1. Opinion

Editorial: Health care act improves coverage, at lower cost

Published Jun. 21, 2013

The Affordable Care Act promises access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance regardless of age or health status. The opponents predicted that health insurance rates would skyrocket due to the law's new requirements, but that is not happening. In many states where health insurers have priced policies for the health exchanges, the law is bringing consumer choice, transparency and competition to what has been a dysfunctional marketplace, producing better coverage at reasonable prices.

Most Americans will have a choice of at least five health insurers when open enrollment begins in October. In California, which is operating its own exchange, prices have been submitted by the 13 health plans chosen to sell policies to an estimated 5.3 million residents. The average monthly cost will be $321 — $110 less than the national average anticipated by the Congressional Budget Office.

A 25-year-old in Los Angeles could purchase a "Bronze" plan for as little as $147 per month. (Plans will be offered as Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze based on the percentage of the health costs covered, allowing consumers to compare apples to apples.) If that person makes less than $45,960 per year, he would qualify for subsidies that bring the cost down even more. In Florida, where the plans have not been announced, an estimated 1.7 million people are expected to be eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for coverage on the exchanges next year.

California is not an outlier. Predictions of severe price jumps of 50 percent or more on average for coverage have not occurred in Washington and other states with announced rates. But it is true, as some critics say, that younger people in the individual market will likely see higher insurance costs. That hit will be tempered since younger people also are likely to earn less and qualify for federal subsidies. And because the law requires insurers to offer comprehensive coverage on the exchanges — far better than what many individual plans offer today — including hospitalization, preventive care and prescription drugs, with no annual or lifetime limits, younger people will still be better off. Insurers are not permitted to charge more based on gender or pre-existing conditions.

In Florida, which will let the federal government run the online exchange because Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature refused to create one, at least 10 carriers have expressed interest and made preparations to participate, though prices are not available yet.

The Affordable Care Act also is putting Medicare on sounder financial footing. Last month, trustees for the Medicare trust fund pushed back by two years the date the fund would run dry, to 2026. This gain is on top of the eight additional years of solvency Medicare won after the law was passed in 2010, due to cost controls in the act.

Republicans in Congress continue to argue that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. That won't happen at least while President Barack Obama is in office, and it shouldn't. The law could be improved, but it already is demonstrating that it will bring medical security to millions of Americans at a more affordable price.


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