Health Chief: ObamaCare Premium Hikes Will Drop

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell argued Thursday that premium hikes floated by health insurance companies this week will likely end up being lower once they are finalized.

Republicans have seized on the higher rates to attack the healthcare law.

Tennessee’s biggest insurer has proposed an increase of 36 percent for some plans, while one of New Mexico’s biggest carriers is looking at a 50 percent increase. The most popular carrier in Maryland has called for a 30 percent hike.

But Burwell pointed out that state regulators can seek to lower the proposed increases.

“These are the preliminary rates,” Burwell told The Wall Street Journal. “In the end, they were lower in the past year after states reviewed the initial premium hikes posted by plans.”

The proposed premium increases are being viewed as a barometer of how well ObamaCare marketplaces are doing in enrolling a range of healthy as well as sick people.

“The trend is a little bit higher this year than last year,” Gary Claxton, director of the healthcare marketplace program for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Hill this week.

Claxton, who reviewed several states’ data, said many of the increases are around 15 percent to 20 percent, though there are large disparities across regions.

Burwell also pointed out that the last few years have seen “the lowest per capita growth in health costs in decades.”

The 3.6 percent increase in health spending in 2013 was the lowest increase since 1960.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emphasized the premium increases in a floor speech Thursday, saying a constituent had written to him complaining of a 175 percent increase in the cost of an insurance plan.

“These are the kind of stories that become all too familiar in the age of ObamaCare,” he said.

He also pointed to serious problems with state-run exchanges in Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and other states.

“It’s about time the president and his party worked constructively with us to start over on real health reform that can lower costs and increase choice,” McConnell said.

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