Health plans on Texas exchange priced below national average

Fort Worth Star-TelegramSeptember 25, 2013 

The Texas health insurance exchange created under the federal Affordable Care Act will offer dozens of policies starting Oct. 1 with premiums on average below the national level, the government announced today.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Texas residents will be able to choose from an average of 54 different plans, with the exact number depending on where they live. All of Texas’ 26 markets have at least two insurers, and most have between three and five, according to HHS data.

In North Texas, consumers will have 43 plans to choose from, HHS said. Austin has 76 plans in its exchange, and Houston has 46.

Texas, like more than 20 other states, opted to let the federal government operate the Health Insurance Marketplace, as the exchange is formally known.

Under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, exchanges in all states offer four basic plans with escalating levels of coverage, known as bronze, silver, gold and platinum. People under age 30 can also choose a “catastrophic” plan.

Statewide, the lowest-cost bronze plan for all Texas markets averages $211 per month for an individual, the government said. The lowest-cost silver plan averages $287 a month.

That compares to average U.S. premiums of $249 for the lowest-cost bronze plan and $310 for the lowest-cost silver plan.

Tax credits based on income can reduce those costs considerably. Those subsidies apply on households with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal agency offered estimated premiums for two plans — a 27-year-old earning $25,000 and a family of four with an income of $50,000.

In North Texas, the 27-year-old would pay $74 a month for the lowest-cost bronze plan, after taking into account tax credits. That person would pay $145 a month for the second lowest-cost silver plan, a level the government is using as a standard.

The family of four in North Texas would pay just $26 a month for the lowest-cost bronze plan, again after allowing for tax credits based on income.

“We are excited to see that rates in the Texas Marketplace are even lower than originally projected,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said in a prepared release. “In the past, consumers were too often denied or priced out of quality health insurance options, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act consumers will be able to choose from a number of new coverage options at a price that is affordable.”

HHS said that consumers will see increased competition in their marketplaces, and premiums could be approximately 16 percent lower than originally expected.

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