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'Staggering' rate hike under Obamacare no longer likely

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You’ll have a lot of choices this fall if you're shopping for health insurance in the new system created under Obamacare. We’re getting our first peek at the insurance policies and their price tags.

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner on Tuesday unveiled initial rates for various coverage plans. The numbers, which will not be approved until July 31, could change in the coming months. They also do not reflect the monthly subsidies many individuals earning up to $46,000 a year (and families earning twice that) will receive to help offset costs (calculate your costs).  

It turns out the answer to whether insurance will get more expensive is: “It depends”—a change from last summer when a Premera Blue Cross executive told people to brace themselves for staggering price increases of as much as 70 percent. 

Premera spokesman Eric Earling says the Obama administration made things simpler over the winter, and the message has changed.

“Each customer’s experience with new rates will be different, because of changes due to the Affordable Care Act,” Earling said. “These are new and different products than what is available today. It will vary a lot.”

And because the insurance plans are different, Earling says, it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Very few people will face big price increases. In fact, in one example, of a 40-year-old who buys individual insurance, the most comparable plan with Premera goes up a total of $2 a month. 

“We are pleasantly surprised,” said Stephanie Marquis with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. “There might be a slight increases, but you are getting so much more in terms of benefits.”

The new plans must cover preventive medicine and prescription drugs, and typically have lower out-of-pocket costs. 

Based on the preliminary rate filings, most people in Washington will choose between four insurance companies (see map above), which offer dozens of plans under three tiers. Gold plans would cover 80 percent of medical costs, meaning the consumer would end up paying for 20 percent of medical care via co-pays, deductibles, etc. Silver plans cover 70 percent, and bronze plans 60 percent.

Enrollment begins this fall.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.