Obama administration confirms double-digit health premium hikes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Premiums will go up sharply next year under President Barack Obama’s health care law, and many consumers will be down to just one insurer, the administration confirmed Monday. That will stoke another “Obamacare” controversy days before a presidential election.

Before taxpayer-provided subsidies, premiums for a midlevel benchmark plan will increase an average of 25 percent across the 39 states served by the federally run online market, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. Some states will see much bigger jumps, others less.

Moreover, about 1 in 5 consumers will have plans only from a single insurer to pick from, after major national carriers such as UnitedHealth Group, Humana and Aetna scaled back their roles.

“Consumers will be faced this year with not only big premium increases but also with a declining number of insurers participating, and that will lead to a tumultuous open enrollment period,” said Larry Levitt, who tracks the health care law for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Republicans will pounce on the numbers as confirmation that insurance markets created by the 2010 health overhaul are on the verge of collapsing in a “death spiral.” Sign-up season starts Nov. 1, about a week before national elections in which the GOP remains committed to a full repeal. Window shopping for plans and premiums is already available through HealthCare.gov.

The sobering numbers confirmed state-by-state reports that have been coming in for months.

Administration officials are stressing that subsidies provided under the law, which are designed to rise alongside premiums, will insulate most customers from sticker shock. They add  consumers who are willing to switch to cheaper plans will still be able to find bargains.

“Headline rates are generally rising faster than in previous years,” acknowledged HHS spokesman Kevin Griffis. But he added that for most consumers, “headline rates are not what they pay.”

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