The New Obamacare Premium Estimates

Even as Ted Cruz was on the Senate floor pretending to speak for a silent majority of Americans who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a batch of new information was released that will bear significantly on how the new health system will actually affect Americans. The new HHS data involves projected premiums for health insurance purchased on the new exchanges next year, from 36 states (greatly amplifying what we’ve learned previously from a scattering of individual state reports. And the news was mostly good. TNR’s Jonathan Cohn summarizes it:

Earlier this year, release of similar numbers provoked intense debate over how these prices compare to what people pay now. It’s a difficult comparison to make, because the insurance product itself is changing: The benefits under Obamacare are more comprehensive and the policies are available to everybody, not just those who clear medical underwriting. But it’s safe to assume that there will be both “premium joy” and “premium shock”—some people will pay more than they do for insurance now, while others will pay less. Of course, those paying more will be getting better, more reliable insurance. Conversely, even those paying relatively low rates may decide it’s more than they can afford….

Overall, according to HHS, the premium bids are lower than government actuaries had predicted when the law first passed. That’s good news for taxpayers, because it means the subsidies will be less expensive than budget projections had suggested. It’s also good news for the Obamacare enterprise as a whole, because it means insurers have faith that the new system will work.

But in focusing on what individual policy-holders will pay as compared to existing premium rates, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: the many millions of people who currently can’t get insurance at all, and the much larger population with employer-based coverage or access to Medicare or Medicaid or VA who won’t see much if any change at all, other than (if current projections hold) a softening in those annual premium hikes we’ve all grown accustomed to anticipating. It’s all great news for the uninsured who are covered, and no news for most of the comfortably insured.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.