Health Premiums Up $3,065; Obama Vowed $2,500 Cut

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During his first run for president, Barack Obama made one very specific promise to voters: He would cut health insurance premiums for families by $2,500, and do so in his first term.

But it turns out that family premiums have increased by more than $3,000 since Obama's vow, according to the latest annual Kaiser Family Foundation employee health benefits survey.

Premiums for employer-provided family coverage rose $3,065 — 24% — from 2008 to 2012, the Kaiser survey found. Even if you start counting in 2009, premiums have climbed $2,370.

What's more, premiums climbed faster in Obama's four years than they did in the previous four under President Bush, the survey data show.

There's no question about what Obama was promising the country, since he repeated it constantly during his 2008 campaign.

In a debate with Sen. John McCain, for example, Obama said "the only thing we're going to try to do is lower costs so that those cost savings are passed onto you. And we estimate we can cut the average family's premium by about $2,500 per year.

At a campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, in February 2008, Obama promised that "We are going to work with you to lower your premiums by $2,500. We will not wait 20 years from now to do it, or 10 years from now to do it. We will do it by the end of my first term as president.

2008 Promises, 2012 Reality

To back that up, Obama pointed to a memo drafted by Harvard professors (and unpaid campaign advisers), which claimed that investing in health care IT, cutting administrative bloat, and improving management of chronic diseases would cut health costs by $140 billion a year. That would translate into $2,500 in premium savings for families.

But those projections were wildly optimistic, overestimating potential savings from IT, making big assumptions about disease management, and ignoring the fact that past government interventions have always increased health care administrative costs.

Meanwhile, the health reform law Obama signed in March 2010 has pushed up insurance costs.

In 2011, premiums spiked 9.5%, and many in the industry blame ObamaCare for at least part of it. Premiums climbed another 4.5% in 2012, Kaiser found.

And ObamaCare will continue to fuel health premium inflation.

First, the law piles on new coverage mandates. It requires insurance companies to provide 100% coverage for various types of preventive care, bans lifetime coverage limits, extends parents' coverage to offspring up to 26 years old, and requires plans to meet certain "medical loss ratios." Coming up are rules on "essential standard benefits," limits on deductibles, bans on annual spending caps, and much more.

The experience with state mandates show that they only tend to grow over time, and get more expensive. The Council for Affordable Health Insurance found more than 2,200 state benefit mandates, which add from 10% to 50% to the cost of coverage.

"One of the biggest cost drivers in our health care system is the steady proliferation of federal and state-based coverage mandates," noted CAHI's Victoria Craig Bunce.

Meanwhile, ObamaCare's insurance reforms — guaranteed issue and community rating — will likely raise premiums, too.

State Experiments

States that have tried these reforms — which forbid insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions or charging the sick more — have seen insurance premiums spiral upward as healthy people leave the market, knowing they are guaranteed coverage when they get sick.

"Premium rates tended to increase, sometimes dramatically" in the eight states that tried these reforms, according to a study by Milliman, a health care consulting group.

The law's backers claim the individual mandate will prevent these rate hikes, because it requires everyone to buy insur ance. But experts say millions will still refuse to buy coverage and pay the fine instead.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Gruber — who helped design ObamaCare — found that the law will hike individual market premiums in three states by as much as 30%. The Congressional Budget Office said ObamaCare would push them "about 10% to 13% higher in 2016." Supporters say people will be getting more generous coverage for those higher prices, and that tax subsidies will offset higher cost for many of these families. But that will be small comfort to those forced to pay more.

Perhaps the best evidence that ObamaCare won't bring costs down is a report published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine and signed by nearly two dozen leading health economists and policy experts — some of whom worked for the Obama administration. The report warns that "health costs remain a major challenge" and calls for a "systematic approach" to get spending under control.

One thing that isn't on their list of proposals: Scrapping Obama-Care and starting over.

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