Obamacare blamed for increases in insurance costs

The troubled rollout of Obamacare has made it so unpopular it is now being blamed for health insurance problems it had nothing to do with, according to a new report.

Nearly half of upper-middle-income Americans (those with annual household incomes between $50,000 and $74,999) who have employer-based health insurance say the Affordable Care Act has had a negative effect on their health insurance. This is likely because 46 percent of this demographic reports paying more for insurance and also being hit with higher out-of-pocket expenses, including deductibles and co-payments, than they were a year ago, according to Bankrate.com's monthly Health Insurance Pulse survey.

 But analyst Doug Whiteman said this may be a case of companies passing along more of the health insurance costs to employees and using Obamacare as an excuse.

"Since prices for everything rise all the time, I suspect that the reason workers are telling us their health insurance is costing more is because there are noticeable increases -- for example, their $25 copay at the doctor’s office just went up to $35," said Whiteman, an insurance analyst for Bankrate. "Businesses are passing along more of the insurance costs to their covered employees, though this is a trend that has been going on for years, since before Obamacare."

One example of the apparent disconnect: Some companies are blaming the ACA's 40 percent tax on higher-cost "Cadillac" health insurance as reason to raise plan costs or curtail coverage. But that aspect of the law doesn't take effect until 2018, Whiteman notes. 

   "It would appear companies are acting very preemptively," he said.

This may be part of the reason for the eroding support for the ACA. The Bankrate survey found that 48 percent of all respondents want to repeal the law, while 38 percent would keep it in place. Just prior to the problem-plagued Oct. 1 debut of HealthCare.gov, the poll found support for Obamacare evenly split, with 46 percent for and the same number against it.

Negative public perceptions of Obamacare persist despite the fact that the worst-case scenarios predicted by critics have, at least to date, not come to pass. While there were claims that many companies would stop offering family coverage due to the ACA, fewer than one in 10 people with employer-based health insurance have lost coverage for a spouse or child this year. And only two in 10 now have fewer doctors included in their plans.

These results comprise Bankrate.com's Health Insurance Pulse, a monthly survey that tracks how Americans are feeling about health care and their personal finances. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). 

 The Bankrate poll also found 52 percent of women with employer-based coverage report higher out-of-pocket expenses, compared to only 35 percent of men. That, however, is already changing, Whiteman said.

"Our finding that more women said they were paying higher out-of-pocket costs than men might stem from the fact that, before Jan. 1, insurance companies were allowed to charge women more than men," he said. "Insurers had said that if there were differences, it was because women were more likely than men to use their health insurance -- visit doctors, get regular checkups, seek prescription drugs. . . . But again, gender discrimination has been prohibited by the Affordable Care Act starting this year."  

  • Constantine von Hoffman On Twitter»

    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.