The headlines were all too predictable when Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced in June that it would request an average 12.5 percent premium increase for its Connecticut market. “Now EVEN MORE States Report Double-Digit Premium Hikes,” the conservative Daily Caller trumpeted.
But that wasn’t the whole story. It never is with Obamacare premium news, though that hasn’t stopped news outlets from blaring headlines like that one from the Daily Caller whenever an insurance company announces its proposed rates for next year. Skyrocketing premiums are one of the last anti-Obamacare talking points that conservatives have to hold onto.
But then on Monday, the conclusion of the Connecticut story came. State insurance regulators had rejected Anthem’s proposed 12.5 percent premium hike. So after some revisions, the company would instead lower its premiums ever so slightly on average — 0.1 percent — in 2015, the Connecticut Mirror reported.
That’s right. Obamacare premiums in Connecticut are going down, not up. That news doesn’t appear to have earned any attention yet from the Daily Caller. We’ll keep an eye out.
Connecticut is yet another reminder that the news on Obamacare premiums is more complicated than some of the media coverage would have you believe. Not only are consumers mostly protected from any actual rate increases by federal subsidies, but the proposed rate increases are routinely subject to approval from state insurance regulators.
“Premium increases for exchange plans have been modest in most places, based on public reports so far,” Larry Levitt, vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told TPM in an email. “But even the increases we’ve heard about generally represent proposed rates that may not be the last word once state regulators finalize their reviews.”
About half of state insurance regulators have historically had the authority to reject some types of premium increases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. On top of that historic authority, Obamacare gives state and federal regulators the ability to demand a justification from an insurer for any proposed rate increase greater than 10 percent.
Those levers ultimately drove down the proposed increase in Connecticut and should warn against taking initial 2015 filings at face value. They are newsworthy because they presumably reflect insurers’ experiences with the law in its first year. But they aren’t the last word on what will actually happen to the prices being paid by consumers.