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Good news for La. residents buying health coverage in the individual marketplace

Updated: Jul. 27, 2018 at 5:50 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People having to fend for themselves in terms of acquiring health insurance in Louisiana will get a break on premiums in the new coverage year.

The new rates are to be officially announced August 1, but FOX 8 News got a preview from Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

"I'm going from a group policy with a company that I've owned for 20 years," said Cherry May, of New Orleans.

Even now she is shopping for health coverage.

"I have a daughter who's still eligible to be on my policy for another four years and so I'm not just responsible for myself," said May.

It appears she is entering the individual insurance market at a good time.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said rates for individuals purchasing their own coverage, as well as small group plans will be about six percent lower for the new enrollment period.

"Decreased in the individual market and that's the first time in five years and it follows 50 percent increases over the last two years and it's not just in our state," Donelon stated.

May was thrilled when told about that.

"Which is great timing for me. It's likely to bring lower individual rates, so that's great news for me," she said.

While republicans and democrats differ over the worth of the Affordable Care Act which became law under President Barack Obama, Donelon believes the reason Louisiana health coverage rates are dropping is due to the insurance market absorbing what he called "dramatic" changes mandated by the federal health care law.

"There seems to be a stability coming to the health market and that's really, really, good news," said Donelon.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis said individual market insurers had their best financial year under the ACA in 2017.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana dominates the individual insurance market in the state.

Its VP of Strategic Communication, Cindy Wakefield issued the following statement:

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to our mission to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. Blue Cross filed 2019 rates with the Louisiana Department of Insurance last month as required by law. Most of our individual members will receive decreases on their premium rates next year, while others will see small increases.

In 2019 and beyond, Blue Cross will continue to provide our customers with access to high-quality, affordable healthcare, as we've done for nearly 85 years.

Donelon said currently 110 working individuals have coverage through the individual market in the state. He said two years ago the number was 220,000 and he believes previous premium hikes drove people to drop coverage.

And there is uncertainty over the impact of Congress' repealing of the federal individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine.

"I'm going to do it sooner rather than later," said May.

Some health care economists have said without the individual mandate, there is no incentive for younger, healthier people to keep coverage and that will result in higher premiums for sicker, older people who do have insurance.

The federal government will stop enforcing the individual mandate in 2019.

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