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Premiums for Mass. Health Connector to rise 4 percent in 2020

Health insurance premiums for hundreds of thousands of residents buying coverage through the Massachusetts Health Connector will rise 4 percent on average next year, officials said Thursday.

The increases will vary across plans, with some premiums dipping slightly and others rising nearly 10 percent. Most people covered on the state health insurance marketplace receive subsidies to offset those increases.

Nine insurance companies are offering 56 different plans to individuals shopping for 2020 coverage, about the same number of options available now. For a 42-year-old individual in Worcester who doesn’t receive any subsidies, the average premium for a midtier plan will rise to $473 per month.


“Our product shelf is generally very stable,” Louis Gutierrez, executive director of the Health Connector, said at a public meeting Thursday. “Overall, the changes in premiums reflect a strong, established market.”

In 2019, premiums for Connector plans increased an average of 4.7 percent. This followed a disruptive period when the Trump administration suddenly yanked federal payments that helped reduce costs for lower-income Americans, causing premiums for many to soar.

The insurance market in Massachusetts has been less turbulent than in other states. The US Census Bureau this week said that 2.8 percent of Massachusetts residents were uninsured in 2018, steady from the previous year, and the lowest rate of any state.

Nationally, however, the number of people without insurance grew to 8.5 percent in 2018 from 7.9 percent a year earlier.

Massachusetts has a universal health care law that predates the Affordable Care Act, and both the state and federal law have broad bipartisan support here.

Not all states have fully implemented the ACA (also known as Obamacare), and the Trump administration has sought to weaken it.

More than 291,000 people are enrolled in medical coverage on the Massachusetts exchange, the highest number in the agency’s history.


But Connector officials said they remain concerned that federal policy changes could disrupt enrollment, including the effects of what’s known as the “public charge” rule, which could dissuade noncitizens from enrolling in coverage, even if they are eligible for it.

Connector board member Nancy Turnbull, senior associate dean at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the agency also must closely watch how the proposed merger of two of Massachusetts’ biggest health insurers — Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care — affects coverage for individuals.

“We’ve been assured . . . that it will not be disruptive in 2020,” Gutierrez said. “As to 2021 going forward, it’s too early for us to speculate.”

Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim have yet to detail their plans to the public or to government regulators.

In the slice of the state insurance market that includes both individuals and small businesses, premiums will rise an average of 5.1 percent in January 2020, according to the state Division of Insurance. That’s more than the 4.2 percent premium hike seen at the beginning of this year.

Lora M. Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a trade group for insurers, blamed hospital and drug prices for the increase in insurance costs.

“Health insurance premiums reflect the costs of these services along with government-imposed assessments and federal risk adjustment requirements,” she said in a statement.

The enrollment period for 2020 coverage on the Connector begins Nov. 1.


As in past years, Connector officials plan to spend $1.1 million on advertising and outreach, and another $1.6 million on “navigator” organizations to help individuals sign up for coverage.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.