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Will health care law boost or drop insurance costs? Both sides spin the numbers

By Tom Lobianco

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 28 2013 3:28 p.m. MDT

In this March 23, 2010 file photo, Marcelas Owens of Seattle, left, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., right, and others, look on as President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Enlarge photo»

INDIANAPOLIS — In the raging federal health care debate, numbers are turning out to be some of the most partisan tools available to Democrats, Republicans and everyone with a stake in the game.

Indiana residents have gotten a rare look at the spinning of statistics and price tags that happens regularly in government as Gov. Mike Pence's point man on federal health care estimated that residents would pay 72 percent more for health insurance through the insurance exchange being built.

That, of course, is an incredible simplification of an incredibly complex topic, something Democratic supporters of President Barack Obama's signature legislation pointed out shortly afterward and followed with some spin of their own.

Add to an already-confusing mix of cutoffs, dependents, income brackets, co-pays and credits and both sides will find plenty to support whatever conclusion they like.

The Pence administration, which has opposed the health care law while readying for its implementation over the next few months, found numbers that confirm its bias.

"This new data regrettably confirms the negative impact of the Affordable Care Act on the insurance market in Indiana," said Logan Harrison, deputy commissioner at the Indiana Department of Insurance in a statement announcing the assumed rate hike. "The Affordable Care Act requires many Hoosiers to purchase more comprehensive and more expensive health insurance than they may want or need. These rates call into question just how affordable health insurance will really be for many Hoosiers."

The state did not release the data on how it came up with this estimate, but The Washington Post reported this was likely the result of "squishing" together all the plans that would be available to Indiana residents, from the cheapest "bronze" plan to the most expensive "gold" option and coming up with one number.

Indiana Democrats quickly fired back.

"I think Hoosiers should be very leery of this report. These numbers simply don't tell the whole story on how the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will affect Hoosiers," said Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, in a statement. "The report leaves out any information on tax credits available to Hoosiers to put toward the cost of coverage, along with an inflated and flawed assumption on the average cost as a whole."

Get ready for more blurring of the lines as the long, drawn-out, political clash stretches through its fourth year. And not just from Republican opponents.

As the opening of the insurance exchanges draws near, Obama and his health care team have taken to the stump with their own tales of insurance rates dropping. If Indiana is the Republican horror story, New York has become the Democratic fairy tale, with estimates from New York Democrats that insurance rates will drop by 53 percent. That has caused Republicans to cry foul.

This wouldn't be the first time price tags and numbers have been cherry-picked in the ongoing health care battle. The state's actuary, Milliman, has produced regular reports with detailed estimates of how much expanding Medicaid would cost. There are breakdowns, tables, broad descriptions of the variables used and a range of expected costs to the state, from $2 billion and $2.6 billion over seven years.

The number Indiana's Republicans landed on is the most dire estimate from the report. Count on more spinning prices and numbers as the battle moves to the airwaves.

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