Alabama marketplace rates slightly below average

Medicine and health

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – With Alabama’s federally facilitated health insurance marketplace launching next week, the Obama administration has released figures showing the typical plan in Alabama will usually cost around the national average or slightly less.

The administration’s figures also show that Alabama’s prices are in line with neighboring Georgia and Florida, but they are generally higher than Tennessee, where the number of qualified plans being offered by companies is seven times greater than Alabama.

The figures released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services don’t get into the specifics of any plan. Consumers will have to wait for that until Tuesday, when all the plans go online.

At Alabama Arise, a Montgomery-based organization that represents the state’s poor, Communications Director Jim Carnes said the prices are lower than anticipated. “I think we come out well. The prices look affordable,” he said Wednesday.

The basic plan is called bronze. The Department of Health and Human Services says lowest-cost bronze plan in Alabama averages $247 a month, while the national average is $249. The next step up is the silver plan. The average cost for the lowest-priced silver plan is $303 and then $318 for the second lowest-priced silver plan. That compares to averages of $310 and $328 for the 36 states with federally facilitated marketplaces.

Those prices are before tax credits that are available to people earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal figures also give more detailed examples. For instance, for a family of four with an annual income of $50,000, the second-lowest silver plan after the tax credit will average $282 per month in Alabama. For a 27-year-old making $25,000 annually, the monthly figure is $145 after tax credits. Both figures equal the national average for the 36 states with marketplaces created by the federal government.

The federal government created Alabama’s marketplace because Gov. Robert Bentley opposes the Affordable Care Act and chose not to have a state-run marketplace. Most Southern governors did the same thing.

Consumers can begin reviewing the plans Tuesday. Starting Jan. 1, virtually all Americans will be required to carry health insurance or face penalties.

The marketplace is aimed the 13.3 percent of Alabamians under 65 without any health coverage. Carnes said employees with coverage through their employers don’t have to worry about digging through the plans when the details are announced next week.

The plans will be at different levels and vary by area. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest health insurer, is offering plans covering the entire state. United Healthcare applied to do the same, while Humana proposed covering parts of the state. While the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t releasing details, it said Birmingham will have 10 qualified plans available, compared to an average of seven offered statewide. Birmingham’s 10 compares to Atlanta’s 68 and Nashville’s 72.

Carnes said that likely reflects Blue Cross dominating the health insurance business in Alabama, but he expects the plans in Alabama to increase as more people participate in the marketplace.

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