Insurers Banking their Cash
By The Palm Beach Post
Sept. 30, 2011
Critics of the Affordable Care Act pounced last week on the news that health care premiums went up 9 percent this year. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average family health plan in the U.S. now costs $15,073.
What the critics didn't say was that the year before President Obama signed the law, the cost of an average family policy rose 5 percent. That same year, 2009, the five largest U.S. health insurance companies earned a record $12.2 billion - as 2.7 million Americans lost their private health coverage in the worst year for the economy since the Depression.
This year, some insurers reported double-digit profit increases during the second quarter, and expect to exceed expectations for the year. One reason may be that fewer consumers are seeking medical care in the still-weak economy.
Some of the Affordable Care Act's key portions - the individual mandate, the marketplace-like exchanges - came from Republicans two decades ago. Gov. Scott and other current Republicans who want the health care law repealed say premiums will go down if insurers can compete by selling policies across state lines. Most insurers, however, already have licenses in multiple states. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida recently gave its mental health policies for Florida residents to a Kansas-based company in which it has part ownership.
Objective analysts attribute only about 1 or 2 percentage points in premium increases to the new law's mandates, notably those that require insurers to provide preventive services at no out-of-pocket costs and add adult children to their parents' policies. Those are good changes.
Some analysts believe that insurers are charging more to hedge their bets for when the economy improves and more people seek treatment, and that companies are banking cash before next year, when the law requires them to justify increases. In this case, the health care law is more the target than the problem.
- Rhonda Swan,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board