Health insurance premiums for individual policyholders in Louisiana will rise between 7% and 9% on average in 2021, according to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana’s health care economist Michael Bertaut.
That’s about the same average annual increase that individual policyholders have experienced for the past several years, though it’s more than the 5% to 7% increase group policyholders were hit with earlier this fall, when they got their rates for the new year.
An estimated 90% of BCBS policyholders are insured through their employers but the other 10% or so have individual policies, which are more expensive, in part, because the policyholders tend to skew older.
The average age in a group rate pool is 36, while the average in the individual pool is 50, Bertaut says.
It’s still too soon to tally the impact of COVID-19 care on health care costs, Bertaut says. But he doesn’t expect the total for the year to be that much higher than normal, due to the fact that utilization was down for much of the year for all non-COVID-related medical care.
That has prompted some insurance brokers and advocates to call for lower rates or rebates.
Bertaut points out that BCBS gave premium credits to 18,000 employers in the state, and that the company and the BCBS of Louisiana Foundation together gave a total of $80 million in rebates, premium credits, and COVID-19 and hurricane relief funding to policyholders.
But he says the company cannot do more to lower future rates because of so much uncertainty about utilization once the pandemic is better controlled.
“We expect when people get vaccinated and hospital populations shift away from COVID we will see an increase in utilization,” he says. “So we are kind of planning for that.”
The company is also starting to gather more data related to long-term effects of the novel coronavirus and complications that could result in higher medical bills down the line.
“We are getting data about people with arrhythmia, kidney problems, GI issues, so we are kind of trying to plan for that,” he says. “We don’t want to get too aggressive about turning money back over until we know what COVID is going to do.”
(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from an earlier version to clarify that the $80 million BCBS returned to policyholders included relief funds that came from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.)