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Highmark raises Obamacare plan rates 25 percent for 2018

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Delawareans who are covered by Affordable Care Act will pay 25 percent higher premiums next year. It’s the third rate hike in the First State since insurance exchanges started in 2014.

Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro blames uncertainty created by the Trump administration.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, the only ACA insurer for next year, asked for a nearly 34 percent increase after Aetna decided to pull out of the exchanges earlier this year. The state negotiated the lower rate increase after an actuary said the request was too high.

Insurance Commissioner Navarro says Highmark’s rate would have been much lower if the federal government wasn’t undermining the law by waffling on continuing to help cover low-income people and enforcing the individual mandate. And it’s slashed Obamacare funding.

“Congress has cut funding for advertising for the ACA, cut the period in which you can enroll and they have cut funding for navigators across the country. Now in Delaware, we were fortunate that the navigators here were fully funded, but other states didn’t fare so well.”

A spokesman for Highmark said it worked with the Delaware Department of Insurance on the rate filing. Matt Stehl cited its "expansive" discussions with the state and the public. While rates will go up, Stehl said some premiums will go down.

Navarro said he had to weigh a rate increase against the likelihood that Highmark would leave the marketplace.

“You know, they very well could have done what Aetna did and that was just simply pull out of Delaware and that would have been a terrible thing for Delaware consumers because we would have had no one left who was selling policies that were ACA compliant.”

The enrollment period, which runs from November 1st to December 15, is half the length it was in previous years. The administration also plans to shut down the federal insurance exchange website for 12 hours on nearly every Sunday during open enrollment. Administration officials have said the outreach efforts are being run inefficiently and cuts were necessary. They have also said people know about the coverage and how to enroll for coverage.

Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm issued an statement blasting President Donald Trump.

"From all but eliminating ACA outreach efforts to weakening enforcement of the individual mandate to threatening the withdrawal of federal cost sharing reductions on which insurance companies like Highmark rely, Trump is intentionally muddying the waters and unsettling the insurance marketplace," he said. "Deceitfully playing politics with people's lives."

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the national Republican Party, said last month that Obamacare is failing Americans.

"Forty-five percent of the counties in this country by 2018 will have one carrier or no carrier and Republicans are working as hard as they can to bring relief to the American people but also deliver on a campaign promise that we ran on," she said.

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