KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Kansas consumers signing up for health insurance on the federally-run online marketplace will pay about the same next year, a new report shows.
The average premium for all plans offered in the marketplace changed very little -- an increase of just 0.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to a report by the Kansas Health Institute, a nonpartisan health policy and research organization. As signup for President Barack Obama health law began a second year, the report found much larger swings in the price consumers pay for specific plans, with some costing nearly 11 percent less and others 13 percent more.
The number of Kansas plans available for individuals and small groups on the federal exchange was growing from 72 in 2014 to 82 in 2015, said Bob Hanson, a spokesman for the Kansas Insurance Department. Sixty-four of this year's plans are for individuals, down from 65 in 2014. Another 18 are for small businesses, up from seven in 2014.
Four insurers from last year are again offering coverage, and the entrance of a fifth provider offering low rates was helping to keep average premiums stable, said LeAnn Bell, a senior analyst for the Kansas Health Institute.
The rates consumers pay varied based on where they live, with costs lower in the eastern half of the state, according to the KHI analysis of 2015 marketplace data. For instance, individuals in a 17-county area that includes Wichita paid as little as $185 per month for a middle-of-the-road plan, while consumers in a 25-county area in the northwest part of the state paid $218 per month for a similar plan.
Because some plans are only available in limited geographic areas of the state, the typical consumer will have 30 to 35 plans from which to choose, said Sheldon Weisgrau, the director of the Health Reform Resource Project, an education-focused organization. He said that when consumers feel overwhelmed with options, they tend to avoid making changes. But consumers who signed up for insurance on the exchange last year are being urged to take another look to determine if their plan is still the best option.
"They really should shop around," he said.
The enrollment period runs through Feb. 15 and to help consumers make informed choices, more than a dozen education events are planned statewide in the coming weeks, including a so-called "Enrollapolooza" gathering scheduled for Monday at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. The health law requires most people to have health insurance. The penalty for having no health insurance in 2015 is going up to $325 per adult or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater, up to a cap.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data shows that about 57,000 Kansas residents signed up for health insurance coverage through the online marketplace during the first enrollment period, which was marred by technical issues.
Sean Gatewood, interim executive director of the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, predicted that this year's enrollment process would "absolutely" go smoother and that more people would sign up for insurance on the exchange.
"Just with anything else, with age, the kinks get worked out," Gatewood said.