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The Boston Globe

Business

Some health coverage rates up

Health insurance base rates will rise an average of 2.5 percent for Massachusetts small businesses and individuals renewing their policies July 1. The increase is slightly smaller than the 2.7 percent average base rate hike for policies renewed in the current quarter.

The new third-quarter rates — affecting more than 147,000 people — approved by the state Division of Insurance all fell within the cap established by the Patrick administration as part of last year’s health cost containment legislation. The law ties health care spending to the state’s economic growth, projected at 3.6 percent this year.

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In addition to the base rates, however, many employers have to pay more because of heightened risks associated with their industry, location, or average age of their workforce.

Regulators approved base rate hikes of 3.6 percent for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer, and its HMO subsidiary. The increases were 1.4 percent for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and 2.8 percent for its HMO arm. Base increases were 3.5 percent for Tufts Health Plan and 3.6 percent for its HMO business. The insurance division said rates for Fallon Community Health Plan were still being reviewed.

Barbara Anthony, the state undersecretary of consumer affairs and business regulation, attributed the more modest rate increases to fewer people using health care services and efforts by health care providers, insurers, and the state to hold down costs. She said there was no overt campaign by state regulators to pressure health plans to keep rates low.

But Anthony added, “If you’re a [health insurance] carrier or a provider in the Commonwealth and you don’t know from the statements of the governor that we have a 3.6 percent [rate increase] benchmark, then you simply haven’t been paying close attention to what’s going on.”

State business and government leaders have been talking with federal health officials in recent months about new rating factors that are set to take effect nationally Jan. 1 and that some Massachusetts leaders fear could boost premiums substantially for small employers and individuals. Those factors weren’t used in calculating rates approved for the third quarter. “We expect that cost containment efforts will continue,” Anthony said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.

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