For those Americans who have a religious faith in the free market, health care is a frustrating test of that faith. It doesn’t comform to supposed free market dictates. Competition doesn’t decrease costs.
For the better part of two decades, health care costs have been rising at more than the rate of inflation — straining the federal budget, eroding workers’ wage increases and even forcing some small businesses to drop health care coverage for their employees.
This year, businesses plan to pass more of the cost increase on to their employees, according to The Wall Street Journal:
Employers passed health-insurance costs onto employees at a sharply higher rate this year, and businesses’ premiums grew more slowly than they have in a decade, according to an annual survey of companies.
The increased cost-shifting reflected an acceleration of a trend that has been on the rise for years. (Emphasis added.) As companies struggle to cut costs amid difficult economic times, more of them are reducing benefits they offer workers or making workers pay more for them. Still, companies are paying nearly three-quarters of workers’ health-care premiums.
Employees paid an average of about $4,000 toward their family coverage this year, up 14% from last year, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. But total insurance premiums paid by the employer and the employee rose just 3% for a family plan—the slowest rate of growth in 10 years, according to the data.
Meanwhile, some health insurance companies, continuing their practice of hiking premiums, are blaming the new health care reform law, according to the WSJ:
Health insurers say they plan to raise premiums for some Americans as a direct result of the health overhaul in coming weeks, complicating Democrats’ efforts to trumpet their signature achievement before the midterm elections.
Aetna Inc., some BlueCross BlueShield plans and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits required under the law, according to filings with state regulators.
These and other insurers say Congress’s landmark refashioning of U.S. health coverage, which passed in March after a brutal fight, is causing them to pass on more costs to consumers than Democrats predicted.
The rate increases largely apply to policies for individuals and small businesses and don’t include people covered by a big employer or Medicare.
About 9% of Americans buy coverage through the individual market, according to the Census Bureau, and roughly one-fifth of people who get coverage through their employer work at companies with 50 or fewer employees, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. People in both groups are likely to feel the effects of the proposed increases, even as they see new benefits under the law, such as the elimination of lifetime and certain annual coverage caps. . .
Aetna, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, said the extra benefits forced it to seek rate increases for new individual plans of 5.4% to 7.4% in California and 5.5% to 6.8% in Nevada after Sept. 23. Similar steps are planned across the country, according to Aetna.
Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon said the cost of providing additional benefits under the health law will account on average for 3.4 percentage points of a 17.1% premium rise for a small-employer health plan. It asked regulators last month to approve the increase.
In Wisconsin and North Carolina, Celtic Insurance Co. says half of the 18% increase it is seeking comes from complying with health-law mandates.
The White House says insurers are using the law as an excuse to raise rates and predicts that state regulators will block some of the large increases.
“I would have real deep concerns that the kinds of rate increases that you’re quoting… are justified,” said Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House’s top health official. She said that for insurers, raising rates was “already their modus operandi before the bill” passed. “We believe consumers will see through this,” she said.
Previously the administration had calculated that the batch of changes taking effect this fall would raise premiums no more than 1% to 2%, on average.
(Note that insurers are raising their premiums more than the amount they suggest is necessary because of the health care law.)
The greatest failure of the new health care reform law is that it fails to restrain costs, as advertised. Despite what opponents say, the law raises costs only marginally. From The Wapo:
The average annual growth in health care spending will be just two-tenths of 1 percentage point higher through 2019 with Obama’s remake, said the analysis. And that’s with more than 32 million uninsured gaining coverage because of the new law.
“The impact is moderate,” said economist Andrea Sisko of Medicare’s Office of the Actuary, the nonpartisan unit that prepared the report.
Factoring in the law, Americans will spend an average of $13,652 per person a year on health care in 2019, according to the actuary’s office. Without the law, the corresponding number would be $13,387.
A more ambitious reform would have waded into health care practices to force new incentives into the system. But that proved politically impossible. Republicans even objected to a plan to study the best procedures to see what actually works.