Some small businesses in Maryland will see a small drop in health insurance premiums next year, while others will pay as much as 11 percent more to cover their workers, according to rates released by state regulators Friday.
The rates, which go into effect in January, only apply to small firms with up to 50 employees, and not to large or self-insured firms or individuals buying coverage on the state's health insurance exchange.
Evergreen Health Cooperative sought no rate increase, and Aetna Health Inc. will raise rates only slightly, according to the rate information released by the Maryland Insurance Administration. Some UnitedHealthcare premiums will drop by about 2.5 percent.
"Maryland has a competitive small-group health insurance market," said Maryland Insurance Commissioner Therese M. Goldsmith in a statement. "With such a broad range of rates and plans, business owners may find it in their best interest to review their options for 2015."
Goldsmith said the increases closely reflected requests by the insurance companies in most cases.
Regulators made the largest reduction in Aetna-owned Coventry Health and Life Insurance Co.'s request to raise rates about 19 percent, only approving a 10.9 percent hike, still the highest increase.
According to a statement from Aetna, the companies "worked closely with our small business customers as well as the [insurance administration] to develop an appropriately priced and competitive product mix for the exchange and we look forward to serving new and renewing customers in 2015."
The rates vary widely among the competing companies. For example, before contributions from employers, a 40-year-old in the Baltimore region on a midlevel Silver plan would pay lows of between $243.57 at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and $267.22 at Evergreen, to highs between $347.90 at Coventry and $443.68 at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, founder and CEO of Evergreen, said the co-op sought no rate increase because it pledged to small businesses that signed on with the new provider that it would give them a two-year premium guarantee.
Evergreen signed up 5,500 small businesses last year and "we expect to do at least as well this year," Beilenson said.
The main competition comes from CareFirst, the largest insurer in the state, which also captured the vast majority of the individuals buying coverage through the health exchange. CareFirst plans for small businesses will rise from 4.7 percent to 5.8 percent next year. The company declined to comment.
Unlike individuals, small businesses couldn't buy insurance through the exchange website for coverage that began this year, and won't be able to when a new site launches in November.
The small-business portal is in the works, but for now companies must rely on brokers and direct sales to sign up. They need to use exchange-certified brokers and administrators if they want to tap federal tax credits.
There's no open-enrollment period for small businesses.
"Because of the robust competition here," said Carolyn Quattrocki, the exchange's executive director, "there are many quality options for small business owners."