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Health insurance pinch hits home in W.Va.

MORE COSTS — Many Americans covered under the federal Affordable Care Act stand to see sharp premium increases for 2017, with West Virginians expected to see higher spikes than Ohioans. -- File photo

WHEELING — West Virginians can expect significantly higher costs for 2017 coverage under the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange than their counterparts in Ohio.

According to an independent guide, healthinsurance.org, West Virginia has only two exchange carriers for 2017: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is proposing an average rate increase of 31.82 percent; and CareSource, which is proposing a 49.8-percent average rate increase.

By contrast, 10 exchange carriers plan to offer insurance for Ohio residents in 2017. Two firms — Buckeye Community Health Plan and Medical Health Insuring Corp. of Ohio (Medical Mutual) — plan slight rate decreases, according to healthinsurance.org. The average rate increase proposed by the other eight carriers ranges from 0.85 percent to 39.25 percent.

When compared to Ohio’s statistics, West Virginia has far fewer individuals and insurers participating in the health insurance marketplace. Ohio has five times as many carriers and more than six times the number of enrollees than the Mountain State.

Regarding number of residents enrolled in health insurance exchanges, Louise Norris, a contributor to healthinsurance.org, said, “As of March 2016, there were 33,235 people with effectuated coverage through the West Virginia exchange — up from 29,862 a year earlier.”

Norris also said, “As of March 2016, effectuated enrollment in (qualified health plans) through the Ohio exchange stood at 212,046 — about 12 percent higher than it had been in March 2015.”

A 40-page research brief prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and released Monday, offers details on health plan choice and premiums in the 2017 health insurance marketplace.

One of the tables in the federal report offers a state-by-state comparison of average monthly premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plans for a 27-year-old, before tax credits, for 2016 and 2017. In states participating in HealthCare.gov — including West Virginia and Ohio — the average increase for next year is 25 percent, while the median change is 16 percent.

The Health and Human Services report indicates a 27-year-old in West Virginia is paying $294 per month in 2016 for the second-lowest-cost silver plan and is likely to pay $386 for that coverage in 2017, resulting in a 32-percent increase. However, a 27-year-old in Ohio has a monthly premium of $222 for that plan now, with a premium of $226 expected next year, for a 2-percent increase.

Another table in the federal report indicates 60 percent of current marketplace enrollees in West Virginia could save on premium costs by switching to the lowest-cost plan within their level — bronze, silver or gold — for an annual average potential savings of $728 in premium costs per enrollee. By contrast, 94 percent of current marketplace enrollees in Ohio could save money by taking the same action, for $1,097 in annual average potential savings in premium costs per enrollee.

A chart also examines the percentage of current marketplace consumers who could obtain coverage for $100 or less after applicable tax credits in 2017, regardless of 2016 metal level.

In West Virginia, 69 percent could be covered at $100 a month or less; 63 percent could be covered at $75 a month or less; and 55 percent could be covered at $50 a month or less. In Ohio, 60 percent could be covered at $100 a month or less; 51 percent could be covered at $75 a month or less; and 38 percent could be covered at $50 a month or less.

On a brighter note, the federal report shows current marketplace enrollees in Ohio, West Virginia and most states could save money if they switch to the lowest-premium plan within their metal level in 2017.

For instance, the average net premium for West Virginians is $190 in 2016, but only $164 in 2017 if the switch is made, resulting in a 13-percent decrease. Ohioans who now pay an average net premium of $192 could pay only $130 by switching next year, for a 33-percent savings.

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