Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coventry Health Care Seeks Double-Digit Price Hike for Health Plans

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Coventry Health Care Seeks Double-Digit Price Hike for Health Plans

Article excerpt

Coventry Health Care is seeking approval for double-digit premium increases for its 2016 individual health plans, according to rate information made public Monday by the federal government.

Insurance brokers had considered the health plans sold by the Maryland-based insurer to be among the cheapest with the most extensive provider networks available to Missouri consumers.

But Coventry's strategy appears to have caught up with it, and the insurer is now asking federal regulators to approve an average rate increase of 23 percent for plans sold in the St. Louis area. The proposed hike affects roughly 70,000 consumers in the area.

"Our goal is to offer competitively priced products at a rate that will allow us to cover the cost of doing business while offering our customers high-quality products that meet their health care needs," said spokesman Rohan Hutchings in an emailed statement.

Under President Barack Obama's health law, insurers can't deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. As a result, any customer can sign up for any plan as long as he or she can afford it.

During the first two years of insurance enrollment under the health law, many consumers seeking individual coverage flocked to the least-expensive plans, which in the St. Louis area were often Coventry policies.

But that potentially left the company liable for hefty bills from customers who went without health insurance before Obama's law took effect because of costly pre-existing medical conditions.

In its filing information, Coventry said the combination of higher provider rates and increased use of health services by customers led to the double-digit premium increase. The insurer said it expects its medical costs to rise nearly 10 percent next year.

Insurance brokers said big premium hikes can allow insurers to shed customers that cost a lot to care for.

"It could push those people to leave and try something else," said Emily Bremer, insurance broker and president of the Missouri Association of Health Underwriters. "But they may end up finding that they priced it too high and everyone migrates."

The double-digit increase applies to plans sold directly by Coventry and those available for purchase on HealthCare. …

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