Health & Family

Claims about NC rate hikes for health insurance aren’t easy to prove

When U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis talked in Wednesday’s debate about health care costs rising 11 percent, he was using data that has North Carolina officials and health care analysts baffled.

A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute purports to list proposed rate increases for health insurance policies that will be sold on the Affordable Care Act exchange in North Carolina next year. A spokeswoman for the New York-based firm said that information came from the N.C. Department of Insurance website.

But unlike some states, North Carolina doesn’t make rate requests public. Representatives from the department and two insurance companies say they don’t know where the institute got its numbers and can’t comment on its accuracy.

“We have not shared rate information with (PricewaterhouseCoopers) or released it publicly,” Department of Insurance spokeswoman Kerry Hall said Thursday.

Adding to the confusion: The numbers listed for North Carolina have apparently changed. An earlier version of the report showed the average proposed rate increase for North Carolina at 10.8 percent, well above the national average of 7 percent. The current version says North Carolina’s proposed rate increases average 7.7 percent.

Ceci Connolly, a Health Research Institute official who spoke in Charlotte recently, did not respond to requests for an explanation Thursday. An institute spokeswoman said the rate information is publicly available through the state electronic filing system. But two Observer journalists and two health-policy analysts searched those filings and found nothing about rates, which are classified as trade secrets in North Carolina.

Anxiety about 2015

The confusion highlights the anxiety and mistrust in the air as the Affordable Care Act approaches its second year.

Rate increases are anticipated for at least some of the policies purchased through the exchange this year, many of which came with federal subsidies. Open enrollment for 2015 begins Nov. 15, and insurance companies expect to announce their North Carolina rates later this fall.

Meanwhile, business analysts nationwide predict that many people who get health insurance through their employers can expect to see higher out-of-pocket expenses, driven partly by the ACA and partly by rising health care costs.

Eyes on Senate race

The Health Research Institute’s report that North Carolinians using the exchange would see an average increase of 11 percent appeared in an August Politico article. That article cited North Carolina as one of the “politically key states” that could see big hikes. It noted that the administration “knows that premium spikes could be a real threat – not just to 2015 sign-ups but to Democrats’ prospects in the fall congressional elections.”

The contest between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Tillis is widely viewed as a toss-up. As their first debate neared, the PWC projection got more attention.

Americans For Prosperity North Carolina, a Raleigh-based group advocating for economic freedom and small government, highlighted the 11 percent increase in a news release Wednesday blaming Hagan, and Tillis used the number in his debate remarks.

On Thursday, a Tillis campaign staffer said his mention of the 11 percent increase came from the Politico article.

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