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Insurance more affordable, accessible under Affordable Care Act, federal health officials say

Several new reports prove that the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance more affordable and accessible to Marylanders, federal health officials said Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services touted the achievements of the federal health care law saying that premiums are growing slower than before it went into affect and that more people than ever now have insurance.

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The agency pointed to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust that found average premiums for families with employer-sponsored health plans grew 3.4 percent in 2016. The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates family premiums in Maryland were $1,300 lower in 2015 than if premiums had grown at the same rate before the Affordable Care Act.

Still, the achievements lauded by health officials comes as others have criticized health plans on the state exchange, the official marketplace for people who don't have employer-based insurance to buy plans. Chief among the criticisms of the health plans on the exchange is that they have high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs that many people can't afford. Many uninsured Marylanders instead choose to pay the federally imposed penalty for not having health insurance.

The Maryland Insurance Administration earlier this month approved double-digit rate increases for the four insurance companies that sell health plans through the state exchange, prompting health advocates to say it was going to make it even more unaffordable and out of reach for some consumers.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the state's largest insurer with 68 percent of the market, received an average hike of 31.4 percent on its PPO plan and 23.7 percent on its HMO — the highest increases of any insurer.

Despite the rate increases, federal officials say the number of uninsured has dropped in Maryland. Just 6.6 percent of people in the state went uninsured in 2015, according to new data from the U.S. Census. That is down from 11.3 percent in 2010.

The department also said that hospital readmissions for Maryland Medicare beneficiaries dropped 10.4 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Twitter.com/ankwalker

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