Despite predictions that health care premiums in Iowa could easily double next year, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced this morning that it will not raise its base premiums for individual or small group coverage in 2014.

However, Iowa’s largest health insurer said it will pass on new federal fees and taxes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act next year – which it estimates as less than a 6 percent rate increase over current rates.

“We are rewarding our valued members with today’s announcements,” Wellmark Chairman and CEO John Forsyth said in a release. “As a mutual company, Wellmark is owned by its policyholders and these decisions are designed to provide them with maximum flexibility and choice while minimizing their increase in cost.”

Wellmark has increased rates significantly in each of the past several years, however. In January, Iowa’s insurance commissioner approved Wellmark’s request for a 12 to 13 percent increase in individual premiums for this year, on top of a 9.4 percent increase in 2012, an 8.5 percent increase in 2011 and an 18 percent increase in 2010. The Des Moines-based insurer controls more than 85 percent of the individual insurance market in Iowa.

The choice offered by Wellmark of keeping the same coverage through 2014 does not apply to large groups with more than 50 employees.

Individuals won’t have to take any action if they want to maintain their current coverage for another year, said Courtney  Greene, a Wellmark spokeswoman. However, small groups that want to keep their same coverage through 2014 will need to notify Wellmark or their insurance broker of their decision, she said.

Earlier this year, experts in Greater Des Moines predicted double-digit increases for both individual and group coverage, largely driven by an expected influx of less-than-healthy people and higher claims from those who were previously uninsured.

With the announcement, Wellmark is offering its current individual members who are under 65 and small business groups – plans with two to 50 employees -- the option to extend their current health insurance coverage through Dec. 30, 2014. Additionally, all under-65 individuals and small groups will not receive a base premium increase to cover higher medical and administrative costs in 2014.

Forsyth said extending individual and small employers’ existing coverage another year “provides additional time to become more informed about what the changes in the market mean without losing the current coverage they know and trust.”

The company noted that its individual members and small groups have the option this fall to move to one of its new ACA-compliant plans. In some cases, it may be less expensive for a small group or individual to enroll in a new plan, Greene said.