Will premium cuts drive insurers out of Maryland market?

All insurers that submitted bids to participate in the Maryland health insurance exchange had their premium rates slashed by the state insurance commissioner, giving Maryland some of the lowest exchange rates in the country, according to the state's insurance administration.

The newly approved rates for the insurers, including Aetna, CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, Coventry Health, Evergreen Health Cooperative and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, dropped by as much as 50 percent. That means Maryland's insurance commissioner made "some pretty significant reductions compared to what the insurers had asked for," Gary Claxton, a vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told WYPR.

CareFirst, which originally proposed rates that were 25 percent more than current prices for individuals and small businesses, was approved for only half of what it requested, The Washington Post reported.

But the state's ability to lower premiums didn't come without criticism. Joseph Antos, a health economist for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, questioned whether reducing premiums is an effective long-term strategy. "If you have very low premiums, you're going to get more people signing up. If you have really low premiums, you're going to have fewer insurance companies doing business in Maryland," he told Kaiser Health News.

In fact, Aetna's saw its requested premiums drop by 29 percent, causing the insurer to potentially reconsider its next moves. It disagreed with the insurance administration's findings and is "determining the proper response to these changes," a spokesman said.

To learn more:
- here's the Maryland Insurance Administration statement
- check out the Washington Post article
- read the Kaiser Health News article
- see the WYPR article