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Cost of Oklahoma health insurance plans skyrocket in federal marketplace


OKLAHOMA CITY — Thousands of Oklahoma residents who are expected to participate in the open enrollment period under the federal Affordable Care Act that begins this weekend can expect some dramatic increases in the cost of health insurance.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on the affordability of health insurance plans offered on the federal exchange shows the cost of one of the benchmark plans will increase more than 35 percent — nearly five times higher than the national average. The report shows more than 126,000 Oklahoma residents enrolled in the health care marketplace for 2015 plans.

Open enrollment begins Sunday for coverage that starts on Jan. 1. Residents can enroll in the health marketplace, renew or change their plan.

Oklahoma's 35.7 percent increase for the second-lowest cost silver plan is the highest among the 37 states that use the federal health insurance exchange. The average rate increase was 7.5 percent for this plan, which is used as a benchmark to determine the amount of premium tax credits for which consumers qualify.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 70 percent of enrollees choose silver plans.

Mike Rhoads, deputy commissioner of health and life for the Oklahoma Insurance Department, said the cost increase in Oklahoma is the result of fewer providers in the marketplace and high losses by Blue Cross Blue Shield Oklahoma, the largest provider on the exchange.

Two other providers that offered plans this year — GlobalHealth of Tulsa and Tulsa-based HMO Community Care — both dropped out of the exchange, Rhoads said.

"If Community Care and GlobalHealth had stayed in the exchange, this average would have come way down," he said.

National insurance company UnitedHealthcare is a new entrant into the Oklahoma marketplace this year, Rhoads said.

He said health insurance companies also underestimated how much treatment consumers would seek, especially those with longstanding medical conditions who may have been uninsured for years.

"It takes a lot of money to get people treated for diabetes or congestive heart failure," Rhoads said. "It's great that they're getting treated, but it comes at a cost."

Still, Rhoads said once tax credits are applied to the cost of the premiums, there are numerous plans that are extremely affordable, even ones as low as $20 per month.

"Even though you've got this rate increase, it's still a bargain," he said.

The latest Health and Human Services data shows nearly 80 percent of returning marketplace customers will be able to buy a plan with premiums less than $100 per month once tax credits are applied.

Rhoads said the number of uninsured Oklahoma residents also is continuing to drop, from nearly 22 percent in 2010, to around 15 percent currently.

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