With UnitedHealthcare and Aetna leaving the state’s exchange, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Cigna will be the only carriers offering coverage there. Consumers insured by the exiting carriers will need to select plans offered by another insurer for 2017, which means they may also need to find new in-network healthcare providers and pay more in monthly premium.
North Carolinians who live in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, and enroll in coverage through HealthCare.gov, the state’s federally facilitated exchange, will see their options drop from 27 plans, 9 of them bronze, to 10 plans, 4 of them bronze. They may also see rate increases that are twice the national average before any subsidies have been applied.
What can Charlotte residents do to lower health insurance costs?
Under the Affordable Care Act, if the only health insurance plans available to someone exceed 8.16 percent of their income (this is the amount for 2017), then they may qualify for a hardship exemption from the individual shared responsibility provision and thereby can avoid the tax penalty.3
In Mecklenburg County, the annual premium for a 35-year-old who purchases the lowest-cost bronze plan is $5,421. That individual would need to make between $50,000 and $65,000 per year to qualify for a hardship exemption, which would be claimed on their federal tax return. If that person’s annual income were $1 less than the 400 percent FPL cut-off for premium tax credits, they would pay $3,400 for the same plan.
North Carolina rate increases and middle-class individuals, families
To see how rate hikes could impact middle-class individuals and families who buy Obamacare plans and do not qualify for subsidies, we obtained quotes for the lowest-cost bronze plans available in Mecklenburg County through HealthCare.gov in 2016 and 2017. With Aetna leaving, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC will offer the lowest-cost bronze plan for 2017.
In comparing finalized rates from 2016 and 2017, we found premium increases of 54.82 percent across the board for the brackets we quoted: a 35-year-old male nonsmoker; a 45-year-old male nonsmoker; and a family of four with a two male and two female members, all of them nonsmoking.4
We then broke down these rates and increases, and then compared them with other household expenses.
How many cups of coffee would Charlotte’s lowest-cost Obamacare premium buy?
Other ways to lower healthcare costs in NC
Even with an exemption, consumers may want to consider some form of healthcare benefits to help lower out-of-pocket exposure to medical bills. Anyone who claims an exemption or shops for individual and family health plans in North Carolina’s private market or through HealthCare.gov may want to consider working with a local, licensed health insurance agent. These individuals can help you navigate coverage options, including Obamacare plans as well as supplemental coverage such as critical illness, dental, hospital indemnity, and medical gap products to help lower out-of-pocket healthcare costs.