Kaiser, HMSA hike insurance premiums

  • YADAO

HILO — Most health insurance policyholders began paying higher premiums this week.

The increases range from 5.9 percent to nearly 25 percent.

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“There are several factors that contribute to premium adjustments each year, including rising prescription drug and health care costs, and fees associated with the Affordable Care Act,” said Elisa Yadao, senior vice president for Hawaii Medical Service Association, a nonprofit that is one of Hawaii’s largest insurers.

William Nhieu, spokesman for the Hawaii Insurance Commissioner’s Office, said reasons for premium increases also include “increased utilization of services, expensive technologies and procedures, unhealthy behavior and lifestyle choices, the aging population and high end-of-life costs.”

He said the average Kaiser Permanente small-group premium will increase about 5.9 percent on average, the large-group plan will go up 6.4 percent and Affordable Care Act rates for individuals will rise 24.1 percent.

Average HMSA premiums, Nhieu said, will increase by about 11.2 percent, on average, for large-group insurance, 9.3 percent for small group and 19.8 percent for the Affordable Care Act.

Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito was quoted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week as saying, “these rate increases (both Kaiser and HMSA) illustrate the need to bend the health care cost curve,” noting premiums have been doubling every 10 years.

Laura Lott, spokeswoman for Kaiser, the state’s other large nonprofit health insurance provider, said consumers can help control such costs.

“A healthy lifestyle is the best gift you can give yourself. Good nutrition and exercise make all the difference,” she said.

Kaiser’s “FitRewards” program is an example, she said. It gives policyholders a free gym membership if they work out at least 45 days a year.

Nhieu said consumers should look at more than premiums to see if they’re getting a good deal. For example, they should review the policy’s coverage, deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket per year.

Only about 3.5 percent of Hawaii residents do not have health insurance at all, Nhieu said.

“Hawaii consistently ranks as a state with one of the lowest uninsured rates in the nation,” he said. A larger pool of insurance participants “in theory” would help stabilize premium rates, he added.

Health care is a big cost for employers, too. They can make a difference for employee satisfaction by starting programs to help workers stay healthier, which has the side benefit of lower health care costs.

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“Every year, we see more companies engaging their employees in well-being programs in the workplace,” Yadao said. “These programs get employees active and mindful of their health and can improve social connections and lead to higher productivity and happier, more satisfied employees.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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