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By Robert Kittle

The second-largest health insurance company in South Carolina is pulling out of the state at the end of the year because of the Affordable Care Act. Medical Mutual of Ohio is the parent company of the Carolina Care plan, which insures about 28,000 people in South Carolina.

The company is also pulling out of Georgia and Indiana. Medical Mutual spokesman Ed Byers says, "Under new regulations, which are vast and quite complex, it is in our best interest to focus on our core market of Ohio where we are headquartered and have been doing business successfully for nearly 80 years."

He says the 28,000 people who are members of the Carolina Care plan will be transitioned to United Healthcare, and they've all been notified of that.

South Carolina Insurance Director Ray Farmer says the loss of the state's second-largest health insurer could raise rates for everyone. "If you have less competition, not only in insurance but in any marketplace, it could result in higher rates. I don't think there's going to be a big groundswell of other companies leaving the marketplace, though," he says.

Regardless of the number of health insurance companies in the state, he thinks you'll be paying more. "I think, for a large part of the population, rates are going to go up anyway under the Affordable Care Act."

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, was in Columbia Friday and said, "The net effect of the new legislation is to reduce competition and spread the cost. We're not reducing the cost; we're merely spreading the cost to every taxpayer. And, in addition to that, because of the regulatory cost, the price of insurance will also increase as well."

However, the Obama administration says the opposite is true; that many Americans will save money on health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The theory is that if everyone is required to have health insurance, health care costs are spread across more people.

A new report from the New York governor's office says people who have individual health insurance plans will see their rates cut in half, but those who get their health insurance through their employers will see their rates go up.

The South Carolina Department of Insurance recommends that consumers shop around to get the best rates on any kind of insurance. If you have insurance questions, you can contact the department's Consumer Services Division.

The Consumer Services Division is extending their hours of telephone operation Monday -Thursday 8:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m. and will maintain regular business hours from 8:30-5:00 on Fridays. The division's toll-free number is 1-800-768-3467. You can also e-mail analysts with your questions at consumers@doi.sc.gov.

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