SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Some Californians are getting hit with a painful side effect of Obamacare: Their health insurance rates are going up. But California’s health care exchange says consumers shouldn’t freak out just yet.
Kathy Fong of Sebastopol is seeing higher rates firsthand. Her husband recently got a letter from his insurer, Kaiser Permanente, informing him that starting next year, the premiums for his high-deductible policy will rise from $287 a month to $595, a 107 percent increase.
“I had sticker shock,” Fong told ConsumerWatch.
Kaiser’s letter went on to explain it is discontinuing Fong’s current plan because “it does not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. (ACA)”
Kaiser said the new policy will conform and have “different benefits and different out-of-pocket expenses.”
Emily Rusch of CALPIRG said, in almost all cases, those benefits are more robust.
“It’s (health insurance) going to be more comprehensive than it used to be. There are now standards in place,” said Rusch.
Those include a lot of new protections, like no lifetime caps and ending discrimination for pre-existing conditions, as well as mandatory coverage for mental health care, preventive care and maternity care.
But at least one consumer advocate is blaming the insurers themselves for the price hikes.
“This is a handful of insurance companies that have convinced a very gullible state agency called Covered California to allow them to drop plans that could very easily, with a few little tweaks, be compliant under the A.C.A,” said Jamie Court of Santa Monica-based group Consumer Watchdog.
Ken Wood of Covered California strongly disagrees. He said it’s not a matter of tweaking policies. He said the changes are much more substantial and required by law.
“Under the Affordable Care Act, all California consumers in the individual market will be charged a fair rate for a standard product. If in the end any health insurer overcharges the consumer, they are required by law to rebate the excess premium to the consumer,” Wood told ConsumerWatch.
Wood also said people who are seeing big jumps in their rates should investigate whether they are entitled to premium assistance. He said many will. And he said Covered California will be doing joint mailings over the coming weeks with the three major insurers in the individual market—Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, and Kaiser Health Plan – to encourage their members to check with their health plan to see if they are eligible for premium assistance.
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