Blue Cross and Blue Shield to Offer ACA Plans in All 100 Counties in N.C. in 2017

It is unclear how much the company will raise health insurance rates

Blue Cross and Blue Shield to Offer ACA Plans in All 100 Counties in N.C. in 2017
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September 22, 2016

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the largest health insurer in North Carolina, is planning to continue offering coverage for individuals under the Affordable Care Act in each of the state's 100 counties in 2017.

The decision guarantees that all residents of N.C. will be able to access at least one insurer under the ACA next year. Two other major insurers—Aetna and UnitedHealthcare—intend to cease selling ACA plans in N.C. and several other states in 2017.

"Without BCBSNC in the Marketplace, 600,000 North Carolinians would be at risk of losing their coverage," Blue Cross stated. "With the national insurers officially exiting the market, BCBSNC will absorb about 260,000 more customers than expected."

Given that the company will have hundreds of thousands more customers than it had been planning on, it is not yet clear how much it will raise the rates for its plans. Details of those plans—including prices—will not be released until October. It had requested an average rate increase of 18.8 percent for its 2017 plans from the North Carolina Department of Insurance, but it revised that request after Aetna and UnitedHealthcare announced their withdrawals.

It gained an average rate increase of 32.5 percent for its 2016 plans.

"As a result, we adjusted our rate filing for 2017 to account for the influx of new customers and their medical needs," the company said. "Existing customers can expect rate notices in their mailboxes by the end of October to learn more about how these changes will impact them."

Cigna will be the only other insurer to offer ACA plans in N.C. It intends to begin covering only a limited area, including Triangle counties Chatham, Johnston, Nash, Orange, and Wake.

Blue Cross has offered ACA plans across the state since 2014. It had said that it was going to review whether to offer such plans again next year after it lost $405 million in medical expenses for customers who got ACA plans in 2014 and 2015.

The company claims that it has had no choice but to raise rates and limit provider networks in order to control costs from its ACA customers, who are often more ill as well as older than most people.

"We've heard from many of you that the cost of premiums remains a top concern when shopping for a subsidized plan," Blue Cross said. "At the same time, we're learning just how much ACA customers use medical services – and it's a lot. This wouldn't be a great concern if enough healthy customers were paying into the system to offset these costs."

November 1 will see the beginning of open enrollment for 2017 ACA plans, and the enrollment will then end on January 31. Any consumer wanting insurance by January 1 must enroll by December 15.

North Carolina gained the fourth-highest ACA enrollment in the U.S. on March 31 when enrollment surpassed 545,000 people.