A record high increase in health insurance premiums comes at just the right time in the election campaign for Donald Trump. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, also sees that she is forced to demand corrections to Obama’s health care reform.
Just two weeks before the American presidential election, Donald Trump is fighting with his back to the wall. The latest polls have him, on average, a good five percentage points behind Hillary Clinton, and he has also lost ground in many important swing states. The list of prominent Republicans who have turned away from him keeps growing; now former Secretary of State Colin Powell has also now announced that he will give his vote to Clinton.
In Extreme Cases, Premiums Double
In this unfortunate situation, the news of a soaring rise in health insurance premiums comes right on cue for Trump. As the Department of Health and Human Services announced this week, the insurance premium models that were brokered as part of President Obama’s health insurance reform will rise an average of 25 percent in price for 2017. That is the highest increase since introduction of the reform, after moderate increases of 2 and 7 percent in the two preceding years. In some cases, premiums will even more than double.
For Republicans, the premium rate explosion creates a welcome new argument against the health care reform, known as the Affordable Care Act, which is often described as the main domestic policy achievement of the Obama era, and with which Clinton also fully identifies. The Democrats can point to a range of positive aspects, for example, the fact that thanks to the reform, nearly 20 million previously uninsured Americans received a health care policy, and insurance companies can no longer refuse customers based on pre-existing illnesses.
The Republicans, by contrast, attack the reform with reference to the new requirement that people must carry insurance, and the growing state subsidization of the health care system. In spite of what the Democrats hoped, the reform has never really become popular with the public. According to polls, proponents and opponents roughly balance the scales, although according to an analysis in September, 47 percent of respondents viewed the reform negatively, and only 44 percent positively. The bad news on the premium front may very well strengthen the skepticism.
Trump Promises an End to 'Obamacare'
Trump lost no time in taking up the topic on Tuesday. Health care reform is blowing up, he claimed at a campaign event in Florida. Trump has promised that if elected, he will sign a bill to repeal the health care reform bill on his first day in office. He wants to replace “Obamacare,” as it is widely referred to, with a more market-based model, without, however, going into any details. Various Republican congressional candidates have also eagerly taken up the topic—probably relieved that it offered a distraction from the burdensome scandals surrounding Trump.
The Republicans cannot get their hopes up too high, however. As dramatic as the premium increases are, they still affect only a very small part of the electorate. Around half of Americans get their health insurance from their employer, another third is covered by government health insurance for the elderly, poor, or disabled. Only around 10.5 million Americans have secured insurance through the marketplaces introduced by Obama—and the recently announced premium hikes apply only to these. On top of that, the impact of the increase will in most cases be cushioned, as around 85 percent of those affected receive state assistance as part of “Obamacare.”
Less Competition, Greater Burden for the State
That last bit means, though, that the burdens for the taxpayer will increase. In addition, a further flaw of “Obamacare” has been confirmed, as follows from the announcement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which states that because the strongly regulated health insurance marketplaces are often not very attractive to insurance companies, various providers are pulling out of these markets. The hope for more competition has not been realized. Every fifth consumer in these marketplaces next year will lack any option, but will instead find offers only from a single insurer. This lack of competition threatens to drive premiums even higher.
The need for reform is therefore obvious, and Clinton also recognizes it. She suggests an expansion of the role of the state, including higher subsidies and the introduction of state insurance plans.
Swing States Affected Differently
Even if the consequences of the premium hikes for the presidential election remain limited, they may be different depending on the state. While the important swing state of Ohio is facing only an insignificant rise of 2 percent, Florida expects an increase of 14 percent, Iowa expects an increase of 25 percent, North Carolina expects an increase of 40 percent, and Arizona even expects an increase of 116 percent.