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Wait For Obamacare Price Tags Could Be Months

Last week Vermont became the first state to provide a glimpse of how expensive individual health insurance might be under the Affordable Care Act. Proposed rates there, while of questionable relevance to the rest of the country because of the state’s unusual insurance market, showed little change from current prices and reassured health law supporters fearing headlines about “sticker shock.”

But rate disclosure elsewhere may take a while. In many states the deadlines for filing proposed plans aren’t until late May. And some states with early deadlines have no plans to publish results as quickly. Vermont insurers had to file paperwork by March 25, and the state disclosed results on April 1.

“The state of Vermont is very intent on transparency,” said Dale Schaft, spokeswoman for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

In New York, proposed rates from insurers are due Friday, April 12. But under state law, new insurance filings are not made public until they are approved by state regulators, which is anticipated in July, said a spokesman for the state health department.

In Maryland the deadline was April 1 for filing individual insurance plans to be sold through the state’s Health Connection website. But there is no firm date for disclosing them, said Vivian Laxton, spokeswoman for the Maryland Insurance Administration.

“The Maryland Insurance Administration will post rate filing documents on its website once the filings are complete,” including clarifications sought from insurers, she said. “It is our expectation that the filings will be complete by the end of next week.”

Kaiser Health News has submitted a request under Maryland’s Public Information Act to view the requested rates, which, as in other states, will be subject to review by regulators even after they’re published.

Individual health plans are expected to be the primary coverage sold through the online state marketplaces known as exchanges. Exchanges will also offer group policies for small employers. Rates for large, employer-based plans, which account for most private coverage, aren’t affected by exchange prices.

Forecasts suggest that some people, especially young adults, will pay more for individual policies. Besides requiring benefits that in many cases are more generous than those offered now, the health law restricts insurers’ previous ability to give big discounts to younger folks and big markups for older, sicker people. (Similar restrictions were already in force in Vermont, which may explain its lack of a spike.) What’s more, an influx of sicker, previously uninsured members may raise rates for everybody. Starting in 2014 insurers must take all applicants regardless of health problems, although plans with the sickest members will receive offsetting subsidies.

Two weeks ago the Society of Actuaries published a study forecasting that medical claims per policyholder would rise 32 percent, on average, in the individual market by 2017. Members of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, a group of state regulators, are contemplating  ways to “mitigate expected premium increases” under the health law, according to the New York Times. The law requires state or federal review of premium increases of 10 percent or more for new individual and small-business health plans.

Phil Galewitz contributed.