|By TOM MURPHY, AP Business Writer|
The wild hikes in health insurance rates that blindsided many Americans in recent years may become less frequent because of the health care overhaul.
Final rates for 2015 won't be out for months, but early filings from insurers suggest price increases of 10 percent or more. That may sound like a lot, but rates have risen as much as 20 or 30 percent in recent years.
The rates that emerge over the next few months for 2015 will carry considerable political weight, since they will come out before Republicans and Democrats settle their fight for Congressional control in next fall's midterm elections. Republicans are vowing to make failures of the law a main theme of their election push, and abnormally high premiums might bolster their argument.
In addition to insuring millions of uninsured people, the other great promise of the massive health care overhaul was to tame the rate hikes that had become commonplace in the market for individual insurance coverage.
Some nonpartisan industry watchers say smaller price increases may come in the years to come, even though it's still early in the law's implementation. They point to competition and greater scrutiny fostered by the law as key factors.
Public insurance exchanges that debuted last fall and were created by the law make it easier for customers to compare prices. The overhaul also prevents insurers from rejecting customers because of their health.
That means someone who develops a health condition like high blood pressure isn't stuck in the same plan year after year because other insurers won't take her. She can now shop around.
And it could have a lasting impact once the new markets for coverage stabilize in a few years, said
"Now if a plan tries to raise premiums a lot, people can vote with their feet and move to another plan," Levitt said.
Greater scrutiny by regulators could also keep rates from skyrocketing. The overhaul requires a mandatory review of rate increases larger than 10 percent, which can lead to public attention that insurers don't want.
"Nobody's going to get a rate increase unless they truly deserve it," said
To be sure, insurers and others in the field say it's too early to fully understand what pricing trends will emerge for individual insurance plans, which make up a small slice of the insured population. And some experts aren't convinced of any one outcome of the law.
"No one has any idea what this risk really looks like yet and probably won't for two to three years," he said.