STATEMENT: Political health care sabotage keeps good Blue Cross news from being great news

Company will reduce 2019 health insurance premiums by 4.1 percent, but prices would be “15 percent or more lower” absent political sabotage of the Affordable Care Act

RALEIGH (July 31, 2018) – Today Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced that it was seeking a 4.1 percent reduction in premium rates for individual health insurance coverage. However, this good news could have been great news if not for the politically motivated, deliberate sabotage of the Affordable Care Act by Congress, the Trump administration, and the North Carolina General Assembly.

Blue Cross notes that “premiums are still too high” even with the decrease. The company cites Washington as one of the drivers of high premium prices, with President and CEO Patrick Conway stating that “rates would be 15 percent or more lower” with more certainty from the federal government.

Indeed, politics drove the entirety of Blue Cross’ 2018 premium increases. After Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the summer of 2017, the Trump administration decided to deliberately undermine the law piece by piece. In October, Trump abruptly cut off payments that reimburse insurers for providing Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies to enrollees with low incomes, causing Blue Cross to raise its rates on North Carolinians by 14.1 percent to make up for losses. In today’s announcement, Blue Cross notes that if those payments were still in place, “requested rates would be another 14 percent lower” in 2019.

Blue Cross premiums would be an additional 3.5 percent lower if not for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the deficit-increasing giveaway to corporations and the wealthy passed by Senate Republicans on a 51-48 vote in December 2017. While Blue Cross used some of its tax breaks from the law to reduce premiums by 0.5 percent, the law eliminates the individual mandate penalty in 2019, which—if left in place—would have reduced Blue Cross’ premiums by 4 percent.

The North Carolina General Assembly has also succumbed to choosing politics over people, as they have rejected generous federal funding to cover over 600,000 North Carolinians by expanding Medicaid. When our neighbors go uninsured, the rest of us pay for it: in states that expanded Medicaid, private insurance premiums are lower by 7 percent on average. Since the General Assembly and then-Governor Pat McCrory rejected Medicaid expansion in 2013, a total of 33 states—including our neighbor Virginia—have decided to recruit billions of dollars into their local economies and cover tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans.

This is the first time that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has reduced individual market premiums since more than 25 years ago, as health care premiums routinely increased long before the Affordable Care Act covered millions of previously uninsured Americans. If our state and federal lawmakers committed to improving health care for people instead of playing into politics, today’s news would be much better for North Carolina.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT Brendan Riley, brendan@ncjustice.org, 919.861.2074; Julia Hawes, julia@ncjustice.org, 919.863.2406

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