HealthZette

Obamacare in 2017: Higher Prices, Fewer Choices

With enrollment period looming, here are the options you're left with as insurers fend for themselves

Experts agree on at least one thing when it comes to Obamacare: Premiums are just going to keep increasing next year. So prepare yourself to do some serious insurance shopping this fall.

Not only are premiums going to increase, they’re increasing faster than before. Projections show the cost of the second-lowest silver plan — by far the most popular and purchased by 68 percent of enrollees — will rise an average of 9 percent. The same plan increased only 2 percent this year.

“The impact that taxpayers are going to feel may be very expensive,” said one consumer protection analyst.

Nine percent, however, would be welcome news for many, as some areas are showing even higher price hikes. Tennessee, for example, will shoulder a 27-percent increase from this year. A single 40-year-old non-smoking woman who lives in Nashville will have to pay $350 a month for the second-lowest silver plan on the market. This year she had to pay $281 each month.

These increases aren’t entirely offset by tax subsidies either, even for those who qualify. Enrollees who received a tax subsidy this year still paid a 4-percent increase on average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Those who do benefit from tax subsidies will be living on the largesse of the remaining taxpayers. “The impact that taxpayers are going to feel may be very expensive,” said Michi Iljazi of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “Obviously the cost for consumers is going up, but as the cost of health care rises due to the limited amount of options for consumers, that in turn costs taxpayers. There is also the possibility that taxpayers will be left paying for potential losses and bailouts of insurance companies. It’s up to Congress to make sure that kind of bailout doesn’t happen.”

Related: Saying Goodbye to the Obamacare Marketplace

Adding to the sting of higher prices are fewer choices, as major insurance giants — UnitedHealthcare, Aetna, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield — announce they are pulling out of a significant number of public exchanges. UnitedHealthcare expects to absorb $1 billion in losses because of the poorly managed system. Other companies have likewise lost millions in the process.

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More than a third of the country will be left with only a few options for insurance in their areas. Seven states will probably have only one carrier in 2017: Alaska, Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

Rural areas specifically are suffering from diminishing choices. Pinal County in Arizona is home to 400,000 people who will not have any options on the Obamacare market next year. UnitedHealth and Blue Cross Blue Shield both pulled out of the area, leaving thousands of people high and dry.

“The Obamacare exchanges have been a disaster,” Iljazi told LifeZette. “As of today, 17 of the 23 original Obamacare exchanges have collapsed, leaving only six remaining after the recent failure of the New Jersey exchange. There’s really no way to evaluate the performance other than pointing to all the failed exchanges.”

“As of today, 17 of the 23 original Obamacare exchanges have collapsed, leaving only six remaining after the recent failure of the New Jersey exchange.”

Families continue to battle for affordable insurance coverage that includes each family member. Premiums have consistently and substantially outstripped workers’ wages — so much so that close to 20 percent of the companies in manufacturing and services have reported fewer employees as a direct result of Obamacare.

Whatever one’s personal situation, shopping for a new plan this fall will undoubtedly induce a severe headache. Most enrollees can save money by shopping for new plans each year during open enrollment — if alternate plans are even available. And most people are willing to switch plans to avoid premium hikes.

But switching plans often means changing doctors and transferring medical records.

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From the looks of things, the Affordable Care Act hasn’t done anyone any favors — not companies, not businesses, and certainly not families.

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