As Maryland leaders celebrate lower health insurance rates, they don't mention rising deductibles

For weeks, Maryland leaders have been touting a bipartisan deal that will allow the state’s residents to pay lower premiums to buy health insurance — the first such rate reductions in years.

The deal, made by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, created a reinsurance program that uses taxpayer dollars to help insurers cover the costs of expensive health care claims — and led to a recently announced reduction of premiums of up to 17 percent.

“We have made real progress toward solving our state’s health care challenges,” Hogan said at a recent press conference.

But what state officials didn’t highlight in their announcements is that although premiums are going down, deductibles are going up.

According to a new report for the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission, the average medical deductible per plan will rise nearly $300 — to $4,365 from $4,072 from last year.

Montgomery County State Del. Kirill Reznik, a Democrat who is a Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection commissioner, said he was displeased to learn of the rise in deductibles.

“I was deeply disappointed that in the fanfare to publicize decreased rates for this year, the Maryland Insurance Commission and the Maryland Healthcare Exchange chose to gloss over the potential increase in deductibles,” Reznik said. “Though I am pleased that we were able to lower rates, pretending that deductibles are not a barrier to receiving health care is irresponsible on the part of the administration.”

He added that the reinsurance program had a “positive effect, but it is not an end-all, be-all.”

Deductibles have been rising for years in health care plans across the country, but the Maryland Insurance Administration does not regulate deductibles, only premiums.

Reznik is an advocate of converting the state to a single-payer health care program — nicknamed “Medicare-for-all” — a position favored by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous.

Both Reznik and Jealous say the rising deductibles help underscore their argument that a major overhaul of the state’s health care system is needed to help Marylanders pay for their bills.

"This report is yet another indication that temporary half-solutions won't fix our broken healthcare system,” Jealous said in a statement. “Larry Hogan should have been transparent when taking credit for the reinsurance program — an idea advanced and passed by Democrats in the legislature — that the average Marylander would still have to pay $300 more out-of-pocket than before.”

Legislative analysts say a single-payer health care program could grow the state’s budget by $24 billion and require new taxes, but advocates argue it could result in reduced costs for many Marylanders by streamlining costs.

Amelia Chasse, spokeswoman for the governor, said Hogan spearheaded the negotiations to create a reinsurance program that brought down rates. She emphasized that the state has no statutory authority over deductibles, which correspond to actuarial values set by the federal government through the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

"Thanks to the bold, bipartisan action taken by the governor and legislative leaders, premiums are lower across the board for the first time in decades, and virtually everyone purchasing insurance on the individual market is able to pay less than they did last year, and drastically less than they would have if this program were not in place,” Chasse said. “Mr. Jealous is proposing a pie-in-the-sky plan that will cost tens of billions of dollars and raise taxes on every single Marylander — we trust voters to discern the difference between a real plan and unaffordable empty promises."

In a recent interview, Hogan said he was focused on bipartisan solutions to help bring down health care costs — such as the reinsurance program — but that major change would need to come at the federal level. The governor has argued a single-payer health care system implemented at the state level would be unaffordable and could disrupt Maryland’s economy.

“This problem is something we’ve been focused on for four years, but it’s primarily something that must be dealt with at the federal level,” Hogan said of health care costs. “Washington has failed miserably in coming up with solutions to this health care crisis. Because of their failure to act, we took some fairly significant steps. The state cannot solve all of the health care problems by ourselves, but I think we’ve done more than almost any state in America.”

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