A Closer Look Behind the “Obamacare Surprise”

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Helaine Olen writes in Slate that Democrats might be in for a nasty surprise just before the election:

A few weeks ago Politico warned of “Obamacare’s November surprise”: Many consumers enrolling in the health care marketplace on Nov. 1, just one week before the election, can expect increased rates.

Given the current disparity in the polls, it’s unlikely that alone could change the outcome of the election. But it is quite possible it will cause a bit of turmoil in the last week of the campaign. It’s beginning to look likely than many shoppers aren’t going to like what they find.

A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation released earlier this month estimated that the average weighted premium increase for the benchmark second lowest cost silver plan will come in at 10 percent. Last year? It was 5 percent.

This is quite possible. As the Obamacare market shakes out and insurers get a better handle on their actual costs, premiums were always bound to go up. But it’s worth pointing out what’s really happening here: insurers lowballed their premiums at first in order to win market share, coming in at rates far below the CBO’s initial estimates. So even if we do see a 10 percent increase in 2017, premiums will still be well under CBO’s initial projections1:

I’m under no illusion that this will change the politics of a premium increase, of course. Someone, somewhere, will have a 30 percent increase, and that’s undoubtedly what Donald Trump will blather on about. Nonetheless, it’s nice to at least be prepared with the truth. And the truth is that even if there’s a sizeable increase next year, premiums will still be about 15 percent less than CBO projected back when Obamacare was first passed.


1It was surprisingly hard to collect these numbers. You’d think CBO would have them all collected in one place somewhere, but if they do, I couldn’t find them. If anyone can point me to something better, let me know. In the meantime, here are my sources:

Projections:

Actual:

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