January 1 is renewal time for many employer groups and individuals, and the one question on everyone’s mind is, “How much will my premiums increase?”

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but according to an annual health care survey by the National Business Group on Health, most employers can expect the cost of medical and drug benefits to rise by at least 5% in 2019.

At Partners Benefit Group, we do expect some groups will see lower increases, if any at all, and others will face higher rates. We also anticipate that the majority of employers will continue to offer their employees high-deductible plans tied to a health savings account as a way to manage costs.

For those that buy individual health insurance policies, the renewal rates are anticipated to vary widely. In Georgia for example, there are four carriers that participate in the state insurance exchange. Alliant Health Plans and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield have reported that premiums will actually drop by a nominal amount this year, bringing good news to its members. Ambetter of Peach State and Kaiser Permanente are reporting increases, however.

In a recent development, Blue Cross is expanding the number of counties in which it will offer ACA-compliant plans next year. In fact, most of metro Atlanta will be able to choose Blue Cross in 2019, which gives some individual buyers of health insurance a choice this year between carriers.

Here are three important things to know if you’re buying individual insurance in 2019:

  1. You won’t face a tax penalty in 2020 if you opt out of health insurance. But, being uninsured is risky move. One serious claim can be financially devastating.
  2. Open enrollment is only from November 1, 2018 – December 15, 2018; shorter this year so get organized early.
  3. Subsidies to ease the cost of health insurance premiums have increased. Check Healthcare.gov to see if you qualify.

Identity Protection for the Whole Family

     Don’t wait until after the fact. Not all potentially identity-damaging experiences are financial. Your online image can affect job offers, business partnerships, and social connections-even if it’s content you didn’t post and may not be aware of. 

     What about your kids? How do you protect them from Cyber bullying? This is one of the most terrifying and devastating tragedies that can happen to a family. We are hearing on a regular basis the terrible suicides committed by teens because of being bullied. 

     PBG is thrilled to introduce Identity Guard. This service can protect your family of Identity Theft and most importantly help protect your teens from Cyber bullying through Identity Guard with Watson.

     Call or talk to your PBG representative about this new and wonderful service.

How Can I Choose The Best Health Care Plan For Me?

When it comes to selecting a health insurance plan, premium is the most important factor for many shoppers (and especially those who are currently healthy). But price shouldn't be the only factor upon which you base your selection – even if your primary concern is financial (as opposed to things like provider networks, drug formularies, and quality ratings).

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“While Republicans have been busy tearing the Affordable Care Act to shreds, the Center for American Progress has been working on a proposal to go in the opposite direction. 

     It’s not the single-payer approach advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and it keeps, rather than discards, the roles played by employer-provided health care and the insurance industry. But it is more ambitious than just that, providing employers and individuals a choice but not an obligation to join Medicare Extra. 

     Under the proposal, the report says the Medicare Extra would use Medicare’s money-saving payment system ‘as a framework to pool working-age people and their families, low-income people now covered by Medicaid and seniors.’

     At a moment, there is no cost estimate for the plan, although its authors say one is in progress. And a nonpartisan expert who reviewed the medicare Extra plan independently has said it could give Democrats a middle way to bring about coverage for all. Medicare Extra’s main features include automatic eligibility for coverage for all U.S. citizens and lawful residents, as well as free preventive care, treatment for chronic disease and generic prescription drugs. Dental, vision, and hearing services would be included. 

    Low-income people would have no premiums or copays, while income would decide premiums and copays for all others. Employers could not participate or not, while employees could choose Medicare Extra or stick with their employer’s plans; tax-free status of employer-provided health care would remain, subject to a limit. 

     Last but not least, the government would negotiate prices for prescription drugs, medical devices and medical equipment. Taxes would be higher, of course, and the government would play a more prominent role in health care, but some of the options identified in the report as possible ways to pay for it to include a rollback of some of the recently GOP tax cuts for corporations and upper-income people, raising Medicare taxes on upper-income earners and tax increases on tobacco and sugary soft drinks.”

(2/22/2018. Marlene Satter.)