Insurance rates released by Wis. gov questioned

Insurance rates released by Wisconsin governor questioned by health care advocates

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Health care advocates called into question information released Tuesday by Wis. Gov. Scott Walker's administration showing dramatic rate increases for insurance plans to be sold through the new marketplace created under the federal health care law.

The marketplaces, or exchanges, will be open for enrollment starting Oct. 1 with coverage beginning Jan. 1. They will offer small businesses, individuals and families a choice of private health plans, similar to what workers at major companies get, with subsidies for low-income consumers.

About 500,000 people in Wisconsin are expected to be shopping for coverage through the exchange, including about 92,000 currently on Medicaid who will be losing their coverage starting in January and 400,000 who have no insurance.

A month ago Walker's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance announced that 13 insurance companies would be offering plans to individuals through the exchange, but did not provide any details about rates or coverage areas.

On Tuesday, the insurance commissioner released an analysis showing what it said was the difference between what individual coverage will cost for a plan with a $2,000 deductible and prescription drug coverage currently and through the exchange. It did not examine costs in the group market.

The analysis looked at rates for individuals aged 21, 40 and 63 in nine Wisconsin cities. Rates would increase in all 24 of its scenarios, ranging from 9.7 percent for a 63-year-old in Kenosha to nearly 125 percent for a 21-year-old in Madison.

However, the analysis didn't take into account federal subsidies, which are expected to lower costs as much as 77 percent, or show the difference in benefits or co-pays.

"I think they've done nothing but confuse and mislead the public rather than give them serious information," said Robert Kraig, director of the health care advocacy group Citizen Action Wisconsin. "These look cooked and they're even hard to analyze because of the way they were released."

Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said not enough information was released to be of use to people who may be shopping for coverage through the exchange.

"Given how sketchy this information is, I can't help but wonder if they were even striving to make even-handed comparisons," Peacock said. "I'm not going to accuse them of stacking the deck because I don't know enough."

J.P. Wieske, a spokesman for the insurance commissioner's office, was in a meeting and did not immediately return a message.

However, Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel cautioned in the press release that comparisons are difficult to make given that rates will vary based on a person's age and where they live. Nickel also acknowledged that the federal subsidy "will offset the actual premium being charged for low-income consumers."

Ohio also did not take into account federal subsidies when it released an analysis showing that premium for individuals would go up an average of 41 percent in that state. Like in Ohio, insurance regulators who released the data in Wisconsin are a part of a Republican administration that opposes the federal law. Walker has repeatedly called for the health care law to be overturned. He also declined to have the state set up the exchanges, deferring instead to the federal government.

Information about the coverage area of plans being offered through the exchanges in Wisconsin won't be released until later this month. Citizen Action did its own analysis, which the insurance commissioner's office refuted, showing that every part of the state will be covered by at least two insurance companies.

Nickel, the insurance commissioner, and those critical of the analysis his office released did agree on one point: the best way to know what plans will cost is to review what is offered once the exchanges go live in October.

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