Friday, November 20, 2015

WSJ: Health insurance costs going up

Health insurance premiums and deductibles are going up next year.  The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday:


Many people signing up for 2016 health policies under the Affordable Care Act face higher premiums, fewer doctors and skimpier coverage, which threatens the appeal of the program for the healthy customers it needs.

Insurers have raised premiums steeply for the most popular plans at the same time they have boosted out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, copays and coinsurance in many of their offerings. The companies attribute the moves in part to the high cost of some customers they are gaining under the law, which doesn’t allow them to bar clients with existing health conditions.

The result is that many people can’t avoid paying more for insurance in 2016 simply by shopping around—and those who try risk landing in a plan with fewer doctors and skimpier coverage.

These dual realities threaten to undercut the law’s popularity with the customers it relies on the most: relatively healthy people. Their participation is vital to offset the costs of sicker people who can buy coverage at equal prices for the first time under the law; if the healthier ones pull out, that would put additional upward pressure on premium prices.

Premiums for individual plans offered by the dominant local insurers are rising almost everywhere for 2016, typically by double-digit percentage increases, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of plan data in 34 states where the HealthCare.gov site sells insurance.

More than half of the midrange “silver” plans are boosting the out-of-pocket costs enrollees must pay, while more than 80% of the less-expensive “bronze” plans are doing so.

The Obama administration has acknowledged that premiums are going up, releasing an official analysis that, by one metric, showed the price of second-lowest-cost silver plans was rising 7.5% on average for 2016.

Federal officials are pushing people to evaluate their options and consider switching plans to try to keep costs in check, in a message regularly summarized as “shop and save.”

But the Journal’s review of choices available in the most populous county of each state, as well as the county holding the state capital, suggests that won’t fully help, most notably for people who don’t qualify for subsidies under the health law.

In about half of the states using HealthCare.gov, people in popular plans can pay lower premiums in 2016 than they did in 2015—as long as they are willing to switch to a plan with a different insurer, usually with a narrower network of doctors and a higher deductible.

In the other half of those states, switching insurers could only mitigate the size of a premium increase from 2015 and may also include a boost in deductibles.....

Low-income people who receive subsidies will find the blow softened. But the fact that middle-class buyers face more difficult choices carries major implications for the administration as it tries to make the law work after two initial tough enrollment periods. It comes at the same time many companies are raising employees’ contributions toward health coverage, although the overall premium for employer-sponsored health insurance rose by a modest 4% for 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported earlier this year....

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers beginning in 2014 have been required to sell plans to everyone, regardless of medical history, with only limited premium variation based on age. It is one of the law’s most popular provisions and has made it possible for people who previously couldn’t get insurance to buy it for the first time. The law also caps the deductibles and out-of-pocket costs insurers can include for the first time.

But many insurers say they have been hit by bigger-than-expected bills from new enrollees, including from rising drug prices, and don’t have enough healthy customers to offset them.

State insurance regulators, which approve premiums, say they haven’t been able to dispute the industry’s need for the higher prices, forcing the law’s supporters to scramble to try to keep healthy people enrolled to prevent the situation from becoming irreversibly worse. Around 10 million people buy coverage through HealthCare.gov or state equivalents, and of them, around 80% get some kind of subsidy to help with costs. Between eight and 10 million more people buy insurance directly from a health plan or through a broker, and they don’t get a subsidy.

The Obama administration and its supporters point out that premiums were going up before the law was passed—and that under the law, people have the option to switch insurers because they can’t be turned away based on medical history. The number of insurers across the country has remained relatively steady, with new market entrants offsetting the abrupt exits of some on HealthCare.gov.

But that is scant consolation to buyers who feel more squeezed than ever.

Eric Elmquist, 37, of Franklin, Tenn., felt he was paying too much in 2014 for his Blue Cross Blue Shield plan at $878 a month for two adults and three children, with an annual deductible of $5,000. A year later, he had a plan with a premium of $1,089 and deductible of $7,000. Now, he is eyeing a premium of more than $1,416 to keep that plan.

“We’re getting blasted,” said Mr. Elmquist, a biotechnology entrepreneur, who makes too much to qualify for a subsidy. “We try to treat things at home now, at least for the first week. We don’t take the kids to the health clinic as often. I’m getting frustrated because the cost takes a personal toll.”

The value of subsidies is pegged to the cost of premiums, so when prices go up, so do the subsidies—for people who qualify for them. That has the effect of absorbing most of the price changes for some of the low-income Americans—for a single 40-year-old, the value of the subsidies starts to peter out when the enrollee’s income reaches $35,000 in many parts of the country. But it also leaves the federal government on the hook for paying the difference in price, which could become a political issue if premiums continue to rise.

In Concord, N.C., Robin Matthews said she can’t afford to offer coverage to the five employees of her business providing car title and registration services, but that she plans to sit down with them to look at their options on HealthCare.gov. For several of them, with salaries of around $25,000, the impact of the subsidies is likely to be considerable.

The 53-year-old Ms. Matthews also expects a small subsidy herself this year because of price increases in her area. Even so, she is eyeing an increase in her Blue Cross Blue Shield premium and plans instead to pick Aetna coverage that comes with a lower monthly premium, at as little as $308 to cover just her, but higher cost-sharing, including a deductible of $6,300.

She said she would never contemplate going without insurance because she is a single parent, “and God forbid something happens.” But she remains anxious about the future.

If she goes ahead with the Aetna selection, “I’m actually going to save money on my premiums this year, but it’s because I’ve taken a lesser plan,” she said. “I think our insurance situation and our whole health care system is in a big crisis, and I don’t feel comfortable that it’s going to get any better.”

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not a surprise.

Modern Healthcare article yesterday reported United was considering ditching its participation in the Marketplace by 2017 after losing $425 million on plans sold there.

Anonymous said...

Liberal progressives shoot a blank wad again. Obamanomics kills. The debt has been doubled and the wreckage will be equally laid at the feet of the RINOs too! Wicker, Cochran and Harper just voted to suspend the debt limit. No raise it with a new cap. Nope, suspend it. Little surprise why Obama thanked them in advance for their Xmas gift.

Anonymous said...

This can't be true because there has been no inflation over the past year. The proof is that there will be no increase in social security benefits in 2016.

Anonymous said...

Modern, developed countries have to offer access to healthcare for its citizens. Time to kill the for profit insurance scam.

Anonymous said...

Here is what everyone is forgetting. The ACA was designed to fail, so that the Democrats can then shove single payer healthcare down our throats as the only solution.

Anonymous said...

The idea that every policy must include maternity coverage is ludicrous. A senior citizen paying for Pediatric care is sensless. I'm tired of paying for illigitimate kids and a bunch of female animals that bed down with anyone, because "they mama did it."

Anonymous said...

@5:08
You are right. At age 64 I recently had to get an individual policy. I'm paying $710 per month until January at which time it will increase to $820 per month. This policy has a really high deductible, a reasonable co-pay for doctor visits and what appears to be a so-so co-pay for meds. Upon closer examination the prescription plan is not so great. This plan also provides maternity coverage. Mr. Obama considers this a necessity for a 64 year old widowed male who had a vasectomy 25 years ago. If I impregnate a lady I will gladly pay the maternity costs out of pocket in exchange for a reduced premium.

Anonymous said...

@8:39

Well, I don't want to pay high premiums because old ass people like you keep getting sick. Do they cover your Geritol? How many pills do you take a day to keep you alive?

See how ludicrous that sounds. I run 5 miles a day and I'm in near perfect health, so why are my premiums still so high? Statistically you will spend 100x more in benefits in the next 5 years compared to me. I will very likely spend $0.

That's because insurance spreads the cost of the ill onto everyone. It's how the system works. You bitch about maternity, but then don't mention that insurance also covers the pills to get your dick hard.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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