After months of publicly supporting health care reform, insurers are warning Congress that under the Baucus health care bill, “the cumulative increases in the cost of a typical family policy…will be approximately $20,700 more than it would be under the current system.”
The industry has issued a new report arguing that the weak personal responsibility requirement, taxes on health care providers, spending reductions in Medicare and taxes on high-value health plans will increase “the cost of coverage for both single and family policies in the individual, small group, large group, and self-funded insurance markets.”
Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn dispute the report’s methodology here and here, but it’s worth pointing out that industry’s argument that reform will increase insurance premiums for all Americans is simply untrue. It could also backfire. As Rep. Anthony Weinder (D-NY) explained this morning on MSNBC, “the health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option“:
If you have the health care industry complaining that we’re going to raise costs because of these changes, it is them putting us on notice that we haven’t put enough cost containment in the bill. You know, the health care industry themselves is putting out a whole report saying that. That should be a tell to the Baucus team that you know what, maybe it’s time for them to go back and revisit the public option. In a strange way, and look, obviously they didn’t mean this, the health insurance lobby today fired the most important salvo in weeks for the public option, because they have said, as clear as day, left to their own devices, according to their own number crunchers, they’re going to raise rates 111%.
The reality is, some reform provisions would tend to make premiums higher than current-law premiums; other provisions would “tend to make them lower.” Americans from different income brackets will pay different amounts for health care, but on the whole, the Baucus bill, which provides affordability subsidies for Americans between 133-400% federal poverty line, will offer health insurance policies that are far more affordable than what the insurance industry report predicts.
Here is a comparison between the non partisan Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the cost of premiums in the Exchange and the industry’s report. As it points out, under reform, Americans — even those that don’t qualify for a subsidy — will have far more affordable insurance options than industry’s “average” suggests:
|Insurer Analysis: Premiums In 2016||CBO Analysis: Premiums In 2016 (Exchange)|
Still, the Baucus bill must do more to control health care spending and lower premiums in the private market. After all, Congress shouldn’t force Americans to purchase unaffordable coverage. But for all their concern about ‘average health care costs’, insurers have a poor track record of controlling prices. As Families USA points out, insurers are “like a poker player who complains about his hand when, in fact, he is the dealer.”
Indeed, despite complaining about high health care premiums, insurers have lobbied against system-wide cost containment. They’ve spent millions of dollars opposing a public option that could reduce health case spending by some $150 billion and are even suing the state of Maine to increase premiums.
The insurance lobby is “conveniently forgetting that they imposed significant premiums increases during the past decade that are making health coverage unaffordable for families and businesses.” Now, since they’ve published a report promising to increase health insurance premiums even higher, the Senate must insert a public option mechanism (along with other cost-containment provisions) to competitively lower rates and keep the private health insurers honest.
What’s more, the industry’s comparison is apple to oranges. For Americans without access to employer-based coverage, the post-reform insurance product is not the porous, inadequate, high deductible policy currently available in the non-group market. On the contrary, it’s a regulated policy that provides adequate coverage that Americans can count on. Americans will be purchasing a better product after reform.