Republicans Need New Talking Point: New Report Says Obamacare Premiums Will Be ‘Lower Than Expected’


Republicans have been in full “hair on fire” mode over Obamacare for weeks now as the date for full implementation of the Affordable Care Act approaches. Their desperate push to stop the law has even seen groups opposed to it paying for ad time on MSNBC, of all places, with the concerned faces of Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Canadian born Rafael “Ted” Cruz (R-TX) warning viewers of plagues of Biblical proportions if they are unable to defund or otherwise block the law. Now these Obamacare opponents have even more to worry about.

A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that insurance premiums under Obamacare will be even lower than expected. The study looked at data on premiums in the states where the information is available and determined that

While premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are generally lower than expected. For example, we estimate that the latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office imply that the premium for a 40-year-old in the second lowest cost silver plan would average $320 per month nationally. Fifteen of the eighteen rating areas we examined have premiums below this level, suggesting that the cost of coverage for consumers and the federal budgetary cost for tax credits will be lower than anticipated.

Down goes another GOP talking point. For months Republicans have been warning of “premium shock” under Obamacare, and they have been aided in this effort by sympathetic media outlets. For example, the Muncie Star Press, in conservative Indiana, ran this headline on a story about the Kaiser study: “Healthy Hoosiers face huge premiums under Obamacare.” However, the article text acknowledges that the headline’s claim refers to those individuals who buy health insurance on the Indiana exchange and who do not qualify for a premium subsidy. The article also mentions that “an estimated 60 percent of Hoosiers who use the exchange are expected to qualify for some assistance.”

Sarah Kliff, writing in The Washington Post this past July, gave another example of how the rhetoric on Obamacare premiums depends on who is in charge in a particular state. She observed

When California announced its rates, the Democrat-led state celebrated how affordable prices came in. When Ohio released data, it derided how expensive health insurance would be under the federal reforms.

In actuality though, Ohioans and Californians will see pretty similar premiums on the new marketplaces. There’s a $16 difference between the two states.

So what is pushing rates lower in many areas? There might be a variety of factors involved, but at least one of them is that creature that Republicans claim to love: competition. The Affordable Care Act divides plans into benefit levels based on coverage and out-of-pocket costs for the consumer. “Gold” plans offer the highest level of coverage and the lowest out-of-pocket costs, with the insurance companies covering at least 80% of healthcare costs. Next comes “silver” plans, which cover a bit less, covering at least 70% of healthcare costs. “Bronze” plans have the lowest cost premiums but the highest out-of-pocket costs, covering only 60% of healthcare costs. A quick survey of the Kaiser family report reveals the following (each example is based on the full price of the second lowest cost plan in each tier for a 40 year old male):

  • In Los Angeles, where there are six insurers to choose from on the exchange, offering eight “silver” and nine “bronze” level plans, the full cost is $255/month for a silver plan and $188/month for a bronze plan.
  • In Denver, residents can choose from ten insurers offering 53 silver plans and 43 bronze plans. The full cost there is $250/month for a silver plan and $186/month for a bronze plan.
  • Indiana refused to set up a state exchange, choosing to let the federal government create one instead. Residents of Indianapolis only have two insurers to choose from, and the cost of a silver plan is $295/month, while the cost of a bronze plan is $250/month.
  • The numbers are similar in Maine, where Portland residents can only choose between two insurers, and the rates are $295/month for a silver plan and $235/month for a bronze plan

Republicans have been pushing dire warnings and bizarre theories about the effects of Obamacare since the days of “death panels” and “pull the plug on grandma” a few years ago. Not a single one of their grim prognostications has yet to come true. Here’s a bold prediction: Obamacare will become so popular that in a few years Republicans will stop calling it “Obamacare.” By the time the 2020 presidential election campaign gets underway, the GOP will be harkening back to the 90’s, when a plan very similar to Obamacare was floated by the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to what Republicans at that time were calling “Hillarycare.” The GOP of the ’20s will proclaim itself the proud protectors of the Affordable Care Act. If that sounds far-fetched to you, just take a look back at what they said in 2012 about Medicare, compared to what they were saying in the early ’60s.