Obama health law may lower rates for some state residents

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Some Washington residents may see lower insurance premiums under President Barack Obama's health care law, with proposed plans released Tuesday countering concerns expressed by the insurance industry just a year ago.

Under the rate proposals submitted by insurance companies, rates vary dramatically among the types of plans and across age ranges. When compared to similar existing plans, one person may see higher premiums while another may see lower monthly payments.

Premera Blue Cross currently offers individual plans for 21-year-old non-smokers at a monthly cost of $325, with a deductible of $1,800. In the exchange, that same person in King County could purchase a similar Premera plan with a lower deductible at a rate of $276 - a decrease of 15 percent.

That's a major contrast to past comments by Jeffrey Roe, the executive vice president at Premera Blue Cross, who warned last year that he expected individual premiums to go up 50 to 70 percent under the Obama law. Eric Earling, a spokesman for Premera, said Tuesday that Roe's previous comments were a very preliminary estimate before the federal government provided guidance that clarified a range of regulatory rules.

Earling also said the current Premera plans are very small and serve a less-healthy population that has been in the system for a while. He pointed out that the company's LifeWise plans were the most popular products and better to compare.

One of the most popular plans in the state is a basic LifeWise plan that covers essentials with a deductible of nearly $2,000. A 21-year-old non-smoker in King County would currently pay $160 under the plan. That would move up slightly to $162 in the exchange, but the person would gain coverage for prescription drugs and maternity care. A 40-year-old in the same position would have their rates rise from $294 a month to $326 a month - an increase of 11 percent.

"Each customer's experience is really going to vary because these are entirely new products," Earling said.

Under the Obama health law, some individuals may also qualify for federal subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

Observers expected some rate increases in part because the health care law requires coverage for things like prescription drugs and maternity care that aren't typically covered currently. Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman at the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, said insurance buyers are going to get a lot more for their money.

"We are pleasantly surprised at what we're seeing in the rates," Marquis said.