More of HHS’s ObamaCare rates are out, and good news: They’re “lower than expected”!

posted at 3:21 pm on September 25, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

I always have to wonder: Lower than who expected, exactly? I suppose the “who” is meant to be a practically irrelevant 2012 CBO estimate in this case, and sure, such optimistic and friendly-sounding spin is a good way to mask the inconvenient reality that premiums will still be going up for a hell of a lot of Americans — but the fact that that’s the best headliner they could come up with leaves much to be desired.

While the Obama administration has been touting the oh-so-excellent numbers from blue states enthusiastically implementing ObamaCare of their own volition — including those whose health care costs are already among the costliest in the nation — we’ve been waiting to hear more comprehensive information about the 36 states in which the administration is fully or partially coordinating the ACA’s implementation. According to the glowing press release from HHS this morning finally getting some numbers a mere week before ObamaCare enrollment begins, “Premiums before tax credits will be more than 16 percent lower than projected” — doesn’t that sound nice, ya’ll? Via Reuters:

Americans will pay an average premium of $328 monthly for a mid-tier health insurance plan when the Obamacare health exchanges open for enrollment next week, and most will qualify for government subsidies to lower that price, the Obama administration said on Wednesday.

The figure, based on data for approved insurance plans in 48 states, represents the broadest national estimate for how much Americans will pay for health coverage under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law next year. The prices of the new plans are at the heart of a political debate over whether they will be affordable enough to attract millions of uninsured Americans. …

“For millions of Americans these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said during a briefing with reporters.

The Obama administration is counting on signing up 7 million Americans in the first full year of reform through the state exchanges, including 2.7 million younger and healthier consumers who are needed to offset the costs of sicker members.

The report is hardly what you’d call “comprehensive” (as Politico notes, ahem), and while Sebelius happily touts that, for millions of Americans, “these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets” — she’s rather neglecting to mention that, for millions more, it will place health insurance squarely outside of the range of their budgets.

Avik Roy has his reliable followup to the administration’s roseate projections up at Forbes, chiding HHS’s report for “releasing a trickle of data and a load of spin”:

Based on a Manhattan Institute analysis of the HHS numbers, Obamacare will increase underlying insurance rates for younger men by an average of 97 to 99 percent, and for younger women by an average of 55 to 62 percent. Worst off is North Carolina, which will see individual-market rates triple for women, and quadruple for men.

“Premiums nationwide will also be around 16 percent lower than originally expected,” HHS cheerfully announces in its press release. But that’s a ruse. HHS compared what the Congressional Budget Office projected rates might look like—in 2016—to its own findings. Neither of those numbers tells you the stat that really matters: how much rates will go up next year, under Obamacare, relative to this year, prior to the law taking effect.

Former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin agrees. “There are literally no comparisons to current rates. That is, HHS has chosen to dodge the question of whose rates are going up, and how much. Instead they try to distract with a comparison to a hypothetical number that has nothing to do with the actual experience of real people.”

And etcetera. Read on for more details about specific demographic averages and regional variations, but rest assured that the Obama administration and its supporters will definitely be using spin like this in their recently ramped-up PR gamble:

The White House on Tuesday kicked off a six-month campaign to encourage millions of Americans to sign up for health coverage under “Obamacare,” an effort in which the president and other political celebrities promote the law’s promise of subsidized health coverage. …

Next week, consumers in most states will begin to see more social media promotions from the Obama administration, targeting young adults in urban areas that are home to many of the nation’s estimated 47 million uninsured people, according to senior administration officials.

The effort coincides with an expected $1 billion marketing initiative from health insurers, hospitals and health systems, as well as public outreach efforts by groups ranging from AARP, churches and charities to the Walgreen and CVS pharmacy chains, officials said.


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