Health care rate hikes to show ahead of elec­tion

Prob­lems to linger af­ter Obama’s exit

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Oba­macare pre­mi­ums are pro­jected to rise an av­er­age of 10 per­cent next year, ac­cord­ing to a study of bench­mark plans in more than a dozen cities, sug­gest­ing that the health care law’s trou­bles will stretch well be­yond Pres­i­dent Obama’s ten­ure.

The rate hike is the high­est from year to year since Oba­macare kicked into full gear in 2014. Rates in Port­land, Ore­gon, will surge 18 per­cent — the high­est among the 14 cities stud­ied by the nonpartisan Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion — and pre­mi­ums will drop in just two of the cities next year.

An­a­lysts said in­sur­ers are still ad­just­ing to a pop­u­la­tion that is sicker and smaller than they ex­pected at this point, and they are hav­ing to raise rates to cover the costs.

Mean­while, a spe­cial pro­gram de­signed to pay in­sur­ers to cover losses in the early years of Oba­macare is ex­pir­ing, and in­sur­ers are likely in­creas­ing pre­mi­ums to make up for the lost tax­payer money, an­a­lysts said.

“Those plans are hav­ing to raise their pre­mi­ums sub­stan­tially now that they have more in­for­ma­tion to work with,” said Cyn­thia Cox, as­so­ciate direc­tor of health care re­form and pri­vate in­sur­ance at Kaiser.

Repub­li­cans are al­ready us­ing the study on the cam­paign trail, with the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee say­ing the rate hikes are more proof that Democrats’ health care law has failed to make in­sur­ance af­ford­able.

Ms. Cox said the surge in pre­mi­ums should level off af­ter this year. She said some in­sur­ers are even de­scrib­ing the large hike as a “one-time mar­ket cor­rec­tion.”

But the se­ries of pro­posed in­creases poses an elec­tion-year headache for Mr. Obama, who is try­ing to shore up sup­port for his sig­na­ture achieve­ment in the months be­fore he leaves of­fice.

The tim­ing also is bad for Democrats: Con­sumers won’t get a com­plete look at their 2017 pay­ments un­til en­roll­ment kicks off Nov. 1 — one week be­fore Elec­tion Day.

Hil­lary Clin­ton, the pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, has vowed to build on Oba­macare’s re­forms, while likely Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump says he will re­peal the law.

“Repub­li­cans will raise the high health pre­mi­ums and try to make that a cam­paign is­sue,” said Dar­rell West, direc­tor of gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “How­ever, I haven’t heard Trump talk much about that, so un­less he re­ally em­pha­sizes it, that is­sue won’t get much trac­tion. The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee is more fo­cused on ter­ror­ism, trade and im­mi­gra­tion.”

The hikes are pro­pos­als at this point, and the fed­eral Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment pre­dicted that state reg­u­la­tory agen­cies will force the rates down. HHS also pre­dicted that con­sumers will pony up rel­a­tively lit­tle of the bill once tax sub­si­dies are ap­plied to their monthly bills.

“Last year, Health­Care.gov pre­mi­ums in­creased an av­er­age of just $4 per month af­ter shop­ping and tax cred­its, and con­sumers will ben­e­fit from shop­ping and tax cred­its again this year,” HHS spokesman Ben­jamin Wakana said.

Repub­li­can crit­ics say the dou­ble-digit in­creases are more proof that the law has failed and must be re­pealed.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, is slated to an­nounce a lon­gawaited re­place­ment of the 2010 health care law in the com­ing weeks, giv­ing Repub­li­cans an al­ter­na­tive to take to vot­ers.

In the mean­time, Repub­li­cans con­tinue to chip away at the law, de­lay­ing some of the taxes and fight­ing in court, where a fed­eral judge has ruled against an Oba­macare pro­gram that re­im­burses in­sur­ers for slash­ing low-in­come cus­tomers’ outof-pocket costs.

Kaiser stud­ied the bench­mark “sil­ver,” or mi­dlevel plans, the gov­ern­ment uses to cal­cu­late costs and sub­si­dies in each mar­ket.

Half of the 14 mar­kets Kaiser has stud­ied will of­fer fewer plans to Oba­macare cus­tomers on the ex­changes, with the with­drawal of Unit­edHealth­care, an industry gi­ant that is se­verely cur­tail­ing its in­volve­ment with the health care law.

Af­ter Port­land’s 18 per­cent, the high­est rate hikes will be in New York City and the District of Columbia at 16 per­cent for their bench­mark plans.

Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, with a drop of 13 per­cent, is one of only two of the 14 cities where rates will de­crease. Rates in In­di­ana are pro­jected to drop 4 per­cent.

More than half of the 23 co-op plans de­signed as con­sumer-ori­ented al­ter­na­tives to big cor­po­rate play­ers in the mar­ket­place have folded, forc­ing those cus­tomers to switch plans and hand­ing Repub­li­cans more am­mu­ni­tion in a piv­otal elec­tion year.

“Across the coun­try, peo­ple are see­ing how much more money they’re ex­pected to pay for their health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums next year,” said Sen. John Bar­rasso, Wy­oming Repub­li­can. “For most Amer­i­cans, the Democrats’ health care law has meant higher prices, worse health care and less free­dom to choose what’s right for their fam­i­lies.”

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