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ND insurers request sharp premium increases for individual plans

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread

BISMARCK—Citing increasing costs, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota has requested a nearly 24 percent average premium increase for individual insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The filing, submitted in June for rates effective Jan. 1, is being reviewed by the North Dakota Insurance Department. Medica Health Plans requested a roughly 12 percent and 19 percent increase for its two individual insurance products listed, while Sanford Health Plan requested a nearly 8 percent average increase for its individual plans, according to filings listed on

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread said the final increases should be known in September. The window for enrolling in a health insurance plan, known as the open enrollment period, is scheduled to run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

"It's safe to say we're going to be seeing increases in our market. Exactly what they're going to be has yet to be determined," Godfread said. "It's going to be important for our consumers to shop."

The Blues' rate increase justification points to "the steadily increasing costs of medical services and prescription drugs" along with the return of the health insurance provider fee under Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act. The rate adjustment will affect about 35,000 of the North Dakota Blues' 400,000 members, and Godfread said Blue Cross Blue Shield is the largest carrier on the state's individual marketplace.

Tony Piscione, vice president of actuarial services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, cited a "high level of high-dollar" claims and higher costs in specialty drugs than they previously experienced.

The Blues said, however, that its filing was contingent on the continued funding of federal insurer subsidies known as "cost-share reduction" payments, which President Donald Trump has criticized as a bailout to insurance companies. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota reserved the right to submit a revised rate filing if the CSRs are defunded.

Godfread warned last week that stopping the CSR payments would raise premiums and upset health insurance markets. He said they've asked insurers to provide information about what their rates may look like without the CSRs.

Godfread said uncertainty about health care reform in Congress and rising costs are helping drive premiums up, along with some "lesser known" provisions of the ACA that are now going into effect.

"It's kind of making for somewhat of a perfect storm," he said.

Medica spokesman Larry Bussey said its proposed rate increases are based on "medical trend and more adverse market morbidity."

Kirk Zimmer, executive vice president for Sanford Health Plan, said their requested increase was lower than last year.

"Sanford has been working diligently over the last year to lower our costs in order to move that population to lower premiums," he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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