The Department of Health and Human Services just released data on premiums for Obamacare's 2017 plans, and it's not pretty. On average, premiums will increase 22 percent. It's rate shock, but not shocking to those who've followed the news about financial losses and insurer exits in the increasingly dysfunctional Obamacare exchanges.
This premium hike will affect more people than is obvious at first glance. The biggest losers are Americans who must either buy Obamacare plans with no subsidy or pay a penalty. While 22 percent is the national average premium hike, there are some markets where customers will face premium spikes of more than 100 percent.
Measuring another way, taxpayers are the biggest losers in this deal. The vast majority – nearly 90 percent – of Obamacare's exchange customers use a subsidy or tax credit to pay for the lion's share of their monthly premiums. But just because someone else is paying doesn't make these plans "affordable." This financial assistance caps an individual's share of his premium at a percentage of his or her income; therefore, when the premiums go up, the cost is mostly borne by taxpayers.
Politically, the speculation is that Democrats are the losers as the so-called Affordable Care Act becomes more and more unaffordable. True, in the short run, Republicans should benefit from this bad news in the two weeks remaining before the election.
But in the long run, Republicans may suffer too, as private health insurance plans increase in price. Democrats (and seemingly likely President Hillary Clinton) will unfairly point to these premium increases as the downside of capitalism and place blame on insurers themselves. They'll use high premiums as an argument for the "accountability" and "competition" that they'll say a public insurance plan will provide. Republicans will be forced to defend the concept of private insurance while Obamacare continues to wreak havoc on the private insurance "marketplaces."
At that time, it will be important for Americans to remember why Obamacare has failed to offer affordable insurance plans in the first place: A flawed design.
The exchanges didn't attract enough healthy, low-risk customers for two reasons. First, many of those would-be customers are now simply riding out their 26th birthday on their parents' plans. Second, if and when those young, healthy customers want to buy an Obamacare plan, they're offered a raw deal.
Obamacare attempts to use insurance — which should be priced according to risk — to make it so that we all pay for healthcare together, and we all pay about the same amount. While this might sound nice, it makes absolutely no sense. People don't consume anything like equal amounts of healthcare services, and people don't have equal likelihoods of filing a medical claim. If we want healthy people to buy in, we have to offer them true insurance: A cheap, risk-based monthly payment to protect them from unexpected, catastrophically-high medical bills.
But because Obamacare fails to do this, the law makes us all losers.