Prices for health insurance sold on Montana’s Marketplace website are going up an average of 1.35 percent next year, a rate that is significantly below national cost increases and well below Montana’s historic yearly rate of growth.

For only the second year in Montana history, my office had the ability to review health insurance rates. Montana insurance experts in my office examined all rates to ensure that any increases were reasonable before the plans went on the market.

I hired an outside actuary – a mathematician specializing in insurance — to analyze rates for insurance to be sold on Montana’s Marketplace website next year by the three companies already selling here: BlueCross BlueShield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Health CO-OP.

A fourth company, Assurant, will also be selling insurance in Montana’s Marketplace website, but Assurant’s rates are not yet final and were not included in the analysis.

Their analysis concluded that the average price increases for insurance sold in the individual and small group markets will be 1.35 percent, with rates for individuals going up an average of 1.6 percent. Premium costs for some plans are actually going down next year, including average rates for plans in the bronze tier, which were purchased by more than a quarter of Montanans who bought plans in the individual health insurance market for 2014.

For months our office has worked with Montana’s insurance companies to ensure that any price increases are the lowest possible.

Montanans cannot afford out-of-control health insurance costs. We’ve been accustomed to double-digit increases, so these figures are a step in the right direction.

Nationally, health insurance rates are going up about 8.5 percent on average.

This year’s rate increase represents a dramatic slowdown in historic health insurance rate hikes. For the five years prior to 2014, Montana has seen premium increases of 13 to 18 percent in the individual market and 8.4 to 15.3 percent in the small group market.

2015 rates and other health insurance information will be posted to the Montana insurance commissioner’s website www.montanahealthanswers.com.

-Monica J. Lindeen is commissioner of securities and insurance for the Montana State Auditor.