Two days ago, I contacted most every major health insurance carrier anticipated to continue operating in the Texas individual and family health insurance market and the Federally-Run Marketplace (Exchange) that people will go to in order to purchase their policy to be effective January 1. When I noted that they had not yet released premiums for these plans to be available October 1st and asked if they could disclose them to me – without exception they said they could not and, when I inquired why, they told me, “I cannot answer that”. I said, you realize we only have six days until you expect me to offer these to my clients and the public. They responded, “We understand”. When I asked if premiums would be available by October 1, I was told they hoped they would be.
Yesterday I heard a very popular talk show host theorize as to why this was the case and one of today’s feature articles from Politico, September 25th (below) comments on this issue. It says a report by the Department of Health and Human Services was issued to news organizations on Wednesday under a “strict embargo, with specific instructions not to share the information with anyone else, like outside health insurance experts (such as this blog’s friendly and not the least frustrated administrator) who might be able to provide more analysis of the numbers” to an exceptionally intelligent and curious public such as followers of this blog.
(Obviously, all the major insurance carriers got word of this and that Kenton Henry would apparently be contacting them on this matter, as they were certainly prepared with a script designed with me (or the likes) of me in mind.)
However, “apparently the word leaked out” as the article goes on to say the report released premiums based on the national benchmark “Silver” Plan with an (average) premium of $328. Both the CNN Money and Washington Post articles below go on to describe in more detail 47 state and the District of Columbia premiums which were used to arrive at these averages. CNN paints a more positive picture of these numbers however the Politico article makes it clear it believes the numbers released are designed to creative the most positive impression of premiums prior to their ultimate and full release next Tuesday, October 1. They go on to fault the administration not for telling what premiums will be in an ideal situation when the client is young and healthy or qualifies for a subsidy, but for not disclosing what they will be for the rest of us.
For complete disclosure, assuming the insurance companies are not forced to give government Navigators a head start by turning them loose in the Marketplace October 1 while continuing to withhold premiums, links and enrollment materials from licensed agents like myself until some later date – check back with me next Tuesday. Hopefully I will not awaken to find my insurance license revoked and my internet cut off.
Admin. – Kenton Henry
HHS reveals Obamacare coverage prices for federal exchanges
The agency’s report is a far cry from full disclosure. | John Shinkle/POLITICO
The Obama administration on Wednesday released a long-awaited report on premiums in Obamacare’s federal insurance exchanges — the first look at the rates that will apply in the vast majority of states.
There’s just one big catch: The report doesn’t actually reveal very much about what most people will pay.
The administration put the best face on the health insurance premiums, emphasizing that the rates have come in lower than expected in the 36 states where the feds will run part or all of the exchanges. That part of the report gives them a snappy answer to the widespread predictions of “rate shock” by critics of Obamacare.
“For millions of Americans, these new options will make health insurance work within their budgets,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
But it was a far cry from full disclosure.
Want to know what you might pay for health coverage in an exchange next year? Too bad. The report gives lots of examples of the kinds of people who will get good prices — but everyone else will remain in the dark until at least next Tuesday, when Obamacare is supposed to open its doors.
The carefully selected numbers the administration did produce generally undercut the more dire projections that have been made. The report highlights the premiums for 27-year-olds — members of the young adult group who were expected to suffer most under Obamacare’s market reforms — and finds that generally, they would not be bankrupted.
The cheapest “bronze” plan, the lowest level of coverage in most exchanges, would cost from $119 per month in Tennessee to $286 in Wyoming. And that’s before the subsidies are factored in, which could lower the prices for people whose incomes are below 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
But younger adults tend to have smaller incomes, and the report shows that individuals in the same group with an income of $25,000 would have their premiums subsidized heavily. The prices for the cheapest plan would range from $48 a month in Arkansas up to $120 in Arizona, with rates below $100 in most states.
The report also highlights the impact on a working family of four with a household income of $50,000. After subsidies, that family would pay no premiums at all for a bronze plan in Arkansas, but as much as $192 a month in Arizona.
The federal exchange premiums released Wednesday do not stick out as starkly different from what’s been released by the 16 state-run exchanges. Those have largely come in lower than expected as well.
What the report fails to say is what the health plans in the federal exchanges would cost anybody else — i.e., the majority of Americans.
Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the agency that’s implementing the law, told reporters Tuesday that the rates are still being finalized. But he said the averages should be representative of the final figures.
The report also says nothing of the rates that small businesses can expect to pay if they decide to enter the so-called SHOP exchanges, which will offer coverage to firms with fewer than 50 employees.
The report was issued to news organizations on Tuesday under a strict embargo, with specific instructions not to share the information with anyone else, like outside health insurance experts who might be able to provide more analysis of the numbers.
Apparently, though, the word still leaked out. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a leading critic of the law, reached out to POLITICO to give unsolicited reaction to the new numbers — which POLITICO did not share with him.
“There are literally no comparisons to current rates. That is, HHS [has] chosen to dodge the question of whose rates are going up, and how much,” Holtz-Eakin said.
He did allow that the rates “don’t appear dramatically different than in the state exchanges” — but said that only proves that “with all that market power, HHS doesn’t seem to have delivered much.”
Overall, the average individual premium in the 48 exchanges that have reported will be $328 per month, the administration said. That’s lower than expected, administration officials said, because it’s 16 percent below an estimate derived from Congressional Budget Office projections. They said that’s a victory for the health law and consumers alike.
The average premium the administration calculated is for a mid-level plan — specifically, the second-lowest cost “silver” plan. But those figures don’t say much about what a given person might pay.
And they are extremely difficult to compare against what is available today, before the market reforms and exchanges arrive on the scene. For instance, no one can be turned down based on a pre-existing condition next year, women won’t be charged more than men and insurers will be limited in how much more they can charge older people than young adults — all new rules that haven’t been in effect before.
The report says competition will help keep prices down — because states with the lowest premiums have twice the number of insurers as states with the highest rates.
“Markets in way too many states were dominated by one or two companies [before]. … Now, there will be more choice and more competition, thanks to the marketplace,” Sebelius said.
The vast majority of the uninsured — 95 percent — will be able to choose from at least two insurers on the exchanges, according to the administration. And 25 percent of those carriers are offering plans in the individual market for the first time.
The report also says, however, that 5 percent of the uninsured population still live in areas served by only one insurer on the exchange.
Consumers in the 36 states with federal-run marketplaces on average will have 56 different health plans to choose from. Though, shoppers in Alabama on average will have just seven exchange plans to choose from, while Arizonans can pick from 106.
Obamacare premium rates lower than expected
By Tami Luhby @Luhby September 25, 2013: 3:47 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
The Obamacare premiums will cost less than predicted, according to data released Wednesday by the Obama administration.
The release provided the first look into rates for consumers buying individual insurance on the 36 federally run exchanges.
The national average premium for the benchmark plan will be $328 a month before subsidies, 16% less than projected by the Congressional Budget Office. The benchmark is the second-lowest cost “silver” policy for 48 states, upon which federal subsidies are based.
Subsidies will offer maximum caps for low- and moderate-income Americans in the benchmark plans. But for those who opt for other levels of coverage, or make too much to qualify for subsidies, prices vary widely based on one’s age, income and state.
For instance, a 27-year-old living in Dallas making $25,000 could pay as little as $74 a month for the cheapest “bronze” plan after subsidies, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But a 60-year-old in Wyoming who makes more than $46,000 a year — too much to get a tax credit — could pay as much as $758 for a similar plan.
The majority of people uninsured today will be able to find a policy for $100 or less a month, taking into account subsidies and Medicaid eligibility, the administration said.
Obamacare out-of-pocket cost confusion
Consumers will be able to start enrolling in the exchanges on Oct. 1, with coverage beginning in January. Starting in 2014, nearly everyone must have insurance — either through their jobs, government programs or the individual market — or face a penalty.
The rates released Wednesday do not apply to those who receive insurance through their employer.
Most people who are expected to sign up for coverage in the exchange have incomes up 400% of poverty and will therefore be eligible for federal subsidies.
The lower your income and the more expensive the benchmark plan in your state, the larger your subsidy. For instance, those making $17,235 a year will pay no more than 4% of income, or $57 a month, for the benchmark plan. Those with incomes between $34,470 and $45,960 will pay a maximum of 9.5% of income, or $364 a month, for that benchmark plan. The federal government will cover the rest.
But these consumers can put their subsidy toward a cheaper plan than the benchmark policy and pay less per month. They can also choose a more expensive plan and pay more.
Anyone earning more than $45,960 would be responsible for the entire tab on the Obamacare health plan of his choice.
The Washington Post
How much will Obamacare premiums cost? Depends on where you live.
By Sandhya Somashekhar and Sarah Kliff, Published: September 25 at 12:01 am
A 27-year-old in Austin who earns $25,000 could pay $85 per month for health insurance next year, and a family of four in St. Louis with income of $50,000 might face a $32 monthly premium, according to new federal data on health insurance rates under the Affordable Care Act.
The report, released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, showed significant variation in the insurance premiums that Americans shopping on the individual market could pay under the president’s health-care overhaul. Across the 48 states for which data were available, the unsubsidized monthly premiums could be as low as $70 for an individual and as high as $1,200 for a moderate plan for a family of four.
The average national premium for an individual policy will be $328 in 2014, before including any of the tax credits that will be available to low- and middle-income Americans to help them purchase coverage.
Officials say these prices will be affordable for people buying insurance through the government marketplaces slated to open next week.
“For millions of Americans, these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
Information about how much insurance plans will cost under the law, sometimes called Obamacare, has been dribbling out for months on a state-by-state basis.
But the report from the administration, which has been collecting rate information since the spring, offers the first comprehensive look at the effect of the law on many Americans — specifically those who buy coverage privately and not through their employers, as well as low-income uninsured people who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Beginning Tuesday, those people will be able to log on to government Web sites called marketplaces to peruse their plan options, apply for government subsidies and sign up for coverage effective next year. That is when the requirement kicks in that virtually every American carry health insurance or face a fine.
The report also includes information for more than two dozen states that declined to set up their own marketplaces, leaving at least part of the job up to the federal government.
Premiums will vary significantly depending on an individual’s income, where she lives and what type of coverage she buys. A 27-year-old in Fairfax County, for example, could spend between $124 and $258 on a health plan, depending on how robust she wants it to be.
A family of four in Fairfax County that earns $50,000 could get a health insurance plan with no premium at all, because the federal tax credit would cover the bill.
Most people using the marketplaces will have incomes low enough to qualify for a government subsidy. A recent administration report found that 56 percent of the roughly 41 million uninsured people eligible for the marketplaces could pay monthly premiums of $100 or less.
Health experts say it is a good sign for consumers that premiums have come in lower than expected. Under the law, the plans must offer a basic set of benefits, including mental health and maternity care, which previously were not included in many private plans. Insurers are also forbidden from rejecting or charging people more because of preexisting conditions.
Many experts worried that those factors would drive up the cost of insurance. They partially credit competition on the marketplaces, where people will be able to directly compare plans from different insurance companies, for restraining premiums.
But they warn that premiums don’t tell the whole story.
The low rates are possible in part because insurance companies created special plans that include fewer in-network doctors and hospitals than many current plans.
This may not be a problem for healthy people who currently lack insurance. But those with illnesses may discover that their specialists are not covered by an exchange insurance plan. Low-income people accustomed to a certain community clinic may find that going there is no longer an option. And everyone may encounter long waits to see a doctor.
In addition, many of the lowest-cost plans may carry high deductibles, despite a cap imposed by the law that limits out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 per person per year.
“Despite the fact that the premiums are lower than expected, enrollees on exchanges are likely to face very high out-of-pocket costs before they hit their cap, and they are at risk of being in very narrow network plans that may or may not include all the providers they need access to,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of health reform at the consulting firm Avalere Health, which did its own report on rates this month.
Some healthy people may also experience sticker shock on premiums. A recent analysis by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, found that some people who buy low-cost private plans today could see their rates jump by 24 percent.