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Poor health, few insurers boost W.Va. premiums

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A lack of competition in West Virginia’s 2013-14 Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace contributed to higher average premiums for consumers than in states with more participating insurers, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is one in a series focused on monitoring and tracking the implementation of the ACA. The report focused on 10 states, and concluded that four — Alabama, Arkansas, Rhode Island and West Virginia — had very little competition in the first year of their marketplaces, and were dominated by Blue Cross Blue Shield carriers with strong pre-existing networks of coverage.

The study found that in its first year, Highmark West Virginia, a BCBS carrier and the only insurer to opt into the marketplace in the state, established premiums for the average 27 year old at between $215 and $250 per month, and between $366 and $426 for the average 50 year old. For the average 45 year old, the study found the average premium in Charleston was $325 — the third-highest average rate among states included in the report, after New York’s average of $359 for New York City residents, and an average of $331 for residents of Little Rock, Arkansas.

According to Fred Earley, president of Highmark WV, the insurer priced its coverage competitively when entering the marketplace, not knowing that it would not face competitors in the first year. Highmark’s pricing for next year’s marketplace will be similar, he said.

“We tried to get the best estimate we could around the impact of the changes in the rating regulations, around the age being much more narrow, around the fact that there wouldn’t be any type of health screening statuses associated with them other than tobacco-use screenings,” he said. “We did the best we could to estimate what would be the appropriate rate.”

The Kentucky Health Cooperative has entered the West Virginia marketplace and is set to establish a new cooperative in time for the next open enrollment period…

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