By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE — A national study of the Affordable Care Act shows people in New Mexico who buy health insurance on their own could face a huge spike in their premium costs.
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a fiscally conservative think tank based in New York City, looked at 13 states plus the District of Columbia and found that nine states will see increases on average while five will see decreases.
The study says that New Mexico, at 130 percent,will see the steepest rate hike, followed by Vermont (97 percent), South Dakota (83 percent) and Connecticut (50 percent).
“It’ll vary,” said Yevgeniy Feyman, the study’s lead research associate, in a telephone interview with New Mexico Watchdog. “In New York, it will probably be an improvement. In New Mexico, probably not because it’s adding a lot more regulations to the market.”
Feyman says the study was based on the government’s own figures from the finder.healthcare.gov website and went by zip codes, looking at the cheapest rates available for individual market insurance plans.
“We focused on the cheapest rates because we assumed that the uninsured that Obamacare targets are generally price-sensitive,” Feyman said, “meaning they’re uninsured because they can’t afford coverage.”
But there have been estimates from rival groups that reach the opposite conclusion — that New Mexico, because of its large uninsured population, will see rates decline because more people will enter the health care system and drive down costs.
For example, just days before the Manhattan Institute study came out, researchers from the Rand Corp. declared that sharp increases in health-insurance premiums for people getting coverage under the ACA have been overstated and many states will see little to no change.
Specifically, the Rand study said, “For two states (Louisiana and New Mexico), we estimated that premiums standardized for age, actuarial value, and tobacco use could decline as a result of the Affordable Care Act.”
“Some people buy more generous coverage because of the law and that will lead to increased costs,” Christine Eibner, the Rand study’s lead author, told Bloomberg News. “In my mind, that’s not the same as rate shock because the person will be getting a better plan.”
Not quite right, Feyman said.
“The Rand study controls for actuarial value and age,” Feyman said in response. “But if you’re looking at similar plans … you’re really looking at a plan that’s relatively expensive, one that’s more expensive than one the uninsured might want to buy. If the uninsured aren’t buying into the market now when the rates are dirt-cheap then it doesn’t make any sense to think they’re going to buy when plans are much more expensive.”
Here are the numbers from the Manhattan Institute for men in New Mexico who buy coverage on their own:
And for women:
The study looked at just 13 states because the remaining 37 have not released relevant insurance carrier filings.
As to charges that the Manhattan Institute wanted the numbers to look at bad as possible for the ACA, Feyman pointed out that the study showed four states seeing meaningful declines in rates: Maine (71 percent), Colorado (34 percent), Ohio (30 percent), and New York (27 percent).
“It is what it is. We’re not skewing the data,” he said. “Some states will absolutely benefit from Obamacare for various reasons. We’re putting this out for a tool for people of all political shades— left, right, center.”
One of the features touted by the Affordable Care Act is that premium hikes for many poor people will be protected by taxpayer-funded subsidies. The Manhattan Institute study includes a “Who Qualifies?” tab. Click on New Mexico and you’ll see that 8 percent of those without employer-sponsored coverage will qualify for subsidies while 34 percent of the uninsured population will.
“If you’re in one of the high-cost states that will see premium decreases under Obamacare, count yourself lucky,” wrote the study’s lead author, Avik Roy, in Forbes. “But if you’re among the many who will see rates go up, you will have a decision to make. Should you sign up for health insurance that is more expensive than your coverage today? Or should you drop out of the market and pay the fine? That, my friends, is the $2 trillion question.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski