A Missouri consumer advocacy group plans to take on the tedious task of reviewing health insurance rates with the goal of identifying and challenging hefty price hikes.
Missouri is one of the few states that does not allow its insurance regulators to review and approve health plan prices before they can be sold. As a result, local health advocates are planning for the first time to conduct that review themselves.
The Consumers Council of Missouri will lead the effort with financial backing from the Missouri Foundation for Health.
The council will only be able to review insurance plans sold to individuals through HealthCare.gov, the online federal marketplace where Missourians can buy health policies. About 250,000 Missourians currently receive coverage through HealthCare.gov plans.
“People should know what is going on with their insurance rates and if increases are justified,” said Joan Bray, executive director of the Consumers Council of Missouri.
The consumers group filed a lawsuit last year against the federal government seeking detailed plan information before the open enrollment season began Nov. 15. The information was released, but not until a few weeks before people could begin viewing and signing up for plans. The lawsuit is still pending.
But federal officials said rate information for next year’s plans is expected to be publicly available June 1. At that point, the consumers council, assisted by St. Louis University students, will begin diving into the information.
Bray said they hope to take a close look at rate increases, especially those more than 10 percent. Increases more than that amount are closely reviewed by federal regulators. Bray said the council could provide public comments supporting, or criticizing, such increases during the government’s review.
Last year, the second year that plans were sold on HealthCare.gov, St. Louis residents saw insurance rate increases above the national average. The monthly premium for the lowest-cost “bronze” plan — a plan that requires the highest level of customer cost-sharing — rose by nearly 12 percent.
That, along with the lack of authority for state regulators to examine prices, led to the new review effort.
“We hear people talk about rate increases every year, and this is an opportunity to bring transparency to that process,” said Ryan Barker, vice president for health policy at the Missouri Foundation for Health.”