Alaska Gov. Acts to Limit Health Insurance Rate Hikes

     ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — Alaska Gov. Bill Walker signed a bill Monday to stabilize health insurance premiums in an effort to help residents maintain access to health care.
     Walker introduced House Bill 374, which passed last month with near-unanimous support from the state’s Legislature.
     In the past two years, insurance premiums in the individual market have increased almost 80 percent — the equivalent of an additional mortgage for many families, according to the governor’s statement. Three health care insurers have left Alaska since 2015, and another, Moda, will leave at the end of this year.
     Premera Blue Cross, the remaining insurer, told the state it cannot commit to continuing in the market due to the high cost of providing care for a small population with rare and costly medical conditions, the governor said. Without relief, the insurer would have had to pass on the cost to 23,000 Alaskans or pull out of the state altogether, leaving those Alaskans without health care insurance options.
     Four Alaska cities — Juneau, Fairbanks, Kodiak and Anchorage — have the most expensive health care prices in the nation, according to a 2014 report by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The cost of a general physical in Anchorage is about 63 percent higher than the national average, while a teeth cleaning is 42 percent higher and a full vision exam costs almost 72 percent more in the Last Frontier than elsewhere in the nation.
     “Hundreds of Alaskans have reached out to my administration saying health care costs are increasingly unaffordable,” Walker said. “This law will provide relief from large premium hikes for Alaskans who are insured through the private marketplace as we continue work to bring more insurers into the state.”
     Premera said that as a result of the bill’s passage, rates will increase about 10 percent in 2017 — down significantly from the 37 percent increase in 2015 and a 39 percent increase in 2016.
     HB 374 establishes a state health insurance fund through the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association to stabilize rates, and aims to convince additional insurers to serve Alaskans in the individual health care market. Instead of spreading the cost of the claims to the 23,000 Alaskans enrolled in the market, the cost would be paid through the insurance premium tax that all insurance companies operating in the state already pay.
     HB 374 also authorizes the Division of Insurance to seek a Section 1332 waiver from the federal government in order to administer the Affordable Care Act differently in Alaska. “Without this fix, this problem would have cost the state more than $200 million next year,” Lori Wing-Heier, director of the Division of Insurance, said. “Even with the two-year sunset provision, we will work on other sources of funding to raise the money needed for the reinsurance program.”
     Walker’s efforts to increase access to health care began with an executive order to expand Medicaid eligibility, which took effect in September 2015 and made 42,000 people eligible for the program.
     The state Legislature sued the governor for using his executive authority to override their vocal disapproval of anything resembling the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid. Lawmakers dropped their lawsuit in late June after an appeal of the case’s dismissal failed.

%d bloggers like this: