New York regulators OK higher health insurance rates for '15; industry wanted bigger increases

Economic Indicators Associated Press

New York insurance regulators have approved higher health insurance rates for 2015, though the increases are smaller than what the industry wanted.

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The increases also apply to health insurance offered through the state's new health benefits exchange, according to the state's Department of Financial Services, which released the approved rate increases on Thursday.

For the individual market, the agency approved an average increase of 5.7 percent. A 6.7 percent average increase was granted for the small group market.

On average, insurance companies had requested increases of 12.5 percent for the individual market and 13.9 percent for the small group market. State regulators must sign off on requested rate increases and have the authority to reduce them.

"We closely scrutinized the proposed rate increases insurers requested and reduced them significantly where appropriate," said Benjamin Lawsky, the state's superintendent of financial services.

The rates remain more than 50 percent lower on average than before the establishment of the exchange.

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Federal subsidies for income-eligible individuals who purchase insurance through the exchange generally increase as premiums do, Lawsky's office said, which will help mitigate the rate increases.

A trade group that represents New York state's health insurers called the rate hikes inadequate and irresponsible, and said they could force some insurance companies to reduce their offerings in the state.

"The bottom line is inadequate rates will result in reducing product choice or otherwise destabilizing the market, which is ultimately harmful to the health care system as a whole and the to consumers who rely on it," Paul Macielak, president and CEO of the New York Health Plan Association, said in a statement.