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NY state approves health exchange insurance rates

Michael Virtanen, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Officials have approved health insurance rates for 17 insurers planning to offer coverage next year through New York's new Health Benefit Exchange, part of the federal overhaul expected to bring coverage to 1.1 million uninsured statewide.

Under the federal mandate intended to expand coverage nationally, people getting insurance through the exchange and who meet certain income thresholds can tap into an estimated $2.6 billion in federal tax credits and subsidies annually in New York.

The state Department of Financial Services, which approved the rates, said Wednesday that the list includes eight providers that don't currently offer commercial health insurance plans. Average rates for individuals paying for coverage directly are half of last year's rates, the department said.

"The state continues to be on target to begin enrolling consumers and small-business owners and their employees in health insurance coverage on Oct. 1," said Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah. The exchange was established by the governor's executive order within the state Health Department.

The Department of Financial Services said it was difficult to compare the new small group plan rates to the complex array of 15,000 older plans that varied widely in coverages. One expected advantage of the exchange to businesses is having the state take on some of the administrative burden.

The insurers are Aetna, Affinity Health Plan, American Progressive Life & Health Insurance Co. of New York, Capital District Physicians Health Plan, Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, Excellus, Fidelis Care, Freelancers Co-Op, Healthfirst New York, HealthNow New York, Independent Health, MetroPlus Health Plan, MVP Health Plan, North Shore LIJ, Oscar Health Insurance Co. and United Healthcare.

The monthly premium rates for individual standard plans range from an average of $170 for the least expensive coverage for single adults against catastrophic illness to $965 for the most expensive comprehensive "platinum" coverage.

For small group standard plans, rates for single adults range from $275 monthly for less comprehensive "bronze" level coverage to $775 for platinum.

The exchange is open to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees, which don't have to provide coverage but may be eligible for tax credits up to 50 percent of their premium costs the first two years, state health officials said. Businesses with more than 50 employees will have to provide coverage to those working at least 30 hours a week.

President Barack Obama's administration recently announced a one-year delay in penalties for employers who don't offer affordable coverage to workers considered full time.

"This is a very good first step, but we have a ways to go," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, noting competition's effects on the exchange rates. "The key is to get existing insurance rates down, too."