Nevada Wants More Feedback On Health Insurance Rate Hikes

Health insurance costs for about 240,000 Nevadans who buy individual or small-group plans are expected to rise next year, and state officials want consumers to offer feedback before the proposed rates are locked in in coming weeks.

The average cost of an individual plan will go up 15 percent in 2017, while the average cost of a small-group plan will rise 4 percent, the Nevada Division of Insurance said. The agency recently launched a $49,000 Facebook and web ad campaign inviting consumers to browse the rates insurers are proposing for the nearly 600 plans available on the marketplace and comment on whether they’re appropriate.

“We’re always looking for comments, and we haven’t received that many in the past,” division spokeswoman Yeraldin Deavila said. “This is an opportunity for consumers’ voices to be heard.”

Regulators will consider the input before they approve the proposals in August, Deavila said. The final rates will be revealed in October and take effect in January.

Most Nevadans get their health coverage through large-group plans that cover businesses with more than 50 employees, or through a government program such as Medicaid. But small businesses and people who don’t fall in other insurance categories can shop for coverage through the state-regulated marketplace, which also encompasses the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

People can get government subsidies on health insurance they buy through the exchange if they fall below certain income thresholds — $47,520 in annual income for an individual and $97,200 for a family of four. That threshold represents four times the federal poverty level.

In spite of the subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, many say health insurance costs remain a major burden and have an outsized impact on business decisions.

“The cost of health care is absolutely a significant concern of people who run and start companies,” said Leith Martin, who’s owned businesses and recently took the helm at UNLV’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “It affects quality of talent recruitment, it affects the health and happiness of the workforce … It does occupy a significant amount of most entrepreneurs’ bandwidth.”

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has addressed some of the concerns that plague business owners, Martin said. In the past, insurers could deny people coverage if they had pre-existing medical conditions, and Martin said he sometimes kept employees on the payroll longer than he needed them because they’d have no way to get insurance if they were laid off.

“I always felt the insurance companies ran my business because of that,” he said. “I wasn’t making decisions based on the economics of it but based on insurance.”

As for the proposed rate hikes in Nevada, Martin said he’s less concerned about the 4 percent and 15 percent average cost hikes for 2017 and more worried that business growth over time isn’t keeping pace with the growth in health care costs.

“It’s the fact that it goes up somewhere near that percentage every year,” he said.

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