States are now releasing their preliminary 2015 Obamacare premiums, which means price hikes could become another negative talking point right before the midterm elections. The difference between now and previous moments of bad health care PR is that Democrats insist they're getting ahead of it this time. But even then, there are a number of other issues coming up: the left's increasing aversion to the employer mandate, questions about how young and healthy this year's enrollees are and, as always, whether the Affordable Care Act is actually affordable.
As Politico noted Monday, the White House's "internal health care enrollment outreach apparatus" has turned its attention to 2015 preliminary premiums. "One of the lessons we’ve learned in implementing health care is to stay on it,” said Tara McGuinness, the White House senior communications adviser, told Politico. “We are not going to let anyone distort the debate.” The White House has teamed up with congressional Democrats to issue talking point memos about preliminary premiums as they come out in states. In most states, insurers are asking for premium increases, but Democrats claim that's not the whole story.
First, the state insurance commissioners can reduce the premiums insurers request (and Democrats hope they will). The premiums averages also give the same weight to small insurers and large insurers. If an insurer with 100,000 customers is raising rates by 8 percent and an insurer with 10,000 customers is raising rates 16 percent, the average will be 12 percent, but most people will see smaller spikes. Finally, your insurers have to use a certain percentage of your premium on health care costs — if they don't, you get a refund.
While Democrats are pushing those points, Republicans are balking at the idea that insurance commissioners will slash rates. “Regardless of what they want to say or the rhetoric they want to use, in Ohio, consumers are paying more,” Ohio's Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor told Politico. “The facts are that Obamacare is making things more expensive in Ohio.” The state is expecting a 13 percent average increase — Democrats point out that the state saw double digit increases before Obamacare as well.
But even if premiums go the way Democrats want, there are still a few smaller health care fires that need to be extinguished. The biggest issue is that liberals are backing away from the employer mandate, which requires employers with over 50 employees to offer health care. Liberal think tanks and academics have argued that it is a burden on businesses and doesn't help insure a large portion of people. Still, no major Democrats have spoken out against the mandate, which could bring in $46 million to $100 million over the next decade, according to Politico. It also doesn't help that Democrats are doing their best to not talk about Obamacare.
There are also still questions over whether enrollees were healthy enough. Last week The Wall Street Journal downplayed the 8 million enrollment number touted by the administration, arguing that insurers don't know how healthy those enrollees are, and they enrolled more women. While that's true, insurers like Wellpoint predicted older, sicker enrollees and priced their plans accordingly. Still, the "premium spike" talking point only needs a couple of insurers, however small, to realize they underestimated the cost of insuring their enrollees and raise prices.