Lawmakers doubt Pence agency claims on Obamacare costs

2013-07-22T18:09:00Z 2013-07-29T00:56:04Z Lawmakers doubt Pence agency claims on Obamacare costsBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | The Pence administration has opened a second front in its war on the Affordable Care Act, embracing potentially deceptive cost estimates that some Democrats believe are intended to deter Hoosiers from purchasing health insurance on the state's federal-run exchange.

Since Thursday, the Indiana Department of Insurance has trumpeted its claim that individual health insurance rates will rise an average of 72 percent next year when most components of the 2010 federal health law — nicknamed Obamacare — take effect.

"These rates call into question just how affordable health insurance will really be for many Hoosiers," said Logan Harrison, chief deputy commissioner at the insurance department.

However, Harrison admitted Monday to the General Assembly's Health Finance Commission that just 178,000 Hoosiers are potentially affected by the claimed rate jump, and he confessed at least some will see their rates go down by up to 10 percent.

That's because the state calculated its 72 percent figure by taking the lowest rate currently charged to an individual purchasing coverage directly from a health insurer provider and comparing it to an average of every possible rate, including extremely costly health plans, available next year.

He said employer-sponsored health plans were not included in the calculation. Their cost is expected to go up an average of 8 percent next year, a smaller increase than many prior years.

The department also did not include federal rate subsidies that will be available next year to reduce health insurance costs for Hoosiers earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $47,568 for an individual or $97,497 for a family of four.

With the federal credit, a family of four with a $1,200 per month health insurance premium is expected to pay just $280 out of pocket, likely less than they are paying now.

Failing to include those cost reductions in its estimate shows the insurance department is more interested in playing politics than implementing the law, said state Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis.

"When you come out with a number like 72 percent ... that would scare me from purchasing insurance on the exchange," Breaux said. "You have a responsibility to provide us with more realistic information that confirms and conforms with what other states are saying is going to be the average cost."

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, was not surprised the insurance department would tout a misleading cost estimate.

He said when Republican Gov. Mike Pence refused earlier this year to expand Medicaid eligibility to some 400,000 low-income Hoosiers, Pence signaled he's not interested in seeing the Affordable Care Act succeed in Indiana.

"It does make it appear as though they want to fudge the numbers, or at least not be as accurate as many of us would want them to be," Brown said.

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, admitted he too found it hard to swallow the claimed cost jump.

"That 72 percent is kind of a difficult one to really put a lot of credence in," Charbonneau said. "Even after listening to the testimony, I'm not convinced."

Pence vehemently opposed Obamacare as a member of Congress and voted several times for its repeal. He also once likened the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the health law to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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