‘Obamacare’ curveball: free insurance in 1,500-plus counties

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Meghan Hoyer

 

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In an odd twist, low-income people in about half of U.S. counties will now be able to get a taxpayer-subsidized “Obamacare” policy for free, according to a new study that suggests some actions by President Trump against the health law could backfire.

Monday’s analysis of government data by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation runs counter to the perception of staggering across-the-board increases in costs for consumers under the Affordable Care Act. It could become a springboard for marketing pitches by insurers as they try to sign up more consumers when open enrollment starts Nov. 1.

The study found in 1,540 counties, a hypothetical 40-year-old making $25,000 a year can get a basic “bronze” plan under the ACA next year for zero monthly premium.

It’s partly as a result of administration actions that raised the underlying cost of insurance, leading to higher federal spending for premium subsidies.

The final number of counties with available free plans is certain to be higher because the Kaiser study only examined the 39 states using the federal HealthCare.gov website for sign-ups. In those states, nearly 60 percent of counties will have free bronze plans.

“Because of the way that premiums are set this year, people have to shop around to make sure they are getting a plan that makes sense for them,” said Gary Claxton, a co-author of the report. “Telling people that the choice is to pay a penalty (for being uninsured) or take a free plan is a pretty attractive proposition.”

Separately, the government also released official numbers Monday. The Health and Human Services department said sticker-price premiums are going up 37 percent for a hypothetical young adult buying a type of midrange “silver” plan.

HHS said insurer participation is down, with 29 percent of current “Obamacare” customers having just one carrier next year in their community. And the government noted subsidies for premiums are also rising: about 45 percent, on average.

Because consumers can use their premium subsidy to buy any level of coverage, it can be enough to cover the full price of a lower-cost bronze plan.

This year consumers in some areas had access to zero-premium bronze plans, but Claxton said for 2018 it will be many more people.

 

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