D.C. offers a peek at the health insurance prices proposed for new exchange

In the first glimpse of what District residents and small business owners can expect to pay for health-care coverage under Obamacare, officials on Friday released a snapshot of the proposed plans from four major insurance companies.

The nearly 300 insurance plans require approval from the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking before going on sale through a city-created exchange, but officials say a preliminary look reveals a large range of options at prices consistent with current rates.

“I feel confident based on the preliminary information that the rates are very good,” said Mila Kofman, director of the District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange. “There is absolutely no rate shock here.”

Under the proposed plans — which offer coverage from Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, United HealthCare and CareFirst — a 27-year-old District resident could expect to pay between $124 and $341 a month for a health insurance policy.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old would pay anywhere between $166 and $457 a month, and a 55-year-old would face costs ranging from $295 to $813 a month.

Residents with low and moderate incomes who are unable to afford the plans on their own would be eligible for federal tax credits offsetting the cost.

“This is good news for everyone in this market — people who don’t have insurance will finally be able to afford it, and individuals and small businesses who are insured will have better and clearer choices,” said Michael Flagg, director of communications for the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

The rates will undergo a review to make sure they are justifiable, but officials say that at this point, it appears prices have remained steady, even as consumers can expect more benefits. As part of the federal health-care overhaul enacted under the Obama administration, insurers will no longer be allowed to reject people with pre-existing conditions. Insurance plans must offer a standard level of coverage that includes preventative tests for cancer and diabetes without cost-sharing.

Exchanges were a key element of the Affordable Care Act. The law gave states the option of creating their own centralized electronic marketplaces or participating in a federally designed one.

In a controversial move, the District not only decided to create its own exchange, the D.C Council voted earlier this month to make the city one of the few places where small business owners are required to purchase employee health insurance through it.

Under the proposed insurance plans, a small business in the District faces a wide range of options. At the extremes, an employer could choose to buy an HMO plan for a 27-year-old employee for as little as $144 a month or a PPO plan for a 55-year-old employee for as much as $1,037 a month.

The District’s exchange will open Oct. 1 and will offer coverage beginning in January. Small business owners in the District will have until 2015 to buy coverage through the exchange.

Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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