For the first time in 25 years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is seeking to lower its premiums for individual health insurance coverage. Yesterday the company announced that it filed a request with state regulators for an average rate reduction of 4.1 percent across all health insurance plans that it will offer on the individual market in 2019.
While this is surely good news—especially for the small fraction of North Carolina enrollees who pay full price because they do not qualify for premium subsidies—it could have been much better news. Instead of seeking a 4.1 percent decrease, the company could have reduced rates by 22.1 percent if it weren’t for the political attacks on health care that have taken place in the past year.
After Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the summer of 2017, the Trump administration abruptly cut off payments that reimburse insurers for providing Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies to enrollees with low incomes, causing Blue Cross to raise its 2018 rates on North Carolinians by 14.1 percent to make up for the losses. In today’s announcement, Blue Cross notes that if those payments were still in place, “requested rates would be another 14 percent lower” in 2019. Premiums would have been an additional four percent lower if Congress hadn’t eliminated the individual mandate penalty as part of its massive tax break handout to corporate American and the wealthy in December.
While ACA sabotage has been Trump’s major health care policy approach, opponents of the ACA have long deliberately undermined the law and hurt the millions who benefit from it since before the days of Trump. In the early years of implementation, Congress defunded a program designed to stabilize the markets, leading to premium spikes and an exodus by insurers from the exchanges.
The North Carolina General Assembly has also embodied this “politics over people” health policy agenda, as they have rejected Medicaid expansion since 2013, leaving billions of federal dollars on the table that would help the state cover over 600,000 North Carolinians. Not only does that leave hundreds of thousands of our neighbors uninsured, but it also costs more for people who are insured with private coverage. In states that expanded Medicaid, private insurance premiums are lower by seven percent on average. This ongoing act of health care sabotage hurts all of us.
So, yes, Blue Cross’ rate reduction is good news, but that 4.1 percent decrease could have been a 22.1 percent decrease. Imagine how much more progress we could make if our state and federal lawmakers committed to improving health care for people instead of playing into politics.