Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Last year was the first year in which the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) new health insurance exchanges were operating.  Starting in 2014, almost all Americans must now have health insurance or face a tax penalty.

Premiums varied widely.  Today's map shows the 10 most expensive health insurance markets for 2014.  Citizens can purchase a variety of plans from different private insurers.  The standard for comparison looks at Silver plans for a 40 year old non-smoker.  In 2014, the average monthly health insurance premium for a Silver plan for a non-smoking, 40 year old adult was $328/month.  Rates were lowest in 2014 in Minnesota and highest in western Colorado.

So, are there any patterns to markets with high or low premiums?  Yes.

*Some fairly wealthy areas such as western Connecticut and western Colorado have relatively healthy people but appear to be paying more.  Why?  I guess because insurers feel the markets in these areas can bear higher premiums.  That is just a guess.

*Other areas are a) remote with limited medical providers, b) are in areas where Americans are in fairly poor health, or c) both.  Georgia has the dubious honor of having 2 of the 10 most expensive markets in the country AND having the greatest disparities of any state between the high costs around Albany, GA, compared to the relatively lower costs in the Atlanta market.  Wyoming, northern Nevada, western Wisconsin, Alaska, and coastal Mississippi all have issues with few providers and/or sick populations.

*Vermont ranks in the 10 most expensive because of a policy in that state.  Unlike in other states which have opted to allow insurers to charge older residents more than younger people, Vermont law requires insurers to charge everyone regardless of age the same premium for the same plan.  As a result insurers increased premiums across the board in Vermont.

The new 2015 premiums came out in mid-November and there are relatively big fluctuations in premiums.  Minnesotans will be paying more.  Mississippians will pay less.  Overall prices nationally are either slightly down or steady after years of rapidly rising premiums.  The geography of premiums, however, continues to be sorted out as insurers and their actuaries figure out if they are charging enough to cover the health issues of their populations AND make a profit (since the Republican-invented ACA model relies on government subsidies and private insurance companies rather than the single-payer Democratic alternative).  It will likely be at least 3 years (circa 2017) before we can see more stable premium data as the system finds its groove.

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