Thousands of Montanans were shocked to hear a report on Wednesday that all three of the insurance companies involved in Montana's federally run health insurance marketplace had asked for premium increases averaging over 30 percent in 2016.

Jennifer McKee, spokeswoman with the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Office in Helena, said the numbers released this week are merely proposals presented by the insurance companies.

"Insurance rates can only be configured by using certain criteria," McKee said. "They have to be reasonable criteria, and this office has the authority to review them. We use an outside actuary to determine that the price is truly reasonable, not too high and not too low. Last year, for example, one company lowered its rates by 66 percent."

McKee said over 80 percent of Montanans receive a tax credit to help subsidize their health insurance premiums.

"The tax credits reduce the costs quite a bit," she said. "This year in America, in 2015, the average American receiving a tax credit pays just $105 a month for their health insurance premium, so the tax credits are a very important part of how Americans pay for their health insurance when they buy in the individual market."

Blue Cross - Blue Shield asked for an increase averaging 22 percent, while PacificSource wants a 32 percent increase, and the Montana Healthcare Cooperative requested a 34 percent increase in 2016.

For those who don't qualify for a tax credit to subsidize their health insurance premium, McKee said not to panic quite yet.

"We're so early in the process, we can't say that these are the prices that people are going to end up paying," McKee said. "But we do know that people can always choose a different kind of plan which is less expensive. For those with tax credits, if the benchmark plan goes up, the people will see an increase in their tax credit."

Anyone with questions is asked to contact the office of Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen at 1-800-332-6128, or log on to the Commissioner's website.

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