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Fewer options, higher rates on Illinois health insurance exchange

Premiums could rise by 43 percent on average in 2017 for Illinois residents who buy health insurance on the state exchange, regulators announced Wednesday.

The announcement by the state Department of Insurance comes as the agency reported new rates to federal authorities, and months after health care giants Aetna and United Healthcare announced plans to drop out of the Illinois’ exchange. And the nonprofit Land of Lincoln Health is folding after suffering heavy losses.

Rates for a typical “benchmark” plan would increase by 43 percent on average, the Associated Press reported.

Final rates and premiums for 2017 will not be finalized until October. Eight Illinois counties will have only one company selling individual coverage, according to the Associated Press. Many parts of the state will have fewer than 20 plans to choose from.

The scenario of higher costs and fewer choices for insurance consumers is not unique to Illinois, said Anthony LoSasso, a professor at the School of Public Health at University of Illinois-Chicago, who notes that Cook County residents will fare better than those living in some counties across the state that might have only one or two insurance options.

“This was something that was worried about from the very start, when the Affordable Care Act was passed,” LoSasso said. “What’s been surprising is how quickly it has happened.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois spokeswoman Kristen Cunningham said Land of Lincoln’s closure “underscores the need for all health care industry stakeholders — insurers, doctors, hospitals and regulators — to work together on solutions to ensure a stable and sustainable individual market for the long term.”

The federal Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday noted that premiums for employer-sponsored insurance have risen at “the slowest rates on record,” and that nearly three out of four consumers using the federal exchange will pay less than $75 per month when federal tax credits are included.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner blamed “major structural flaws in the Affordable Care Act” for the higher rates. Rauner says Congress “must enact smarter policies that truly provide better choices for Illinois residents.”

Illinois residents can find information about the coverage plans and apply for insurance at

Contributing: The Associated Press