HHS: Arizona health insurance premiums almost tripled since 2013

A new report says monthly health insurance premiums grew $400, or 190 percent, in Arizona from 2013 to 2017. The report did not mention tax credits that many low-income consumers got under Obamacare to help make coverage affordable. (Photo by Alex Proimos/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Health insurance premiums nearly tripled in Arizona between 2013 and 2017, the fourth-biggest increase among the 39 states that participated in healthcare.gov, according to new data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Arizona’s 190 percent increase meant a monthly premium increase of about $400 to a consumer in the state, to $611, under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The average monthly increase for all marketplace states was 105 percent, or $244, according to the HHS numbers released this week.

The report does not mention the tax credits that many low-income consumers received under Obamacare, which made the coverage affordable for many.

But Republicans, whose plan to replace Obamacare took a harsh hit in a Congressional Budget Office assessment released Wednesday, quickly seized on the HHS numbers to support what they say is the urgent need to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“This is exactly why we are on a rescue mission,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, waving a copy of the report during a news conference Thursday. “Between premiums surging up and choices going away, Obamacare is on an unsustainable path.”

But Democrats said Republicans were merely looking for cover for their plan, the American Health Care Act, after the CBO report that said the GOP proposal would cause up to 23 million people to lose coverage, 18 million in 2018 alone. The CBO also said the impact “would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income.”

“I think the CBO score was pretty devastating to their proposal and so whatever justification they’re coming up with, it’s too late and weak,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Thursday. “If the CBO score would have gone before we took the vote, it wouldn’t have passed.”

The HHS report shows that premiums have increased significantly since the ACA’s key provisions took effect in 2013, when increased regulations and insurance requirements in the individual market were expected to spark increases.

New Jersey had the lowest increase over the four-year period, at just 12 percent, while Alabama’s 222 percent premium hike was the highest. Overall, 16 states saw increases below the national average of 105 percent, 20 states were between 105 and 200 percent and three states saw premiums rise more than 200 percent, according to HHS.

The bulk of Arizona’s 190 percent increase came in the last year, when the state led the nation with an increase of 116 percent – a number frequently cited by President Donald Trump when criticizing the ACA. But Obamacare backers said the jumps were likely a correction to premiums that were too low as insurers competed for customers in the early days of the law.

Healthcare providers, like Arizona Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare, also cut back their presence or left the Arizona marketplace entirely in 2017 following financial losses, reducing options for those seeking coverage.

“The report shows what’s been the case with Obamacare all along: Arizonans paying drastically higher premiums for fewer options,” said Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey.

“The governor supports replacement that improves health care for Arizonans while ensuring no one has the rug pulled out from under them,” Ptak said Thursday. “He will continue to work with members of the delegation and the administration toward that goal.”

Critics of the Affordable Care Act said the HHS report proves what they have been saying from the beginning, that Obamacare was flawed and unsustainable.

“President Obama had promised the American people … that their family premiums would on average go down by $2,500, and according to the study out of HHS of the people on those federal exchanges, the average (family) premium is up $3,000,” said Sally Pipes, the president of the Pacific Research Institute.

The House passed the GOP plan on a 217-213 vote May 4, despite objections from Democrats that the bill was being rushed through. The Senate has yet to act on the bill, but senators have indicated that they will likely develop their own plan rather than build on the House version.

But Grijalva said the Republican cure is worse than any Obamacare problems, as it would kick people off their coverage and “cripple rural hospitals in Arizona and health facilities.”

– Cronkite News reporters Brianna Stearns and Ben Moffat contributed to this report.