ObamaCare House of Cards   Leave a comment

The Congressional Budget Office scored the American Health Care Act and claimed the bill will reduce deficits by $119 billion over the next decade and result in 23 million fewer people being insured by 2026. So clearly, people would be better off if Obamacare were unchanged. This new report from the Department of Health and Human Services dispels that myth.

Reality Bites

The DHHS report shows that premiums in the individual market exchanges increased by 105% in the 39 states using Healthcare.gov from 2013 to 2017. This is equivalent to $244 per month ($2,928 per year) in additional premium payments for people buying insurance through the exchanges. People not eligible for exchange subsidies are fully exposed to these increases, while taxpayers will bear the brunt of subsidies for eligible enrollees.

Despite the promises that Obamacare would “cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year,” average premiums on the exchanges more than doubled over this period. In some states, such as Alabama and Alaska, the average premium more than tripled. Welcome to my world.

B-b-but, Alaska is a small-population state with a huge land mass and people who have to travel long distances to medical care. Surely ….

No, the high average increase is not driven by a few outliers. Twenty-three out of the 39 states included in the analysis experienced premium increases in excess of 105%. Only three states, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, had cumulative premium increases below 50%.

 

As the report acknowledges, the composition of the population enrolling in plans through the exchanges has changed over time due to the adverse selection problems created by the law’s subsidy and regulation frameworks.

Example?

The community rating age bands, which dictate how much more companies can charge older, higher-risk enrollees, were set at 3:1 under Obamacare. A recent study by Milliman estimated that relaxing these age bands to 5:1 would reduce premiums for people aged 20-29 by 15% while increasing premiums for older enrollees.

Lower premiums for younger, healthier people would encourage more of them to enroll through the exchanges instead of foregoing health insurance because it is too expensive for them. Older, less healthy people make up a larger share of the exchange population now than in earlier years, which exacerbates the premium increases on that population.

Due to data limitations, the report does not deal with the population getting plans on the individual market but not through the exchanges. These people accounted for more than a third of the total individual market. They are not eligible for the law’s subsidies, so there is likely less adverse selection for the off-exchange population, but these enrollees have to bear the entirety of the costs of those increases.

Families choosing a plan through the exchanges have seen their premiums more than double since 2013. Alabama and Alaska, which have seen the two highest cumulative premium increases, are both down to only one insurer. In the entire country, only Virginia saw the number of participating insurers increase from 2016 to 2017. Just today, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City announced it would be exiting the exchange, leaving 25 counties in Missouri without a participating insurer for now.

The trend is absolutely unsustainable.

The lack of choices and competition in a growing number of places makes it unlikely that there will be an end to rapid premium growth without reform. While the CBO estimates will provide some insight into the effects of the bill in its current form, a working group of Senators is crafting a revised bill with major alterations.

Getting the design of replacement legislation right is important, and the CBO score will give the working group more information about which aspects of the bill that passed the House need the most adjustment. Provisions that allow for more competition and choice for people trying to get insurance through the individual market should help bring down annual premium increases.

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