Marylanders will pay lower rates to buy health insurance on the individual market next year after a month-long effort to avoid sharp rates increases.
Gov. Larry Hogan and state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. touted the lower rates Friday morning in Annapolis after the Maryland Insurance Administration approved the lower rates for plans offered on the state’s exchange.
The exchange sells insurance for roughly 200,000 Marylanders who do not receive health insurance coverage through an employer.
“We decided to address the crisis head-on in Maryland by working together in a bipartisan way,” Hogan said. “We have made real progress toward solving our state’s healthcare challenges.”
Hogan, a Republican, worked with the Democratic-led General Assembly this year to pass a bill that kept in place a tax on insurance carriers that Congress had eliminated at the federal level. The money from the tax is used for a reinsurance program that creates a pool of money for insurers to help cover the most expensive claims.
Hogan said the program is the largest of its kind in the country and could serve as a model for other states.
That reinsurance plan was approved by the federal government, prompting insurance companies to revise their rate requests for 2019.
The insurance companies that sell individual health plans — CareFirst and Kaiser Permanente — initially requested average rate increases that ranged from 18.5 percent to 91.4 percent, depending on the type of plan.
Now the rates are decreasing by between 7.4 percent and 17 percent, Hogan announced Friday.
The new rates were officially approved by the Maryland Insurance Administration following a public hearing on Monday.
“There is no doubt that this is — after years of increases — positive news for those seeking individual coverage in Maryland,” CareFirst President and CEO Brian D. Pienick said in a statement.
CareFirst said customers who were in a preferred provider option plan may be able to switch to similar health maintenance organization coverage at a lower rate, and would advertise the option in advance of the enrollment season that begins Nov. 1.
CareFirst is reducing the rate on its HMO by 17 percent, while rates on the PPO will decline 11.1 percent. It had been seeking increases of 18.5 percent on the HMO and 91.4 percent on the PPO.
Kaiser, which had sought a 37.4 percent increase for its HMO, now will reduce that rate by 7.4 percent.
Hogan and Redmer portrayed the process as standing up to help Marylanders in the face of dysfunction at the federal level.
“Because of the inability of Washington to address our health care crisis, Marylanders were facing the potential of health insurance rates nearly doubling,” Hogan said. “Without immediate action, the individual market in our state was literally on the brink of collapse.”
Added Redmer: “We decided we had to do what we could do at the state level.”
Friday’s event also afforded Hogan and Redmer an opportunity to again promote their efforts at a time when both are running for office. Hogan is seeking re-election, while Redmer is running as a Republican for Baltimore County executive.
Hogan held a ceremony in April when he signed the reinsurance bill and the governor held a State House news conference with legislative leaders in August to announce that the federal government had approved the state’s plans.
Redmer said the magnitude of the rate drops warranted another event at the State House, and said there weren’t any political calculations.
“The alternative is we don’t share important news to Maryland citizens because it occurs in an election year?” Redmer asked. “I don’t make up the calendar. We do this the same time every year.”
While Hogan is facing Democrat Ben Jealous in the gubernatorial election, Redmer is balancing his insurance commissioner duties with a campaign against Democrat Johnny Olszewski Jr. for Baltimore County executive.
Redmer’s county campaign involves a steady schedule of fundraisers, candidate forums and community events, sometimes during traditional working hours.
“I am running the Maryland Insurance Administration and also using annual leave to campaign when the opportunity exists,” Redmer said Thursday afternoon during a campaign event where he accepted an endorsement from a pro-business group.
On the campaign trail, Redmer proudly plays up his ties with the popular governor, saying that if they’re both elected, they’ll work together for the benefit of Baltimore County. Redmer often says he’s a “Larry Hogan Republican” and “if you like him, I’m your guy.”
Redmer’s bright red and yellow signs carry the tagline: “Governor HOGAN Endorsed.”
Hogan was the featured guest at Redmer’s campaign kickoff last year, and appears in web videos and direct mail in support of Redmer.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.