July 31, 2014:
The 4.2% increase in Obamacare insurance rates in California for 2015 announced Thursday drew an enthusiastic reaction from activists and insurers. But there was also some skepticism..
“This is a rebuke to all the Obamacare naysayers and political opponents who predicted double-digit rate increases,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of consumer advocacy group Health Access.
Betsy Imholz, special projects director at Consumers Union, called the slight average premium increase — as well as a drop in rates for some — “a victory for consumers.”
“I don’t remember the last time I heard possible decreases,” she said. “It’s just so wonderful and heartening.”
Charles Bacchi, executive vice president of the California Assn. of Health Plans, said the slight increase shows Covered California aggressively negotiated competitive rates.
“It’s a clear sign that the system in place is working, and Covered California is making it possible for individuals to purchase quality health coverage at affordable rates,” he said.
But some were skeptical.
Jamie Court, president of advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said the rates are good news for consumers but questioned whether the smaller increase was politically motivated.
He pointed out that voters this fall will consider Proposition 45, which would require health insurance companies to get state approval for all rate increases.
“Health insurance companies know better than to spit in the eyes of voters before they decide whether to enact greater accountability for the industry,” he said.
Health insurance rates in California during the initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act were better than expected, helping boost enrollment to 1.2 million people in the Covered California exchange. The exchange estimates it will have signed up 1.7 million by the end of the coming enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.
A survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation released this week found that 71% of those who bought insurance through Covered California said they felt their plan was a good value for the amount they pay.
However, 51% of that same group said paying their monthly premium was at least somewhat difficult, the survey found.
Pleshette Roberston, 46, signed up for a Kaiser silver plan through Covered California last year for $99 a month. She had been uninsured since 2010, unable to afford an individual plan on the private market before subsidies became available last year through the exchange.
When told about the slight rate bump, she said it wouldn’t make it impossible for her to pay for her plan, but she had hoped rates wouldn’t have gone up for at least a few years.
“That’s a bit much, to increase just after the program started,” she said.
Experts predict the next wave of people will be even harder to enroll in Covered California because many have gone without insurance for years.
“While we are very pleased with these rate proposals, health insurance without any subsidy is still a big-ticket item for most consumers,” said Imholz of Consumers Union.
The Kaiser survey found cost was the biggest barrier for those who didn’t sign up for insurance during the first open-enrollment period, even though almost two-thirds of those people were eligible for either a subsidized plan through the exchange or Medi-Cal.
Cecilia Obeji, 58, said she looked into signing up for a health plan through Covered California last year but decided she couldn’t afford the $150 monthly premium.
She said that paying $45 cash for a quarterly visit to the doctor would be cheaper than a monthly premium, even if she has to pay a penalty for not signing up.
Until the Covered California plans are cheap enough that they’ll save her money, she won’t be buying one.
“The thing is — the money matters,” said Obeji, who lives in Alta Loma.
Though open enrollment for Covered California won’t begin again until November, qualifying patients with special circumstances, such as losing employer-provided insurance or moving, can apply now for coverage.