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Obamacare premiums set to increase in N.D.

Average health insurance premiums are set to increase in North Dakota, but the state will avoid the eye-popping increases announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.

Kirk Zimmer,
Kirk Zimmer,

Average health insurance premiums are set to increase in North Dakota, but the state will avoid the eye-popping increases announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.

That agency said premiums for benchmark plans purchased on the individual marketplace in North Dakota will increase by 7 percent, on average, in 2017. That's far below the national 25 percent average increase for states using the HealthCare.gov platform, a figure that provided fodder for opponents of President Barack Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

House Speaker Paul Ryan touted a Republican plan to repeal and replace the law, commonly known as Obamacare.

"We don't have to accept this kind of sticker shock," he said in a statement.

The increases announced this week only reflect individual plans purchased through the insurance marketplace and not plans offered by employers or government programs. HHS estimated 10 million people will be enrolled in coverage through marketplaces by the end of this year. Open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

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In a report released Monday, HHS said insurers are "adjusting their premiums to bring them in line with costs" with two years of data available. The department also explained that "because excluding people with pre-existing conditions was previously allowed in the individual market, there were no data available on how much it would cost to extend coverage to everyone, and many issuers' initial premiums were below actual costs."

The benchmark used by HHS reflects the second-lowest-cost silver plan. The ACA uses that plan to determine the amount of tax credits a consumer would receive, said Jonathan Gold, HHS press secretary.

"So as the benchmark plan moves, so will the tax credit, meaning most consumers will not end up paying more out of their own pocket for the plans," he said in an email. In North Dakota, 85 percent of current marketplace consumers are eligible for tax credits, according to HHS.

In a news release, HHS said a 27-year-old in Fargo with an income of $25,000 is expected to pay almost the same amount in 2017-$142 a month-as they did in 2016 for a benchmark plan because of an increase in tax credits.

"Thanks to the combination of relatively modest premium changes and financial assistance, North Dakota consumers will continue to have robust options for quality, affordable coverage for 2017," Kevin Counihan, HealthCare.gov CEO, said in a statement.

North Dakota's 2017 jump is in line with premium increases here over the past two years, Gold said. But Minnesota, which uses a state-run exchange, will see a 59 percent increase, the HHS report said. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Minnesota has an "unusually small individual market with an unusually large number of sick people."

In its report, HHS said "moderate rate increases" in places such as North Dakota suggest that marketplaces in "states around the country are maturing and approaching stable price points."

Kirk Zimmer, executive vice president of the Sanford Health Plan, said health care costs in North Dakota are less than in other states, which helps explain the difference in average premium increases with the rest of the country.

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"Part of that is the care being delivered, part of that is the cost of the care and the mix of care being delivered," he said. "It's good news for North Dakotans, no doubt."

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