Here's some positive news about the Affordable Care Act and health insurance premiums that you won't hear from Tallahassee. The Obama administration says the health insurance premiums for one of the most popular plans on the federal exchange will decline next year by 3 percent in Hillsborough County and by 8 percent in Pinellas County. Yet the state insurance regulator would rather emphasize less precise average premium increases so Republicans can fuel the fiction that health care reform is an expensive failure. It is nothing of the sort.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced this month that premiums for policies sold on the federal exchange would rise an average of 13.2 percent in 2015. Florida Blue, the largest insurer, is raising premiums by an average of 17.6 percent. Republicans seized on the numbers to claim that health care reform is a failure, blame Democrats and create more campaign attacks.
If the concern about protecting consumers from rate increases were genuine, Republicans would not have changed state law to prevent McCarty from modifying or rejecting the rate increases. Instead, the Legislature approved a two-year ban on the Office of Insurance Regulation reviewing health insurance rates and rejecting or modifying increases. To complain that rates are too high after preventing the state from lowering them is hypocritical at best.
Another factor in the rate increases is the Obama administration's decision to allow people to keep for two more years existing health insurance policies that do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. That meant thousands of healthier Americans kept old policies instead of buying new ones on the federal exchange, which would have helped keep rates lower. But Republicans in Congress and elsewhere help fuel the outrage that led the Obama administration to change the rules.
There are silver linings. For example, Florida Blue's overall average rate increase of 17.6 percent for federal exchange plans still is only slightly higher than average rate increases of 16.5 percent in 2014 and 16 percent in 2013 for people who bought coverage on their own. And a more detailed analysis by the Obama administration offers even more encouraging news. It examined the second-lowest-priced silver plan sold on the federal exchange. That plan is used to help calculate federal subsidies, and nearly three of four Floridians who have health insurance through the exchange chose one of the silver plans. In addition to premium decreases in Hillsborough and Pinellas, the administration says 2015 premiums for the silver plan it reviewed will drop by 6 percent in Miami-Dade, 12 percent in Orange and 17 percent in Palm Beach counties.
Gov. Rick Scott, state lawmakers and other Republicans in Tallahassee have done everything they can to obstruct health care reform. They refused to create a state exchange. They rejected millions for health care initiatives related to the Affordable Care Act. They refused to accept billions in Medicaid expansion money that would insure more than 800,000 Floridians and create thousands of jobs. They stopped regulating health insurance rates, and now they complain the rates are too high.
Yet health care reform is working in spite of all the efforts to sabotage it. Nearly 1 million Floridians signed up for coverage through the federal exchange, and nine of every 10 receive a federal subsidy to lower their costs. Three out of four Floridians live in areas where premiums for the second-lowest-priced silver plan are dropping next year. The proof of success is in the numbers Tallahassee doesn't want you to see.