July 10 2014

September Sticker Shock

Patrice J. Lee

In September Americans generally expect to send their children back to school, move their college students into their dorms, and to deal with the return of pre-summer traffic congestion.

This year we can also look forward to hikes in ObamaCare health insurance premiums –potentially into double-digits. The White House is trying to pre-empt the political backlash from these effects of his healthcare plan in advance of the November midterm elections.

We’ve reported some early numbers from insurers predicting premium rate hikes across the country. No state has finalized its rate, but 21 have posted bids for 2015. Average preliminary premiums went up in all 21 states, though only a few by double digits. In New York for example, the average hike sought by insurers for individual plans is 12 percent—but a number of firms serving large numbers of patients propose a nearly 20-percent spike on individual premiums.

Following the end of the first open enrollment period this Spring, the Administration celebrated enrolling eight million Americans (this numbers come with a huge asterisk), but the profile of ObamaCare enrollees skews toward sicker patients, who require greater services and treatment.

Health insurers originally set their numbers based on a more balanced profile of enrollees. Given the health of those who actually enrolled, insurers will adjust their prices. Premiums will go up in the fall in order to cover the added expense of the higher-risk enrollments and that has the White House and vulnerable lawmakers who support ObamaCare concerned.

Politico reports:

Aware that state insurance rate hikes could give Republicans a chance to resurrect Obamacare as a political liability just weeks before the midterms, the White House’s internal health care enrollment outreach apparatus immediately redirected into a rapid-response, blocking-and-tackling research and press operation geared toward preempting GOP attacks on the issue.

In what aides say is a sign of a changed approach within the White House — but also heightened concerns around the midterms — they’re even coordinating with Hill Democrats, funneling localized background analysis and talking points to each state’s delegation through Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. They’ve also relied on California Rep. Henry Waxman’s staff at the Energy and Commerce Committee to produce rebuttal reports, often in advance, on GOP claims about insurance.

For months, the half-dozen White House communications and policy aides have been assembling state-by-state histories of health insurance rates before the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the drop-offs between initial rate proposals and final rates, and an analysis of the law’s effects and projections for 2015 — all condensed to fit on a two-page background and talking points document tailored for each state.

Then they wait, closely tracking developments in the states in order to be ready to pounce when rates are announced.

Washington politics is on full display here. The coordinated effort between the White House and Democrats is impressive. Apparently, when the White House sees a state preparing to announce premium proposals, they email Reid’s and Pelosi’s offices to get connected with communications and policy staff for every Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. They’re given policy briefings and talking points and turned loose on the local press.

If the facts were in their favor why do they need to go on the defensive? The declining numbers should tell the story, but they don’t. Premiums may fall in some states, but those will be the exceptions not the rule.

The un-Affordable Care Act continues to unleash new hardships on those who signed up for it and our health industry in general. Costs are just one of the bitter pills that Americans have to swallow. As Forbes reported, individual market premiums increased by 49 percent this year in over 3,000 counties.

Be prepared in coming months to see ObamaCare supporters in Washington take an aggressive position in the press to try to challenge any rate hike numbers coming out. At best, they will try to “muddle” the numbers and confuse Americans as they head to the polls in November.

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