House premium debate likely to be good political theater
A House panel Wednesday will debate the Affordable Care Act’s impact on insurance premiums. But experts caution that the public should take the rhetoric with a grain of salt.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, called the hearing after some states published large rate hike requests by several big insurers, including increases of 51.6% in New Mexico, 36.3% in Tennessee and 30.4% in Maryland.
Even ACA supporters are concerned that large increases, if ultimately approved by state regulators, could damage public support for the reform law. Kev Coleman, head of data and research at HealthPocket, a website that compares and ranks health plans, noted that the ACA requires individual- and small-group plans to cover an essential benefits package. “If you’re offering more benefits, it stands to reason there would be an increase in premiums,” he said.
Experts also stressed that premiums were climbing in double digits before the law and have slowed over the past several years.
Examining a sample of 2016 rate filings in eight states, Avalere Health found that premiums for silver-tier plans sold to 50-year-old nonsmokers would rise by an average of 5.8%, while rates for the second-lowest cost silver plan in those states would go up by only 1%.
“The Obama administration promised to slow the rate of growth, which doesn’t mean premiums are going to go down,” said Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere.
States have yet to approve the 2016 rate requests, and experts say the final rates will be lower than the requests. “This hearing is nothing more than political theater,” Pearson said.