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R.I. health insurers seek double-digit premium hikes

PROVIDENCE — Health ­insurers in Rhode Island are seeking double-digit increases in the premiums that individuals and small businesses will pay for coverage next year, the largest increases in years, as the federal health care law takes full effect.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the state’s dominant insurer, has proposed an average increase of 18 percent for individuals and nearly 15 percent for small groups.

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UnitedHealthcare of New England is seeking a hike of nearly 18 percent for its small group HMO plan and 13 percent for its preferred provider plan.

Tufts Health Plan wants an average increase of 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, for those plans.

State Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher F. Koller is reviewing the proposed rate increases.

His office has traditionally approved increases that are smaller than insurers have asked for.

In filings with the state, Blue Cross and the other insurers say the increases are driven primarily by escalating medical costs.

But they also attribute some of the higher premiums to costs associated with the federal health care overhaul, including taxes and fees and a higher volume of services for the previously uninsured.

Next year is the first year the Affordable Care Act will be in full effect. It requires most individuals to have insurance on Jan. 1, provides subsidies to help pay for it, and penalizes those who do not get it.

Rhode Islanders will be able to shop for and purchase ­insurance from an online market­place.

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