Obamacare prices: Trump administration touts bad news on cost, buries good news about affordability




T.J. Kirkpatrick | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order on health care in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017.

The Trump administration on Monday highlighted Obamacare’s increasing prices and shrinking insurer choices as proof the health-care law has “failed” — but buried the fact that more people than ever can get a health plan for less than $75 per month.

The administration also did not mention evidence that its own policies have helped drive Obamacare premiums higher next year than they otherwise would be.

At the same time, a new survey shows widespread ignorance of the fact that Wednesday is the start of open enrollment in Obamacare insurance plans.

Almost 76 percent of people do not know that date, according to the poll by Policygenius. And more than 18 percent believe the Affordable Care Act is not longer the law of the law.

“These results aren’t particularly surprising,” said Policygenius CEO Jennifer Fitzgerald. “There’s been a hostility from the Trump administration toward the ACA.”

That hostility has included trying to repeal the law, deeply cutting Obamacare’s advertising budget and shortening the enrollment period for individual health plans to just six weeks.

Another sign of that hostility came Monday, as the U.S. Health and Human Services Department — the agency responsible for overseeing Obamacare — blasted the law as it released a report on health plan choices and premiums for 2018.

“This data demonstrates just how rapidly Obamacare’s exchanges are deteriorating with skyrocketing premiums year after year, more than half of Americans with no more than two insurers to choose from, and the taxpayer burden exploding,” said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley.

“There is an urgent and serious need to repeal this failed law and replace it with patient-centered solutions,” Oakley said.

The report highlighted price increases facing customers who do not receive federal subsidies that limit their monthly premium payments for Obamacare plans. In the past, under the Obama administration, HHS had highlighted the effect of that financial aid, and underscored how many people qualify for it.

About 85 percent of people who buy plans on government-run Obamacare exchanges such as HealthCare.gov receive those subsidies. However, no one who buys coverage outside of those marketplaces gets that financial help, meaning they will bear the full brunt of the price hikes.

HHS said the average monthly premium for so-called benchmark plans sold on HealthCare.gov purchased by a 27-year-old are increasing 37 percent in 2018 over what they cost this year. That contrasts with a 24 percent increase in benchmark plan prices seen in 2017 on HealthCare.gov, the federally run exchange that serves most of the nation.

HHS said the average annual premium for a nonsubsidized 27-year-old in a benchmark plan will be $4,932, “up from $2,616 during Obamacare’s first year.”

Benchmark plans, whose prices affect subsidy levels, are the second-lowest priced “silver” Obamacare plan in a geographic region. More than 70 percent of Obamacare customers buy silver plans.

The HHS report did not refer to data that show that a significant fraction of the premium price hikes seen for 2018 are due to concerns by insurers that the Trump administration would cut off key reimbursement payments to those insurers.

A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis released last week found that insurers added surcharges of anywhere from 7 to 38 percent onto their premiums for Obamacare plans because of those threats, which the administration finally executed earlier this month.

The HHS report on Monday also noted that 29 percent of customers in HealthCare.gov states will have just one insurer offering Obamacare plans to them on that exchange. That compares with 20 percent of customers last year, and just 2 percent of customers in 2016. Eight entire states will have just one insurer offering Obamacare plans in 2018.

More than half of HealthCare.gov customers — 55 percent — will have plans from two or fewer insurers to choose from in 2018. That compares with 43 percent in 2016, and 14 percent in 2015, accoding to HHS.

Lori Lodes, a former top Obama admnistration health official now involved in an Obamacare advocacy group, Get America Covered, said HHS had buried some good news for customers in its 40-page report.

Lodes was referring to the fact that there has been an increase in the number of HealthCare.gov customers who will be able to buy a plan that will directly cost them $75 or less per month, after their subsidies are factored in.

“More people than ever can find plans for less than $75/month,” Lodes said in an email. “In fact, it’s 80 percent [of customers], compared to about 70 percent during the previous four open enrollments.”

She noted that the 80 percent figure appeared on page 37 of the report, and was not referenced on the first page, which had “key findings” highlighted by HHS.

Lodes said she was willing to bet that “there’s a reason they didn’t provide the breakdown” for the percentage of customers in 2018 who will be able to buy a plan for $50 or less per month.

“Because it too likely has grown a lot,” Lodes said.

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