(KPAX) Two of the three co


mpanies that write health insurance for some 50,000 Montanans buying “Obamacare” individual policies will keep their average rates at zero or near zero for 2021, state Auditor Matt Rosendale announced Monday.

Rosendale, a Republican who’s running for the U.S. House, said the two companies – Mountain Health Co-op and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana – reduced their initially proposed rates after he told them the increases were “unacceptable.”

“At a time when insurance companies are seeing profit increases in the Obamacare markets and when we’re seeing such under-utilization of elective health care during the Covid-19 pandemic, that hospitals have had to furlough hundreds of employees, I told the insurers they need to do better.”

Yet industry officials told MTN News that since the initial rate filings last month, the companies already had been examining additional claims data and other information that influenced the change in final rates.

Blue Cross’s average rate increase for 2021 policies will be zero and Mountain Health Co-op will see an average rate increase of 0.68%, Rosendale’s office said. The two companies write about 80% of the policies.

PacificSource, the third company selling these policies in Montana, will have an average rate increase of 5% – the same as its original submission last month.

Individuals who buy on this market can start shopping for 2021 plans in November.

Most Montanans buying the policies are eligible for a federal subsidy to help pay their premiums, as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Still, many of the policies have high deductibles, often several thousand dollars.

John Doran, spokesman for Blue Cross, noted that average rates for his company’s policies in this market are staying roughly the same or declining for the third consecutive year.

“We’re always trying to do everything in our power to keep our rates down,” he said Monday. We want to make sure that everyone, especially in this pandemic, has coverage and that it’s quality care and affordable.”

Blue Cross originally filed for an average 2.3 percent increase and Mountain Health at 3.3%, for the 2021 policies.

The rates are filed with Rosendale’s office, which then reviews them. Rosendale, whose office regulates the insurance industry in Montana, can comment on the rates, but doesn’t have the power to change them.

After the review, the companies file their final rates for the coming year.

Premiums for the 2020 policies had declined from the previous year because the 2019 Montana Legislature enacted a reinsurance program that helps cover expensive claims in the individual market.

Rosendale proposed and supported the 2019 reinsurance bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls.