Three of Minnesota's primary health insurers in the individual market are seeking relatively modest rate increases for 2020, while a fourth carrier is seeking an average rate decrease.
The proposed rates released by the state Commerce Department on Tuesday apply to the state's individual market, where about 141,000 people were buying coverage last year. It is a market that has been highly volatile over the past five years with changes driven by the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), but the numbers released Tuesday are yet another sign of relative stability.
Commerce also released proposed rates in the state's health insurance market for small employers. Those rates are poised to increase at a slightly higher rate, although average increases would still measure in the single digits.
"The actual rate change a consumer will experience in 2020 can vary from the average — with factors such as specific plan, geographic rating area and age playing a major role," Commerce said in a statement about the individual market numbers. "The rate changes do not reflect the impact of federal premium tax credits for eligible Minnesotans who purchase their coverage through MNsure."
MNsure is the government-run health exchange where people can purchase individual market coverage. The policies are an important source of coverage for people under age 65 who are self-employed or don't receive health insurance from their employers.
Commerce said Tuesday that individual-market carriers are seeking average rate changes as follows:
Blue Cross HMO: up 4.8%
HealthPartners: up 2.1%
Medica: down 1.4%
UCare: up 0.3%
Starting in 2014, the ACA stopped health insurers from denying coverage to individuals based on pre-existing health conditions. The law also mandated certain benefits and made available tax credits for people based on income.
As the changes kicked in, health insurers initially set premiums in the market that were too low for the medical bills generated by subscribers. Carriers imposed big premium increases for several years as a result, and limited the networks of doctors and hospitals in health plans to control costs.
Over the past two years, however, average premiums in Minnesota have decreased, due in part to a state program that's covering a portion of health insurer costs for patients with unusually large medical bills.
Employer group policies in Minnesota and across the country provide coverage to a much larger share of the population than do policies sold to individuals, yet the non-group market has received disproportionate attention in recent years due in part to political controversies involving the ACA.
In addition, the premium hikes in the individual market as well as red ink for carriers between 2014 and 2017 meant some health insurance companies and many consumers simply left the market.
Proposed rate changes like those released by Commerce on Tuesday suggest the market is continuing to calm down.
Across the country, rate proposals for 2020 have been modest, including single-digit increases and some decreases, said Cynthia Cox, a researcher with the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation.
In Minnesota's small-group market, which covers small businesses with 2 to 50 full-time employees, rates at the four largest carriers last year would increase between 3% and 6% under the proposals released Tuesday.
Last year, about 285,000 people in Minnesota were covered through small-group policies.
In both the individual and small-group market, Commerce reviews requested rate changes.
Final numbers are scheduled for release in early October.