October 24, 2016; Washington Post
The nation’s collective blood pressure appeared to rise on Monday when federal officials announced that premiums for health care plans sold through HealthCare.gov would increase by an average of 25 percent in 2017. Critics have pointed to these increases—and the withdrawal of some major insurers from marketplaces—as proof of the failure of the Affordable Care Act, with Republican opponents renewing calls for the law’s repeal and replacement. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) called the rate rise unacceptable “sticker shock” and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leapt upon the news, saying that Obamacare was “blowing up.” Either Trump, or his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who has spoken previously of the ACA’s affordability issues, will carry the burden of stabilizing the healthcare market over the next four years.
Defending the increases, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that insurers were still adapting to competing for customers through price and quality, rather than denying care for people with existing medical conditions. She blamed the Republican-led Congress for undermining the ACA and blocking money that would have mitigated insurers’ increased customer costs.
Some media also came to the defense of Obamacare, criticizing headlines they said were out of context and misleading. In addition to the premium costs, subsidies were also increasing, ThinkProgress pointed out, with the Obama administration anticipating that over 70 percent of those eligible would be able to find a marketplace plan for less than $75 a month. Additionally, only a small fraction of Americans would be affected by the premium increases; six percent of Americans purchase insurance plans from ACA marketplaces.
An article on Vox by Sarah Kliff outlined the ups and downs of Obamacare, where it excelled and where it fell short of what was originally envisioned by its architects. She also emphasized that even with the premium spikes, the majority of marketplace consumers were eligible for subsidies that would ensure their plans were affordable.
Understanding how health insurance works under the ACA also seems to be playing a role in stoking anxiety around the rate increases. Mother Jones shared tweets from a health care advocate in New Mexico who had been fielding calls from panicked health insurance customers on the day the increases were announced. Colin Baillio tweeted, “Every person I talked to was shielded by subsidies or on [an] employer plan,” adding the hashtag #headlinesmatter.—Melinda Crosby