It Begins: MA Insurers Stop Offering New Policies After State Rejects Rate Increases

A glimpse into the future of ObamaCare:

The standoff between Massachusetts regulators and health insurance companies intensified yesterday, as most insurers stopped offering new coverage to small businesses and individuals, and state officials demanded that the insurers post updated rates online and resume offering policies by Friday.

People seeking to buy health insurance for the first time, or customers looking to change policies, found they could not do so, at least temporarily.

“We’re in limbo until the issue gets resolved,’’ said Lora Pellegrini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a trade group representing most of the state’s insurance companies. “There are no approved rates in the market right now. You’re seeing the first sign of the kind of market chaos we were worried about.’’

Insurance Commissioner Joseph G. Murphy said he has asked insurers to quote rates for new coverage through the state’s Health Connector website by week’s end, and reminded them that they are required by law to do so. The new quotes would use base rates set last year, plus additional factors such as the age and size of a company’s workforce, Murphy said.

In other words, offer the same plan as last year with zero increase in the rate – or else.

Health insurers, however, said they could not calculate new rates until a judge rules on their request for an injunction to prevent the state from continuing to block increases for the coverage period that started April 1. Insurance carriers had proposed premium rate increases averaging 8 to 32 percent, which the state found excessive. The case is expected to go before a Superior Court judge in Boston as early as tomorrow.

Insurance industry critics said the inability of new customers to buy insurance, even for a few days, is troubling. “This really is a violation of the fundamental principles of health care reform in Massachusetts, which is the universal availability of insurance,’’ said Brian Rosman, research director at Health Care for All, a Boston consumer advocacy group.

The road to single payer begins in Massachusetts.