By JUDY LIN
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ Californians who buy individual health plans will see their premiums increase an average of 14 percent next year under the Affordable Care Act, but payments will largely depend on income, age and where they live, according to a new report released Thursday by California's health care exchange.
The report commissioned by Covered California found the increase is largely due to an influx of people who previously could not afford health insurance or were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
While premiums will go up, exchange director Peter Lee said the small group of people will get better health plans that won't bankrupt them if they become ill.
About 2 million Californians purchase individual plans, which represents a small portion of the state's 38 million people. Those people lack employer health coverage and tend to earn too much to qualify for public health programs.
They can include independent contractors, self-employed individuals such as attorneys or florists, and small business owners.
"What we have as of Jan. 1, 2014, is real insurance that can provide the protection for the first time that all Californians that buy coverage through the individual market will know they will never go bankrupt," Lee said in a conference call with reporters. "That's a game changer."
Lee said one of the exchange's challenges will be to communicate changes coming under the federal health care overhaul. Even though premiums may go up, Californians will receive more benefits to offset the costs, such as guaranteed coverage, limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and comprehensive medical coverage to protect them when they need it.
The report estimates that rates in California would rise 9 percent in 2014 without federal changes. California, which is ahead of most states in planning an insurance exchange, is expected to be a trendsetter on rates.