Before President Barack Obama took a question on intelligence surveillance and stepped on his message in an odd and hastily put-together event in San Jose on Friday, the president made a few scheduled remarks about California’s implementation of his Affordable Care Act.
In 2007, the president made this promise: “I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.” PolitiFact rated the above quote as a “promise broken” and last year found no evidence of any drop in premiums; never mind $2,500.
But last month, Peter V. Lee, executive director of California’s individual insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, bolstered the president’s claim about saving something when Covered California announced that its premiums will be “way below the worst-case doom-and-gloom scenarios” predicted for state exchange policies. A press release crowed, “The rates submitted to Covered California for the 2014 individual market ranged from 2 percent above to 29 percent below the 2013 average premium for small employer plans in California’s most populous regions.”
The state exchange was able to deliver affordable premiums, Lee said, by pushing insurers to accept profit margins as low as 2 to 3 percent and getting providers to cut the fees they charge for services.
Thus, Obama argued Friday, “In states that are working hard to implement this law properly, we’re seeing it work for people, for middle-class families, for consumers.”
And: “If you’re in the individual market, you can get a better deal.”
That’s not quite true. Forbes’ Avik Roy faulted Lee for comparing apples and oranges. He checked Covered California premiums against current individual rates for a typical nonsmoking 25-year-old man in California and found that Covered California rates amount to an increase of 100 to 123 percent.
Covered California’s individual Obamacare policies cost more than today’s offerings because in 2014, insurance companies cannot turn down or charge higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions. Also, not comparing apples and oranges, Roy was looking at rates for healthy young men.
Obama’s guaranteed-issue mandate had to drive up premiums. Plus, Obamacare threw in some goodies, such as no copayments for contraception and preventive care. Someone has to pay for those extras; hence, we see the pop-up in premiums.
A lot of uninsured Californians are hungry for the security that health coverage provides. For those people, higher premiums should seem like a reasonable trade-off. This could be a victory.
But Obamacare supporters have to sell this plan as something it is not. As a candidate, Obama campaigned on the promise that he would provide access to health care to more people — and to more sick people — for less money. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
So when the president says his plan won’t take anything away from people who are happy with their health care, you are supposed to believe.