North Carolinians who plan to sign up for health insurance online through the federal exchange, or marketplace, can now get an idea of how much it'll cost. But those costs are difficult to compare to current rates and tricky to compare to other states as well.
Blue Cross Blue Shield released information Thursday about premiums it'll charge on the marketplace. And a smaller insurer has released similar data.
Monthly premiums will vary from less than $100 dollars to more than $1,000 dollars, depending on your age and what kind of plan you want off the marketplace. That's the one-stop website the federal government will run in North Carolina. The plans are given names like bronze, silver, gold and platinum. We'll take a quick look at the bronze plans.
If you're 25 years old, the cheapest bronze plan you can get from Blue Cross is $185 a month.
From FirstCarolinaCare, a small company that's offering plans in six counties, it's $222. As you get older, premiums go up. So for a 60-year-old, the cheapest monthly premium from Blue Cross is $500, and from FirstCarolinaCare, it's $600.
Those are like sticker prices. The actual cost will vary for some people who qualify for federal tax credits. If your family income ranges from the poverty level to four times the poverty level, you'll probably quality for credits.
It's tough to say how the premiums compare to what they were before the marketplace. For one, the insurance companies and the state department of insurance say they don't have data on old premiums that match with the new ones. That's in part because the plans are just different. Here's Barbara Morales Burke, a vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina:
"So for example, in individual policy today we don't include maternity care," Burke said. "We don't provide coverage for pediatric, dental, and vision services – that's something that's new to these plans. They're richer benefits, is the bottom line."
We can compare the premiums in our state marketplace to those in other marketplaces, though it's still not quite apples to apples. That's because health care costs can vary from state to state based on the cost of living and other factors. But we can at least look at the sticker prices.
The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report today about marketplace premiums in 17 states and D.C. It found that the lowest cost bronze plan for a 40-year-old, for example, ranges from about $150 a month in Baltimore, Maryland, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to more than $300 in New York City and Burlington, Vermont. North Carolina's lowest cost bronze plan for 40 year olds is somewhere in the middle of that range - $235.
Some of the states with lower premiums have more competition in their marketplace. In North Carolina, Blue Cross dominates and may not have any competition in some counties. We'll know more about that next week when another company (Aetna/Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas) announces if it'll offer plans.
Update: FirstCarolinaCare decided to back out of the marketplace, and Coventry Health Care of the Carolinas decided to offer plans in 39 counties. That means 61 counties only have one insurance company to choose from on the marketplace.