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Health insurance rates could climb significantly
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Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Health Care Reform Seminar attendees grabs cups of coffee early Tuesday morning at the Brenau Downtown Center. The seminar featured local insurance experts giving advice on changes in health care insurance due to the Affordable Care Act.

Health insurance policyholders might see premium increases as high as 38 percent next year, a Gainesville insurance executive told a Gainesville audience Tuesday.

Proposed rates vary from 12 percent for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s small group plans to 38 percent for Alliant Health Plans, said Brett Fowler, vice president and partner of Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance, speaking at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual health care reform update.

He said a couple of factors play into Alliant’s possible hike, including that it be might making up for dropping rates on individual plans in 2015.

“And they’re one of the only carriers in the market that doesn’t have a (pharmacy) deductible on every one of their plans,” Fowler said.

As for other carriers and rates, Aetna is looking at a 15.5 percent hike for its point of service plans and 13.9 to 19.7 percent for its HMOs; Blue Cross Blue Shield, 17 percent increase on individual plans; and Humana, a 19 percent hike.

“Humana, which has the largest block of business in the individual market, came into the exchange in 2014 really well below everyone on the rates,” Fowler said.

He noted that Blue Cross Blue Shield’s HMO plan is out-of-network in the Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System.

Overall, the percentage increases “could be different for your particular situation based on whether you have family or individual coverage or whatever plan you have,” Fowler said.

Policyholders could learn the 2016 rates by this fall, he said.

Insurance companies must get rate hikes reviewed by state and federal officials if they’re higher than 10 percent, Fowler said.

“I did a review of last year’s (reviewed) rates and all … ended up being held true,” he said.

Tuesday’s event at the Brenau Downtown Center theater, attended by some 170 people, served as an update of federal Affordable Care Act provisions.

The law, which requires Americans to be insured or face tax penalties, became effective in 2010 but still is rolling out with deadlines and requirements.

“It’s important to note that, as we continue forward, Georgia continues to refrain from assisting the federal government in operation of the health insurance exchange,” said Rich Sanders of The Sanders Law Firm in Atlanta.

More than 500,000 Georgians have enrolled in the insurance marketplace — another option for people seeking coverage — since October 2013.

The state also has asserted it will not expand Medicaid, a voluntary part of the law.

Opponents have said such a move would cost Georgia $4 billion over 10 years. Others have said it would cost $2 billion, but the move would boost the economy by $30 billion, Sanders said.

Even still, “without a formal decision to expand Medicaid in Georgia, Georgia Medicaid is growing like a weed,” Sanders said.

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