BY ED MORRISSEY
When insurance companies began discussing the necessary premium hikes for the third year of ObamaCare coverage, the White House was quick to dismiss the requests. State auditors would surely force insurers to admit that these requests were overblown. Barack Obama himself told a Nashville audience last month that he couldn’t see why insurers needed to hike premiums by more than a third in Tennessee, the Wall Street Journal recalls:
At a July town hall in Nashville, Tenn., President Barack Obama played down fears of a spike in health insurance premiums in his signature health law’s third year.
“My expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested,” he said, saying Tennesseans had to work to ensure the state’s insurance commissioner “does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, ‘OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums?’”
The insurers must have come up with a pretty good explanation. Tennessee approved a 36% hike in premiums for 2016, and they’re hardly alone, as Louise Radnofsky and Stephanie Armour report:
That commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, answered on Friday by greenlighting the full 36.3% increase sought by the biggest health plan in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She said the insurer demonstrated the hefty increase for 2016 was needed to cover higher-than-expected claims from sick people who signed up for individual policies in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.
Several regulators around the country agree with her, and have approved all or most of the big premium increases sought by the largest health plans in their states for the new sign-up season that begins Nov. 1.
Here’s the chart showing proposed and approved rate increases for 2016 over 2015:
It’s the third year in a row for huge rate hikes, all due to the uncertainties built into the mandate-driven system of ObamaCare. The White House explained the hikes after the first year as an artifact of sudden access to care, but by year three that explanation has worn thin. The cost curve isn’t bending downward in any phase of health care, and it’s not even bending upward any longer. It’s skyrocketing, and insurers are reflecting that in their premium hikes.
At the same time that premiums have escalated, of course, deductibles have expanded almost exponentially for some families. Consumers are paying outrageously high premiums for insurance they will almost certainly never access, thanks to the need to spend thousands more out of pocket on top of these premiums before insurers have to cover anything but wellness checks.
The above chart doesn’t take into account my own state of Minnesota. The state has not yet acted on rate increase requests from its insurers, which have the potential to outstrip anything on the WSJ’s radar. Blue Cross Blue Shield wants an average increase across its plans of fifty-four percent, while Health Partners requested average increases of 23%. In fact, UCare — which had been the low cost option heading into 2016 — has bumped its increase request by more than double this summer:
With the July filing, UCare upped its proposed average rate increase from 12 percent to 27 percent — a bump that’s more in line with increases being sought by other individual market carriers for 2016. …
At the time, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota commanded attention by seeking an average increase of about 54 percent for 179,000 Minnesotans in the market for individuals who buy outside of employer groups.
HealthPartners sought an average increase of 23 percent for 51,860 people. UCare’s proposal applies to about 10,000 current policyholders.
The UCare proposal is just that — regulators are scheduled to release final rates this fall, and proposed increases could be knocked down by the rate review process at the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
They can be “knocked down,” but these insurers can also pack up and leave the ObamaCare system, too. They can stick with employer-based insurance and Medicare Advantage portfolios and leave the individual markets. That’s exactly what BCBS announced today that they will do in New Mexico. If that happens, then Minnesota politicians will be under the gun to explain why their constituents can’t get health insurance any longer, the same as in Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, and so on. All Obama will do is ask rhetorical questions and pretend that he knows risk-pool management better than those who operate them … which is exactly how we got the disaster of ObamaCare in the first place.