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Maine regulators finalize reduced 2020 Affordable Care
Act insurance rates

Health

Main insurers lowered Affordable Care Act average rates for 2020. The Maine Bureau of Insurance submitted them to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Two of the Main’s three ACA marketplace insurance providers will lower their rates while the others will increase it by 1 percent.

This is a rare move and good news that will impact the community in a positive way. The prestigious insurance providers will lower their rates for individual insurance plans in 2020 yet the rest of the insurers will increase them by 1 percent, based on the bureau statistics. State officials say the Legislature recently passed a measure that will make insurance even more affordable in the years to come.

Homeowners insurance has also become unavailable throughout the counties most affected by the wildfires. Back in 2015 to 2018, the amount of new and renewed policies for homeowners dropped to 8,700 in the top 10 counties with homes in high risk areas. These counties also experienced a large increase in new FAIR Plan policies during the same time period with a 177 percent growth when compared with the 4 percent increase in counties with the lowest risk. The Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan is a mandatory program that provides insurance to homeowners that couldn’t find coverage for being categorized as high risk by insurers.

Republicans have filed several lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act in the past, and continue their efforts to repeal the ACA, better known as Obama Care. The percentage of Americans without health insurance went from 16 percent in 2010 before ACA to less than 9 percent in 2018. The system can be improved rather than eradicated. Meanwhile, health care costs across the country keep increasing, leaving people impoverished and with limited options.

The main insurers that lowered their average rates are Community Health Options, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine. They say the market has stabilized since June when their rates were filed. They submitted their lower and revised rates for individual plans in July. Lewiston-based Community Health, for example, went from 7.7 percent increase to a 0.8 percent increase. Massachusetts-based Harvard Pilgrim went from 1.9 percent increase to a 7 percent decrease. South Portland-based Anthem went from a 1 percent increase to a 2 percent increase. Overall, the insurers’ annual rates have gone up to 40 percent over the past years.

The rates for small group insurance plans for business, on the other hand, have remained much higher increasing up to 19 percent. ACA advocates in Maine stress the importance of joining forces and keep working towards stabilizing the ACA small group insurance market as well.

Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services says the Gov. Janet Mills’ administration is trying to find better ways to make private health insurance cost-effective through a federal government waiver. This waiver will help improve federal laws applicable to private health insurance, and comprising federal tax credits, as long as insurance becomes more affordable, all-inclusive, covering more people and not raising federal costs when linked to current law, says Farwell.

Maine’s current waiver allows the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association, which reimburses health insurers to receive about $62 million in federal funding and lowered consumer premiums. While the current waiver will remain, the terminology may change resulting in more flexibility.

According to the Bureau of Insurance, one of the reasons why some insurers lowered their rates is that they had no time to review another period at the beginning of this year that comprised time under the reinsurance program. The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine states the main goal is for consumers to have access to affordable individual healthcare plans. They revised their initial filing and will continue to work along with the state to keep the regulatory process.

Approximately 71,000 Mainers have already enrolled in ACA this year, which is lower than the 84,000 that enrolled back in 2016. Unfortunately, enrollment has declined over the past years and the ACA keeps is still challenged in court. More outreach efforts are needed to urge people to enroll.

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