By Caroline Humer
Sept 25 (Reuters) - Americans will pay an average premium of$328 monthly for a mid-tier health insurance plan when theObamacare health exchanges open for enrollment next week, andmost will qualify for government subsidies to lower that price,the Obama administration said on Wednesday.
The figure, based on data for approved insurance plans in 48states, represents the broadest national estimate for how muchAmericans will pay for health coverage under President BarackObama's healthcare reform law next year. The prices of the newplans are at the heart of a political debate over whether theywill be affordable enough to attract millions of uninsuredAmericans.
Prices were lower in states with more competition amonginsurers and higher in states with fewer players, the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in itsreport. Americans will be able to sign up for the new plans viaonline state exchanges beginning on Oct. 1.
"For millions of Americans these new options will finallymake health insurance work within their budgets," HHS SecretaryKathleen Sebelius said during a briefing with reporters.
The Obama administration is counting on signing up 7 millionAmericans in the first full year of reform through the stateexchanges, including 2.7 million younger and healthier consumerswho are needed to offset the costs of sicker members.
Debate over whether Obamacare will prove affordable formillions of uninsured Americans has been sharp during the pastfew months, as states have announced rates. States that havesupported the law said it will lead to lower prices. Others thathave opposed the reform - including Georgia, Florida, andIndiana - warned of "rate shock" for consumers compared to whatthey could buy on the individual insurance market a year ago.
HHS said the average price was 16 percent lower than its ownprojections on premiums. In addition, consumers who earn up to400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $62,040 for acouple, will qualify for subsidies that will lower the pricefurther.
TEXAS RATES BELOW AVERAGE
The data is mostly based on 36 states where the federalgovernment will operate the insurance exchange. About 14 otherstates and the District of Columbia are running their ownexchange.
Politics aside, states with the lowest average premium tendto have more insurance companies offering plans, the reportsaid. It said eight issuers on average were selling plans in thestates with average premiums in the lowest 25 percent, whilestates with average premiums in the top 25 percent had onlythree insurers on average.
Texas has been among the Republican-led states most fiercelyopposed to Obamacare, but its monthly rates came in below thenational average, HHS said. In Austin, Texas, with 76 plans tochoose from, a 27-year-old would pay $169 per month for thelowest cost mid-tier plan. In Dallas-Fort Worth, with 43 plansto choose from, that price was $217 per month, the report said.
"The rates in Texas are looking good," said Gary Cohen, whois charged with overseeing the exchanges at the Centers forMedicare and Medicaid Services.
Enrolling enough consumers is key to making the healthcareoverhaul work economically, with price considered the mostimportant factor driving enrollment, according to insuranceindustry surveys.
Another concern has been that insurance companies will limitaccess to doctors in order to keep prices low. Cohen said thatthese so-called "narrow networks" were a trend before theAffordable Care Act went into effect.
The law was adopted in 2010 but two of its main pillars, thehealth exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid, take effect in2014. Household names like UnitedHealth Group Inc, AetnaInc, WellPoint Inc and Humana Inc willsell plans on at least some exchanges. Newcomers such asMedicaid specialist Molina Healthcare Inc will also playa role.
- Health Care Policy
- President Barack Obama