“Brace yourselves -- it looks like Obamacare premiums could jump by double digits again next year,” warns CNN.
“The first glimpse of what health insurance companies plan to charge for Obamacare plans next year suggests there’s no relief ahead,” echoes the Insurance Journal.
The consensus is clear: working families already squeezed by high costs under the so-called Affordable Care Act will face an even worse fate next year.
Congressional Democrats fault Republican-led efforts to repeal the healthcare law for creating greater market uncertainty, while Republicans pin the blame on what they say are structural flaws baked into the law from the outset.
The truth is, either answer is cold comfort for consumers who need a change – and fast.
At the crux of much of this pain is a provision in the ACA stipulating that premium tax credits issued under the law can only be applied toward a plan purchased on Healthcare.gov or a state exchange. The law’s authors needed to ensure customers showed up, so they locked them into public monopolies. Worse, the architects decided to build their own website, even though private options had already been built by entrepreneurs.
All this means that if you are eligible for an Obamacare subsidy and live in the 51.3 percent of U.S. counties with only one insurer participating in your corresponding Obamacare marketplace this year, you have but a single choice for where to buy coverage – and that’s no choice at all.
Consider also that average premiums for a 40 year-old are $481 a month for an Obamacare plan, up 34 percent from last year and 77 percent since the law’s enactment. Premiums have gone up about four times faster than wages for the typical worker. Even with premium subsidies, Obamacare makes access to care unaffordable.
For the low income, shopping elsewhere for health insurance would mean foregoing any help and being saddled with the full cost of an already outrageously expensive plan.
It is the height of irresponsibility for Washington to tell consumers who lack real options in affordable health plans that they should remain stuck with no alternatives, less they forfeit their promised federal assistance.
And it makes no sense. After all, any major medical plan offered outside of the Obamacare exchanges must still adhere to each of the law’s consumer protections just like their on-exchange counterparts. In other words, the same quality of product can be found apart from a government website – whether by purchasing directly from an insurance carrier or working with a private agent or broker – and often at a better price.
Relegating poor, working-class and struggling Americans to a narrow set of costly health plans, when other options have been available all along, would be like restricting Americans using EBT cards for groceries to a corner convenience store when there is a perfectly good Costco down the street. It’s discriminatory, anti-competitive, and just plain unfair.
This week, Congress can take the first steps toward righting this wrong.
Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) recently introduced H.R. 6311, legislation that would empower Americans to apply their health insurance subsidy toward the purchase of any qualified health plan – on or off the Obamacare exchanges.
Americans would be free to choose from private or public enrollment websites eager to earn their business. Broad swaths of consumers would also have new options for purchasing health insurance that would allow them to price compare and seek out the best deal, in turn providing a much-needed jolt of competition to the marketplace that could drive down costs.
Some conservatives may fault the bill for stopping short of repeal or “propping up” a tenet of the ACA. This is wrong. Perpetuating public monopolies is pro-big government. It is anything but conservative to intentionally exacerbate the flaws of Obamacare in order to score political points, or to allow premiums for vulnerable Americans to rise year after year without offering an exit strategy.
In the absence of a comprehensive repeal and replace, which lacks the requisite votes in the U.S. Senate, Republicans like Rep. Roskam are right to take an incremental approach – starting with giving millions of subsidy-eligible consumers a way out from underneath the flawed Obamacare exchanges.
H.R. 6311 is slated for consideration this week before the House Ways and Means Committee. Americans impacted by rising costs under Obamacare should be paying close attention to the vote.
Will lawmakers stand up to Obamacare’s poorly performing public exchange monopolies and enable consumers to apply their subsidy toward a qualified healthcare plan in the private market that better suits their needs, and their wallet?
Or will they settle for Obamacare’s broken status quo and reject a golden opportunity to help the constituents they pledged to serve?
We’ll find out.