Oregon releases 2015 health insurance rates for individuals, small group employer plans

Oregon will see a much tighter range of premium prices in 2015 for individual and small employer health insurance plans, according to new rates announced Friday by state regulators.

The Oregon Insurance Division says Moda, the company that captured nearly two-thirds of the individual market share with some of the lowest prices in 2014, will see a 10.6 percent rate hike on average.

The increase places the company in the middle of the pack in terms of premium prices and will affect more than 70,000 Moda enrollees.

Some of the smaller carriers will see rate decreases in 2015. Plans from Providence Health and Trillium Community Health will both drop by about 14 percent on average, for example.

Overall, the lower premiums will increase and the higher premiums decrease as a result of the new rates, insurance Commissioner Laura Cali said, meaning premium prices are converging in the middle and the price range is smaller.

"We're moving toward a more competitive market," Cali said.

The rates apply to plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act, purchased both through Cover Oregon and off the exchange. Separate rates were also released for transitional and grandfathered plans that existed before Jan. 1, 2014.

The rate information released Friday comes a few months ahead of the shopping season when customers can switch carriers in open enrollment, from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

Oregon officials say the rates are at best a starting point for consumers and more detailed questions about the plans benefits should follow.

More information is expected by mid-August when the Insurance Division will release premium estimates for different plans, ages and locations.

Under the federal health care overhaul, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Also, Oregonians who signed up for coverage via Cover Oregon will have to re-enroll come November, because the state ditched its glitch-filled exchange and is switching to the federal exchange.

"The great news is that the way the market works, people have options, they can look at other plans and change their minds," Cali said.

Oregon officials say the rate setting process was public and very transparent — unlike in many other states, where rate proposals are confidential until released or until plans are being sold.

In many cases, regulators trimmed the rates requested by insurance carriers. Moda, for example, asked for a 12.5 percent rate increase, but it was scaled down to 10.6 percent. Pacific Source asked for 15.9 percent and later revised it to 10.6 percent, but was only approved for 3.9 percent.

One reason: the reductions reflected the smaller burden of charity, or free care, absorbed by the companies since coverage was increased to hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured Oregonians.

"Most of the increases got knocked back a little from what was proposed," said Jesse Ellis O'Brien with the OSPIRG Foundation, a consumer group. "The insurance division took steps to protect consumers from paying more than they should."

As of the end of March, about 195,000 Oregonians were enrolled in individual health insurance plans, including transitional and grandfathered plans, and 180,000 in small group plans. Together, they represent about 10 percent of the state's population.