2016 will see the smallest of those increases after two years of nearly 40 percent hikes.

But Alaskans who must move from Moda Health to Premera in 2017 will see two-digit rate increases from what they had been paying — anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent, depending on their level of coverage, said Melanie Coon, Premera spokeswoman.

"This is based on the rates that we know Moda filed for its 2016 plans," Coon said in an email Friday. "Those plans were less expensive than ours, but contained the same levels of coverage."

Lori Wing-Heier, director of Alaska's Division of Insurance, said Friday that she was hopeful roughly 10,000 Alaskans would move to Premera plans in 2017, with their Moda plans gone from the marketplace. Premera currently has about 7,000 customers on Affordable Care Act plans, Coon said.

Alaska isn't the only state with only one insurer left in the marketplace or experiencing rate increases. The New York Times reported that one in five people who use the federal health-insurance online marketplace, HealthCare.gov, to enroll in 2017 plans will find only a single insurer.

Across the states using the federal marketplace, premiums for mid-level health plans are expected to increase by an average 25 percent next year, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The department reported that in 2017, a 27-year-old Alaskan would pay $760 a month for a benchmark plan and a family of four would pay $2,750 a month — the highest premiums of any state participating in the marketplace. The national average is $302 and $1,090, respectively, according to the department.

But Alaska also has a high percentage of people who can receive federal subsidies in 2017 because of their incomes, decreasing the amount they must pay, the department said. For instance, a 27-year-old who earned $25,000 would pay $103 per month after a subsidy, instead of $760.

The department reported that 82 percent of current marketplace consumers in Alaska could obtain coverage for $100 or less a month after subsidies in 2017.

Wing-Heier said she's hopeful that insurance rates will begin to stabilize in Alaska and that Premera is here to stay, though it's difficult to predict the future given the current presidential race, she said. One candidate, Hillary Clinton, wants to make changes to the Affordable Care Act and another, Donald Trump, wants to repeal it.

"Two weeks from now we'll know what D.C. is going to look like," Wing-Heier said. "Since this is a federal act that we're responding to, how it looks a year from now or two years from now will be largely dependent on what happens in D.C."

Open enrollment on the federal marketplace runs from Tuesday to Jan. 31. Alaskans can view the plans available by going to HealthCare.gov. Wing-Heier suggested that Alaskans start looking at plans early.

"I would advise them to shop early and spend some time on the website," Wing-Heier said. "Don't hesitate to contact resources."

There are several places in Alaska helping people enroll in coverage through HealthCare.gov including:

• The private Enroll Alaska: enrollingalaska.com, 907-770-5100
• The nonprofit United Way of Anchorage: liveunitedanc.org, toll-free at 1-800-478-2221
• The nonprofit Alaska Primary Care Association: alaskapca.org, toll-free at 1-844-752-6725

Alaska Dispatch News report Laurel Andrews contributed to this report.

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