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April 07. 2014 10:38PM

Surveys: NH health premiums up 90%; more people insured under Obamacare

Two surveys released by non-partisan organizations paint different portraits of Obamacare.

The health care research arm of the Morgan-Stanley investment firm released a survey Monday of 148 brokers from around the country, claiming to show average premium increases in excess of 11 percent in the small group market and 12 percent in the individual market, “largely due to changes under the ACA.”

New Hampshire was among the top 10 states showing the highest increase in premiums for plans sold directly to consumers on the individual exchange at healthcare.gov. Granite State brokers surveyed by Morgan Stanley reported average premium increases of 90 percent, second only to Delaware, which reported 100 percent.

On the same day, the Gallup polling organization released a study purporting to demonstrate that more Americans now have health insurance than at any time since 2008.

“The uninsured rate has been falling since the fourth quarter of 2013, after hitting an all-time high of 18 percent in the third quarter — a sign that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage,” according to Gallup.

The rate of uninsured fell consistently, from 16.2 percent in January to 15.6 percent in February to 15 percent in March. And within March, the rate dropped more than a point, from 15.8 percent in the first half of the month to 14.7 percent in the second half, “indicating that enrollment through the health care exchanges increased as the March 31 deadline approached,” Gallup reported.

Obamacare critics say the Gallup survey would suggest only 3.5 million of the previously uninsured are now covered, a far cry from the 7 million cited by the Obama administration, although the two figures are not based on the same calculations.

The Gallup poll was based on telephone interviews conducted from Jan. 2 to March 31 with a random sample of 43,562 adults 18 and older living in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Fox News described the survey as, “independent validation for the White House, that shows the country at least is not suffering from a net loss of insurance coverage due to cancellations.”

Indication of failure?

Critics of the ACA seized on the Morgan Stanley survey as another indication of its failures.

“This survey confirms that Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster that is raising the cost of health care for the middle class,” NHGOP Chairman Jennifer Horn said.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s support for Obamacare is emerging as the central theme of the campaign to unseat her in the fall.

Republican Scott Brown, who is planning to formally announce his candidacy on Thursday, issued this statement: “Today’s study showing that insurance premiums are going up 90 percent in New Hampshire because of Obamacare is the latest sad reminder of the consequences of this broken law. This is what happens when politicians put the interests of their national party ahead of the priorities of their state and vote 99 percent of the time with President Obama. ”

Lisa Kaplan Howe, policy director at New Hampshire Voices for Health in Concord, said the Morgan-Stanley report is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the reality on the ground, since it surveyed only insurance brokers.

“Many of the people who enroll in individual market coverage enroll on their own, through the website or through assisters,” she said. “So just talking to brokers isn’t getting the full picture.”

Voices for Health is a coalition of health care providers, labor groups and others promoting sign-ups for coverage under the new law in New Hampshire.

“We’ve been hearing consistently from people whose premiums have gone way down this year, but it’s truly a mixed bag,” said Kaplan Howe. “Many people have seen their rates go down due to changes in the law and the premium tax credits. Certainly some other people have seen rates go up. Which side you fall on depends on your personal situation.”

She said Anthem, the only insurer on the exchange this year, has reported an average rate increase of 1.1 percent.

“And, that’s before the application of savings from individual and small group premium tax credits,” she said.

Numbers at odds

Danielle Kronk Barrick, director of communications for the New Hampshire Department of Insurance, said the numbers in the Morgan Stanley research, as reported by Forbes.com, are at odds with the department’s data.

“It is unclear how they came to a 90-percent increase,” she said. “We produce an annual report that looks at premium trends based on extensive data collection, and the (Morgan Stanley) survey is very inconsistent with our findings, which reflect single-digit increases per year over the past few years. We don’t have data on 2014 yet, but all recent trends suggest that the increase would be similar to recent prior years.”

In New Hampshire, average health insurance premiums increased 1.1 percent, but benefits decreased about 5 percent in the last full year surveyed by the Insurance Department.

Factors in the ACA contributing to premium increases, according to the brokers surveyed by Morgan Stanley, include new restrictions on the factors insurance companies can use to assign premiums. The law also requires minimum benefits for plans to qualify for inclusion on the online exchanges.dsolomon@unionleader.com


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