Health

Officials Downplay Troubles As Obamacare Rates Surge

| by Nik Bonopartis

People who get their insurance via Obamacare will pay higher premiums and have fewer health plans to choose from in 2017 as insurers abandon the government-run "markets" in individual states and hike rates to offset losses.

In several states, those who receive insurance under the Affordable Care Act will no longer have choices when it comes to picking insurance -- because other insurers have abandoned those markets, they can only choose one insurer, The Associated Press reported. Over the past few years, insurers like Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield have reported hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, prompting a wave of insurers abandoning Obamacare markets, The Fiscal Times noted.

Overall, premiums for "midlevel benchmark plans" will increase by an average of 25 percent, the wire service said, citing information from the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Consumers will be faced this year with not only big premium increases but also with a declining number of insurers participating, and that will lead to a tumultuous open enrollment period," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

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The most widely-cited increases are in Arizona, where a hypothetical 27-year-old who does not qualify for subsidies would have to pay $422 per month, up from $196 per month in 2016.

On the other end of the scale is New Hampshire, where Obamacare users will see a 2 percent average increase, according to CNBC. And premiums in Indiana are expected to drop slightly by about 3 percent, the network said.

However, participants in most states will have to contend with double-digit price hikes as insurers look to recoup losses from the first several years of the Affordable Care Act. Those insurers lost money after underestimating the cost of health benefits to millions of Americans, and that's one reason why companies have abandoned some state markets en masse, experts said.

However, administration officials say most people won't pay the full rates. Some 77 percent of Obamacare customers will be able to find plans for less than $100 per month, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

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Likewise, the administration touted financial assistance for those in the lowest income brackets. About 85 percent of people currently enrolled qualify for some form of financial aid, HHS said.

Democrats and President Barack Obama have touted the Affordable Care Act's successes, pointing out that it extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans who previously had no coverage.

Republicans remain critical, however, and said those in the middle -- who don't earn enough to pay full price for premiums but earn too much to qualify for subsidies -- are getting squeezed by the evolving market.

The increase "does little to dispel the notion we are seeing the law implode at the expense of middle-class families," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Sources: The Associated Press, CNBC, The Fiscal Times / Photo credit: National Cancer Institute via  Wikimedia Commons

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