Early 2019 ACA premium filings show double-digit hikes; insurers blame Trump and GOP

Health insurance, pen and stethoscope
Early premium filings in Virginia are likely a preview of what's to come for ACA exchange plans next year, and initial signs are not good. (Getty/Minerva Studio)

Premium increases for exchange plans could swell as much as 64% in Virginia next year if proposed rate hikes hold up.

And insurers are blaming President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans.

According to preliminary filings submitted on Friday, two of Virginia's largest ACA insurers, Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, are requesting significant premium hikes for next year in response to planned policy changes by the Trump administration and the GOP's repeal of the individual mandate. 

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Cigna proposed (PDF) an average premium increase of about 15% for its 103,000 customers in the state, while Group Hospitalization & Medical Services, Inc., a subsidiary of CareFirst, outlined (PDF) a massive 64% increase for its 4,100 members. 

CareFirst BlueChoice, also under the CareFirst parent company, is looking at (PDF) an average increase of more than 26% for its 7,000 members. About 400,000 Virginians currently receive their insurance through the exchanges.

Only one insurer in the Commonwealth's exchange market, whose filings for 2019 are public, proposed a premium decrease. Optima is seeking (PDF) an average 1.9% decrease in premium costs for its 67,000 members in the state. 

Last year, premiums for Healthcare.gov plans across the country rose 30% on average. However, most consumers that qualified for federal subsidies saw their costs decline. 

RELATED: 4M lose coverage as insurance gains under ACA start to reverse

The insurers cited (PDF) repeal of the individual mandate and “anticipated changes to regulations” to short-term health plans as reasons for the drastic increases. Congressional Republicans repealed the mandate last year as part of its tax overhaul, and the Trump administration has moved to extend the short-term health plan duration to 12 months.

Both policies are projected to drive younger, healthier people from the markets, raising premiums for those who remain.

The increases are only proposals, and the final premiums could change. For 2018, the final approved rates for the insurers were much higher than originally proposed.

“For the past year and a half, President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have engaged in a deliberate, aggressive campaign to undermine health care and insurance companies in Virginia are the first to take advantage of it," Brad Woodhouse, director at Protect Our Care, a pro-ACA group, said in a statement. "While they make huge profits and enjoy record tax breaks from Republicans, they are planning to charge working families even more."

Congressional Democrats were quick to pounce on the news, placing the blame solely on their colleagues across the aisle.

RELATED: Tom Price pulls a 180 on individual mandate, says GOP's repeal will increase premiums

"Let’s be clear what this is: a painful consequence of the Trump Administration’s efforts to sabotage the health insurance market and dismantle the Affordable Care Act," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement on Facebook. "After a series of unsuccessful attempts to repeal the ACA, President Trump and Republicans in Congress settled for taking actions that will increase premium costs for American families."

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said on Twitter that the GOP responded to last year's failed ACA repeal by "sabotaging the healthcare system."

"There is no way to sugarcoat these health insurance premium hikes: they are across different insurers, they are devastating, and many will not be able to afford them," he continued.

Neither Kaine nor Beyer directly called out the insurers, many of which have been criticized for increasing premiums while at the same time sitting on record profits. For the first quarter of 2018, Cigna posted a 55% increase in net income while Anthem enjoyed a 30% boost.

If the proposed premium bumps hold up, or even increases, the battle over the ACA could become a much stronger issue for the 2018 midterm elections, which is already expected to be very competitive.