For a relative few, the upcoming ObamaCare mandates will provide some relief from the high cost of covering pre-existing conditions. For most of the people in the individual-plan market, though, costs will skyrocket, the Wall Street Journal reports today. Rates could rise by double or even triple what healthy middle-age consumers now pay in the non-employer market, and that may mean a disincentive that will put even more stress on risk pools:
Healthy consumers could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year, while the premiums paid by sicker people are set to become more affordable, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of coverage to be sold on the law’s new exchanges.
The exchanges, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s health-care law, look likely to offer few if any of the cut-rate policies that healthy people can now buy, according to the Journal’s analysis. At the same time, the top prices look to be within reach for many people who previously faced sky-high premiums because of chronic illnesses or who couldn’t buy insurance at all. …
Virginia is one of the eight states examined by the Journal and offers a fairly typical picture.
In Richmond, a 40-year-old male nonsmoker logging on to the eHealthInsurance comparison-shopping website today would see a plan that costs $63 a month from Anthem, a unit of WellPoint Inc. That plan has a $5,000 deductible and covers half of medical costs.
By comparison, the least-expensive plan on the exchange for a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Richmond, also from Anthem, will likely cost $193 a month, according to filings submitted by carriers.
This concern was first raised about the impact of ObamaCare on California, but it looks like a nationwide phenomenon. Supporters of the law point out that the exchanges also make some consumers eligible for subsidies — although subsidies are hardly free; they’re simply a way of passing excessive cost onto all other taxpayers, along with the increase of costs in their own premiums. The WSJ also notes that eligibility for subsidies is limited, and the benefits thin anyway:
A 40-year-old with income near the poverty level—currently $11,490 a year for a single person—would likely qualify for a subsidy of as much as $234 a month toward the cost of premiums in Virginia, potentially covering the entire cost of a bronze plan.
Any subsidy in Virginia would vanish once an individual reached annual income of about $33,150.
Forbes’ Avik Roy, who first analyzed the impact on California, follows up on today’s WSJ report:
Obamacare Bronze plans aren’t that different from what you can buy today on the individual market in terms of co-pays, deductibles, and actuarial value. Richardson found two nearly-identical plans sponsored by Kaiser in Sacramento, with identical networks of hospitals and doctors.
As Richardson’s table to the right illustrates, the Obamacare plan had a higher out-of-pocket maximum and the same actuarial value as the 2013 Kaiser plan. Today’s plan costs $100 a month; the Obamacare version costs $205.
Radnofsky notes that the success of Obamacare’s exchanges hinges on persuading, if not forcing, healthier people to enroll, even though they will pay far more for insurance than they will consume in health care. “Supporters of the law say tighter regulation on insurance practices gives consumers more protection and is worth the extra cost, but they have to persuade people who don’t have an immediate need for health care of that,” she observes. “If only sick people buy into the new insurance pools, prices could shoot up.”
Obamacare’s advocates argue that it’s acceptable for healthy people to pay double or triple for individually-purchased health insurance, because the sick will benefit, and because the poor will be protected from the hikes (due to the subsidies). That seems optimistic to me—but we’ll find out soon enough.
In other words, this is just another mechanism for the redistribution of wealth — from the healthy to the sick. However, in practice it’s actually redistributing wealth from the younger and less wealthy (on average) to the older and more wealthy. Forcing healthy people who don’t need comprehensive health insurance into risk pools supporting older and needier consumers is really just a reverse subsidy, one that benefits a key voting constituency — older non-Medicare voters. Funny how that works out.