Mass individual health premiums are highest in nation
Massachusetts and Vermont led the nation in 2010 with average, individual market health insurance premiums topping $400 per person per month, about double the national average, according to an analysis released Tuesday the State House News Service reported.
The Kaiser Family Foundation used information culled from insurer filings to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and found a substantial spread among premiums between the states.
The foundation called its analysis an "important baseline that consumers and policymakers can use to gauge the state of insurance affordability prior to the full implementation of health reform."
Alabama averaged $136 per month and California, Arkansas, Idaho and Delaware posted average monthly, per person premiums of less than $170. Premiums in Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey were among the nation's highest, averaging between $344 and $364.
According to the foundation, premiums between the states are likely to become a larger issue in 2014 as the nation transitions to the use of purchasing exchanges affording online price comparisons and due to new laws that will require insurers to provide coverage to anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions.
While touting the role premium comparisons will play among consumers in the evolving market, the analysis featured a long menu of important caveats and reasons why premiums vary from state to state. They include cost of living, patient cost-sharing, health care costs, age-based demographics, and both the generosity of benefits and the effectiveness of cost control efforts.
States like Massachusetts may have higher premiums due to reforms that allow people with pre-existing health conditions to enroll, for instance, while premiums in other states reflect a healthier-than-average population because some states permit insurers to exclude people with expensive illnesses. Also, residents of states with lower premiums may face higher copayments or deductibles, according to the analysis.
High health care costs are a long-running story in Massachusetts and the analysis adds to the debate in Massachusetts about how to control rising costs, which have put a crimp on household, employer, and government budgets during tough economic times. Cost-control efforts have traditionally encountered sharp resistance from pockets within the industry, which is itself an economic engine for the state.
Five years after the state passed a universal health care law, state officials are considering dramatic changes to care delivery and payments systems with the twin goals of improving care and squeezing out unnecessary costs. Lawmakers are reviewing a cost-control bill filed by Gov. Deval Patrick, who has pressed the Legislature to pass it before the end of the year.
Regulating private sector premiums, addressing underpayments under government-funded care programs, and addressing disparities in the prices charged by health care providers for similar services are likely to be central to the policy debate.
The study did not include results from Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.