Federal Health Law Seen Hiking MA Insurance Rates

One size fits all, badly


State business and government leaders say federal rules stemming from the national health care overhaul threaten to drive up insurance costs in Massachusetts, a state widely viewed as a model for the sweeping legislation signed by President Obama in 2010.

Under the new regulations, Massachusetts health insurers will have to set premium rates for small businesses and individuals once a year rather than quarterly, as they do now. The rates also would be issued six to 18 months prior to taking effect. Insurers say that means premiums would have to be more expensive to hedge against unforeseen events — such as an influenza outbreak — that may crop up before rates can be adjusted again.

The change, which affects about 720,000 small business employees and self-employed workers, is meant to bring Massachusetts in line with national policies governing how and when insurance is purchased.