Health insurance firms propose rate increase for next year

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COLUMBIA - People who pay premiums for individual health insurance policies - either directly from a company or through - could pay a lot more for insurance next year.

Insurance companies are proposing to increase rates by up to 34 percent in Missouri. Small businesses that buy group insurance policies for their employees also are likely to see an increase.

Changes to rates on group health insurance offered through large employers won't be released until later this year. posted only proposals for an increase of 10 percent or higher in the 37 states using as their exchange. In Missouri 13 plans exceeded that 10 percent mark. According the report, the heaviest increases will fall on individual plan holders.

One of those companies includes Coventry Health Insurance who is asking federal regulators to approve an average rate increase of 23 percent. In a statement, Coventry said the combination of higher provider rates and increased use of health services by customers led to the double-digit premium increase. The insurer said it expects its medical costs to rise nearly 10 percent next year.

"The claims experience for these plans has been worse than anticipated," the company said in its rate filing information. "Part of the rate increase is needed to ensure that we can continue to offer coverage in this market."

Insurance brokers said big premium hikes can allow insurers to shed customers that cost a lot to care for.

Coventry stressed that the 23 percent rate increase was only an average and that some consumers could see far less of an increase. Others could face a steeper hike.

Chris Cline, Director of Communications for Missouri's Department of Insurance, said state law does not require health carriers to file health insurance rates with the department.

"State law does not give the department the authority to review or limit health insurance rate increases," Cline said. "Missouri is the only state in the country whose department of insurance is not authorized to collect health insurance rates. In Missouri, insurers who offer most major lines of insurance, such as homeowners and auto, must justify and substantiate rate increases. This is not true with health insurance."

Under the Affordable Care Act , insurers can't deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. As a result, any customer can sign up for any plan as long as he or she can afford it.

Plans offered by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna were not included in Monday's rate disclosure, suggesting any premium increases for 2016 would be below 10 percent.

About 250,000 Missourians have health insurance purchased through