Jessica Altman

Jessica Altman

HARRISBURG (TNS) — Health insurance premiums for people buying coverage for themselves in Pennsylvania for 2022 will be about the same as this year, and coverage for small groups will rise an average of 4.5%, state Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said Friday.

People shopping for coverage will also have more choices, with residents in some counties having up to six insurers to choose from, and no one having less than two choices. In the past, some counties had only one option.

The level of choice — and competition that can hold down rates — is the highest in about a decade, Altman said.

People can start shopping for coverage on Nov. 1 during the annual open season that lasts through the end of the year.

To a large extent, Altman attributed the relatively low 2022 premium increases and the increased number of insurers doing business in Pennsylvania to the state’s decision to launch its own online marketplace.

The marketplace, called Pennie, replaced the federal exchange that came online at the start of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Pennsylvania’s version went online for 2021.

Pennie enables people to shop and buy coverage online while also connecting them to the income-based ACA subsidies that can lower premiums, and in some cases, help cover co-pays and deductibles.

Altman said about 90% of those who buy coverage on Pennie — about 330,000 in 2021 — receive federal help toward their premiums.

She said average premiums are 5.5% lower because of the state’s decision to create a reinsurance program that reduces risk for some insurers by paying claims of certain chronically ill, high-cost consumers.

Funding for the reinsurance program comes from a surcharge on insurers selling coverage on Pennie, savings the state gained by running its own marketplace and federal incentives.

Altman on Friday advised Pennsylvanians to shop around and compare the offerings on Pennie, even if they already have coverage through Pennie. She said navigators are available through Pennie to help people choose, and there are also brokers certified by Pennie to provide help.

She further noted that Pennie is open year-round to people who lose coverage for reasons such as job loss or moving to a part of the start where their present insurer doesn’t do business.