Montana Insurance Rates Rise After Trump Pulls Health Care Subsidies

Congress looks to restore health care payments but faces uphill battle

By Justin Franz

Some Montanans who purchase health insurance through the federal marketplace will be paying more after President Donald Trump decided to stop cost-sharing reduction payments that help low-income Americans get coverage.

Trump argued that the payments were illegal and that Congress should figure out how to reimburse the insurance companies for the coverage they offer. Critics, however, have worried that the decision to pull the payments could push some insurance companies out of the marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

All three of Montana’s marketplace health insurers had already submitted their 2018 rates prior to Trump’s decision. Initially, it appeared as if the insurance companies would not be able to adjust their rates, but on Oct. 13, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decided to allow the insurers to re-file rates. State law allows companies to revise rates in case of any “material change” to earlier rates as long as the changes are filed at least 60 days before they would take effect.

PacificSource and Montana Health CO-OP both opted to reevaluate their rates. Blue Cross Blue Shield, which had previously submitted a 22.3 percent rate increase in anticipation of changes to the Affordable Care Act, decided not to change their rate.

On Oct. 19, Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matt Rosendale announced that PacificSource and Montana Health CO-OP had submitted new rates. PacificSource’s average rate jumped from 7.4 percent to 13.1 percent. The Montana Health CO-OP’s rate increased from 4 percent to 16.6 percent.

According to the state auditor’s office, the new rate increases will only affect Silver-level health insurance plans on the individual market. Federal subsidies for low-income consumers remain intact, and will offset some of the increases.

“I want to reassure Montanans that they will still have three insurance companies and multiple plan options to choose from when selecting health insurance plans on the individual market,” Rosendale stated in a press release. “I strongly encourage Montanans to look at all of their available options and shop for the plan that best suits their individual needs and budgets.”

Rosendale added that his office was “doing everything within our power” to keep costs down but blamed federal law for limiting state’s abilities to regulate rates.

“Congress must repeal Obamacare and let the states have more authority to fix our broken health care system,” he said.

Montana Democrats countered that Rosendale was doing “nothing to stand up to Washington politicians playing politics with the health care of Montanans.”

“Rosendale rubber stamped these massive rate hikes, which could threaten insurance coverage for thousands of Montanans,” said Montana Democratic Party spokesperson Chris Meagher.

Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Bullock joined nine other Republican, Democratic and Independent governors in urging congress to reverse Trump’s decision and fund the cost-sharing reduction payments through 2018. Bullock called Trump’s decision to stop the payments a “reckless stroke of a pen.”

A bill to continue making the cost-sharing payments and stabilize the markets has arisen in the U.S. Senate and currently has 24 co-sponsors from both parties. However, the bill faces an uphill climb in the House of Representatives. Trump initially supported the bipartisan bill to stabilize the market but later reversed that decision and tweeted that he was against it.

The 2018 open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Plans sold during the open enrollment period will start on Jan. 1, 2018. For more information, visit www.healthcare.gov.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.