Individuals in local health insurance markets face fewer choices this year

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Open enrollment for health insurance is now open, and for those who don’t receive coverage from their employers, the choices are slim.

“It’s strictly math, last year we had two companies in Chatham County, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Ambetter, ” said Savannah Insurance Broker Bill Lucas.

Lucas says in 2017, many consumers picked Blue Cross Blue Shield even though the premiums were up to 40 percent higher because he says the insurance offered much more in coverage. However, Blue Cross Blue Shield not only got more customers in Chatham County, it got more sick customers and spent a lot more money than planned.

For that reason, the company pulled out of the Chatham County market.

Now Ambetter is the only company left. And while Lucas says many Ambetter customers complained about coverage this year, he’s hopeful things will be better in 2018.

“Ambetter is actually trying to be a better insurance company, South Coast just signed up, all South Coast doctors just signed up for Ambetter so last year we had very few doctors but now we’re going to have more,” he said.

While Blue Cross Blue Shield is not offering a plan in Chatham County it is in many surrounding counties, and ironically, it is the only insurer for those areas.

That includes Bryan, Effingham and Liberty Counties. But Lucas says rate increases in those counties may be astronomical. “The average rate increase I see in Bryan County is 61 percent,” Lucas said.

This open enrollment period is for individuals who buy through the exchange or a broker.

Lucas says the issue brought on by the Affordable Care Act is that not everyone gets a subsidy, but he says “the problem is people who don’t qualify if you make $44,000 a year you get no help at all.”

He says the ACA has helped many but also hurt many because it was designed as an individual marketplace, not a group. But he says groups normally offer a consumer the most savings.

Lucas says it might be possible to get some individuals to be served as groups in Chatham County. However, he says things “change every day in terms of rules,” so if someone is interested in pursuing that, he believes you need the advice of a professional.

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