Obamacare prices going up in S.C.

Open enrollment on HealthCare.gov for 2016 Affordable Care Act plans starts Nov. 1 and will run through Jan. 31.

South Carolinians shopping for Obamacare policies later this year will be faced with higher prices, the head of the state Department of Insurance said this week.

But there’s a silver lining. Even though fewer companies will be selling plans on the federal exchange in South Carolina this year, “plan variety should not be an issue,” said Ray Farmer, director of the agency.

Only four companies, down from five during the Affordable Care Act’s past open enrollment window, will offer policies to South Carolina residents on HealthCare.gov when sign-ups start Nov. 1.

Time Insurance Co. — also marketed as Assurant Health — will not sell plans in the state anymore, Farmer said. The Associated Press reported last month that the Wisconsin-based company is closing its health insurance divisions.

Meanwhile, South Carolina regulators are still reviewing rates submitted by other companies for 2016 insurance plans. Their review won’t be finished until early August, Farmer said, but this much is clear: Prices are going up.

“Health care is expensive and this is going to be a reflection of that,” he said.

Adrian Grimes, a spokeswoman for Consumers’ Choice Health Plan, confirmed that premiums will be higher this time around.

“Insurance goes up every year, even way before the Affordable Care Act,” Grimes said. “You have rare cases where it goes down, but there are always increases at renewal time. That is a very general statement.”

Consumers’ Choice, a nonprofit health insurance cooperative, is one of four carriers that will continue selling plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace to state customers.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the largest private health insurance company in the state, its licensee, Blue Choice, and Coventry Health Care have also sold South Carolina plans on HealthCare.gov since 2014.

Grimes said the price customers will pay out of pocket depends on several factors, including the county they live in, the coverage they choose and their age.

Also, most low- to middle-income customers who purchase Affordable Care Act policies qualify for federal subsidies to offset the cost they pay. The full sticker price may not reflect the amount they will owe each month.

In South Carolina, the federal government estimates 154,000 people already receive these subsidies for health insurance, and they qualify for an average $281 monthly discount.

The vast majority of South Carolinians who are insured through their employer, or by Medicare and Medicaid, do not receive these subsidies.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.