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Weighing the ACA
Premium Hikes Get Steeper

Contra its most vocal right-wing critics, the Affordable Care Act has done some good, including making health benefits more mobile, and expanding coverage to millions of people, primarily through subsidies and the Medicaid expansion. But contra its most self-satisfied liberal defenders, it also has not achieved what its backers initially said was one of its key objectives: reducing the cost of private insurance. Over the last few years, premiums for health plans on the exchanges have risen rapidly—and next year, they are expected to rise even more sharply still. The AP reports:

Premiums for popular low-cost medical plans under the federal health care law are expected to go up an average of 11 percent next year, said a study that reinforced reports of sharp increases around the country in election season. […]

The Kaiser study looked at 14 metro areas for which complete data on insurer premium requests is already available. It found that premiums for a level of insurance called the “lowest-cost silver plan” will go up in 12 of the areas, while decreasing in two. The changes range from a decrease of 14 percent in Providence, Rhode Island, to an increase of 26 percent in Portland, Oregon.

Half of the cities will see increases of 10 percent or more. Last year, only two of the cities had double-digit increases.

Rising premiums threaten the architecture of the law because they could force healthy people off of the exchanges and cause premiums to shoot up even more. But even if the dreaded “death spiral” never comes into effect, the latest numbers drive home the point that America’s healthcare debate is far from over. Obamacare’s architects took aim at access, rather than affordability, meaning that while more Americans today enjoy health coverage, middle class families are increasingly hurting as premiums dig deeper into their paychecks.

But in the long run, as we like to say, affordability is access. The next round of reforms needs to be focused not on growing government healthcare programs, but on making care itself faster, cheaper, and more affordable.

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