WASHINGTON – You might be pleased with the low monthly premium for one of the new health insurance plans under President Obama’s overhaul, but the added expense of copayments and deductibles could burn a hole in your wallet.
An independent analysis released Wednesday, on the heels of an Obama administration report emphasizing affordable premiums, is helping to fill out the bottom line for consumers.
The annual deductible for a mid-range “silver” plan averaged $2,550 in a sample of six states studied by Avalere Health, or more than twice the typical deductible in employer plans. A deductible is the amount consumers must pay each year before their plan starts picking up the bills.
Americans looking for a health care plan in new state insurance markets, or exchanges, that open next week under “Obamacare” will face a trade-off familiar to purchasers of automobile coverage: To keep your premiums manageable, you agree to pay a bigger chunk of the repair bill if you get in a crash. Except that unlike an auto accident, serious illness is often not a self-contained event.
Avalere also found that the new plans will require patients to pay a hefty share of the cost – 40 percent on average – for certain pricey drugs, including the newer specialty medications used to treat intractable chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. On the other hand, preventive care will be free of charge to the patient.
“Consumers will need to balance lower monthly premiums against the potential for unpredictable, expensive out-of-pocket costs in plans with higher deductibles,” said Caroline Pearson, a vice president of the private market analysis firm. “There is a risk that patients could forgo needed care when faced with high upfront deductibles.”
Responding to the Avalere study, the Obama administration acknowledged that the new plans aren’t as generous as employer coverage but said that they nonetheless represent a big improvement over currently available individual policies, which can have gaps in coverage and even larger out-of-pocket costs.
Also Wednesday, the Obama administration unveiled premiums and plan choices for 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead to cover uninsured residents. Insurance markets that go live Tuesday will offer subsidized private coverage to people who do not have health insurance on the job, including the uninsured and those who currently buy their own policies.
Before new tax credits that work like a discount for most consumers, premiums for a mid-range “silver” benchmark plan will average $328 a month nationally for an individual, the Obama administration report found. Beneath that average are wide differences for individuals, depending on where they live, how much they make, and other factors.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the average consumer will be able to choose from among more than 50 plans.
“For millions of Americans, these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets,” Sebelius told reporters Tuesday in a preview call. The exchanges are the only place where consumers will be able to get a tax credit for health insurance.
HHS estimated that about 95 percent of consumers will have two or more insurers from which to choose. And the administration says premiums will generally be lower than what congressional budget experts estimated when the legislation was being debated. About one-fourth of the insurers participating are new to the individual coverage market, a sign that could be good for competition.
But averages can be misleading. When it comes to the new health care law, individuals can get dramatically different results based on their particular circumstances.
Where you live, the plan you pick, family size, age, tax credits based on your income, and even tobacco use will all impact the bottom line. All those variables could make the system hard to navigate.
For example, the average individual premium for a “second-lowest-cost silver plan” ranges from a low of $192 in Minnesota to a high of $516 in Wyoming. That’s the sticker price, before tax credits.
In the three states with the highest uninsured population, the benchmark plan will average $373 in California, $305 in Texas, and $328 in Florida.