Health insurance premiums to rise as much as 12.1% in RI next year

But commissioner argues 'the outlook is better in Rhode Island' than elsewhere

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island's headquarters in Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Health insurance premiums will rise as much as 12.1% in Rhode Island next year, state officials announced Thursday after completing their annual review of insurers’ filings.

The largest increase will be for consumers who buy Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island plans on the individual market, including HealthSource RI, where premiums will increase by an average of 12.1% in 2018. But Blue Cross’s sole competitor on the individual market in Rhode Island, Neighborhood Health Plan, will only be increasing premiums by 5%.

Increases for large employers will range from 8% to 10.5% depending on which insurer they buy from, and increases for small employers will range from 6.3% to 7.3%. In addition to Blue Cross, UnitedHealthcare and Tufts Health Plan also sell insurance to Rhode Island employers.

Marie Ganim, who took over this summer as the state’s health insurance commissioner, emphasized that premiums are rising more slowly in Rhode Island than in other states, citing a new Kaiser Family Foundation report that showed increases of 20% or more in some places.

Ganim also noted that insurers had originally requested premium increases of as much as 13.9% but her office had reduced the final numbers, estimating that doing so will save consumers $16.7 million. She also said the health insurance commissioner’s office has saved an estimated $236 million since its creation in 2005.

“Fortunately, the outlook is better in Rhode Island relative to health insurance premium increases in other states,” Ganim said in a statement. But, she said, “health insurance costs are already very high for many Rhode Islanders, and we understand that annual increases are a burden for individuals and companies in our state.”

Ganim said the main drivers of the 2018 premium increases are a double-digit rise in the cost of prescription drugs, more use of outpatient services at hospitals, and the reinstatement of a federal health insurance tax that usually totals about 2% of premiums.

Neighborhood officials noted their company’s rate increases for individual plans are significantly lower than Blue Cross’s, and that the commissioner’s office approved their proposed premiums outright without changes.

“Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island keeps our members in mind when we design our plans and determine how much they should cost,” Neighborhood President and CEO said in a statement. “And that’s why, year after year, Neighborhood stands alone in offering the lowest-cost commercial health insurance plans to the people of Rhode Island.”

The commissioner’s office released this list summarizing the increases approved for 2018 and comparing them with what insurers had requested this year and in previous years:

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook