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HealthCare.gov

This screen shot shows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ main landing web page for HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange established by the Affordable Care Act.

BILLINGS - More than 70 percent of Montanans who qualify under the Affordable Care Act, can purchase a plan for $75 or less per month, even if rate hikes this fall are 50 percent, according to a study released Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday there are two features of the marketplace that protect nearly 52,000 Montanans from the impact of rate increases:

  • Tax credits go up along with premiums. Those tax credit increases parallel premium hikes for most Montanans, the study shows.
  • Consumers can shop to find the best plan. Last year, about 12,000 returning HealthCare.gov consumers from Montana switched plans, saving an average of $38 per month. Changing plans is allowed during open enrollment. The website lets consumers compare prices, plan designs and networks to find the best choice for them.

The release of the study comes three weeks after three companies that provide health insurance plans to Montanans — the Montana Health Co-op, PacificSource and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana — appeared before Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen in Billings to discuss their proposed rate increases for 2017 in plans they offer under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Blue Cross Blue Shield proposes a 62 percent increase across all its ACA plans. Montana Health Co-op proposes a 22 percent average increase, while PacificSource proposes a 20 percent increase.

Those proposed rate increases affect about 35,000 Montanans who don’t receive federal tax credits. About 85 percent of Montana residents who purchase insurance on the marketplace receive a tax credit based on their income.

“The tax credit,” said Katie Martin, acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “is the prime driving force to protect consumers.”

In Wyoming, 71 percent of qualified residents could still find a plan for $75 or less per month despite a hypothetical 50-percent premium increase next year, the study indicates.

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“Starting Nov. 1, we want people to look at healthcare.gov to make sure folks are looking at their options and shopping around,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, chief operating officer and chief of staff for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While insurance companies leaving the marketplace have generated many headlines, others are entering or expanding coverage and some are doing so without much media attention, she said.

“The issuers are learning the new rules, and some adjust faster than others,” Cohen, an internist, told reporters. “As companies feel more comfortable, we are heartened by the entries and the expansion” of offerings.

The study also indicates that current marketplace rates are 12-20 percent below initial Congressional Budget Office projections. In addition, marketplace and non-marketplace consumers have benefited from slower health care cost growth since Congress passed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010.

Employer-sponsored family coverage, which insures about 150 million Americans, rose about 4 percent in 2015, half the 8-percent average increase from 2000 to 2010.

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