'Obamacare' deadline looms, cheaper rates in Chattanooga area - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'Obamacare' deadline looms, cheaper rates in Chattanooga area

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Millions of Americans have purchased health insurance under the controversial Affordable Care Act and there are tens of thousands in Tennessee. But those who remain uninsured and aren't exempt have to pay up soon. Open enrollment ends March 31st. New data shows people in the Chattanooga area have a much smaller bill than most of the country.

The headquarters for health insurance broker American Exchange is in Chattanooga and serves more than 40 states. All day workers are on the phone enrolling the uninsured for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. They've had an up close look at how the prices vary depending on where you live.

"What was really surprising is when they released the rates, to find out that in our backyard just across the state line there was such a dramatic difference in rates between Chattanooga and our neighbors just south of us," American Exchange Co-founder David Yoder said.

Some of the highest rates in the country are in Southwest Georgia with fewer hospitals and more unhealthy people. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently named the least expensive areas. It ranked Chattanooga and its surrounding counties the tenth cheapest.

"I think there's a great deal of surprise that the premiums are significantly lower than they thought they would be," Yoder said.

Officials with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee say they're surprised, too. It claims the lowest rates in this region through a deal with Erlanger. For example, a 40 year old pays $181 a month for the more popular 'silver plan,'  which is nearly a third less than the national average.

"Our strategy wasn't to go in with the lowest price, however, we did extensive research across the state to try to find a price point that would meet a variety of needs," BlueCross Spokesperson Mary Danielson said.

If insurers charge too much for the number of actual claims, they'll have to refund customers. They say this program is uncharted territory for everybody.

"We're looking at having to price a product where new people are coming on board and therefore we don't know what kind of healthcare services they're going to be accessing in the future. It could be a lot. It could be a little," Danielson said.

Insurers in Tennessee have to submit their rates for the second year under the Affordable Care Act by April.

The deadline to enroll is March 31st. Insurers expect a rush of people to start the process of shopping for insurance over the next several weeks.

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