Here comes Obamacare

At first blush, it seems that the new New York State health exchange appears to have generated sufficient competition. Both the pricing levels offered and the number of competitors have undermined the claims by critics that the private sector would not participate in the exchanges.

“That’s a very different dynamic for these companies, and it’s prodding them to be more aggressive and competitive in their pricing,” The New York Times article quoted Sabrina Corlette, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reform, as saying. Among the more familiar insurers in the Hudson Valley who have decided to participate in the exchanges are Aetna, CDPHP, HIP of Greater New York, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, MVP and United Healthcare.

The premiums offered by the companies under the “silver” plans, the third most expensive category, will provide an adequate short-hand guide to typical Hudson Valley prices. Aetna’s monthly premium price for individuals will be offered at $530.95. The CDPHP offering will charge $539.42 per month, HIP HMO $386.69, Empire Blue Cross $514.41, MVP $469.74 and United Healthcare $635.60. The lowest monthly price for a “silver” premium plan in the Hudson Valley is $336.51 from the Freelancers Union; the highest, from Oxford, is $691.69.

A Gallup poll recently found that almost half of uninsured Americans don’t know they have to get coverage to comply with the new law. Expect a $40-million Madison Avenue advertising blitz paid for by the federal government to begin in New York State in September. Also, hundreds of “navigators” will be hired throughout the state to help enroll people.

The exchange is open to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees which don’t have to provide coverage but may be eligible for tax credits up to half their premium costs the first two years, state health officials said. Businesses with more than 50 employees will have to provide coverage to those working at least 30 hours a week. The provisions of the law relating to larger employers have been postponed a year.

Complexity has its price. Comparing the various offerings on the American health benefit exchanges will not be simple. According to Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt, an expert with extensive knowledge of health insurance systems in other countries, “Americans insist on choice and pluralism among insurance products, enabling them to find coverage they believe will fit their personal needs.”

Added Reinhardt in a blog last Friday, “That choice, desirable though it may be, comes at a stiff price, with two dimensions. First, it adds considerably to monetary outlays on administrative functions, which in the United States run about twice per capita what they are in other countries. And to make careful and responsible choices takes a great deal of a person’s time.”


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