Obama boasts of health care savings, but costs likely to rise for many

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 18, 2013 

— President Barack Obama assailed Republicans on Thursday for trying to dismantle his signature health care law, saying it’s already providing a benefit of one kind or another to millions of Americans, including a drop in projected premium costs in nearly a dozen states.

But experts predict that premiums on individual plans will increase in most states because of the new consumer protections the sweeping legislation requires. The impact on premiums will vary across states depending on geographic location, the type of coverage and the individual characteristics of the enrollee.

For example, while Obama pointed to a reduction in premiums in New York state, state officials in Ohio say the average premium proposal for individual coverage next year is up 88 percent from this year’s average price as reported by the Society of Actuaries. In Maryland, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield proposed a 25 percent increase in premiums next year, after first seeking a 50 percent increase. Final rates haven’t been determined in either state.

The higher rates, supporters say, buy a health insurance system that guarantees access to coverage for everyone and improves benefits, such as requiring insurers to cover older children and outlawing lifetime spending limits on claims.

Obama, fighting to sell the health care law against an onslaught of criticism from Republicans, focused on the positives.

“The health care act is doing what it’s designed to do: deliver more choices, better benefits, a check on rising costs and higher-quality care,” he said, flanked by a group of people the White House said had received rebates from their health insurance companies through a provision of the new law that penalizes insurers for what the government considers wasteful spending.

The president spoke as the political battle over the 2010 law, known informally as Obamacare, intensifies ahead of Oct. 1, the start of enrollment in the insurance exchanges set up under the measure.

Obama said the insurance marketplaces would allow consumers to go online and shop for health insurance “just like you’d compare over the Internet the best deal on flat-screen TVs or cars or any other product that is important to your lives.”

The Obama administration has been buoyed by preliminary data that suggests that greater competition will reduce premiums for people who buy individual coverage outside the workplace in at least some states, with New York state officials announcing that individual premiums in the marketplace will be lower than projections by the Congressional Budget Office.

A new analysis by the Obama administration released Thursday found that in 11 locations where data is available, the lowest-priced plan will cost 18 percent less on average than the Congressional Budget Office had estimated when the law was debated. Those premiums still would be higher than they were at the time the law was enacted. The 11 are California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state. However, the report includes an asterisk that indicates Ohio and Virginia hadn’t yet posted premiums for all issuers and that the numbers might end up higher.

“In states that are working hard to make sure this law delivers for their people, what we’re seeing is that consumers are getting a hint of how much money they’re potentially going to save because of this law,” Obama said. “In states like California, Oregon, Washington, new competition, new choices, market forces are pushing costs down.”

A left-leaning group, Americans United for Change, launched TV ads Thursday touting the news that premiums in New York state will be cut in half.

A new report by the left-leaning Urban Institute seemed to bolster the White House’s contention that some costs will decrease. The study, which also was released Thursday, found that the estimated 7 million people who are likely to buy individual coverage through the exchanges probably will be as healthy as those with employer-sponsored coverage. In fact, researchers found that they’re less likely to be obese or to smoke and will have lower rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

“This bodes really well for having reasonable premiums in the non-group exchanges, because we’re talking about people that don’t look that different, in terms of characteristics, than the employer-sponsored pool in general,” said Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who’s a co-author of the report.

Jim O’Connor, a principal at the consulting firm Milliman, which has ties to the insurance industry, has predicted that premiums for individual plans will increase in most states next year under Obamacare.

However, in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and, to a lesser extent, Maine, Washington state and Oregon, O’Connor said in a recent discussion of the health care law, those same individual-plan premiums might see little or no change and might even decline because coverage requirements and consumer protections in those states are already similar to what the Affordable Care Act requires.

Republicans have fought the law on the legislative and political fronts since its introduction and showed no signs of letting up Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner, who said premiums in his home state of Ohio were predicted to rise by $200 a month, has asked the sponsors of legislation that would delay the law to deliver this week’s Republican radio address.

Obama said he’d told his Republican critics he was open to “better ideas" but that they hadn’t offered any.

“We’ve got a lot of problems in this country, and there’s a lot of work that Congress needs to do,” the president said. “And yet, instead we’re refighting these old battles.”

"What I’ve heard is just the same old song and dance," Obama said. "We’re just going to blow through that stuff and just keep on doing the right thing for the American people."

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com, tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark, tonypughdc

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