Health Care

Dire Obamacare Prediction Falls Hilariously Flat


The story of Obamacare over the last year has in many ways been a story about how the various claims made by conservatives about why the law would collapse have systematically fallen apart as the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect. The website debacle was so bad that nobody was going to sign up. Actually, lots of people signed up. The net number of people insured was going to go down, not up, because Obamacare would force insurers to cancel their plans. Nope, the uninsured rate has gone down.
 
One of the scariest claims was that premiums were going to shoot up because only the sick and the old would sign up. The danger, of course, was that this would set off the so-called death spiral, where high prices prompt people to drop their coverage until eventually the whole project collapses in failure and shame.
 
Back in March, the Hill published a representative story under the headline, “O-Care Premiums to Skyrocket.” Here’s the gist:

Health industry officials say Obamacare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.

The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper Obamacare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.

The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.

“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Her comment baffled insurance officials, who said it runs counter to the industry’s consensus about next year.

Here we are five months later, and those insurance officials have begun reporting their premium increases for next year. To put it mildly, those increases do not seem to fit the definition of “skyrocketing.” Here’s the Hill’s story from this afternoon on what is actually happening to insurance premiums:

Obamacare Premiums Slated to Rise by an Average of 7.5 Percent

Premiums on Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges will rise by an average of 7.5 percent next year, according to a new analysis.

Data compiled by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PricewaterhouseCoopers found modest changes in premiums for 27 states and the District of Columbia, with the increases mostly falling short of dire predictions for Obamacare’s second year.

The average national increase of 7.5 percent is “well below the double-digit increases many feared,” HRI Managing Director Ceci Connolly wrote in an e-mail.

Needless to say, this is quite a bit different than the scenario the Hill laid out in March. A 7.5 percent average increase is somewhat smaller than the 100 percent increase the newspaper was predicting only five months ago.

It seems a little odd that the Hill article today doesn’t identify who made the “dire predictions” that have now turned out to be totally wrong. I’ll bet whoever it is must feel pretty silly.

Green_190
Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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