|By Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
A new study by the
A 40-year-old buying the most popular "silver" plan offered through BlueCross BlueShield of
"We're seeing some of the lowest rates anywhere in the country here in
The Kaiser study found that only a few markets in
"We've always known that premiums vary geographically, but we weren't previously able to make these kinds of apples-to-apples comparisons that we can now with these more uniform plans," said
The key drivers of health care costs vary geographically according to the overall health of the population insured, how much such people use health care services and what hospitals, doctors and other providers charge for their care.
The lowest-cost plan in
"We did not go out with the strategy of just trying to have the lowest prices in the market," said
But as the state's biggest health insurer, BlueCross did want to offer attractive plans and prices to help expand the number of Tennesseans with health insurance and thereby reduce the amount of indigent care costs shifted to other BlueCross commercial customers, Smith said. BlueCross also restricted its provider network -- only Erlanger is included among local hospitals -- to use its buying power to gain better pricing.
As a nonprofit company with healthy reserves,
"There is a lot of uncertainty about who will sign up and what the composition of these new subscribers will be, so we saw different insurers take different approaches with their plans and prices in this first year," Cox said.
Under ACA rules, insurers that charge too much relative to their actual medical claims will have to refund some of their premiums back to customers.
For now, the initial health exchange prices vary by state. Yoder said prices for BlueCross plans in
"The BlueCross plans in
For a 35-year-old man with a
The lower prices in
"We're the buckle of the stroke belt," Erlanger CEO
Insurers had to make a lot of untested assumptions about who would sign up for the new policies and how many new subscribers who previously may have been uninsured might initially need more health care services.
"We did not know where others would price this product, but we did a lot of research before we did any pricing," Smith said. "Were we surprised that two of our regions were in the top 10 [cheapest areas]? Quite frankly, yes."
Kaiser found that the cheapest-cost regions tend to have robust competition among hospitals and doctors, allowing insurers to obtain lower rates.
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