Sticker shock: The insurance costs Obama didn't want you to see
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Sunday, June 13, 2021
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Sticker shock: The insurance costs Obama didn’t want you to see

Alaskans saw their health insurance rates triple under Obamacare. They pay more than twice the national average for insurance on the government’s health insurance marketplace.

After years of offering incomplete and misleading information on the true costs to consumers of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report this week showing that Americans using the government’s marketplace pay nearly $3,000 more in annual premiums now than they did before President Obama signed his signature legislation into law.

It’s not as though they have a choice — the law mandates they buy insurance.

Alaskans are the outliers in the report in terms high premiums, but the report shows costs rising in most states.

In 2013, Alaskans paid an average of $344 for individual health insurance. Now, they pay $1,041, or nearly $700 more per month. The national average is $476.

The HHS survey did a deep dive into the true costs of the government mandate by looking at 39 states that use the federally run health insurance marketplace. All states using the marketplace have seen costs rise, and the average increase is more than double what it was in 2013. The highest premium increase wasn’t Alaska, however, but Alabama, with premiums rising 222 percent. But Alaska is still the highest cost insurance market by far.

President Obama promised that the Affordable Care Act would drive rates down.

“So when you hear about the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and I don’t mind the name because I really do care. That’s why we passed it. You should know that once we have fully implemented, you’re going to be able to buy insurance through a pool so that you can get the same good rates as a group that if you’re an employee at a big company you can get right now — which means your premiums will go down,” Obama said after signing Obamacare into law.

Obamacare passed on strictly a party-line vote in a Democrat-controlled Congress using “budget reconciliation” sleight-of-hand to overcome a Senate filibuster. Now, as Republicans try to figure out how to unwind problems of affordability, access, and fairness, public opinion is mixed.

Some 54 percent of Americans disapprove of  Obamacare, with 44 percent approving, according to a Pew Research Center national survey done just a year ago.

But an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey reports a different view in February of 2017.

When asked the question in a different way, more people supported Obamacare. This poll asked whether Barack Obama’s health care plan was a good or bad idea. With that question, 45 percent responded that it’s a good idea, and 41 percent said it’s a bad idea.

The change in opinion may not be a result of better or more affordable care. In fact, competition has declined dramatically.

While Obama claimed that the use of emergency rooms would decrease if people had health insurance, the opposite has occured, according to HHS Director Tom Price.

By law, emergency rooms cannot turn patients away, and they have been used by the poor and uninsured as a primary health care provider as well as a provider of last resort, even for minor conditions that could be handled more inexpensively through a doctor’s office.

A 2015 survey of more than 2,000 emergency-room doctors showed that 75 percent of doctors reporting increased usage since Obamacare went into effect.

Why? Medicaid patients aren’t being seen by doctors because government reimbursements are too low. They go to emergency rooms to get their care, just like they did before.

WHAT’S IN THE NEW AHCA PLAN?

President Donald Trump identified Obamacare as one of his top domestic priorities, and the House has recently passed the American Health Care Act, which now faces Senate scrutiny and, almost certainly, big changes.

The AHCA, as currently written, repeals the mandates for purchasing insurance, and makes significant other changes, but retains the current health insurance marketplace system, open enrollment time periods, and special enrollment periods.

The current version of the law also creates state patient and stability funds, to help states provide financial help to high-risk individuals, similar to what the Alaska Legislature did last year when it dedicated $55 million to help contain skyrocketing Obamacare costs in Alaska.

AHCA changes the premium tax credits and applies credits to coverage sold outside of exchanges, as well as to catastrophic policies. In 2020, the tax credits are adjusted for age, and phased out at income levels between $75,000 and $115,000. This part of AHCA is in contention, since it hurts the middle class the  most.

The new law changes the Medicaid expansion structure into block grants for states, which could adversely affect Alaskan adults who are in the Medicaid expansion pool of working-age Alaskans. And, depending on how the block grant program is structured, it could result in sharply higher Medicaid budgets for high cost states like Alaska.

In 2015, Gov. Bill Walker used his executive power to expand Medicaid to what he said would be 40,000 additional Alaskans. But fewer than 25,000 Alaskans enrolled in the expansion.

Walker was the last governor to sign onto Obama’s Medicaid expansion, which covers adults who earn up to 38 percent more than the federally recognized poverty level. Thirty-one states expanded Medicaid during the Obama presidency.

So, while many Americans think that Obama’s intentions were good in theory, most are aware that the massive program was so badly designed that its goal of reducing costs has completely backfired, with the middle class left holding the bag.  Nowhere is this more the case than in Alaska.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • You’re being too polite Suzanne… O’care, should I choose to obey the law, will cost my wife and I $2,600/MONTH – ostensibly to pay for those who “can’t afford” health insurance. So let me say this bluntly regarding this obaminable wealth redistribution scheme: I have to pay for others health care, and now I can’t afford health care. This is WRONG.

  • Thank you Suzanne for publishing these news stories, while others will not. To quote someone much smatter than I, Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth…

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