Kansas has new health insurer on the exchange; price hikes still expected

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Some health insurers are greatly reducing their participation in the government's health insurance marketplace. Aetna is the latest. At the same time, one insurer is expanding into Kansas but don't expect that to soften the sticker shock for individuals who will buy insurance for next year.

Medica says "Welcome Kansas" on its website. Even though the message is accompanied by an iconic Kansas City, Mo., image of Union Station, the health insurer is just moving into Kansas.

Minnesota-based Medica will offer plans for 2017 on and off the government's health insurance marketplace.

If Medica hadn't moved in, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City would have been the only insurer left on the marketplace for Johnson and Wyandotte Countians.

But don't think that competition between the two insurers will help your wallet much.

"Medica's pretty conservative as we go into new markets, so I don't expect us to be rates that are just significantly lower," said Rick Storms, Medica's strategic growth manager.

Overall, prices for health insurance on the exchange will rise significantly for 2017, said Beverly Gossage of the Greater Kansas City Association of Health Underwriters. That group met this week to learn about Medica.

Although final rates aren't in, Gossage said to expect an average increase of 29 percent in Kansas. She pointed to the way the Affordable Care Act is written.

"The stipulations on the types of plans they have to be, with what we know that it's not as healthy of a population that's in the insurance marketplace. And in order to be able to pay those claims and stay fiscally sound and financially stable, carriers are going to have to raise their rates in the exchange," Gossage said.

She said if you aren't eligible for a subsidy on the exchange, looking into plans off the exchange may save you money. She said health insurance brokers or agents can help you sort through it all at no cost to you. To find an agent, click here.

Enrollment begins November 1. Missouri is projected to have price hikes averaging 16 percent.

A new report from the Brookings Institution argues that average rates for individuals dropped significantly when the Affordable Care Act was implemented, and they would have risen faster without it.