Will individual rates soar 200% in Georgia exchange?

It's been a busy few days at the Georgia insurance commissioner's office, starting with On Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens making national news when he requested 30 additional days to consider insurers' proposed premiums for the federally-run health insurance exchange operating in the state.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Hudgens said an outside review determined the premiums--some of which are almost 200 percent higher than existing plans--were justifiable.

But when Hudgens failed to receive a response from HHS by the Wednesday deadline, he essentially said he was forced to approve the rates. "After not receiving a response to my request for a 30-day delay from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, I was left with no viable option but to accept the filings for the federally facilitated Georgia exchange," Hudgens said Thursday in a statement. "Although not surprised, I am disappointed in the unresponsiveness of the Obama administration."

Some critics accused Hudgens of political motivations, particularly since he's regulating a state that is opposed to the healthcare reform law. He basically admitted that fact to the Atlanta Journal Constitution when he said, "I want to protect the consumers of the state of Georgia but when these things are going up, these prices are going up, I don't want people to blame me. I'm going to be up for re-election come 2014."

What's more, Georgia State University healthcare expert Bill Custer said the 198 percent increase Hudgens referenced in his emergency request for a delay isn't typical. "The majority of Georgians with individual coverage will not see rate increases anywhere near that amount and many will see rate decreases," Custer told the AJC.

And Hudgens admitted the 198 percent increase example was an extreme one that only applied one type of consumer based on one insurer's proposed rates. Rather, young individuals are more likely to see increases of about 100 percent, while older consumers will see 20 percent to 40 percent higher premiums, he added.

Meanwhile, Aetna and its subsidiary, Coventry Health Care, announced Wednesday they won't participate in Georgia's exchange, though they will continue to sell individual plans outside of the exchange, reported the Augusta Chronicle.

To learn more:
- read the statements about the letter and delay (.pdfs)
- here's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article
- see the Augusta Chronicle article