Here comes Obamacare

30 obamacare
Seventeen health insurance companies have stepped up and offered New Yorkers four levels of plans (plus an ominous-sounding “catastrophic” category) with standardized contract terms and product offerings. Consumers can now comparison-shop among them. Enrollments for New York’s health exchange marketplace, one of the most important early stages of the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), will begin October 1, and coverage will become effective on the first day of 2014.

How much will eligible persons in the Hudson Valley pay for health insurance? According to the healthbenefitsexchange.com website, premiums for individual New Yorkers for the most comprehensive plan, “platinum,” will range depending on the vendor chosen from $446.25 to $994.34 monthly. Premiums for the plan with the lowest of the four levels of benefits, “bronze,” will be offered from $265.89 to $589.91 per month. Multiply those premiums by 1.70 for the inclusion of children, 2.00 for spouses and 2.85 for families. The rates approved are subject to final certification of the insurers’ participation in the exchange.

The new premium rates do not affect a majority of New Yorkers, who receive insurance through their employers, only those who must purchase it on their own, an article in the July 16 New York Times explained. Because the cost of individual coverage has soared, only 17,000 New Yorkers currently buy insurance on their own. About 2.6 million are uninsured in New York State. State officials estimate that as many as 615,000 individuals will buy health insurance on their own in the first few years the health law is in effect. In addition to lower premiums, about three-quarters of those people will be eligible for the subsidies available to lower-income individuals.

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The marketplace has been a long time coming. Governor Andrew Cuomo attributed the expectation that the expensive private insurance rates for individuals will decrease at least half to the influence of the newly constructed competitive marketplace. “New York’s health benefits exchange will offer the type of real competition that helps drive down health-insurance costs for consumers and businesses,” said Cuomo.

Crain’s New York Business provided perhaps the most animated reaction. “When the Cuomo administration gave word last week that individual health-insurance premiums offered through the state exchange to launch in October would be at least 50 percent cheaper than what some New Yorkers pay now, it was like tossing food pellets into a pond of starving fish,” said a Crain’s editorial last Friday. “Groups supporting the Affordable Care Act celebrated the news in TV ads, seeking to beat back Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. Critics of the law fought back, arguing that the numbers were deceiving or downright false.”

New York has required insurers to cover everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions, but did not require everyone to purchase insurance — a feature of the new health-care law — and did not offer subsidies so people could afford coverage. With no ability to persuade the young and the healthy to buy policies, the state’s premiums to individuals have long been among the highest in the nation.

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