Last summer, a local executive for Premera Blue Cross touched off a mini-panic when he predicted, in a speech, that Obamacare would cause “enormous, staggering” increases in the cost of health insurance.
“We expect the cost of premiums to go up anywhere from 50 to 70 percent — staggering amounts,” said Premera Vice President Jeff Roe, back then.
This was similar, but on the flip side, to when President Obama audaciously predicted that health care reform would lower premiums for a typical family “by up to $2,500 a year.”
Well, last week we got the first glimpse of the truth. And guess what — the law won’t do either of these incredible things (at least not around here.)
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The first big test for health reform was when the policies and rates came out for the individual medical insurance market for 2014. It’s not a train wreck (sorry, Republicans, you were so rooting for disaster, I know). But neither is it turning out to be quite deserving of its name, the “Affordable” Care Act.
It’s nearly impossible to do a precise before-and-after comparison because health policies have different deductibles and coverage rates. But you can easily get the gist of what’s happening in Obamacare by looking at ranges.
Example: A family of four, with parents age 40. Currently, if they buy insurance on the open market here, the median price is $858 a month. This is according to the Government Accountability Office, which at the request of Republican senators compiled the “pre-Obamacare” range of health-policy prices in every state.
And after Obamacare? That same family would pay $622 to $1,068, depending on the richness of the benefits, according to the new plans being sold on our state’s insurance exchange. In other words, it’s staying about the same.
Fifty-five-year-olds may end up paying a little less. The most likely to pay more under Obamacare are people 30 or younger because the types of catastrophic plans they most favor are being eliminated (a flaw in the law, in my view).
Looking back, if that Premera executive was right about anything, it’s that cheap, $100-a-month insurance but with super-high deductibles is going away. The cheapest Obamacare policy out there for, say, a 25-year-old, is a $6,000-deductible plan offered by Group Health for $159 a month (Lifewise had a pre-Obamacare plan with a $10,000 deductible for only $96).
And if Obama was right about anything, it’s that the law is spurring big savings, but only in some states, such as New York. Though here, if you’re poor or just starting out, the law’s subsidies could make insurance attainable for the first time. A 25-year-old making $25,000 qualifies for $145 in tax credits per month — so that $159 Group Health policy would cost only $14.
What’s important politically is that all this is turning out to be so boring. It’s hardly grist for a revolution. It means this giant government program is probably going to end up succeeding at making insurance at least possible for the million uninsured in this state. No, it’s not cost-free by any stretch, and it has other problems (the business mandate was delayed for a year). But neither is it going to trash your household budget, let alone the economy.
So what is the perpetual alarmism about? Like when Republicans in Congress voted last week to repeal health reform for the 40th time, as if it’s a national emergency. Or how conservative groups are ginning up events like Obamacare Card burnings — even though there’s no such thing as an Obamacare Card to burn.
It feels like, for critics, it’s become a problem how dull Obamacare is, now that it’s here. Like the worst thing that could happen is if it just ends up working.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com