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Health insurance higher, but more options in Illinois

Illinois consumers who bought health insurance on the year-old government-run marketplace will see modest increases in prices for 2015, and they’ll see many more choices, state officials say.

The lowest-cost ”silver” plans have increased in price by 2.6 percent, on average, according to information released by the Illinois Department of Insurance. Most Illinois consumers signed up for silver plans last year.

Prices for the cheapest ”bronze” plans will increase by an average of 11 percent. Bronze plans, which cover fewer medical expenses and are less expensive, were selected last year by 29 percent of Illinois shoppers.

People can switch plans starting Nov. 15, and the second open enrollment season under President Barack Obama’s health care law runs through Feb. 15. Consumers who bought coverage last year can change policies, and people without insurance can sign up.

In Illinois, 410 plans will be offered for 2015 coverage, compared to 165 in the first year, and state officials encouraged consumers to look carefully.

”There are more options available and our mission is to help consumers make a choice that works best for their budget,” Get Covered Illinois Executive Director Jennifer Koehler said in a statement.

Three new health insurers joined the Illinois marketplace for 2015, increasing competition and keeping prices stable. The new companies are IlliniCare Health Plan, Time Insurance Company and UnitedHealthCare of the Midwest.

Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois captured the vast majority of customers with the least expensive prices in many parts of the state.

But the company may give up some of that dominance, said David Axene of the Society of Actuaries who reviewed the Illinois information at the request of The Associated Press.

Blue Cross ”got picked on by two different players at least,” Axene said, noting that Urbana-based Health Alliance Medical Plans will have the lowest-priced silver plan in much of central Illinois, and Land of Lincoln Health will have the lowest-cost silver plan in Cook County and much of southern Illinois.

”We have been able to significantly reduce our rates from the previous year,” Land of Lincoln president Jason Montrie told The Associated Press on Friday. The insurer has lowered monthly premiums on its plans by as much as 30 percent compared to 2014. Land of Lincoln, a nonprofit, consumer-operated health insurer, sold only a few thousand policies last year.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a new challenge to the health care law that threatens subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their premiums. Nearly 80 percent of Illinois residents who signed up for coverage qualified for the financial assistance.

The Illinois insurance department released two examples of how government subsidies affect the rates consumers pay for 2015:

_A single 30-year-old in Chicago or Peoria with a household income of $23,000 could be eligible for a subsidy of $72 per month (Chicago) or $88 (Peoria). That could bring the monthly cost to $119 in both cities under the second lowest-cost silver plan, compared to $121 per month in 2014.

_A couple from Chicago or Peoria, both 55, with household income of $40,000 could be eligible for a subsidy of $479 in Chicago and $540 in Peoria. It could bring their costs for the second lowest silver plan to about $273 per month in 2015, compared to about $276 this year.

“We have hundreds of trained professionals offering free, in-person assistance and we encourage everyone – whether you are a first-time enrollee or someone who enrolled last year – to compare plans before enrolling this year,” Get Covered Illinois’ Koehler said in a statement. “There are more options available and our mission is to help consumers make a choice that works best for their budget.”

Associated Press contributed much of the information for this report.


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