The majority of South Carolinians who picked a health care plan last month through the federal marketplace passed over the state’s long-standing insurance leader in favor of a new start-up insurance cooperative.
Data provided by Consumer’s Choice Health Plan shows it sold 65 percent of all plans purchased through the federal marketplace in South Carolina in October. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which dominates the insurance industry in this state, has not released any specific enrollment data.
The actual number of policies sold by all companies combined is small. Enrollment estimates across the country are much lower than the Obama administration originally hoped for. Problems with the federal website are largely to blame.
The federal government estimates that only 572 South Carolinians were able to choose a health insurance plan during the first month of the marketplace open enrollment. Two-thirds, an estimated 372 people, picked a Consumer’s Choice plan, the cooperative reported.
“We are just excited,” Consumer’s Choice spokeswoman Adrian Grimes said.
S.C. Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer verified that the cooperative’s estimates are correct.
“Obviously, it’s early on and people have had a little bit of a difficulty signing up. As far as we can tell, that number is consistent with what we’ve got at this point,” Farmer said.
Consumer’s Choice Health Plan, based in North Charleston, is one of four companies that residents in this state can choose from on HealthCare.gov.
A spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina said the company does not plan to publish enrollment data.
“What I can tell you is that customer interest in our products has remained consistent,” said BCBS spokeswoman Patti Embry-Tautenhan. “In addition, we are seeing an increase in daily membership gains both off and on the exchange. We anticipate the pace of those gains to accelerate once the federal website is fully operational.”
A spokesman for Aetna, which owns Coventry One, said the company has not released any data yet either.
Grimes said price is usually the first factor customers consider when picking a policy.
Health insurance prices for plans available on the exchange vary depending on age, smoking status and county.
For a 35-year-old non-smoker in Charleston, Consumer’s Choice offers the least expensive insurance option through the federal marketplace. It’s bronze-level plan would cost $183.68 a month. A similar plan sold by Coventry One would cost $204.31 a month.
In Greenville, a 35-year-old non-smoker could buy a Coventry One bronze-level plan for $192.85 a month, and a similar Consumer’s Choice plan would be $221.72.
The prices do not account for tax subsidies that some customers with low-to-middle incomes may qualify for. Those federal subsidies can be applied directly to monthly insurance premiums to lower the cost.
But premium price isn’t the only factor that consumers consider when they make their final choice, Grimes said.
“Obviously price is a huge driving point, but the network is also a consideration,” she said.
In the Lowcountry, Consumer’s Choice policies offer a more robust network of doctors and hospitals than other companies offering plans on the federal exchange.
Consumer’s Choice Health Plan policies will cover services provided by Medical University Hospital, Trident Health and East Cooper Medical Center.
BlueCross BlueShield plans and Blue Choice plans will cover services at East Cooper Medical Center and Trident Health. Coventry One has an exclusive contract to cover Roper St. Francis Healthcare services.
Most South Carolinians insured by their employers, or by Medicaid and Medicare, will continue to have access to a wide range of hospitals and doctors.
Consumer’s Choice Health Plan is a new insurance cooperative established last year by a $87.8 million federal loan. Other states had an opportunity to set up similar insurance cooperatives through grant money made available by the Affordable Care Act.
An insurance cooperative, such as Consumer’s Choice, unlike a traditional insurance company, uses profits to lower premiums. Its 12-member board will include eight policyholders.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.