Tennessee's largest health insurer has found a way to bring down rates for individuals who buy plans on the marketplace. The first-ever decrease from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee — which covers roughly half of the individuals on the marketplace — comes even as the Trump Administration added to uncertainty in recent days.
On Saturday, the White House announced it was withholding more money meant to offset coverage for the sickest patients in the marketplace. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee did have to make some last-minute changes to rates, which had to be submitted to state regulators by Wednesday. So instead of dropping by 18 percent, premiums fell by 10.9 percent. But the decrease follows years of double-digit increases.
"This was an unknown market in the beginning, and so it took some time to achieve some sort of equilibrium," says spokesman Roy Vaughn.
BCBST announced earlier this year that it had finally turned a profit on the marketplace.
However, the benefits have changed in some meaningful ways. BirdDog reports BlueCross is no longer providing much out-of-network coverage — which is a big savings to the company and potential headache for customers.
But what BlueCross is charging doesn't matter as much in Nashville because the company has quit offering Obamacare marketplace plans in the state capitol and Memphis.
For insurers that cover Nashville, Cigna is also dropping rates nearly five percent on average. The only company asking for an increase is Oscar Health, which joined the Tennessee marketplace this year. It calculates that the looming end of the individual mandate in 2019 will also result in losing some healthy customers and leave a sicker and more expensive population to cover.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander praised the reduction in rates. As chair of the Senate's health committee, he has been trying to stabilize the marketplace and restore some payments to insurance companies, but without much success.
"The news could have been even better," he said in a statement, pivoting to a dig at the other party. "Since Democrats in Congress have elevated Obamacare to the 67th book of the Bible, and have blocked even minor changes to the law that could have lowered rates by up to 40 percent, it is up to the states and the administration to continue to help lower premiums."
While there's still outsized attention paid to the marketplace, which only covers 229,000 people in Tennessee, the sticker price is increasingly irrelevant to most of them. Federal subsidies have been growing even faster than the premiums. And most customers get some kind of subsidy that can even cover the entire out-of-pocket cost.