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How Obamacare premium hikes could affect Va. residents

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RICHMOND, Va - Virginians who buy health insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces will see premium increases next year, but the hikes will not be as high as the national average, according to data from federal and state officials.

Obamacare premiums will skyrocket 22% on average in 2017 for the benchmark plan, according to a government report released Monday.  

In Virginia, the premium increase will be 10% for the benchmark plan, the report said.  However, those numbers do not tell the whole picture according to state officials.  For all individuals in Virginia who purchase health insurance through the exchanges, rates are scheduled to increase 19.5% on average, according to the State Corporation Commission Bureau of Insurance.

Still, local experts said they do not think the average consumer will feel a dramatic effect on their pocketbook.

"Even though the premiums go up, most people won't feel that premium increase," said Dr. Peter Cunningham, a health care policy professor at VCU.  "Most people receive premium subsidies from the federal government to help them purchase health insurance.  Those subsidies are set so that it basically caps what people pay out of pocket."

The problem, Cunningham said, is that the federal government takes on an increased financial burden in that scenario.

"This is a longer-term concern for the Affordable Care Act. The issue is the long-term sustainability from a financial perspective," Cunningham said.

Nationwide insurance companies are fleeing the exchanges; 70 companies are dropping in 2017.  Experts said a piece of good news for Virginia customers is that practice isn't occurring in the Commonwealth. There will be no net change in the amount of companies offering plans to Virginia customers on the exchanges, according to the report released Monday and confirmed by state officials Tuesday.

"Virginia actually has a fairly large number of insurance plans on the market," said Cunningham.  "That could help to keep premium increases lower because of increased competition."

Leanna Coker, who works at Sticky To Go-Go in the Fan neighborhood and gets her health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges, expects her health insurance costs to increase about $30 each month next year.  While that is not unbearable, Coker said it is still worrisome for customers who were promised quality health care at an affordable cost by the Obama administration.

"The whole thing they were going for was to have a lower price for everything.  Now they're increasing that," Coker said.  "A little frustrating trying to figure out how much [premiums are] increasing and who it is affecting."


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