For some, Obamacare delivers ​"sticker shock"

Is health insurance bought through Obamacare really as affordable as it could be, or are prices higher than what was available before the federal program took effect in January?

At least for some Americans, new research suggests, Obamacare is delivering a hefty dose of sticker shock.

According to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, insurance premiums rose from about 14 percent before the Affordable Care Act was implemented to as high as 28 percent post-Obamacare for plans bought in California and states using federally run insurance marketplaces. Those figures are before tax credits, it's worth noting.

The higher rates are likely caused by insurers creating plans with more benefits, and therefore carrying a higher price tag, than the types of coverage bought by individuals before the ACA, the report notes.

The price increase is "not as large as many of the estimates from opponents of the ACA, but is very likely to represent a moderate increase on average if former buyers choose the lowest premium options in exchanges," authors Mark Pauly, Scott Harrington and Adam Leive wrote. All three authors are at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.


One caveat to the findings is the difficulty of comparing ACA plans to those offered before the marketplaces opened, given that plans offer variations in forms of coverage and benefits. That creates an "apples to oranges" comparison, the authors note.

While the price jumps were more moderate than some opponents had expected, there might be more increases coming down the road. Proposed insurance rates for 10 states indicate premiums will jump between 8.5 percent to 22.8 percent next year, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, based on a review of filings from those states.

Why are more increases on the horizon? Some insurers are inching back from pricing that may have been too aggressive, while also coping with an inevitable rise in medical costs. Large insurers may think they can raise rates while remaining competitive, with big insurance companies proposing rate hikes of about 10 percent, The Journal notes.

Anthem is proposing a rate increase of 8.5 percent in Virginia, while CareFirst is suggesting a jump of 22.8 percent in Maryland, though its Blue Choice plans, the analysis found. Nevertheless, some plans may actually lower rates next year, including two Oregon plans.

Despite the increases, the price impact of Obamacare is softened for millions of customers through tax credits. The study didn't factor the impact of the subsidies into its analysis.

Seven out of 10 people who bought plans through the federally run marketplaces and who qualified for tax credits are paying less than $100 per month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday. That study didn't include data from the 14 states that run their own insurance exchanges. The average monthly premium for Obamacare customers was $82, with the government providing an average credit of $264.

  • Aimee Picchi

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