With the Affordable Care Act passing its 7 million enrollee milestone, opponents lost their most comprehensive argument against the law: that it would collapse under the weight of its own complications. This has generated the need for new scandals, which in turn has caused any number floating in the void that could reflect badly upon the law to be grasped and amplified before anybody knows if it’s true, relevant, or worthwhile.
Such was the case with the statistic that made the rounds a couple days ago reporting that premiums in New Hampshire were set to rise 90%, seeming proof that Obamacare was about to drastically increase premiums in select marketplaces. Just one problem: “It’s all based on one anonymous person’s opinion,” WMUR-TV’s James Pindell reported:
You see, Morgan Stanley conducted a survey of insurance agents in 34 different states. On page six of their report it details how many people they talked to in each state. In New Hampshire, they said they talked to one person, who they don’t name. Interestingly they also only got one response in nine other states. They got the most responses (31) from Idaho. For those keeping track, 21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho.
Morgan Stanley never promised that this survey was based on actual insurance rate data in each state. But if you are interested in that the state Insurance Department hired an outside firm to do that analysis. They found that, after you factor in subsidies in the new health care law, the average premium would actually decrease eight percent this year.
The second alarming number comes from a report by Express Scripts, which found that thus far those who enrolled in health plans through the federal exchanges are availing themselves of higher-priced prescription drugs, suggesting they’re sicker than the average insurance consumer. This number is worrisome for the longterm costs of the law, and could serve as a metonym for the viability of risk pools: if more Obamacare enrollees are sicker, premiums will rise.
It’s also an extraordinarily premature figure. As Vox’s German Lopez explains, Express Scripts’ report cut off two months before the enrollment period did, which means it missed at least 3 million, or about 43%, of the enrollees, many of them likely those dastardly “young invincibles.” As Lopez argues, it makes sense for sicker customers in dire need of health care to have been the first to sign up for insurance now that it was finally available, meaning the early months of enrollment were likely weighted heavily with less healthy people — the ones captured in the study. We don’t have good data yet on the mix of later enrollees, but insurance companies were reporting they were skewing younger by the day, meaning this figure could iron itself out.
Lopez predicts that it could be years before we’re able to properly assess the habits of marketplace enrollees. But given the likelihood that later enrollees were healthier, it’s silly to panic over a number that’s already obsolete.
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