ObamaCare’s impact on health costs.

Democrats like to talk a lot about being the party of choice, but under Obamacare, individuals are finding their choices increasingly limited. At its core, Obamacare forces individuals to purchase government-approved insurance policies and precludes them from buying plans that might be more in line with their healthcare needs. Though Obamacare’s defenders argue that the requirements imposed on health insurance plans only serve to guarantee that individuals have better coverage, in reality, what’s happening is that the law is driving insurers to limit choices.

While the average premium for the least expensive closed network silver plan — principally HMOs — rose from $274 to $299, a 9 percent increase, the average premium for the least expensive PPO or other silver-level open access plan grew from $291 to $339, an 17 percent jump. Consumers seeking health policies with the most freedom in choosing doctors and hospitals are finding far fewer of those plans offered on the insurance marketplaces next year. And the premiums are rising faster than for other types of coverage.

Polling highlights:

  • 31% have delayed medical care because of cost, unchanged from 2014
  • Figure has not fallen since ACA reforms
  • Americans more likely to put off care for serious condition

The backlash over ObamaCare deductibles will only intensify as customers shopping for 2017 plans a year from now face bronze-plan deductibles as high as $7,150. The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday detailed many key ObamaCare parameters for 2017, including a $300, or 4.4%, rise in the maximum out-of-pocket expense for covered medical bills — not including premium payments — from $6,850 in 2016.

A Kaiser Health News analysis of costs in the three-dozen states selling policies through the federal healthcare.gov website found a sharp difference in premium prices between plans that offer out-of-network care and those that do not. The analysis compared the monthly premiums for the least expensive silver-level plans — the category that are the most popular purchases — for a 40-year-old in each county. While the average premium for the least expensive closed network silver plan—principally HMOs—rose from $274 to $299, a 9 percent increase, the average premium for the least expensive PPO or other silver-level open access plan grew from $291 to $339, an 17 percent jump, KHN found. The cost variations hold true for any age.

It is now well-established that many people buying health coverage through the ACA exchanges have to pay tens of thousands of dollars – counting both premiums and deductibles – before receiving a single dollar of coverage for treatment of any illness. The well-known prohibition on charging different rates for people with higher health risks obviously makes health coverage more attractive to people with chronic conditions or a history of serious illness. It is obvious that this would increase premiums, if these were the only people to enroll in the new plans. By making premiums independent of health status, it not only made coverage more attractive to people with health problems, but also made coverage less attractive to people who are perfectly healthy.

The latest turmoil in health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act has emboldened both conservatives who want to shrink the federal role and liberals who want to expand it. UnitedHealth Group announced last week that it may pull out of the marketplaces in 2017 after losing money this year. This followed the collapse of 12 of the 23 nonprofit insurance cooperatives created with federal loans under the health law. In addition, insurance markets in many states are unstable. Premiums are volatile and insurers say their new customers have been sicker than expected.

new survey by Gallup shows growing discontent with ObamaCare and the U.S. health care industry generally after years of relative satisfaction with the quality and cost of the health-care system. 53% of Americans rate health care quality in U.S. positively, 1 in 3 rate U.S. health care coverage positively, and fewer than 1 in 4 are satisfied with the cost of health care.

The new individual marketplace created under ObamaCare was intended to rival that of the employer sponsored insurance marketplace in stability and predictability, while premiums were to rise at rates much lower than the historical average. This study from the American Action Forum evaluates the degree to which these promises have been fulfilled. AAF found that the cost of both the benchmark Silver plan and the lowest cost Bronze plan will increase by 10% in 2016.

High-deductibles are problematic insofar as markets for health care services are dysfunctional. Fixing those markets should be a priority. An important element here that’s often ignored, however, is the physician or hospital. Much of the focus on price and quality transparency looks to insurers and other tools that patients can use before ever interacting with the health care system. This is very important. A patient looking to schedule a surgery, looking for a new physician, or trying to fill a prescription should have access to cost and quality information that allows for informed decisions.