Can insurers gain market share by cutting premium rates?

As more insurers release their 2015 premium requests, some hope to gain a larger share of their market by dropping their rates.

Kaiser Permanente, for example, sold some of the most expensive plans on the health insurance exchange in California and came in fourth among all exchange insurers. Its poor performance may have driven the company to lower its rates by 1.4 percent.

"Kaiser doesn't seem particularly happy with its exchange market share, as it is the only company reducing exchange premiums in 2015," Citigroup healthcare analyst Carl McDonald told the Los Angeles Times.

However, McDonald and other healthcare analysts don't think reducing premiums will significantly help Kaiser or other insurers gain market share, especially since Kaisers' HMO continues to be one of the most expensive options. 

Then there's Oregon's Health CO-OP, which proposed a 21 percent premium decrease for next year's rates. But state officials denied the request, instead approving a 9.9 percent drop. Although CEO Ralph Prows consented to the rate change, he said in a letter to the state that it doesn't agree with its decision, reported the Statesman Journal.

Aside from Kaiser and Oregon's Health CO-OP, most insurers around the country are raising rates. In California, Anthem Blue Cross proposed increasing its premiums by an average of 4.6 percent, Blue Shield of California wants to hike rates by 6 percent and Health Net asked for a 4.9 percent raise.

Overall, premiums will increase by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new report from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute. The highest average rate hikes so far are in Indiana, where some insurers proposed raising rates by 15.4 percent.

"The average individual monthly premium for next year, before any subsidies are applied, is $384," HRI Managing Director Ceci Connolly told The Hill's Healthwatch. "And insurance commissioners get a chance to weigh in on rates before fall enrollment."

To learn more:
- read the Los Angeles Times article
- see the Statesman Journal article
- here's the PwC report
- read The Hill's Healthwatch article