NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 23, 2009

At a time when more people are forced to buy their own health insurance because of job losses, costs for many individual policies are soaring.  Advocates say the 17 million Americans who buy their own coverage can't negotiate lower rates the way employers or other large group plans can.

Among this year's large rate increases on the individual market:

  • Anthem Blue Cross in California has notified about 80 percent of its 800,000 individual policyholders of double-digit increases, many above 30 percent.
  • Blue Cross of Michigan is seeking state approval for a 56 percent increase in individual premiums to offset losses stemming from state rules making it the sole insurer required to take all applicants.
  • Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon will raise rates for approximately 10,000 Washington state customers by 27.1 percent on March 1.
  • Another Washington insurer, LifeWise, raised rates 17.6 percent on Jan. 1, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in Washington state.
  • By comparison, group health insurance premiums paid by employers rose about 5 percent in 2008, says a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Some insurers say increases this year for individual policies aren't out of the ordinary.  Aetna, for example, says individual policy increases nationwide range from 8 percent to  22 percent.

Premium rates for individual policies vary widely, depending on state rules, the type of coverage and the applicant's age and health. Unlike group coverage, in which all applicants are accepted, insurers can reject applicants for individual coverage in most states if they have medical problems.

Those problems could lead to higher rate increases than in the past.

Source: Julie Appleby, "Costs for Individual Health Plans Soar," USA Today, February 20, 2009. 

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