Starting Jan. 1, some federal marketplace health insurance rates may cost about $20 more per month in South Carolina than the national average, according to data released Wednesday.
These plans are different than health insurance plans currently available on the market because the Affordable Care Act has changed several rules about what must be offered in the plans.
This is the first information made available by the government about what insurance prices will be in this state after Obamacare kicks into high gear in the new year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the most affordable option for a “bronze” plan will cost South Carolinians an average $267 a month through the marketplace. The national average for a similar plan is $249.
Different tiers of health insurance, ranging from high-deductible catastrophic plans to high-benefit, low-deductible “platinum” plans, will be available on the marketplace. All tiers of plans must include the same essential health benefits.
“Silver” health insurance plans available through the marketplace may also cost more in South Carolina. The department estimates the most affordable option for a “silver” plan in the state will be an average $333, while the national average is $23 less per month.
These estimated prices do not account for age, county or income. Many middle- and low-income residents will qualify for subsidies to help pay for an insurance plan. The subsidies will offset the cost of complying with the new federal law.
Individuals who can't prove they are insured next year will be fined $95 when they file income taxes in 2015. Parents are also required to enroll their children in a plan, and will be fined $47.50 per child for failing to comply with the law.
For more than 80 percent of South Carolinians who already carry health insurance cards, this is not a concern.
A press release about the federal report explained that insurance premiums across the country will be about 16 percent lower than originally predicted.
South Carolina is one of 36 states participating in the federal health insurance marketplace, which opens for business Tuesday. Coverage for plans purchased through the marketplace will begin Jan. 1.
The federal government released health insurance premium estimates for 48 states. Not only did the report including national and statewide averages, the spreadsheets made it possible to drill the data down even further by age and county.
For example, the lowest cost “gold” plan for a 26-year-old in Charleston County will probably cost about $230.44 a month before tax subsidies. In Chester County, north of Columbia, the same type of plan will cost about $290.45 for a 26-year-old.
The report shows 26-year-olds in Greenwood may pay the most for that type of plan, an estimated $300.67.
All of the data is available online, www.hhs.gov.
Fifty-two health insurance plans offered by four companies will be available for South Carolinians to purchase on the federal exchange starting Tuesday. The data released Wednesday by the federal government was the first time any price information has been made public about these plans.
In August, the S.C. Department of Insurance predicted that health insurance premiums may increase by 70 percent for some people, but the department has offered no specifics about actual prices yet.
A spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Insurance said Director Ray Farmer was not available to discuss the data released Wednesday.
A price comparison between plans now available on the market and the plans that start Jan. 1 is difficult, because the Affordable Care Act has changed some rules about what benefits insurance companies are required to offer and prices that the companies will be allowed to charge.
For example, starting in January, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to beneficiaries with pre-existing conditions or charge women more than men for health insurance.
A rate query on ehealthinsurance.com shows that a nonsmoking 26-year-old female in Charleston County could purchase coverage starting Oct. 1 that ranges from $78.46 a month for a high-deductible catastrophic plan to $473 a month for premium benefits.
A 26-year-old nonsmoking male in Charleston would pay between $60.30 and $373.86 for the same options. This difference in price won't be allowed starting in January.
Jerry Burgess, president of Consumer's Choice Health Plan, one of the four companies selling insurance through the marketplace to South Carolina residents, said in a prepared statement that he was “very pleased” with the information published by the federal government on Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, the largest insurer in the state, said via email that no one from the company was available to comment on the data.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.