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Insurers Warn of Obamacare-Induced Sticker Shock on Health Policy Prices

March 14, 2013
By TOM MURPHY, AP Business Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

(AP) - Some Americans could see their insurance bills double next year as the health care overhaul law expands coverage to millions.

The nation's big health insurers say they expect premiums - or the cost for insurance coverage - to rise from 20 to 100 percent for millions of people due to changes that will occur when key provisions of the Affordable Care Act roll out in January 2014.

Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna Inc., one of the nation's largest insurers, calls the price hikes "premium rate shock."

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Nurse Yolanda Hormilla checks Jose Ballivian’s blood pressure in the Sunrise, Fla., sales office of Florida Blue.

"We've done all the math, we've shared it with all the regulators, we've shared it with all the people in Washington that need to see it, and I think it's a big concern," Bertolini said during the company's annual meeting with investors in December.

To be sure, there will be no across-the-board rate hikes for everyone, and there's no reliable national data on how many people could see increases. But the biggest price hikes are expected to hit a group that represents a relatively small slice of the insured population. That includes some of the roughly 14 million people who buy their own insurance as opposed to being covered under employer-sponsored plans, and to a lesser extent, some employees of smaller companies.

The price increases are a downside of President Barack Obama's health care law, which is expected to expand coverage to nearly 30 million uninsured people. The massive law calls for a number of changes that could cause premiums for people who don't have coverage through a big employer to rise next year - at a time when health care costs already are expected to grow by 5 percent or more:

The Obama administration says the law balances added costs in several ways, including tax credits that will bring down what many consumers will pay for insurance.

"The health care law will bring down costs and save money for young people and families," said Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. "It's misleading to look at one provision of the law alone. Taken together, the law will reduce costs."

The impact of some cost hikes will be wide ranging. The new premium tax, for instance, will affect individual insurance, some employer-sponsored coverage and Medicare Advantage policies, which are privately-run versions of the government's Medicare program for the elderly and disabled.

Other price hikes will vary due to factors like a person's current coverage and age. Young people who currently have low-cost coverage may see some of the biggest hikes.

In many states, insurers charge a 60-year-old customer $5 in premiums for every $1 they collect from a 24-year-old. The logic behind that is that older people use health care more and generate more expensive claims.

But the overhaul will narrow that ratio to 3-to-1. That alone could cause the premium for a 24-year-old who pays $1,200 annually to jump to $1,800, according to AHIP. Meanwhile, the 60-year-old who currently pays $6,000 will see a 10 percent drop in price.

Gender also can be a factor in whether premiums go up or down. The law will prohibit insurers from setting different rates based on gender - something they currently do because women generally use more health care. Prices also may change depending on a person's current coverage. Many policies on the individual market exclude maternity coverage, but that will be considered an essential health benefit under the overhaul. That could mean higher prices.

Vikki Swanson, 49, of Newport Beach, Calif., resents that the added benefit may lead to higher costs for her. "I had a hysterectomy, I have no need for maternity coverage, but I have to now pay for it," she said.

As a self-employed accountant and financial analyst, Swanson has paid for her insurance coverage on the individual market for about 13 years. She watched her monthly premium climb from around $136 in 2001 to more than $600 before she could find cheaper coverage. She's frustrated that ther bill could go up more.

"I have to pay not only my own premium but I have to subsidize everybody else," she said.

 
 
 

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