By David Morgan and Caroline Humer
(Reuters) - The number of insurers offering individual health plans on the Obamacare exchanges will increase about 25 percent in 2015 and that should keep down prices, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday in a report.
More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance through the exchanges in 2014, which were created under President Barack Obama's national healthcare reform law and offer income-based subsidies.
Next year, there will be 63 additional issuers in the 44 states for which it has data, the agency said in a report. Some insurers left the market, it said.
Healthcare.gov, which sells insurance in 36 states, will have 248 issuers in 2015, an increase of 30 percent from 2014, it said.
"We're seeing it as evidence that these are attractive marketplaces, and just from our casual review of investor communications by the firms, these are being seen as growth opportunities," an HHS official said.
The nation's largest health insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc, which offered only a few plans in 2014, submitted plans in more than two dozen states. Other large insurers have said they have either maintained or increased their presence on the exchanges for 2015. Aetna Inc, Humana Incand WellPoint Inc all offer more than a dozen plans.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell cited the increase in the number of insurers selling plans and a study showing that 7 in 10 Americans find the coverage affordable. "There's no surprise ... that when folks evaluate the success of the law, the marketplace receives much of the attention," she said in prepared remarks for a speech at Brookings.
The report said past data has shown that for each additional insurer, the monthly premium price in that market declines for the benchmark plan by 4 percent.
Based on the data collected for the 44 states, only California is expected to have a decline in the number of insurers offering plans to 10 from 12. New Hampshire and West Virginia, which both had only 1 insurer offering plans in 2014, will increase to 5 insurers and 2 insurers respectively. Each insurer is counted as one issuer in each state where it sells plans.
There are six states running their own online marketplaces whose information was not included in the report. They include Hawaii, Kentucky Minnesota, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Vermont.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer and David Morgan in Washington D.C.; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Andrew Hay)