A: In the individual market designed under the health law, quite a bit, say supporters. The ACA limits insurer profits and also gives government regulators oversight of rate increases, both of which could hold premiums down.
Even if sticker prices rise, an important feature of the health law is subsidies for people to buy insurance, through tax credits for those with lower incomes. So what many newly-insured people actually end up paying themselves won’t be the same as what the insurance company bills.
Thanks partly to subsidies, “many people buying individual coverage today will see decreases in costs,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
Insurers who end up signing lots of sicker members will also be partly reimbursed for several years by a reinsurance pool designed to lower their risk. That will lower their expenses, and it wasn’t accounted for by the SOA study.
Q: Does it matter where I live?
A: Yes. The report found huge variability, based on geography. While the estimated increase would be 62 percent for California by 2017, in New York state, the report estimates claim costs would drop by almost 14 percent.
Q: Will health plans offer the same coverage in 2017 that they do now?
A: That’s another reason the 32-percent headline could be misleading. Thanks to ACA minimum coverage requirements, benefits will be more generous starting next year. So what insurers pay in claims can expected to be higher, too.
“The number of people who are underinsured has grown dramatically over the last decade,” said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund. “One reason claims might be a lot lower now is the benefit package is so crummy.”
The health law was intended to shift spending into the commercial insurance system that is now outside it: high out-of-pocket costs for those in low-benefit plans; uncompensated emergency-room care; patients paying in cash, and so forth. Moving those costs under the insurance umbrella increases insurance-based spending.
Q: The idea of the insurance exchanges is to create competition, isn't that supposed to lower costs?
A: Yes. The idea behind state health exchanges is that insurers will compete for business by pressing providers for discounts and passing part of the savings to members. The actuary study didn’t account for that kind of competition.
“Every insurer I’ve talked to says they’re building lower-cost networks that they plan to use for their exchange plans,” said Levitt.
Q: Does this mean costs in the health exchanges aren't a concern?
A: No. Many consumers will pay more in premiums to get more in benefits. The high cost of medicine could mean that, even for those getting big subsidies, affordability will be an issue.
Many consumers “will be moving into a really fully insured product for the first time, so there may be a higher cost associated with getting into that market,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said this week.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.