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Illinois health insurance exchange / marketplace

2 carriers leaving exchange, but 3 others join for 2016

  • By
  • contributor
  • November 20, 2015

Illinois operates a partnership exchange with the federal government; the state runs Get Covered Illinois, including a website, in-person assistance, and a help desk, and the federal government provides the IT platform – – that Illinois residents use to enroll in coverage or make changes to their plan.

Starting in August 2015, the Illinois Department of Insurance began administering Get Covered Illinois, and 15 staff positions were eliminated in the move to “streamline program processes, improve efficiency, and align services leading to increased access to health coverage for Illinoisans.”  There is less federal funding now than there was in the past two years, and Get Covered Illinois will be able to run a tighter financial ship as part of the Division of Insurance.

2016 rates

According to the Illinois Department of Insurance, the average rate increase for the lowest-cost Silver plan in the Illinois exchange is 5.3%, and the average increase for the lowest-cost Bronze plan is 11.3%. But rate changes vary considerably from one rating area to another. The lowest cost Silver plan premium changes range from an 8 percent decrease to a 28 percent increase.

In the Illinois exchange, five individual plan carriers (out of ten total) proposed rate increases of ten percent or more for at least some of their plans in 2016: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Coventry Health Care of Illinois, Health Alliance Medical Plans, Humana, and Time Insurance Company.

Time had the highest proposed rate hike (42 percent), but its parent company – Assurant – subsequently announced that they are exiting the individual market nationwide, and they’re not offering plans for 2016.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois proposed average rate hikes of 29 percent for their BluePrecision HMO plans, and 38 percent for their BlueChoice Preferred plans.  The carrier outlined justification for their rate proposals, noting that 2015 was the first year that accurate claims data (as opposed to educated guesses) was available for actuaries to use when calculating rates. Ultimately, the average rate increase for BCBSIL’s individual market plans is 17.89 percent, but ranges from a 17.5 percent decrease to an increase of more than 49 percent. The new rates apply to 329,427 enrollees (including off-exchange). 80 percent of Illinois exchange enrollees have BCBSIL plans.

State-wide, the average benchmark (second-lowest-cost Silver plan) premiums are 6.1 percent more expensive in 2016 than in 2015, which means that average subsidies will increase too. But it’s noteworthy that in the Chicago area, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis determined that the average benchmark premium is 7.9 percent less expensive in 2016 than it was in 2015. This appears to be due in large part to Celtic’s entry to the market and their relatively low premiums.

Three new carriers, two exiting

There are nine carriers offering a total of 290 plans for individuals in the Illinois exchange in 2016 (ten if you count Coventry as two separate carriers, which the Division of Insurance does):

  • Aetna Health Inc.
  • Celtic Insurance Co. (Ambetter)
  • Coventry – including Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. as well as Coventry Health Care of Illinois, Inc. (two separate legal entities)
  • Harken Health Insurance Company (Midwest Security Life, a UnitedHealthcare subsidiary)
  • Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc.
  • Health Care Service Corporation, (Blue Cross Blue Shield)
  • Humana Health Plan, Inc.
  • Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Co. (an ACA-created CO-OP)
  • UnitedHealthcare of the Midwest, Inc.

Three carriers – HCSC, Land of Lincoln, and Coventry – offer plans state-wide.

UnitedHealthcare only offered plans in Cook County in 2015, but are offering plans in the exchange in 27 Illinois counties for 2016. According to Colleen Van Ham, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s Illinois and Northwest Indiana division, the expansion in Illinois was done because “we believe it’s something we can do at an affordable price.” However, less than two weeks later, UnitedHealthcare scaled back their marketing and broker commissions nationwide, and hinted that they may not participate in the exchanges in 2017.

IlliniCare and Time offered plans in 2015 (both entered the exchange for the first time in 2015), but are exiting the market, and will not offer plans in 2016. But three carriers – Aetna, Celtic, and Harken – are new to the market in 2016. Celtic is the sister company of IlliniCare. Aetna offered plans in the exchange in 2014 under the name Aetna Life Insurance Company, but exited for 2015. They’ve returned for 2016 as a separate legal entity, Aetna Health Inc.

Celtic is offering the lowest-priced plans in some areas, which is good news in terms of added competition, but bad news for people who will see lower subsidies on their exiting plans in areas where Celtic takes over the benchmark spot with a premium lower than 2015’s benchmark rate. This is the case in Cook County, where Celtic’s low prices (and very limited network) mean that subsidies are decreasing for 2016. In order to obtain a plan with coverage better than what Celtic is offering, even people who receive subsidies will have to pay more than they paid last year.

There are significantly fewer plans available in Cook County for 2016, but the Department of Insurance notes that this is primarily because “IlliniCare withdrew multiple plans that offered the same medical benefit packages with the only difference in coverage being the options to have adult dental and/or adult vision. This accounts for a reduction of 44 plans.”

The Department of Insurance confirmed that there are no Platinum plans available in the individual market in 2016 in Illinois. There were 81 platinum plans available in 2015, up from 25 in 2014. But they have all been discontinued for 2016.

CO-OP limiting enrollment in 2016

By the end of 2015, 12 of the original 23 CO-OPs created by the ACA will have closed. But Land of Lincoln Health is not among them. The CO-OP in Illinois is offering 2016 plans, and has insisted that their operation is stable as it heads into its third year.

But the rates on many of the Land of Lincoln plans are significantly higher for 2016 than they were in 2015. When the CO-OP filed 2016 plan rates in the spring of 2015, they mostly requested rate increases that ranged from about 7 percent to just under 10 percent for their individual market plans. And for some plans, they had proposed rate decreases. But when regulators finalized the rates, they were significantly higher than the CO-OP had proposed. According to’s rate review tool, the following Land of Lincoln individual products have double-digit rate hikes for 2016:

• Adventist LLH 3-Tier: 32.08%
• Centegra LLH 3-Tier: 32.95%
• Champion LLH 3-Tier: 33.72%
• Chicago Health System LLH 3-Tier: 17.20%
• CO-OPtions℠ LLH National Elite: 39.05%
• Family Health Network LLH 3-Tier: 30.67%
• Illinois Health Partners LLH 3-Tier: 31.55%
• Land of Lincoln Health 3-Tier: 32.69%
• Land of Lincoln Health Traditional: 35.71%
• Swedish Covenant LLH 3-Tier: 31.36%

In 2014, Land of Lincoln Health struggled with low enrollment, with just 3,461 members at the end of 2014 (only about 4 percent of their target).  But that has changed dramatically in year two.  For 2015, Land of Lincoln Health lowered their premiums by 20 to 30 percent, and in most areas of the state, they offer the lowest-priced silver plans.  As a result, their membership ballooned to 50,000 people by the end of the 2015 open enrollment period. Most of them – about 80 percent – have individual market plans, while the rest have small group plans that average about 8 to 10 employees each. The CO-OP currently has about 20 percent of the exchange market in Illinois, and about ten percent of the entire individual market in the state.

In October, HHS announced that carriers across the country – including CO-OPs – would get only 12.6 percent of what they were owed under the risk corridors program. Over the next several weeks, eight CO-OPs announced that they would wind down their operations by the end of 2015, as a result of the risk corridor shortfall. Land of Lincoln Health is not among them, but the carrier did state that they would limit sales of small group plans during November and December, in order to focus on “responsible growth,” including “strategically managing [the CO-OP’s] performance” and “not surpassing [the CO-OP’s] enrollment targets.” (there’s no open enrollment period for group plans; employers can purchase a plan anytime during the year. But people purchasing individual coverage for November and December can only do so if they have a qualifying event, since open enrollment is for plans with 2016 effective dates).

For the first six months of 2015, Land of Lincoln Health paid out $26 million more in claims than they collected in premiums. But the CO-OP planned ahead for the possibility that they wouldn’t receive more than 10 percent of what they were owed under the risk corridors program, which meant they were able to weather the shortfall much better than CO-OPs that had budgeted for receiving the full risk corridor amount. But when it was confirmed that the 2014 risk corridors payment would be far less than owed, Land of Lincoln Health had to scale back their enrollment target for 2016. They’re now hoping to end 2016 with a total membeshiop of about 65,000 to 70,000 people, and they acknowledge that this means some people who want to purchase a plan through the CO-OP will be turned away. Nonetheless, the target for 2016 still represents a growth of about 30 percent over 2015 enrollment.

Blue Cross Blue Shield dropping broad PPO

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insures about 80 percent of those who purchased coverage in the Illinois exchange in 2015. They have a total of about 329,000 people in ACA-compliant coverage, including off-exchange plans. BCBSIL’s average rates are increasing by almost 18 percent in 2016 and they announced in September that they would not offer their broad PPO (Blue PPO) network for ACA-compliant plans in 2016.

Grandmothered and grandfathered plans on the Blue PPO network are not impacted by the decision to end the broad network PPO, but there are about 173,000 people in Illinois who have ACA-compliant individual market Blue PPO plans. These insureds will be auto-renewed into a Blue Choice PPO plan for 2016, unless they choose another policy instead during open enrollment. The Blue Choice PPO network is not as broad as the Blue PPO network, and some insureds are understandably upset about losing access to their healthcare provider, since the Blue PPO network was wider than most available in the individual market in Illinois.

But BCBSIL has noted that their broad network PPO was simply not sustainable at its current price, and that the rate increase that would have been necessary to make the broad PPO actuarially justified would have driven the carrier’s prices too high to be competitive in the market. Narrower networks are a trend nationwide; markets across the country have about 40 percent fewer PPOs in 2016 than they had in 2015.

In addition to higher prices and smaller networks, some of the BCBSIL plans will have increased costs for insureds in 2016, with fewer copays and more expenses being counted towards the deductible. The carrier noted that in the individual market, they paid out $280 million more in claims in 2014 than they collect in premiums.

2015 enrollment

As of February 2015, 349,487 Illinois residents had selected qualified health plans (QHPs) through  50 percent were new to the exchange for 2015, and 78 percent qualified for premium subsidies. That put 2015 enrollment at about 160 percent of 2014 enrollment.

But some enrollees never paid their initial premiums, and some opted to cancel their coverage early in the year.  As of the end of March, 293,661 people had in-force private plan coverage through the Illinois exchange.  Nationwide, effectuated enrollment continued to decline slightly in the second quarter of 2015, as and the state-run exchanges stepped up their enforcement of documentation requirements for immigration and financial status.

But in Illinois, effectuated enrollment increased from March to June, with 297,406 people covered under in-force policies at the end of June.  78 percent are receiving premium subsidies, and 47 percent are receiving cost-sharing subsidies (only available with silver plans, for enrollees with incomes up to 250 percent of the poverty level).

So more than 231,000 people in Illinois are receiving premium subsidies, which were in jeopardy during the first half of 2015 when the King v. Burwell case was still undecided.  2016 rates were filed prior to the Court’s ruling in the King case, but the Illinois Department of Insurance had announced that if the subsidies were stuck down by the Supreme Court, carriers would have had two weeks from the date of the ruling to refile new – much higher – rates for 2016.

If that had happened, unsubsidized average premiums in Illinois would have increased from $336/month in 2015 to $504/month in 2016.  For Illinois exchange enrollees who receive subsidies, the result would have been much more significant:  Their premiums would have quadrupled from an average current (after-subsidy) premium of $125/month to $504/month next year.

Enroll by January 31

For 2016 coverage, the latest date you can enroll in January 31. People who enroll in the second half of January will have a March 1 effective date. After the end of January, you’ll only be able to enroll in a 2016 plan if you experience a qualifying life event. However, enrollees who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can sign up anytime during the year, as can Native Americans.

Penalties for being uninsured in 2016 are the higher of 2.5 percent of annual household income above the filing threshold or $695 per adult ($347.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty under the percentage of income calculation is the national average cost of a bronze plan, and the maximum penalty under the flat rate calculation is $2,085 in 2016.

No action on state-run exchange

Illinois runs its marketplace, Get Covered Illinois, as a partnership with the federal government. State residents use the federal marketplace,, to enroll.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn consistently supported a state-run exchange. A bill authorizing a state-run exchange passed the Illinois Senate in 2013, and there was hope the House might give its support during the 2014 fall veto session. However, sponsors did not have enough support to bring the bill to a vote.

Rep. Robyn Gabel had hoped the issue would gain traction in 2015, given that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering whether premium subsidies could be lawfully provided in states that don’t run their own health insurance exchange. By transitioning to a state-run exchange, Illinois would have secured ongoing subsidies for its residents regardless of how the Court ruled (ultimately, the Court deemed subsidies to be legal in every state, regardless of whether the federal government is running the exchange or not).

At this point, a state-run exchange is unlikely for the foreseeable future. The federal government is no longer providing new establishment grants, and Illinois would be challenged to fund startup costs on its own.

2015 rates up slightly on Get Covered Illinois

The Illinois Depart of Insurance summarized 2015 premium increases by metal level:

  • Lowest gold plan average: 3.7 percent increase
  • Lowest silver plan average: 2.6% increase
  • Lowest bronze plan average: 11% increase

More than half of 2014 enrollees in Illinois selected a silver plan.

Small business exchange

There are three carriers offering coverage through the Illinois SHOP exchange for 2016:

  • Health Alliance Medical Plan, Inc. (HAMP)
  • Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company (HCSC, Blue Cross Blue Shield)
  • Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Company

Illinois is one of five states where small businesses (those with between 2 and 50 employees) had early access to the federal Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) online portal in October 2014. Online enrollment functionality had been delayed so technical staff could work on fixing the marketplace used by individuals. Without the online function available, small businesses had been limited to working with a broker or by submitting a paper application to sign up for SHOP coverage.

Users in the early launch states experienced some problems with the SHOP according to The New York Times. Issues included some health plans not being displayed and glitches when using Firefox or Internet Explorer web browsers to access the site.

As of Nov. 15, 2014 the online SHOP was available in all states that use, but enrollment has been well below expectations nationwide.

Illinois delayed the launch of “employee choice” in the SHOP exchange until 2016. Employee choice allows employees of small businesses that use the SHOP to select from a range of plans rather than being limited to a single plan selected by their employer. The federal government let states that use the federal marketplace choose if they want to implement employee choice for 2015. Illinois is one of 18 states that opted to delay implementation of employee choice.

A recap of 2014 enrollment

About 217,500 Illinois residents enrolled in qualified health plans (QHPs) during 2014 open enrollment and 468,000 have signed up for Medicaid as of Sept. 30. Get Covered Illinois announced that the state exceeded the initial enrollment target set by the federal government by 52 percent.

Of those Illinois residents who selected a QHP, 77 percent qualified for financial assistance, compared to 85 percent nationally. An HHS report showed the average monthly premium, after tax credits, for Illinois consumers was $105. Twenty-five percent of enrollees pay $50 or less per month after subsidies.

Twenty-nine percent of Illinois residents selected a bronze plan (20 percent nationally), 56 percent selected a silver plan (65 percent nationally), 15 percent selected a gold plan (9 percent nationally), 1 percent selected a platinum plan (5 percent nationally) and 0 percent selected a catastrophic plan (2 percent nationally). Thirty-one percent of Illinois enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34.

History of the Illinois exchange

Former Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration announced in July 2012 that the Illinois marketplace would operate as a state-federal partnership. Quinn had hoped to leverage the partnership model as an interim step toward a state-run marketplace for the 2015 coverage year. However, a state exchange bill passed in the Senate in 2013 didn’t get a vote in the House. As noted above, there was some hope that exchange legislation will be considered during the fall 2014 session. However, the House did not take up the issue, and Illinois continues to have a partnership exchange (as noted above, the state’s portion of the partnership was folded into the Department of Insurance in August 2015).

About 12 percent of state’s population remained uninsured after the first open enrollment period. In response, officials awarded nearly $26 million to 37 organizations to target groups that were hard to reach in 2014: Latinos, African Americans, and Millennials.  The efforts paid off, and Illinois’ uninsured rate dropped again from 2014 to 2015.

The uninsured rate in Illinois dropped from 15.5 percent in 2013 to 8.8 percent in the first half of 2015, according to a Gallup survey.  Medicaid expansion has no doubt played a significant role in the reduction in the uninsured rate, as total Medicaid/CHIP enrollment grew by half a million people from the fall of 2013 to June 2015 – a 19 percent increase.

Get Covered Illinois hired Onion Labs to build a campaign to reach Millennials. The campaign featured the fictional Luck Health Plan and the tagline: “You’ll be okay. Probably.”

In January 2015, Get Covered Illinois launched an ad targeting same-sex married couples. While the uninsured rate for low- and middle-income LGBT people dropped from 34 percent to 26 percent from 2013 to 2014, it is still much higher than the overall national average.

Illinois health insurance exchange resources

Get Covered Illinois

Illinois Health Matters
Information resource on health care reform

Health Care Assistance
Office of the Attorney General
877-305-5145 (toll-free nationwide) TTY: 312-964-3013
Serves residents enrolled in private health insurance

Office Consumer Health Insurance and the Ombudsman for the Uninsured 
Illinois Department of Insurance
877-527-9431 (toll-free nationwide)
Serves residents who are uninsured as well as residents who have health insurance problems or questions.