House pre­mium de­bate likely to be good po­lit­i­cal theater

Modern Healthcare - - THE WEEK AHEAD - —Vir­gil Dick­son

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.


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