Matt Rosendale

MATT ROSENDALE

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

BOZEMAN — Montana's insurance commissioner chided two companies for raising rates on health insurance policies offered under the Affordable Care Act after federal subsidies ended, despite earlier telling them they could modify their rates if circumstances changed, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

President Donald Trump ended the federal Cost-Sharing Reduction payments in mid-October, leading PacificSource and the Montana Health Care Co-op to increase their marketplace rates for 2018. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana had submitted its rates anticipating the loss of the cost-sharing reduction subsidies, which allow insurers to offer policies with lower co-payments and deductibles to low- and middle-income earners.

Matt Rosendale said he was "extremely disheartened" that PacificSource and the Co-op increased their premiums, adding that he had been assured by the companies that with or without the cost-sharing reduction payments they would be able to honor the rates they first submitted.

However, the Chronicle, through a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained letters Rosendale wrote to the companies in August saying that his office was aware of the uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act and he would work with them to "ensure rates are modified to address new circumstances."

Bryce Ward, a health economist with the University of Montana, said Rosendale's messages are contradictory.

"Why is he frustrated with something that was foreseeable?" Ward asked. "To be honest, it seems like a political game." Rosendale is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jon Tester.

Rosendale spokesman Kyle Schmauch responded that "saying you will work with someone and being disappointed in their decisions are not mutually exclusive statements." Schmauch is also Rosendale's campaign spokesman.

When Rosendale announced the premium increases on Oct. 16, he noted the rate increases would fall on hardworking Montanans.

"Montana families cannot continue to bail out companies that make poor business decisions," he wrote. "As your Insurance Commissioner, I will continue to advocate for state and federal policies that provide better access to affordable health care, keeping the best interest of Montanans in mind."

Rosendale's office believed "more likely than not" that the subsidies would come through and Blue Cross would lower its rates as a result, Schmauch told the Chronicle on Oct. 23.

Jesse Laslovich, who worked as chief counsel in the commissioner's office for more than seven years and who ran against Rosendale for state auditor and insurance commissioner, said it's odd to expect Blue Cross to lower its rates if the subsidies were paid and be frustrated that the other insurers increased their rates when the subsidies ended.

Insurers set rates based on the cost of care, how many policyholders they expect to have and federal policies, Laslovich said.

"So, the idea that one of those assumptions changes and everything stays the same for these two companies, I think, is naive at best," Laslovich said.

Officials with Montana Health Co-op and PacificSource declined to comment.

The 2018 open enrollment period runs through Dec. 15 at www.healthcare.gov.

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