Health Insurance Costs Up Again

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3min 39sec

A new report says the price of health insurance has gone up an average of 40% nationwide since 2003.
Colorado is not immune. Job-based health insurance here actually costs a little more than the national average.
Federal health reform is supposed to help. But Colorado Public Radio Health Reporter Eric Whitney says, no one expects prices to go down anytime soon.

WHITNEY: Cathy Schoen co-wrote the report on health insurance premiums for the non-profit Commonwealth Fund. She says, in the years immediately before the health care law passed, insurance rates were on a steep upward curve.

SCHOEN: increasing 3 times faster than median incomes for the working age population. In the state of Colorado, this means that the average employer based premium, employer and employee share, is now at about $13,300 a year.

WHITNEY: The Commonwealth Fund's report looks backwards, to the last few years before the federal health reform law passed.
But also out recently is a Colorado-specific report. It looks forward into next year, the first full year under the Affordable Care Act. Insurance Broker Bill Lindsay wrote that report. He says the Act isn't driving prices down.

LINDSAY: No. First of all the majority of provisions of health care reform goes into effect in 2014, so we're still several years away.

WHITNEY: Lindsay is skeptical the Act will bring down costs long-term. And as new insurance cost estimates come out, conservative critics have been quick to blame the Affordable Care Act for driving prices up. Here's Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

O'REILLY: all over the country health care premiums are going up, and I believe we were once told, that Obamacare, once it passed, would make health insurance costs go down.

WHITNEY: The Obama administration says its promise is that reform will keep health care costs from rising as fast, but not eliminate all growth in prices.
And last week, then-Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marcy Morrison said it's inaccurate to blame next year's big price increase on the new federal law.

MORRISON: my response from the work and analysis that my folks have done, that does not seem to bear that out.

WHITNEY: But that's not to say the Affordable Care Act isn't responsible for some of the cost increase. Morrison said it's less than 5% in Colorado. And the Commonwealth Fund's Cathy Schoen says not every plan is going to be more expensive.

SCHOEN: so for plans that had very skimpy benefits, and didn't have protective benefits, the standard will increase the premium, because you're buying better coverage.

WHITNEY: Local backers of the Affordable Care Act are hoping people will give it a little time to work.
Ned Calonge is president of the health-oriented non-profit, the Colorado Trust. He says the cost of healthcare should start going down in 2014, when millions of uninsured Americans start getting affordable coverage.

CALONGE: giving them access to usual primary care, preventive services and outpatient specialty care is much more efficient and less expensive than using the emergency department and the hospital.

WHITNEY: And Calonge says the new insurance marketplaces or “exchanges” states are setting up under the Affordable Care Act will create a level playing field, and that will drive costs down.

CALONGE: that standardization is going to decrease administrative costs, give a uniform package, help us share risk, and allow market forces to kind of keep the costs down.

WHITNEY: You’re sure to hear competing claims on what the federal healthcare law will do to insurance costs in the coming year, as voters sent a significant number of conservatives to Washington bent on dismantling the Affordable Care Act.