September 5, 2013

The new Kaiser Family Foundation study looking at Obamacare’s likely impact on health insurance costs is getting a lot of attention, and rightly so. As Bloomberg News puts it, this is the “the broadest look yet at what consumers will pay for health insurance when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect next year,” and its top line finding is that insurance will be “affordable.” In other words, no “rate shock.”

Indeed, if you dig into the report, you’ll find more information that really bodes well for Obamacare’s implementation.

Specifically, the prices of the so-called “bronze” plans turn out to be very affordable, and even more so when you add in the law’s subsidies — which is very good news for those who worried people won’t sign on to the exchanges.

The “bronze” plans represent the least generous level of coverage, and health reformers believe they represent a kind of escape valve for releasing anger over the individual mandate. The idea is those who are least likely to sign on to the exchanges — single youngish people who don’t have a lot of money — are also the most likely to sign on to “bronze” plans. If those are affordable more will sign up.

And they are. Go to Figure Three in the report and you’ll see that the average monthly premium for the “lowest cost bronze plan after subsidies” for single 40-year-olds who make around $28,000 per year ranges from $97 to $168. The average monthly premium for single 25-year-olds at that income level are within a similar range.

“A bronze plan is the minimum insurance that people have to pay to satisfy the individual mandate,” Larry Levitt, a Kaiser official and author of the study, tells me. “The low cost of bronze plans will make it easier to sell people on the idea of buying insurance and mean anger over the mandate could be less than expected.”

It could also mean more who might otherwise not sign on to the exchanges will now do so. “Single younger adults are the toughest nuts to crack,” Levitt adds.

So that’s good. As for the larger context here, Steve Benen explains it well:

I get the sense the conventional wisdom is that Obamacare implementation is going poorly, but have you noticed all the good news lately? Public-awareness campaigns are generating new support; the public opposes the Republican crusade to defund the law; Medicaid expansion is, well, expanding; there’s anecdotal evidence to suggest Obamacare is helping create jobs; even opponents of the law are finding parts they like; and consumers are liking the law’s benefits a lot more they expected to.

And now premiums consumers will pay through the exchange marketplaces will be even more affordable than predicted. So where’s this “disaster” we keep hearing about?

What all of this suggests, again, is that we may be crossing into new territory when it comes to the politics of Obamacare. The more people’s perceptions of the law are shaped by their experience of its tangible benefits, the harder it will be for foes to continue making old political and ideological arguments against it, and the harder it will be to call for its defunding or repeal. Obviously this requires implementation to go well, and there will likely be some problems, but the early signs are encouraging.

Polling still shows the law remains unpopular. But as Jonathan Bernstein keeps reminding us, folks may begin to appreciate the benefits of the health law even as they continue fearing and loathing that that plot to enslave them known as Obamacare they keep hearing about. If Republicans continue pressing the repeal case, at a certain point it should presumably become clear that this repeal stuff Republicans keep talking about would take away things people have come to like.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.