What The Obamacare Question In The Debate Missed About Rising Premiums

A question posed at Saturday’s 2016 Democratic debate suggested that since Obamacare was passed, health care premiums have skyrocketed. But that premise overlooked the reality that under Obamacare, premiums are actually growing a slower rate — historically speaking — and that they were growing at a much faster rate under previous administrations.

“Secretary Clinton, the Department of Health and Human Services says more than 17 million Americans who are not insured now have health coverage because of Obamacare. But for Americans who already had health insurance the cost has gone up 27 percent in the last five years while deductibles are up 67 percent, health care costs are rising faster than many Americans can manage,” ABC News’ Martha Raddatz said, before asking about how frontrunner Hillary Clinton would fix the law.

It should be noted that health insurance policies purchased in the Obamacare marketplaces — a major element of the Affordable Care Act — first went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. So any discussion of costs over the last five years straddles the pre- and post-Obamacare worlds.

While it’s unclear exactly the role Obamacare played, the growth of premiums has been lower in the last few years than it was in periods prior, according to a 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation report that was highlighted by FactCheck.org.

That report showed that, yes, premiums increased for covered workers with family coverage by 26 percent between 2009-2014. However, between 2004-2009 those premiums rose by 34 percent, and between 1999-2004 they rose by a whooping 72 percent.

A 2015 report by the the nonpartisan foundation the Commonwealth Fund also showed that premium growth rates had slowed in 31 states and the District of Columbia between 2010 and 2013, when compared to premiums between 2003 and 2010. That study did show that premiums were indeed, nonetheless, taking an increasing share of workers’ income, as Raddatz’ question suggested. The culprit of that trend, however, the study concluded, was actually low wages, as wages grew more slowly than health care premiums.

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