John Ingold, The Denver Post

Coloradans who buy their health insurance on their own will see an average premium increase next year of nearly 27 percent, before taking federal tax credits into account.

The Colorado Division of Insurance announced Wednesday that it has given final approval to rates proposed by nine different insurers expecting to offer plans both on and off of the state’s insurance exchange in 2018. In some cases, regulators knocked back the originally proposed rates — such as with Cigna, where regulators and the company negotiated to drop the proposed increase from above 40 percent down to about 31 percent. In other instances, regulators urged carriers to raise their rates higher, fearing that the low-ball proposals weren’t sustainable.

The final statewide average increase — 26.7 percent — is identical to the average proposed statewide increase when insurers first filed their plans earlier this summer. Breakdowns of rate increases by county are expected to come later this month.

Although state insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar said regulators had hoped this would be “a year of stability” as insurers found their footing, the final approved rate increases exceed the 20 percent jumpapproved last year. Salazar said insurers told regulators that the ongoing debate over whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act — and, essentially, change the rules for the individual market only a few years after the rules were first rewritten by the law, also known as Obamacare — led in part to the price increases. Insurers also cited more general market conditions in filings with the state justifying the proposed premiums.

“It was a struggle,” Salazar said. “Markets don’t like uncertainty, bottom line.”

The rate increases apply only to people who buy insurance on their own. That group represents about 8 percent of the state. Slightly more than half of Coloradans receive health insurance through an employer, while the remaining insured Coloradans have government-provided coverage.

The increases also don’t reflect what many people in the individual market will actually pay for insurance. Nearly two-thirds of people who shop for insurance on the state’s Obamacare exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, are eligible to receive tax credits to help pay for premiums. Those credits rise as premium prices do, meaning they often work to bring down effective premium increases. For instance, in 2016, according to a federal report, people nationally who received tax credits to buy insurance saw an increase of $4 per month in what they paid, after taking the credits into account, even as the nominal price of plans increased by $30 a month.

But the individual market is also closely watched because of its connection to Affordable Care Act rules — making annual changes in premiums and plan offerings something like a heart monitor for the law’s health.

Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican, reacted to the approved rate increases on Twitter by calling on Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

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