Is PricewaterhouseCoopers Backpedaling From Its Own Insurance Industry Report?

Over the weekend, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)– the lobbying arm of the health insurance industry — issued an inflammatory report warning Congress that the Baucus health care bill would increase health care costs. But critics have argued that the report is a skewed analysis that doesn’t consider the totality of reform.

As the Senate Finance Committee points out, the industry backed analysis “has not taken many of the reform provisions into consideration in reaching its numbers.” “These other reform provisions would have the opposite effect and lead to lower premiums – but those provisions were ignored,” the Committee wrote in a memo criticizing the report.

The text of the actual report legitimizes this criticism. From page 8:

The reform packages under consideration have other provisions that we have not included in this analysis. We have not estimated the impact of the new subsidies on the net insurance cost to households. Also, if other provisions in health care reform are successful in lowering costs over the long term, those improvements would offset some of the impacts we have estimated.

Last night, PricewaterhouseCoopers — the firm hired to perform the analysis — issued a statement reiterating the report’s limitations. PricewaterhouseCoopers reprinted the report’s page 8 language, leading POLITICO’s Chris Frates to interpret the statement as “Hey, we weren’t paid to evaluate the effects of the entire bill, but rather a small slice of it.”

Indeed, a more comprehensive analysis performed by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber modeled on available data from the Congressional Budget Office concludes that if one considers “delivery system reforms, new options, premium assistance, and other proposals to improve quality,” the Senate Finance bill does lower costs:

Sizeable premium savings for young. An individual aged 25 at $19,000 in income (175% of poverty) would benefit from tax credits and would save, on average, $685. A higher income young person could always buy a “bronze” plan without tax credits for a savings of $230.

Even larger premium savings for older individuals. A person age 60 with income at $19,000 (175% of poverty) would save, on average, $7890. A person at age 60 with income at $40,600 (375% of poverty) would continue to benefit from tax credits and would save, on average, $4100.

Also large premium savings for a family. A family with income at $38,000 (175% of poverty) would save, on average, $8550. That same family with higher income could buy a “bronze” plan without tax credits at a savings of $2430 over current non-group prices.

As Gruber explained during an appearance on MSNBC, “I think the point that the premiums will go up, if penalties aren’t higher is exactly right. But that’s not what this report says”:

If the report had came out and said, ‘look we need stronger penalties, or premiums will go up,’ that’s a very valid point to make. But what the report says, is that it went too far. It said with the current structure, premiums will be much higher than they are today. And that’s just wrong. I mean, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has came out and said that for this bill, premiums in the exchange will be lower than they are in the none group market today. So they just drew the wrong comparison.

Read Gruber’s full report here.