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22 October 2013

Obamacare's Middle-Class Sticker Shock

 By Henry Payne
Last week I got news that my health insurance costs are going up. A lot. In 2014 my monthly premium for a family of four will increase 15 percent to $575, my deductible will double to $3,000 and I will lose my drug coverage, adding another $100 a month to my expenses. My story is typical for employees of Gannett, the Detroit News’ parent company, and other businesses across the country. 
Obamacare is not just creating havoc in state exchanges, it is roiling the larger private health insurance market. Costs are skyrocketing thanks to the expensive mandates, regulations and taxes buried in the Affordable Car Act. 
Call it the Unaffordable Care Act. 
Billed by President Barack Obama as a historic reform that would reduce health insurance costs by $2,500 a year and cover 40 million uninsured, the program is dictating terms to every health insurer while offering employees a grim choice of rising costs with their company plan or seeking refuge in unworkable, expensive government-run state exchanges. 
While many small employers have welcomed a delay in the ACA’s employer mandate until 2015, businesses that already provide insurance are facing Obamacare’s new reality. The bad news has come in waves as companies like Home Depot and Trader Joe’s announced they are dropping coverage for part-time employees. Hundreds of thousands of consumers are losing their “mini-med plans” because they don’t meet Washington’s minimum requirements. Now come the premium increases for self-insured businesses that an analysis by Duke University’s Center for Health Policy estimates will cost an average family $800 a year. In Michigan, for example, insurance costs for the Extreme Chrysler dealership in Jackson are going up 70 percent and Michigan Group Benefits insurance says its clients’ average increase is 23 percent. 
The $2,100 cost jump in my Gannett plan, administered by United Health, is actually worse than it appears, as my premiums have already swelled by 45 percent since 2011 as insurers anticipated federal regs forcing, for example, coverage of dependents up to 26 years old. Gannett must also swallow a $63 tax for each individual in its group plan and another $2.13 fee per head to “study heath care outcomes.” Similar costs threaten private, union-negotiated health plans, leading Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa to say Obamacare will “destroy the very health and well being of our members.” 
“Health care costs historically have been going up 7 percent a year, so anything above that is probably due to provisions in Obamacare,” concludes Drew Gonshorowski, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Analysis, who says the ACA’s over-regulation is upsetting important insurance calculations like “age-brand compression” that balances risk pools. 
“Insurance pricing is one of the most complicated, difficult-to-price markets,” he says. “The ACA doesn’t allow insurers to price freely.” 
Obamacare promises that its state exchanges offer insurance options, but the government-run system is dysfunctional. Three weeks after its launch, the federally run Michigan Health Care Exchange is still a nightmare. In the first two weeks I couldn’t sign up because the three security questions wouldn’t load. Last week, the security questions were finally there, but then I stalled at the next page. After waiting in a chat room, an Obamacare assistant finally responded: “Unfortunately, (high volume) is causing some glitches for some people trying to create accounts, log in, and complete their application. Keep trying and thanks for your patience.” 
But if/when if I do get in, more sticker shock awaits. 
An analysis of the feds’ own data by Heritage’s Gonshorowski finds Michigan consumers (as in most states) will experience cost increases across the board. For a family of four, the state exchange will increase costs from $771 to $864 per month. Even for a 27-year old, the youth demographic on which exchanges depend to subsidize older applicants, the exchange increase costs from $117 to $255 per month, a 118 percent hike. 
“The essence of the law is working,” said the president at his Monday news conference. “The prices are lower than we expected, the choice is greater than we expected.” Do you believe him or your lying eyes?

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