Oct 24 (Reuters) - The average premium for benchmark 2017 Obamacare insurance plans sold on Healthcare.gov rose 25 percent compared with 2016, the U.S. government said on Monday, the biggest increase since the insurance first went on sale in 2013 for the following year.
The average monthly premium for the benchmark plan is rising to $302 from $242 in 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services said. The agency attributed the large increase to insurers adjusting their premiums to reflect two years of cost data that became available.
Large national insurers including Aetna Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc and Anthem Inc have said they are losing money on the exchanges, created under President Barack Obama's national healthcare reform law, because patient costs are higher than anticipated. Both UnitedHealth and Aetna have pulled out of the exchanges for 2017.
As a result, consumers will have fewer plans to choose from. In 2017, in five states there will be offerings from only one insurance company. Without competition there is little incentive to keep costs down.
Obama acknowledged last week that the law is not working perfectly but said the problems could be fixed if lawmakers created a government-run health insurance option to help U.S. states where there is little or no competition among private insurers.
Premium increases have become fodder for the presidential race, as Republican candidate Donald Trump calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act if he is elected and Democrat Hillary Clinton calls for expanding it.
The government agency said the 2017 premium increase comes after two years of very low increases in the marketplace for the second-lowest cost "silver" plan, the benchmark plan used to calculate cost-sharing subsidies. The "silver" plan sits in the bottom half in terms of how many costs are covered, between bronze and gold. There is also a platinum plan.
Average premiums for the silver plan increased 2 percent in 2015 and were up 7 percent in 2016, the agency said.
The figure reflects premiums on Healthcare.gov, the federally run website that sells plans for about two-thirds of the states. Including four states and the District of Columbia, which run their own insurance marketplaces, and those that have reported data, the average premium rose 22 percent, the agency said.
Eight other states have not yet reported their premiums, it said.
The annual report was prepared by the health department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer in New York and Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Matthew Lewis)