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Montana Health Insurers Ask for 20 - 62 Percent Price Increases website website

The three health insurance companies that sell individual policies in Montana say they need to increase their prices significantly next year.They're asking Montana's Health Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen to approve average premium increases for individual health plans that range from 20 to 62 percent. In the small group market, the insurers are proposing premium increases of three percent to 32 percent. 

Lindeen has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed price increases for July 26 in Helena, and is taking public comment on them through August 5. 

The company asking for the largest average price increase, at just over 62 percent, covers the most Montanans in the individual market. That's Blue Cross-Blue Shield. PacificSource and Montana Health Co-op are asking for 20 and 22 percent average price increases in the individual market, respectively. 

All three companies say that they need to charge more because of higher prices being charged by health care providers, and for prescription drugs. They say that last year they all lost money because they paid out more for health care than they took in in premiums. 

Commissioner Lindeen says that most Montanans who buy individual policies won't actually have to pay the steep price increases. That's because most of them qualify for federal tax credits that reduce their health insurance bills. 

The day after the proposed prices were announced, the Obama administration issued this press release, saying, "A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services demonstrates that proposed premium changes from preliminary rate filings do not capture what Marketplace consumers actually pay. In [2016 in] Montana the average Marketplace premium among people with tax credits decreased by $1, from $116 to $115 per month, despite headlines suggesting double digit increases."

Lindeen has the power to review proposed premium increases in the individual and small group markets, but can't deny them. The commissioner's biggest stick is issuing a finding that says the rate increases are not justified. 

Montana's Republican Party was quick to jump on the proposed price increases as an argument to vote against Lindeen, who is running for Secretary of State, and her deputy commissioner Jesse Laslovich, who is running to replace her. The Republicans are running Corey Stapleton for Secretary of State and Matt Rosendale for Insurance Commissioner. 

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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