Political Animal

Blog

May 24, 2013 10:22 AM Obamacare in California: Reverse Sticker Shock

By Ed Kilgore

For months now we’ve been told that the Affordable Care Act would produce a cataclysm of skyrocketing health insurance premiums, particularly in the individual insurance markets that the law most affects. Earlier this week alarms were raised particularly in California with the news that three major insurance companies had decided against participating in the health care exchanges that would offer Obamacare coverage.

So it’s a bit of a shock—sort of a reverse sticker shock—today to learn that preliminary assessments of the cost of the new, improved (because subject to new minimum coverage requirements) policies in California once the exchanges are up and running will in most cases be lower than what citizens of this high-cost state are accustomed to paying. TNR’s Jonathan Cohn summarizes the news:

Based on the premiums that insurers have submitted for final regulatory approval, the majority of Californians buying coverage on the state’s new insurance exchange will be paying less—in many cases, far less—than they would pay for equivalent coverage today. And while a minority will still end up writing bigger premium checks than they do now, even they won’t be paying outrageous amounts. Meanwhile, all of these consumers will have access to the kind of comprehensive benefits that are frequently unavailable today, at any price, because of the way insurers try to avoid the old and the sick.

Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog has more details:

Health insurers will charge 25-year-olds between $142 and $190 per month for a bare-bones health plan in Los Angeles.
A 40-year-old in San Francisco who wants a top-of-the-line plan would receive a bill between $451 and $525. Downgrade to a less robust option, and premiums fall as low as $221.
These premium rates, released Thursday, help answer one of the biggest questions about Obamacare: How much health insurance will cost. They do so in California, the state with 7.1 million uninsured residents, more than any other place in the country.
Multiple projections expected premiums to be relatively high.
The Congressional Budget Office predicted back in November 2009 that a medium-cost plan on the health exchange - known as a “silver plan” - would have an annual premium of $5,200. A separate report from actuarial firm Milliman projected that, in California, the average silver plan would have a $450 monthly premium.
Now we have California’s rates, and they appear to be significantly less expensive than what forecasters expected.
On average, the most affordable “silver plan” - which covers 70 percent of the average subscriber’s medical costs - comes with a $276 monthly premium.

Such numbers, it is important to note, do not reflect the actual cost to the estimated 2.6 million Californians who will qualify for Obamacare tax subsidies (available to those with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty rate).

One of the “horror stories” we’ve been hearing from Obamacare opponents for years now is that the whole scheme will collapse once healthy, low-income young people realize they’ll face large news costs for the kind of minimum high-deductible catastrophic coverage they actually need. They’ll bail, it has been suggested, not only from Obamacare (screwing up the broad-based risk pools that make affordable coverage for older and sicker people possible), but from Obama’s political coalition as well. So this comment from Kliff about the California numbers is worth noting:

For a less robust “bronze” plan, which covers 60 percent of the average beneficiary’s costs, the tax credit could actually cover the entire premium for low-income twenty-somethings.

None of this should really be that surprising; the idea that a broader pool plus competition and guaranteed benefits would provide a better bargain (plus vastly greater security) for consumers in the individual market was central to the entire Affordable Care Act architecture. But it’s taken a while for facts to catch up with all the negative agitprop. It won’t keep House Republicans from voting to repeal the entire law a 38th or 39th or 40th time before the bulk of the Affordable Care Act becomes effective next year. Still, it’s nice to see some reality-based evidence amidst all the hysteria.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus