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Pa. announces stable rates, more choices on ACA plans

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The Pennsylvania Insurance Department said it has approved 2019 individual and small group health insurance rates under the Affordable Care Act that include relatively stable premiums and more choices in some counties.

The final approved rates for the individual market will result in an aggregate statewide decrease of 2.3 percent, while the small group market final rates will result in an aggregate statewide increase of 2.6 percent, according to a news release.

The health insurers that currently sell in Pennsylvania’s individual market will stay in the market and a new carrier has entered.

Residents in 30 of 67 counties, including several in the Greater Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania, will see more health insurance companies offering coverage in the individual market next year, the state said. One additional health insurance company has entered the market.

Four of the five insurers already in the market expanded their coverage compared to last year.

“I’m pleased that the rates and increased choices will provide consumers with more options for insurance coverage next year, and subsequently provide consumers with the opportunity to shop for the best options that fit their needs,” Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said in a statement.

Kyle McLemore, vice president of sales and operations at The Equinox Agency in Emmaus, said the announcement was good news for small businesses.

“It’s a big improvement over past few years where we were used to double-digit increases,” McLemore said.

“Nobody wants rates to go up, but I think everyone would take a 2 percent increase over a 20 percent increase. We had many businesses three or four years ago that even had 100 percent increases,” he said.

McLemore said small businesses also have more options under the ACA this year that have made the market “extremely competitive. We are seeing costs go down a lot for businesses with as few as five employees, which is much-needed relief.”

Carl Seitz, president of the Lehigh Valley Business Coalition on Healthcare, a Bethlehem-based nonprofit membership organization that pools insurance plans for mostly large self-insured companies, said the new rates will likely not help small companies that are not eligible for subsidies.

Seitz said the LVBCH has been trying to get better rates than the ACA for smaller employers through association health plans, but those plans have been held up by lawsuits challenging the federal government’s decision to expand them.

Gov. Tom Wolf said the new rates “reflect my administration’s efforts to stabilize the health insurance market and afford Pennsylvania consumers the access to health care they deserve.

“Despite the Trump administration’s numerous efforts to undermine the ACA and discourage consumers from signing up, including cutting the open enrollment period in half, decimating funding for marketing the ACA to the public and funding for navigators, the Insurance Department has brought consumers choice and is working tirelessly to achieve affordability,” Wolf said.

The uninsured rate in Pennsylvania is at an all-time low of 5.5 percent.

More than 1 million Pennsylvanians have health insurance through the ACA and Medicaid.

Open enrollment for 2019 ACA health insurance runs Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Plans can be purchased at www.healthcare.gov. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has created a resource page at www.insurance.pa.gov.

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