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Jon Godfread (Rep) candidate for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Special to The Forum

ND won't approve additional health care premium increases

BISMARCK — North Dakota will deny additional premium increases after President Donald Trump's decision to cut off health insurer subsidies, the state insurance department said Tuesday, Oct. 17, as senators later announced a deal to fund the payments.

The insurance department’s decision means the previously approved rates released earlier this month will stand. Average premium increases range from 7.9 percent to 22.6 percent next year for individual North Dakota customers covered under the federal health care exchange.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop the cost-sharing reduction payments, which compensate insurers for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people buying Affordable Care Act marketplace plans. Insurers and North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, a Republican, had warned the move could raise premiums.

In a message to insurance companies included in a news release, Godfread said his decision was intended to protect North Dakota consumers.

"As you know, this is an issue that is between insurance carriers and the federal government and while I understand the strain you are under in participating in this marketplace, it is my duty to look out for those consumers who have had to absorb multiple rounds of increases to their health insurance premiums without receiving any assistance from the federal government," he said.

Godfread said he received requests for increases between 8 and 10 percentage points above what was already approved to compensate for the loss of CSR payments, which were expected to total $7 billion in fiscal year 2017.

The 2018 open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota said it will continue to offer plans on the federal marketplace in 2018, even though it submitted rates under the assumption CSR payments would continue. A spokeswoman said premiums may increase in 2019, however.

“Our decision to stay on also means we will absorb the costs associated with a lack of funding from the CSR program,” Blue Cross Blue Shield spokeswoman Andrea Dinneen said in an email.

Sanford Health Plan spokesman Darren Huber said just before noon Tuesday he wasn’t sure when their decision would come.

“The decision is going to be the obvious one: Are you in or are you out?” he said. “That’s the decision every health plan is making right now.”

Godfread announced last month that Medica would leave North Dakota’s individual health insurance exchange in 2018, and a company official said Tuesday their position has not changed.

“We will remain in the North Dakota market but we will not be participating on the federal marketplace in North Dakota,” Geoff Bartsh, Medica’s vice president of individual and family business, said in a statement.

In announcing the subsidies would cease, the White House said late Thursday that the payments are “unlawful” and called on Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

House Republicans sued over the subsidies in 2014, arguing that Congress hadn’t appropriated money for them. A federal judge sided with the Republicans, and the case has been pending before an appeals court, according to the Washington Post.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., praised a bipartisan deal announced Tuesday to fund the subsidies for two years, along with other provisions. She said making the payments will actually save the government money and help stabilize insurance markets.

“We need to get this done ASAP,” Heitkamp said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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