Some states misreporting health insurance costs, HHS’ Sebelius says

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 5, 2013 

— Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that some state reports blaming Obamacare for sharply higher health insurance premiums next year were “factually incorrect.”

Sebelius didn’t say which states she was referring to, but her push-back comes after GOP-led states such as Ohio, Georgia and Indiana recently warned of large premium rate hikes next year due to the Affordable Care Act.

“Erroneous information is being advanced as if these are the final rates available in the marketplace and this is what consumers will be paying,” Sebelius said Monday in a telephone briefing. “That’s just not accurate.”

State insurance officials in Ohio originally said the average individual premium proposed for 2014 was $420, up 88 percent from the 2013 average price as reported by the Society of Actuaries. Then earlier this week, they announced that the same coverage was actually about $332 a month.

A recent Obama administration analysis of prices in 11 states found that the lowest-cost “silver plan” – which covers 70 percent of medical costs – will cost an average of 18 percent less than the Congressional Budget Office had projected.

The administration is trying to jump-start its education and public awareness efforts for the Affordable Care Act despite a shortage of funds and persistent Republican resistance to the law, which was passed without GOP support.

On Monday, HHS launched a new Web page and graphic presentation to help explain Obamacare.

Though congressional Republicans won’t provide more money for outreach and her department lost more than $15 billion in funding due to the budget cuts known as sequestration, Sebelius said the administration was meeting its commitments and would have the new insurance marketplaces ready for 2014 open enrollment, which begins Oct. 1.

Across the country, state officials and insurers are finalizing premium rates for the coverage that will be offered. The health care law’s new consumer protections – such as guaranteed access to coverage for all and no spending limits on benefits – probably will increase premiums for young healthy people, while rates for older, sicker people very likely will fall.

Premium tax credits will help millions of low- and moderate-income individuals and families pay for coverage on the exchanges.

Sebelius said the department was relying on community organizations, nonprofits and religious groups to help spread the word about signing up.

Some 7 million people are expected to get coverage through the marketplaces, but many people still don’t understand their responsibilities under the new health care law or how the marketplaces will work.

The administration’s education push will hit a critical mass later this summer, Sebelius said, in an attempt to build public awareness just as the marketplaces open for enrollment.

Email: tpugh@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @TonyPughDC

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