Consumer choice on federal marketplace rises from 2014 to 2015

Competition and choice in the health insurance marketplaces increased in most areas of the country between 2014 and 2015, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS examined the number of health plans in 2014 and 2015 by county, and found that 86 percent of people eligible for qualified health plans had access to at least three health plans in 2015, up from 70 percent in 2014. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of counties experienced an increase of at least one health plan, while only 8 percent of counties experienced a net loss of health plans.

Based on the findings, HHS notes that growth in second-lowest silver plan (SLS) premiums between 2014 and 2015 was 8.4 percentage points lower in counties that experienced a net gain in health plans than in counties that did not. And growth in the average silver premium was 1.5 percentage points lower in counties that experienced a net gain in health plans than in other counties.

One way new insurers can gain market share is to undercut prevailing premiums, the analysis notes. HHS finds that in 42 percent of counties with new insurers, the entrants offered at least one silver plan premium below what would have been the SLS for only the existing insurer, which in turn, reduces the SLS.

The presence of these additional insurers "played an important role in moderating premium increases," said Richard G. Frank, an assistant secretary of HHS, according to the New York Times.

What's more, consumers shopping in the federal marketplace generally have a great number of choices as compared with those covered through their employer, notes the study. For instance, the average consumer shopping on has 40 plan choices, with as many as 130 available in one community, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

For more:
- here's the report (.pdf)
- read the New York Times piece