CA and Obamacare: Media offer happy talk, not analysis
May 31, 2013
By Chris Reed
Last week, when the California agency that has the lead role in implementing Obamacare announced the rate structure for various insurance plans to be offered beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the media jumped to a lot of conclusions — conclusions flattering to Obamacare, as one would expect from a media that mostly waited until after the health care overhaul was adopted to point out its many immense flaws. (The New York Times put out a devastating analysis — but it was three weeks after Obamacare was signed into law!)
On California’s version of Obamacare, here was what the Los Angeles Times emphasized early in its story:
“‘These rates are way below the worst-case gloom-and-doom scenarios we have heard,’ said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state agency implementing the healthcare law.”
Here was what The New York Times’ Paul Krugman emphasized:
” … important new evidence — especially from California, the law’s most important test case — suggests that the real Obamacare shock will be one of unexpected success. … the California bids are in — that is, insurers have submitted the prices at which they are willing to offer coverage on the state’s newly created Obamacare exchange. And the prices, it turns out, are surprisingly low. A handful of healthy people may find themselves paying more for coverage, but it looks as if Obamacare’s first year in California is going to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.”
LAT and Krugman: What they didn’t mention
Not so fast, say two journalists who have written extensively about Obamacare, and not from inside the tank that houses the mainstream media.
This is from Avik Roy of Forbes:
“If you’re a 25 year old male non-smoker, buying insurance for yourself, the cheapest plan on Obamacare’s exchanges is the catastrophic plan, which costs an average of $184 a month. (That’s the median monthly premium across California’s 19 insurance rating regions.)
“The next cheapest plan, the ‘bronze’ comprehensive plan, costs $205 a month. But in 2013, on eHealthInsurance.com (NASDAQ:EHTH), the average cost of the five cheapest plans was only $92. In other words, for the average 25-year-old male non-smoking Californian, Obamacare will drive premiums up by between 100 and 123 percent.
“Under Obamacare, only people under the age of 30 can participate in the slightly cheaper catastrophic plan. So if you’re 40, your cheapest option is the bronze plan. In California, the median price of a bronze plan for a 40-year-old male non-smoker will be $261. But on eHealthInsurance, the average cost of the five cheapest plans was $121. That is, Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by an average of 116 percent.
“For both 25-year-olds and 40-year-olds, then, Californians under Obamacare who buy insurance for themselves will see their insurance premiums double.”
This is from Peter Suderman of Reason:
“… this good news is not as good as it might sound, because it’s based on a misleading comparison: next year’s individual market rates with this year’s small-employer plans. A more useful comparison would be with this year’s individual-market premiums. And what that comparison reveals is that rate shock is real, and that the hikes are far larger than the comparison with small-group rates would suggest.”
Karma time: Bay Area to be hardest hit
The good news here is that as much as the media has been cheerleading for Obamacare, it remains highly unpopular — even before it kicks in. When people actually have to pay much more for insurance than they used to, the backlash is likely to reach a whole new level.
And here in California, the hardest-hit will be Obama’s biggest fans. Karma, baby! Avik Roy of Forbes says Obamacare’s impact on premiums for 40-year-olds “is steepest in the San Francisco Bay area, especially in the counties north of San Francisco, like Marin, Napa, and Sonoma.”
More from Roy:
“Supporters of Obamacare justified passage of the law because one insurer in California [Anthem Blue Cross] raised rates on some people by as much as 39 percent. But Obamacare itself more than doubles the cost of insurance on the individual market. I can understand why Democrats in California would want to mislead the public on this point. But journalists have a professional responsibility to check out the facts for themselves.”
If only California journalists lived up to that professional responsibility.
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