Health Care Law Fails to Lower Prices for Rural Areas

By Reed Abelson, Katie Thomas and Jo Craven McGinty
The New York Times, October 23, 2013

As technical failures bedevil the rollout of President Obama’s health care law, evidence is emerging that one of the program’s loftiest goals — to encourage competition among insurers in an effort to keep costs low — is falling short for many rural Americans.

While competition is intense in many populous regions, rural areas and small towns have far fewer carriers offering plans in the law’s online exchanges. Those places, many of them poor, are being asked to choose from some of the highest-priced plans in the 34 states where the federal government is running the health insurance marketplaces, a review by The New York Times has found.

Of the roughly 2,500 counties served by the federal exchanges, more than half, or 58 percent, have plans offered by just one or two insurance carriers, according to an analysis by The Times of county-level data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. In about 530 counties, only a single insurer is participating.

The Obama administration, while not disputing the findings, responded to the analysis in a statement that the marketplaces “allow insurers to compete for customers based on price and quality.”

Observers cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the current landscape, noting that several major insurers were waiting to see what happens next.…

Polis fights sky-high rates as ski town signups stall

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Solutions, October 23, 2013

Health insurance rates are so high in Colorado’s mountain resort areas that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis plans to seek waivers from the federal government so people who skip buying insurance in 2014 won’t face financial penalties.

Health coverage guides working to enroll Summit County residents in new health plans through Colorado’s health exchange have been deeply disappointed. They have not enrolled a single new client since Colorado’s health exchange launched on Oct. 1.…

Another flaw in Obamacare is the failure in rural areas to make premiums affordable through health plan competition, primarily because the markets are too small to attract enough insurers to promote competition.

An example is found in the Colorado mountain resort areas such as Summit County where not one person has been enrolled through the exchange.

How many times do we have to say it? The Affordable Care Act was the wrong model for reform. It leaves in place our profoundly expensive, administratively inefficient, fragmented, dysfunctional health care financing system. Compared to what needed to be done, the improvements were only marginal, and some of the problems actually increased, such as underinsurance – plans that provide less health security and less financial security than many of us had before.

Besides, even in areas with greater plan competition, health care costs are still out of control. A publicly-administered single payer program is far more effective in getting health spending right than is health insurer competition.