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Friday, December 27, 2013

Obamacare Sticker Shock: Half of People in Federal Exchange Can't Find Plan That's Affordable

Obamacare is supposed to offer four levels of health insurance a Bronze plan, Silver Plan, Gold Plan, Platinum Plan, but according to a report in USA Today, at least half of the counties being covered by the federal exchange do not have a plan which is affordable for those not eligible for subsidies.

The government defines an affordable plan as one with premiums costing 8% or less of their income. Based on that 8% definition many middle-class families who do not qualify for subsidies are finding the only plans offered them have either premiums that are too high. And if the premiums are affordable they are learning they have or deductibles which force them to put up thousands of dollars before receiving any payments from their insurance.
More than half of the counties in 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange lack even a bronze plan that's affordable — by the government's own definition — for 40-year-old couples who make just a little too much for financial assistance, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Many of these counties are in rural, less populous areas that already had limited choice and pricey plans, but many others are heavily populated, such as Bergen County, N.J., and Philadelphia and Milwaukee counties.

More than a third don't offer an affordable plan in the four tiers of coverage known as bronze, silver, gold or platinum for people buying individual plans who are 50 or older and ineligible for subsidies.

Those making more than 400% of the federal poverty limit — $47,780 for an individual or $61,496 for a couple — are ineligible for subsidies to buy insurance.
USA Today reports sticker shock is hitting many in the middle class, including the self-employed and early retirees. And it is a real rather than a perception problem. The lack of counties with affordable plans means many middle-class people will have to opt out of insurance or over pay for coverage.
The prices of exchange plans have shocked many shoppers, especially those who had plans canceled because they did not meet the ACA coverage requirements. But experts are not surprised.

"The ACA was not designed to reduce costs or, the law's name notwithstanding, to make health insurance coverage affordable for the vast majority of Americans," says health care consultant Kip Piper, a former government and insurance industry official. "The law uses taxpayer dollars to lower costs for the low-income uninsured but it also increases costs overall and shifts costs within the marketplace."
In other words the real purpose of Obamacare was income redistribution.
In many cases, catastrophic plans — which USA TODAY excluded from its analysis — may be all that's left for consumers on the exchanges. These high-deductible plans are generally only available for consumers under 30, who are least likely to need to use them, but they can also be purchased by people who don't have other affordable options available in their area. These plans generally require consumers to pay all of their medical costs up to a certain amount — often $6,000 or more — although preventive benefits such as physicals have to be covered under the new law.
President Obama said last week that people whose plans were canceled and think the options on the exchanges are too expensive aren't required to buy insurance or can buy a catastrophic plan through what's known as a "hardship exemption." But most people actually do want insurance, says financial counselor and author Karen McCall.

"Every one of those people, if they have any consciousness and aren't totally self-medicating, would prefer to have insurance," says McCall, author of the book Financial Recovery. "You could go a year and not get any benefit of health insurance, but there is a deep emotional need to know that we have proper insurance."

State and federal exchange officials approve the rates health insurers can offer, and plans are then subsidized to levels that make them affordable for those below 400% of the poverty level. Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, acknowledges that catastrophic and even bronze plans would be very difficult for many 40 or 50-something consumers to afford with their $5,000-$6,000 annual deductibles.

"Most people don't have that kind of money in the bank, and I think it's going to create problems for people," Pollitz says.

Although premiums are unaffordable in many places now, protections in the law will prevent the massive jumps in premiums that characterized the individual insurance market before the ACA, she says.

Individual policies before had only the "optics of affordability and no dependability," Pollitz says. "What good is protection if it doesn't work when you need it?"
President Obama promised that Obamacare would save the average family up to $2,500, based on research such as this, that $2,500 claim may very well be 2014's lie of the year.

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