Health insurance premiums jump, coverage remains flat

Sen. Duey Stroebel
Sen. Duey Stroebel

As the open enrollment period for 2017 ObamaCare coverage comes to a close, many Wisconsinites are facing a bleak reality: insurance premiums have skyrocketed. The promise of affordable health insurance, first made in the title of the legislation – the Affordable Care Act – and reiterated by supporters time and time again has turned out to be anything but true. For 2017 alone, health insurance premiums in Wisconsin have risen an average of 15.9%, with some consumers seeing their premiums rise by as much as 30%.

This isn’t the first time the Affordable Care Act has led to Wisconsin consumers paying more for their health insurance. Premiums for some 2016 health insurance plans purchased via the federal healthcare exchange rose by double digit percentages over 2015 premiums for the same plans. When the federal exchange first launched in Wisconsin in 2013, monthly premiums for the cheapest available plan for a young, healthy person rose by a shocking 135% compared to the cheapest plan available for that same person in 2012.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin health insurance costs have far outpaced the Consumer Price Index, the federal measure that tracks overall inflation. Medical services costs have risen by 5.1% in the past year, outpacing the cumulative 1.1% inflation rate, but both are dwarfed by the 15.9% premium hike that has occurred here in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, a recent study by the Applied Population Lab at the University of Wisconsin found that overall health insurance coverage in the state has remained relatively flat for working adults. Long before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin led the nation in accessibility to health care and health insurance coverage.

The cost of keeping health insurance coverage rates relatively flat in Wisconsin has been high under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2016 the average health insurance consumer receiving a federal subsidy for purchasing health insurance cost taxpayers $4,240. That subsidy cost is expected to rise to $7,100 per enrollee by 2026, and over the next ten years taxpayers will spend $866 billion subsidizing health insurance coverage for consumers under the age of 65.

But while ObamaCare has led to skyrocketing costs for Wisconsin consumers, common sense decisions to not pay for a state funded health insurance exchange have paid dividends. Not only did some states, like neighboring Minnesota, pour millions of dollars into constructing digital infrastructure that was already being built by the federal government, but their management of the exchanges has left many consumers with fewer options for coverage.

Minnesota experienced a near collapse of its exchange earlier this year as major insurance companies said they would no longer use the system to sell coverage. A subsequent premium hike led Gov. Mark Dayton (D) to declare that “the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for increasing numbers of people.” Dayton subsequently walked back that remark, but his candor illustrates the failed promises of the Affordable Care Act.

The single best thing that could happen for Wisconsin health insurance consumers is for the Affordable Care Act to be repealed and replaced a system that contains fewer mandates and refuses to establish the federal government at the center of the doctor-patient relationship.

Sen. Stroebel is a Republican who represents the 20th Senate District in the Wisconsin State Senate.