lower insurance premiums

Hoping to gain the high ground in an escalating war of words over Obamacare, the U.S. administration on Thursday forecast sharply lower than expected insurance costs for consumers and small businesses in new online state healthcare exchanges.

A report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said data from 10 states and the District of Columbia shows preliminary 2014 premiums on the lowest-cost mid-range “silver” plans in those marketplaces to be 18 percent lower on average than earlier administration and congressional estimates.

Rates for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that purchase small-group coverage through exchanges could also be 18 percent lower than what the same plans would cost without President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law, based on data from six states, HHS said.

The report was released in conjunction with a speech by Obama on how healthcare reform is already benefiting consumers. It represents the administration’s latest bid to counter Republican allegations that consumers and businesses will see sharply higher costs from the exchanges than the individual insurance plans already on the market.

The new exchanges are slated to begin enrolling as many as 7 million uninsured Americans for 2014 on Oct. 1 in federally subsidized health plans ranging in quality from platinum, with the highest premiums, to bronze, with the lowest.

“Today’s report shows that the Affordable Care Act is working to increase transparency and competition among health insurance plans and drive premiums down,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement accompanying the report.

The actual rates consumers see could be lower than current estimates, the HHS report concluded, saying that rate reviews and negotiations under way in the District of Columbia, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have already reduced prospective costs announced in the spring.

Read More