For the past three years, the biggest argument supporters of Obamacare would trot out every single time when faced with opposition to the mandatory tax, would be that despite widespread predictions of soaring prices, US medical care service costs had remained low and even, on occasion, declined (we leave aside the lack of discussion about soaring in deductibles which are one-time charges incurred whenever anyone does need medical care and whose impact on overall medical costs for the consumer is dramatic).
A big reason for this delayed increase in prices is that many insurers were unable to gauge the full base-effect impact of Obamacare on their P&L: after all, effective implementation of Obamacare had been materially delayed thus preventing an apples to apples comparison of incurred fees versus revenues.
All that changed moments ago when core US inflation finally spiked the most since 2013 driven by a 0.7% monthly surge in medical care service costs: the highest since 2007!
What’s far worse for the troubled US consumer, this is just the beginning. Because after finally digesting the true cost of Obamacare, any recent insurance prime hikes will seem like a walk in the park compared to what is coming.
According to the WSJ, key insurers in some states are proposing hefty rate boosts for plans sold under the federal health law.
Case in point:
- In New Mexico, market leader Health Care Service Corp. is asking for an average jump of 51.6% in premiums for 2016.
- In Tennessee, the biggest insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has requested an average 36.3% increase.
- In Maryland, market leader CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield wants to raise rates 30.4% across its products.
- In Oregon, the largest insurer Moda Health seeks an average boost of around 25%.
All of them cite high medical costs incurred by people newly enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.
The irony is that while the Obama administration “can ask insurers seeking increases of 10% or more to explain themselves, but cannot force them to cut rates. Rates will become final by the fall.”
Why the explosion in costs? Simple: take on look at the IBB or any other biotech index, all of which have exploded in recent years as a result of one key thing: pushing prices of medicines ever higher. Now, finally, these soaring prices which have likewise resulted in soaring stock prices, are about to be funded by everyone else.
Insurers say their proposed rates reflect the revenue they need to pay claims, now that they have had time to analyze their experience with the law’s requirement that they offer the same rates to everyone—regardless of medical history.
Health-cost growth has slowed to historic lows in recent years, a fact consumer groups are expected to bring up during rate-review debates. Insurers say they face significant pent-up demand for health care from the newly enrolled, including for expensive drugs.
“This year, health plans have a full year of claims data to understand the health needs of the [health insurance] exchange population, and these enrollees are generally older and often managing multiple chronic conditions,” said Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group. “Premiums reflect the rising cost of providing care to individuals and families, and the explosion in prescription and specialty drug prices is a significant factor.”
David Axene, a fellow at the Society of Actuaries, said some insurers were trying to catch up with the impact of drugs such as Sovaldi, a pricey pill that is first in a new generation of hepatitis C therapies.
Now Sovaldi has been great news for one group of consumers: those who were long the stock of drug maker Gilead. Alas, now the time has come to pay the piper. And while Sovaldi’s cost at $1,000 per pill and $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment, has been a goldmine for GILD, the piper’s invoice will be massive.
Who pays it? Why everyone dear America. That’s the magic of socialized medicine the Obamcare tax, which means everyone has to chip in for the healthcare of the few. Meanwhile, GILD shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank.
As a result, expect Obamacare premiums, which are about to spike across the board virtually everywhere, to become a key talking point:
Insurance premiums have become a top issue for consumers and politicians as they evaluate how well the law is working. Obama administration officials weathered a storm as some younger, healthier consumers saw their premiums jump when the law rolled out, but were also able to point to modest premiums overall as insurers focused on other ways to keep costs down, such as narrow provider networks.
For 2015 insurance plans, when insurers had only a little information about the health of their new customers, big insurers tended to make increases of less than 10%, while smaller insurers tried offering lower rates to build market share.
Since the insurers have now had a chance to evaluate the impact of Obama’s landmark tax on the top- and bottom-line, they have decided that they will need to charge the mandatorily insured Americans more. Much more. After all, it’s not like Americans have much of a choice to say no to a “mandatory” tax.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, CareFirst in Maryland and Moda in Oregon all said high medical claims from plans they sold over insurance exchanges spurred their rate-increase requests.
The Tennessee insurer said it lost $141 million from exchange-sold plans, stemming largely from a small number of sick enrollees. “Our filing is planned to allow us to operate on at least a break-even basis for these plans, meaning that the rate would cover only medical services and expenses—with no profit margin for 2016,” said spokeswoman Mary Danielson. The plan’s lowest monthly premium for a midrange, or “silver,” plan for a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Nashville would rise to $287 in 2016 from $220.
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Moda Health said that with more than 100,000 individual members, it had the best data “on the care actually being received by these Oregonians. Our proposed rates reflect that.”
Under Moda’s proposal, a 40-year-old nonsmoker in Salem would pay $296 a month in 2016 for a silver plan, up from $245 a month this year. “It is a balance,” said Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali of her rate-review process.
But wasn’t the Affordable Care Act supposed to make healthcare prices more, well, a?. Well no, as we have explained time and again, most recently last summer.
But the biggest irony: just as Obamacare was the primary reason for the US Q3 GDP surge to 5%, as we explained last December, fooling many pundits into believing the US economy was finally in a self-sustaining liftoff mode…
… so this year it will be up to Obamacare to single-handedly pump up core CPI inflation – that biggest missing link from the Fed’s “successful monetary policy” checklist.
As for US consumers? Why, they are about to get the short end of the stick again, as any and all “gas savings” now and in the future, will be once again spent on, you guessed it, health insurance.
The problem with that being that unless oil crashes again, there are no gas-savings to be had. Which means one thing: the only thing crushed yet again will be the US consumer, that 70% component of US GDP.
But don’t worry: when the US economy slows down to a crawl once more, and posts a negative GDP print this time during the summer, there will be a double seasonal adjustment for that.