Insurance commissioner weighs in on future health care premiums as ACA continues

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana's insurance commissioner and some others think President Donald Trump is on point in assessing the state of the insurance marketplace as it relates to the Affordable Care Act.

"It can't do well, it's imploding and soon will explode," said Trump.

"Yes, I do think it is in a death spiral and if something is not done sooner rather than later I think it will crash and burn," said longtime Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

Insurance agent Wayne Schellhaas of Schellhaas and Associates of Metairie has been in the insurance business for more than four decades.

"I do, in 2018 in Louisiana, unless we get more bad news, is going to be down to two carriers," Schellhaas said.

People buying health insurance on their own in Louisiana, either directly from an insurer, through an agent, or the federal website will have fewer choices for 2018.

"We've lost United Health Care as most of the states have and we've lost Humana that wrote a lot in the metro New Orleans area and the Lafayette area but not the rest of the state. We still have two carriers doing business in each of our zip codes across the state," Donelon said.

The two remaining insurers are Vantage and the market leader in Louisiana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Spokesperson John Maginnis issued the following statement:

"Given the evolving legislative environment surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) we are not in a position to comment at this point. However, we will continue to engage with our Congressional delegation and others on Capitol Hill to seek ways to stabilize the individual market. As a private health insurer we believe that we must be part of a positive solution that creates a sustainable, affordable system of healthcare in this country."

"Obviously, the exit of Humana in metropolitan New Orleans area is going to have a huge impact," Schellhaas said.

"All indications are that we're going to see less carriers participating and higher premiums for next year," said Donelon.

Donelon said  last year individuals buying health coverage saw a more than 20-percent increase.

"Our recent history is not encouraging.  Last year individuals faced on average statewide a 25-percent increase which was actually lower than average nationally, but troubling [is] our small group market saw increases of nine to 15-percent, up from three to six-percent each of the two years before." He said.

Donelon is not optimistic that premiums will not continue to rise.

"I think companies are apprehensive and therefore will err on the side of caution in pricing their products yet again and will drive I think rates up by another double digit increase for next year," he said.

Susan Todd, Executive Director of 504 HealthNet does not concur with those who believe the market under the ACA is on the way to self-destructing.

"I don't agree with his assessment that it's about to implode," she said.

But she thinks Congress and Trump must take steps to keep premiums from spiraling out of control.

"Particularly around the exchanges, to look at how we can bring premiums down.  How we can make it more affordable and work better," said Todd.

She also likes ideas being talked about that would result in a single marketplace for individuals purchasing coverage.  Currently they can buy it directly from insurance companies or through the federal ACA marketplace.

"It strengthens it because you increase your pool of people and so you put more people in the market and so then you're diversifying that risk," said Todd.

And as the Affordable Care Act remains in place for the foreseeable future as stated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, so does Medicaid expansion, which benefits the working poor in Louisiana and more than 30 other states.

"We have over a 100,000 people in the New Orleans region who are enrolled in Medicaid Expansion and can go see a doctor and get their medications, we've got over 400,ooo people in Louisiana who are enrolled and this is a great thing to not have to worry about do I have to choose between paying my electric bill, or my medication for my diabetes, or hypertension," said Todd.

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