Politics & Government

Campaign Watchdog: GOP claim that health insurance going up 34 percent in Ky. mostly false

The Herald-Leader will routinely check the accuracy of statements made by candidates and their surrogates leading up to the 2014 elections.

The statement: "In Kentucky, individuals will see a 34 percent increase in their health care premiums."

— News release issued Wednesday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, attacking Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes on the Affordable Care Act

The ruling: Mostly False

The facts: In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, a sweeping and complex law intended to provide health coverage to the uninsured. Americans must be enrolled in a health plan by March 31 to avoid a tax penalty.

In a news release, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said there will be a 34 percent increase in insurance premiums for individuals in Kentucky under the health care law. To support that claim, the NRSC cited a report published in March by the Society of Actuaries in Schaumburg, Ill.

This was one of many attacks the NRSC is making on Democratic Senate candidates, alleging large and specific increases in insurance costs under the health care law on a state-by-state basis. Expect to see more of the same in 2014 television commercials promoting the re-election of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

However, because there are so many variables involved and changes coming to the marketplace, it's impossible to accurately predict the law's impact on premiums, according to many of the nation's health care experts, including the author of the Society of Actuaries report the NRSC cited.

"It's a heck of a lot more nuanced than that. We didn't even try to predict the future of premiums in that study," said author Randy Haught, senior scientist at Dobson | DaVanzo, a health care consulting firm just outside Washington, D.C.

The NRSC picked one number from one of many charts in the 83-page report. That chart dealt with the small subset of Kentucky's population that would not be covered by employers' insurance plans or Medicaid. They would buy individual plans, referred to as "non-group" plans in the report.

The chart assumed several variables — for example, that all states would expand their Medicaid coverage to more people as allowed by the health care law, which is not the case — in order to estimate how many people in each state would gain insurance of some kind; how many would enroll in non-group plans; and what the change in monthly premiums for non-group plans could look like as a result.

Based on those variables, the chart estimated that Kentucky could see 346,334 people in non-group plans, up from 143,620 at present, with a drop in the number of uninsured Kentuckians, from 16.7 percent of the population to 5.3 percent. In this projection, monthly premiums for non-group members would rise from $297 before the health law took effect to $398 afterward, a 34.1 percent increase.

If so, that price increase would affect an estimated 7 percent of the state's 4.3 million people.

After presenting this and other scenarios with different results, the report offered a warning: "We suggest readers carefully consider possible variations in outcomes and the actions of competitors and regulators when using this report. We suggest that actual per member per month figures generally should not be used ..."

Likewise, briefing reporters on the health care law last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation said that it cannot accurately predict how the law will change premiums for individual insurance plans.

Though premiums may rise for some Americans, particularly young adults who typically avoid big medical bills and therefore have enjoyed lower rates, different factors will push costs up and down.

For example, Americans with existing medical problems now will be allowed to buy insurance, which will increase prices overall. At the same time, young people who have avoided insurance are expected to enroll, helping offset that impact. In addition, the law provides for subsidies and tax breaks to lower the final costs for many consumers.

"I just don't think the data exists publicly to do the calculations without having to make some very speculative assumptions," said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation and former health policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a written response to the Lexington Herald-Leader, NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen defended her organization's claim, saying it was based on the best data currently available.

"We have yet to hear anyone argue that there won't be a premium increase," Hougesen said. "The broader point is that when the law was being sold by the president and Senate Democrats, they promised Kentuckians that they can keep the care they have if they like and their premiums will not increase. That's why it was named 'The Affordable Care Act.' As you know, both promises have been broken."

Campaign Watchdog finds the NRSC's claim to be mostly false. Using one projection aimed at a potential 7 percent of the state's population, the NRSC stated as fact that individuals in Kentucky will see a 34 percent increase in their health care premiums. But even the researcher who made the calculation said it shouldn't be used to predict actual premium increases.

Rating the statements

Here's a look at the possible ratings each statement can receive and what they mean.

True: The claim is accurate and complete.

Mostly True: The claim is accurate but needs additional clarifying information.

Half True: The claim is accurate but takes things out of context or leaves out significant details.

Mostly False: The claim contains an element of truth but also includes inaccurate information or leaves a false impression by omitting critical facts.

False: The claim is not accurate.