Georgians face fewer choices, sticker shock on healthcare exchange

A half a million Georgians who buy their health insurance through the state's health insurance exchange will face fewer choices for 2017 and some serious sticker shock..

This, after UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Cigna have all pulled out of the insurance marketplace in Georgia in the last few months.

How many options consumers have will largely depend on where they live in Georgia.

If they're in the metro Atlanta area, consumers have six companies to choose from.

But in northeast or northwest Georgia, there are only two choices.

And in 96 counties, two-thirds of the state, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia is the only choice.

And the company is requesting a 21-percent hike in premiums for 2017.

Ken Thorpe, Professor of Health Policy at The Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, says one problem is many insurance providers didn't know what to expect when it came to the public health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

"I think to be competitive, it could have been that some plans set their premiums too low," Thorpe says. "And the actual people who enrolled were much more expensive than they thought. So then you're in a catch up period, in the second and third year, to try to recoup those losses."

Whether you have five choices, or just two, Thorpe says research your options.

"I think you need to start shopping now and there are several things you need to look for.," Thorpe says.

First, he says, find out what your premium will be with each plan, which is how much you'll pay on an annual basis.

Next, find out whether you're eligible for any federal tax credits, which Thorpe says can help you bring down the cost of coverage.

Thorpe says you also want to find out if your hospital and doctor are part of the plans you're considering.

"So, is your provider in-network, where you will pay less?" he says. "Or, if they're out of network, you're going to pay a lot more."

Make a list of the medications you need. Then go to and find out if they're covered on your plan, and at what level.

"I think you still want to drill down what you expect to pay out of pocket," Thorpe says. "So, what is the cost of these different medications going to be? What tier are they on? Are they on a lower cost tier or a higher cost tier?"

Enrollment for 2017 begins November 1, 2016.