Obamacare Premium Changes Coming Soon—But Not by Election Day

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Just after the election, insurers will send letters to millions of consumers spelling out changes in premiums for coverage under the health care law. Why not before?

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Under the health law, the federal government is responsible for approving premiums for health plans in 36 states where it is running some or all of the online insurance exchanges through the HealthCare.gov website. The Department of Health and Human Services told insurers in early September they should notify consumers who hold policies with them of their new premiums for 2015 only after HHS approved the rates. HHS can’t reject the new rates, only criticize them.

Under the HHS schedule, contracts with the insurers will be signed this week, and insurers’ letters must reach consumers by Nov. 15, the first day of the new enrollment period for coverage under the health law. The final rates may also be published by the administration sooner next week, and consumers are also supposed to be able to go to HealthCare.gov to start browsing them.

The Obama administration has said the schedule wasn’t decided with an eye to the date of the midterm elections. “That is not circled on the calendar of the experts at the Department of Health and Human Services who are working on this,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. HHS officials said they are focusing on ensuring consumers get “the right information to choose the health care plan that best meets their needs.”

But GOP lawmakers have accused the administration of hiding financial information from households because it could be perceived unfavorably.

“The administration will know exactly what health insurance plans cost on Nov. 3, and they should release that information to the public on that day so families can start to plan,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Administration supporters, meanwhile, have said HHS officials blundered because in many states where rates are publicly accessible online, big insurance plans have signaled their intentions to raise premiums for 2015 by modest amounts – far short of hefty double-digit increases critics of the health law predicted. Some smaller plans are also trying to decrease rates in a bid to win more consumers.

“They’re acting guilty, but they’re not guilty,” said Jay Angoff, who had headed the HHS office in charge of implementing the law’s insurance provisions. “It’s mystifying to me, because 2015 rates are far lower than the administration had feared and that ACA opponents had hoped.”

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