Once Again, Don’t Believe the “Skyrocketing Premiums” Hype

At the New York Times today, the venerable health policy writer Robert Pear does a good job of casting new light over the maneuvering between insurance companies and federal and state regulators over next year’s Obamacare insurance policy premiums. Insurers in many states are asking for big premium increases based on claims the Obamacare pool has turned out to be older and sicker–and more avid consumers of expensive Rx drugs–than expected. Regulators are pushing back, arguing that a one-time “delayed treatment” surge among the previously uninsured should soon subside, while consumers will reduce pressure for higher premiums by shifting to less extensive and expensive plans. So far a lot of the early hype about “skyrocketing premiums” is turning out to be grossly exaggerated:

California, one of the few states that actively negotiate prices, said health insurance rates would rise next year by an average of just 4 percent.

In New York, on average, insurers requested a 10.4 percent rate increase in the individual market, and state officials said they had reduced the average increase to 7.1 percent. “We closely analyzed each insurer’s request and cut rates that were excessive or unreasonable,” said Anthony J. Albanese, the acting superintendent of financial services in New York.

The feds, moreover, are in charge of dealing with rate increase requests in five states lacking “effective rate review programs:” Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.

So we’re a long way from knowing what rates will actually look like. That doesn’t of course, keep opponents of Obamacare from treating every rate increase request as though it’s already happening. Don’t buy it.

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.