ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.
High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are increasing in prevalence in both the group and individual markets. In the group market, rising insurance costs make HDHPs more attractive to employers. Employers now spend an average of $5,179 and $12,591 on health insurance premiums for their employees in individual and family plans, respectively. A recent Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation of employers shows that deductibles have increased 67 percent since 2010. Nearly one-quarter of workers are enrolled in an HDHP, up from 4 percent in 2006. Nearly half of workers are covered by an insurance plan with a general annual deductible of at least $1,000 for individual coverage.
In the individual market, almost 90 percent of enrollees in Affordable Care Act Marketplaces are in a plan with a deductible above the amount that qualifies a plan as an HDHP: $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family (not including cost-sharing reductions) in 2015. The increasing number of enrollees in and prevalence of HDHPs raises a number of policy questions.
Deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing have been creeping up in the United States since the late 1990s. A typical employer health plan now asks an individual to pay more than $1,000 out of pocket before coverage kicks in for most services. The most popular plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges require customers to pay several times as much. Even Medicare charges deductibles.
People tend to hate these features, but they were not devised to be cruel. Rather, they were fashioned with economic theory in mind. Deductibles and co-payments are intended to make patients behave more like consumers in other parts of the economy.
New research suggests that high deductibles in particular may not work as intended. A team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard recently published a working paper on what happened when a large (unnamed) employer switched from a more generous health plan to one with a high deductible.
Spending fell by about 12%, a remarkable decline. But the way workers achieved those savings gave the researchers pause. There was no evidence that workers were comparing prices or making wise choices on where to cut, even after two years in the new plan. They visited the same doctors and hospitals they always had.
Since October, at least six independent and credible sources have confirmed rate increases on the ObamaCare exchanges will be in the double digits. However, these are gross premium hikes. Net premium hikes paid by enrollees are distorted by tax credits paid to insurers. These badly designed tax credits have a number of perverse consequences. It is widely understood that they impose disincentives to work. What is less well understood is that the tax credits are so badly designed that they impose a ratchet effect causing net premium hikes greater than the gross premium hikes. According to new research published by the National Center for Policy Analysis, this effect is concentrated among ObamaCare enrollees in the lowest income brackets.
We shouldn’t be surprised that health insurance premiums continue to rise at record rates — by 15-20% for many employers and their employees in 2016 alone. Between private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, the number of insured Americans has grown dramatically to nearly 90% of the population. While more people than ever before are seeking health care services since the passage of ObamaCare the supply of physicians, hospitals and outpatient treatment facilities has not kept pace.
It is a fundamental concept of economics that when demand is increased and supply is restricted, prices rise. But for more than 40 years, state and federal governments have used a heavy hand to limit the supply of new doctors and hospitals entering the market, as well as facility expansions and equipment purchases.
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce has analyzed all publicly available information for health-insurance premiums from healthcare.gov and state insurance departments. It then calculated the weighted averages for all health-insurance plans available on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. The weighted average gives a more accurate view of overall premium increases, because it takes into account each insurance plan’s market share.
Findings reveal that nationally, premiums for individual health plans increased on average between 2015 and 2016 by 14.9%. Consumers in every state except Mississippi faced increased premiums, and in no fewer than 29 states the average increases were in the double digits. For a third of states, the average premiums rose 20% or more.
Yesterday, in its budget and economic outlook for the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office substantially changed its short-term Affordable Care Act estimates in ways that show the law is performing far worse than expected. CBO’s new projection of 13 million exchange enrollees in 2016 is nearly 40% below previous expectations. CBO’s also projects that the average subsidy per enrollee in 2016 will increase by about 18% relative to its March 2015 ACA estimate—an indication that enrollees are both less healthy and poorer than the agency originally projected.
Anthem Inc., the second-largest U.S. health insurer by membership, said premiums for ObamaCare insurance probably will go up next year.
Anthem is eking out a small profit from selling policies to individuals under the Affordable Care Act. Many of its rivals aren’t, though, which means prices have to go up, the company told investors and analysts on Wednesday.
Other insurers are charging premiums that are “still well below what we think appropriate rates are for a sustainable environment,” Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt said on a conference call with analysts.
One of the many factors that can cause a health insurance system to fail is “adverse selection,” a phenomenon in which those who know they will make higher-than-average claims are disproportionately likely to enroll and pay premiums. The inevitable results is a rapid increase in premiums, which encourages even more marginal consumers to forgo insurance, leaving average claims, and therefore premiums, to increase even further.
One approach to limit this problem is to limit the time frame during which enrollment is permitted. Why have limited open enrollment periods? The idea is that without them – that is, if anyone could enroll in health plans whenever they want – people could “game the system,” enrolling when they need health care, and disenrolling when they don’t.
However, 83 percent of ObamaCare enrollees pay far less than $408 because they get tax credits under the healthcare law. The average tax credit for 2016 is $294, meaning that the average share of the premiums that enrollees have to pay is $113. That is up $8 from the $105 people paid on average last year.
Even with subsidies to make coverage more affordable, many people who buy health insurance on the marketplaces spend more than 10% of their income on premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket payments, a recent study found. Among those hit hardest, the researchers said, are people who spend nearly a quarter of their income on health care expenses.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are in the Affordable Care Act, and a lot of anecdotes about that, and this [study] quantifies that in a more systematic way,” said John Holahan, a fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center who co-authored the study.