Obamacare premiums are actually lower in a lot of states

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Myles Ma, CPFCSenior ReporterMyles Ma, CPFC, is a senior reporter and certified personal finance counselor at Policygenius, where he covers insurance and personal finance. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Average costs for Obamacare plans are expected to drop in many states for the first time, and other states are seeing the lowest increases in years.

ACASignups.net has tracked premium changes on the health insurance marketplaces since 2015. The website projects premiums to drop for 2020 by an average of $1 a month across the country.

The biggest drops are expected in Washington, D.C., where average premiums are expected to fall by $163 a month, and Colorado, where premiums are projected to decrease $131. The biggest projected increase is in Louisiana, where monthly premiums are due to rise $71, according to ACASignups.

This is the second year of stable premiums on the marketplaces, after years of double-digit percentage increases.

"There's definitely some evidence that premiums are stabilizing," said Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic health organization.

Why are premiums falling?

In the first years of the marketplace, many carriers set premiums too low, Hempstead said.

Many lost money and left the market in the following years as a result. The remaining carriers hiked prices in response, Hempstead said. Now, she said, "The market's getting more competitive. Rates are coming down."

For example, Nebraska had only one carrier until this year, when Bright Health made plans to join the 2020 exchange. Premiums there are expected to drop by $59 a month, according to ACASignups.

Delaware and Wyoming are the only states left with only one insurer on the exchange.

How will enrollment be affected?

Hempstead expects premiums to remain steady going forward.

"As there's more choices and the products are a little better, I think there's reasons to think that enrollment could grow," she said.

Like premiums, enrollment in marketplace plans has remained steady for two years, with a slight decline in 2019.

Enrollment in the individual market is sensitive to movements in the employment rate, which is still at historic highs. If the economy falters and fewer people are covered by employers, that could lead more people to the individual market, Hempstead said.

However, plans remain very expensive for people who don't receive subsidies, Hempstead said. The average monthly premium for 2020 is expected to be close to $600, according to ACASignups.

"If we can find ways to get the cost down a little more for unsubsidized people, that will grow the market," Hempstead said.

Unfortunately, only 21.9% people were aware that subsidies are available to buy Obamacare plans, according to a recent Policygenius survey.

Signing up this year?

Looking to sign up for a plan? Expect more choices than last year, in both terms of carriers and plans.

If you're taking a specialty drug or need to see a specific provider, comb through each plan's network and drug formulary to make sure you'll be covered.

"If you have more of a choice of plans you have more opportunity to hopefully find a plan that has your provider," Hempstead said.

Open enrollment for the individual marketplace starts Friday. Looking for more information on signing up in your state? Read our state-by-state guide to Obamacare.

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