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Obama boasts of health care savings, but costs likely to rise for many

By Lesley Clark and Tony Pugh
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama assailed Republicans on Thursday for trying to dismantle his signature health-care law, saying it’s already providing a benefit of one kind or another to millions of Americans, including a drop in projected premium costs in nearly a dozen states.

But experts predict that premiums on individual plans will increase in most states because of the new consumer protections the sweeping legislation requires.

The effect on premiums will vary across states depending on geographic location, the type of coverage and the individual characteristics of the enrollee.

For example, while Obama pointed to a reduction in premiums in New York state, state officials in Ohio say the average premium proposal for individual coverage next year is up 88 percent from this year’s average price as reported by the Society of Actuaries. In Maryland, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield proposed a 25 percent increase in premiums next year, after first seeking a 50 percent increase. Final rates haven’t been determined in either state.

The higher rates, supporters say, buy a health insurance system that guarantees access to coverage for everyone and improves benefits, such as requiring insurers to cover older children and outlawing lifetime spending limits on claims.

Obama, fighting to sell the health-care law against an onslaught of criticism from Republicans, launched an impassioned defense at the White House in front of several families who have received refund checks under a provision that requires insurers to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on medical care and quality improvement or reimburse the difference. The president said rebates are being sent for 8.5 million Americans this summer, averaging $100 each.

The political battle over the 2010 law has intensified ahead of Oct. 1, the start of enrollment in the insurance exchanges set up under the measure.

Obama said the insurance marketplaces would allow consumers to go online and shop for health insurance “just like you’d compare over the Internet the best deal on flat-screen TVs or cars or any other product that is important to your lives.”

The Obama administration has been buoyed by preliminary data that suggests that greater competition will reduce premiums for people who buy individual coverage outside the workplace in at least some states, with New York state officials announcing that individual premiums in the marketplace will be lower than projections by the Congressional Budget Office.

A new analysis by the Obama administration released Thursday found that in 11 locations where data are available, the lowest-priced plan will cost 18 percent less on average than the Congressional Budget Office had estimated when the law was debated. Those premiums still would be higher than they were at the time the law was enacted.

The 11 are California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state.

The report, however, includes an asterisk that indicates Ohio and Virginia hadn’t yet posted premiums for all issuers and that the numbers might end up higher. “In states that are working hard to make sure this law delivers for their people, what we’re seeing is that consumers are getting a hint of how much money they’re potentially going to save because of this law,” Obama said.

Republicans have fought the law on the legislative and political fronts since its introduction and showed no signs of letting up Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner, who said premiums in his home state of Ohio were predicted to rise by $200 a month, has asked the sponsors of legislation that would delay the law to deliver this week’s Republican radio address.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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