Utah health insurance premiums could rise if subsidies fail

Jake Martinez, 32, holds his medication at his home Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Murray, Utah. Martinez, who has epilepsy, is worried about health insurance as Republicans move closer to dismantling the Obama health care system, known as the Affordable Care Act, which he and his wife use. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah state insurance commissioners are warning that health insurance premiums could spike next year if the federal government doesn’t come through with subsidies for lower-income residents.

State officials announced Thursday that health insurance premiums in Utah are expected to rise by at least 15 percent if the subsidies don’t come through, although more accurate estimates will come in July and August.

“It’s a lot of skepticism today,” Tanji Northrup, assistant commissioner at the Insurance Department, said Thursday. “With the unknown of cost-sharing-reductions funding … we have great uncertainty for what insurers will be participating in the market and where rates could land for 2018.”

Cost-sharing reductions, or subsidies, were made available through the Affordable Care Act for low- and moderate-income residents to help offset their deductible and copay costs.

In 2016, about 109,000 Utah residents received the subsidies, according to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data. More than $100 million in subsidy payments were made to Utah consumers, according to the data.

“The ability to use insurance is based on deductibles and copays, and this program has been reducing those for tens of thousands of Utah families,” said Jason Stevenson, the Utah Health Policy Project education and communication director. “Now, based on uncertainty from the Trump administration, insurers and families don’t know if (those subsidies) are going to be there, making the market unstable.”

The subsidies have been up for debate since late 2014, when the U.S. House sued President Barack Obama’s administration on grounds that the Affordable Care Act never legally funded the program.

President Donald Trump’s administration has left the lawsuit’s appeal in limbo, creating uncertainty on whether insurers will continue to participate in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces without the subsidies, Northrup said.

Premiums increased about 30 percent in 2017 for people who buy their own insurance plans, according to state insurance officials.

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