Illinois family health insurance premiums rank 13th lowest in nation
An Illinois family of four pays a premium of about $6,200 a year for health insurance, the 13th-lowest cost in the nation, according to a new federal report.
That’s a steal compared to New Jersey, where the family would pay nearly $54,000 for the annual premium, the highest median rate in the nation for that plan. But the Illinois rate is almost double the $3,282 a year a family would pay in Kentucky, the lowest in the country.
The rates are disclosed in a state-by-state analysis released July 23 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that offers a snapshot of what individuals and families paid for health plans in January. The study did not include employer plans.
Rapidly rising health insurance rates long have been a sore subject for consumers, who see the cost of medical care eating into their incomes. Hopes for a respite from skyrocketing premiums are being raised by the state health insurance exchanges, which open for enrollment on Oct. 1.
The online exchanges, a key part of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, are intended to stir competition among insurers to drive down prices. Many uninsured consumers are expected to use the exchanges to satisfy the individual mandate to purchase policies.
Many states, including Illinois, have yet to reveal the rates for plans to be sold on their exchanges, which will be open to both individuals and small businesses. Those that have disclosed proposed rates show that consumers will be getting a deal if they already pay the full cost of their premiums.
“They don’t seem to include the rate shock that many observers predicted,” Sara Collins, a vice president at Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health care research foundation, said in an earlier interview. “They’re coming in at reasonable levels.”
The Obama administration is already touting the exchanges, saying premiums will be nearly 20 percent lower than expected in 2014 based on a review of 10 states and the District of Columbia, according to a rb_premiums July 18 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The GAO report is intended to offer a baseline on premiums before the start of important aspects of the new health care law, such as restrictions on how much insurers can vary premiums based on age and tobacco usage.
The report is based on rates as of January on the Plan Finder on HealthCare.gov, a federal health insurance website. Insurers submitted the information, but the report is not a complete picture of premiums. Roughly 20 percent of all insurers did not submit data to the website.
In addition, the report uses base premiums before insurers’ underwriting, which takes into account factors such as medical history. Actual premiums, after underwriting, could be much higher, the report noted.
The report compares plans for six types of consumers, including men and women, smokers and nonsmokers, and couples older than 55.
The GAO report also uncovered some evidence of differences in premiums based on gender and tobacco use, with higher premiums for women and smokers. For example, in Illinois the median base premium for a 30-year-old, non-smoking female is $2,170 a year, $719 more than a male nonsmoker of the same age and still $448 more than a same-age male who smokes.
Some people will qualify for tax credits that will help offset costs when buying plans on the exchange.
The report also highlights the differences between rates in urban area and rural regions in four states, including Illinois.
The median premium for a family of four in ZIP code 60610 on the Near North Side is $8,905 a year. That’s nearly $2,000 more than the same family would pay in 60945 in Iroquois County, about two hours south of Chicago.
Six carriers have filed proposals to offer plans on the Illinois exchange. The insurers and the Quinn administration have declined to disclose their proposed rates or plans, saying they are still under review.
A spokesman for Chicago-based Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, the largest insurer in the state, declined to comment about the report. Blue Cross has applied to participate in the exchange.
A spokeswoman for Louisville, Ky.,-based Humana Inc. also declined to comment. The state’s third-largest carrier has also applied for the exchange.
UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest insurer in the nation and the second-largest in Illinois, is not selling policies on the state’s insurance exchange.