The Ohio Department of Insurance recently announced that insurance rates in the individual market would increase an average 13 percent next year. That opened the way for Mary Taylor, the lieutenant governor and state insurance director, to take another shot at the Affordable Care Act, arguing that “Obamacare is hitting us harder and driving up our costs significantly.” She invited the impression that the new health-care regimen is holding back the state’s economy.
Soon, the reporting in newspapers began to fill in details. It turns out that the average number doesn’t tell the whole story.
The insurance department made its calculation based on the filings of insurance companies intending to participate in the federal exchange. The newspapers noted that most Ohioans buying coverage in the exchange would see single-digit increases. Medical Mutual of Ohio, for instance, has submitted plans for an increase of 8 percent. The Dayton Daily News noted that CareSource plans for a 2 percent increase.
These two insurers, according to the Daily News, covered roughly 60 percent of the 154,000 Ohioans who signed up for health insurance in the exchange.
The thinking isn’t that the federal exchange is without problems, or that an 8 percent increase is insignificant. Consumers will feel the bite. Some already have seen sharp increases. The proper perspective in evaluating the Affordable Care Act is making overall comparisons to the alternative, or the conditions that preceded it. Annual double-digit increases in premiums were all too familiar, and the coverage available often fell short when you needed it.
The lieutenant governor has contended that the Affordable Care Act has weakened what had been a strong market for health insurance in Ohio. Put aside that the market left roughly 1 million Ohioans without health insurance, and many others with inadequate coverage. The recent filings show that beyond the better news about premiums, more insurers are set to participate in the exchange, 16, up from 12, indicating more competition and, the hope is, restraint in pricing.
Part of regulating something as universally used as health care, or electricity, or telephone service, is setting a baseline for quality. That is what the Affordable Care Act does for those purchasing coverage in the individual market, among other things, ending exclusions for pre-existing conditions and guaranteeing a set of benefits. More, it provides subsidies to make coverage more affordable, something the insurance department consistently underplays, even as 85 percent of Ohioans participating in the exchange receive assistance.
So, contrary to the assertion of the lieutenant governor, many Ohioans have not been hit harder or seen significant cost increases under Affordable Care Act. Again, that isn’t to say the new regimen needs no improvement. It is a work in progress. What the early data reinforce is that the new law serves as a framework for improving what has been in many ways a broken system of health care.