Aug 5, 2021 - Business

Some Iowans could see up to 21% premium hike under Wellmark proposal

A photo of the exterior of Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield's downtown Des Moines headquarters.

Wellmark's downtown Des Moines headquarters. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Thousands of Iowans who receive health coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplace could see their premiums increase by as much as 21% next year, under a request recently filed with the Iowa Insurance Division.

What's happening: Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield is proposing a 2022 rate increase that it estimates will average around 11%.

Why it matters: More than 59,000 Iowans currently receive insurance through the individual plans, and a rise in premiums could price some people out.

  • Yes, but: There's a stopgap for many through 2022 thanks to federal pandemic assistance that allows some to pay $10 or less a month.

Context: ACA, or “Obamacare,” was enacted in 2010 to make affordable health insurance available to more people.

  • It provides subsidies for low-income people, mostly to those without employer-provided coverage and those who don't qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

Between the lines: Worse-than-expected "target loss ratios" this year are driving Wellmark's rate increases, according to its justification memorandum.

  • The company's rates have dropped since it began offering the ACA plans in 2019 from an increase of 4.7% in 2020 to a decrease of 42% last year.

The big picture: Of Iowa's three individual plan carriers, Wellmark was the only one to request a premium rate increase above 5.4%, Iowa Insurance Division spokesperson Chance McElhaney told Axios this week.

  • The state's insurance commissioner will hold a public hearing if an insurer's proposed increase exceeds that threshold.

What they're saying: Taxpayers are subsidizing corporate greed in premium increases that will ultimately hurt Iowa's poorest families, Jaime Izaguirre, an organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), told Axios.

  • CCI started an online petition calling for a rate freeze. Meanwhile, several Iowans have published public comments with the IID against the proposal.
  • Wellmark didn't return multiple requests for comment this week.

Of note: The median proposed 2022 rate increases among ACA plans in 13 states and Washington, D.C., is 3.8%, according to a July 19 Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker brief. (Iowa was not included.)

What's next: The special enrollment period to sign up for ACA plans continues through Aug. 15.

  • Wellmark's public hearing on the 2022 rate increase is Aug. 28.

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