Maybe Obamacare Really Will Lower Costs

Posted: Jun 10, 2010 2:56 PM

Since they couldn't overcome the laws of supply and demand, the Department of Health and Human Services has resorted to threatening health insurance companies to keep costs down instead. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Many insurance companies are planning to increase costs for a range of services for seniors next year, according to consultants who have helped prepare their bids. Dozens of Medicare Advantage providers plan to cut back vision, dental and prescription benefits. Some plans are eliminating free teeth cleanings and gym memberships, and raising fees for hearing aides, eye glasses and emergency-room visits.

Consultants cite two reasons for the cuts. The rate the government will pay private insurers to run the plans is frozen for 2011 at 2010 levels, while medical costs are expected to increase an average of at least 6%. Such price increases and benefit cuts will help them recoup that difference, the consultants say.

Meanwhile, the health overhaul will impose drastic payment cuts to insurers that run the plans, and consultants say insurance companies need to begin adapting now. Starting in 2012, the law calls for a gradual reduction in government payments to insurers, totaling $136 billion before the end of the decade.

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats say that passing those costs on as early as next year is unfair. In her letter, Ms. Sebelius warned insurers that she will deny insurers bids if they include excessive price increases, using new powers under the health law.

Ms. Sebelius's actions may be palliative for now, but this sort of 'reform' is not sustainable. Something's got to give.