Truth about 2015 Obamacare rates the GOP won’t like

The Affordable Care Act health exchanges are again open for business, and it’s good news for consumers. And bad news for Republicans, no matter how they try to spin it and no matter how many votes they take to repeal the law.

According to an intelligence brief by the respected and impartial McKinsey Center for Health System Reform, Americans buying health insurance through state and federal exchanges won’t see their premiums go up very much, contrary to the claims made by the GOP during the mid-term elections and on Fox News. In some areas, premiums are actually lower than they were last year. And Americans will have a lot more choices when it comes to policies: Only five health insurance companies have withdrawn from the exchanges, while 57 carriers have been added. The number of carriers increased by 26 percent, McKinsey says.

The McKinsey brief states that in 2015, “enrollees could see a median increase of only 4 percent when they receive their renewal notifications. However, the actual increase they pay could be less than half that amount, given that many people will have the option of switching to a lower-price plan.”

An online article in Forbes — hardly a bastion of left-wing thought — pointed out the good news about Obamacare rates. “When was the last time we saw insurance premiums experience an annual increase of less than 5 percent?” the article asks. “All in all, it is going to be quite a stretch for Obamacare opponents to turn this data into bad news.”

A story in Bloomburg News — also not usually quoted by those darn liberals — shows a similar trend. That story put the average premium increase slightly higher — six percent — and said that 77 new insurance plans would be competing for customers in 2015.

Since the new round of open enrollment began, things have gone smoothly on the government website. At least 100,000 people started the process of signing up for health care the first weekend, and there are few reported glitches. Of course, when things go smoothly and websites work like they’re supposed to, that’s not news to cable news channels.

Instead, the latest right-wing talking point about the ACA is from a year-old video featuring Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who wrote the Massachusetts health care law (aka “Romneycare”) and was a technical consultant on the federal law. In the video, Gruber talks about the “stupidity” of the American voter and that the ACA was written in such a way as to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from scoring the fines generated from health insurance mandate as a tax.

Fox and other conservative media have promoted Gruber to the role of “architect” of the ACA, even though he didn’t write the law itself — he had a contract for modeling the economics of various proposals for the bill. The cable network seems obsessed with Gruber’s comments, and some Republican House members are (of course) calling for hearings. Over eight days, there were 779 mentions of Jonathan Gruber on Fox, according to a compilation by the Poynter.org for the Poynter Institute. That contrasts with 79 mentions by MSNBC and even fewer by CNN. I guess we can call this “Gruber-gate,” or “Gruber-ghazi.”

Here’s the thing, though. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the ACA is constitutional, it dealt with that whole tax/not-a-tax issue. And when it came to scoring the bill, the CBO decided that it didn’t matter if it counted the penalty as a tax or a fine — the law still would generate $4 billion in health care expenditure savings in 2016. But Republicans are hoping that the Gruber brouhaha will add fuel to the fire facing the Supreme Court when it hears arguments in a case about the matter of subsidies for policies bought from the federal exchange rather than state exchanges. Which was basically a typo in the law — the law’s writers say the intent was to provide subsidies for both.

Irony is rich, but at least one Republican has apparently seen the writing on the wall. In Oregon, the losing GOP candidate for Senate, Dr. Monica Wehby, spent much of her campaign railing against the ACA. Now, according to a story in The Oregonian, she’s reportedly applying to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to be director of the Oregon Health Authority — the agency that is responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act and overseeing the Oregon health exchange.

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