Policies on Michigan's health exchange to cost less than elsewhere

9:21 AM, Sep 25, 2013   |    comments
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(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Michiganders shopping for insurance on the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace beginning next Tuesday will spend less than much of the country, a possible result of competition drawn to the state exchange.

In Michigan, the lowest prices for three categories of policies, called bronze, silver and gold, all came in lower than the national average, according to a federal analysis released today. For example, the lowest cost silver plan - a plan that will cover about 70% of medical costs - will cost an average of $271 a month, compared with the national average of $310.

As Washington Republicans continue pressure to defund the Affordable Care Act, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday sought to assure consumers of the affordability of the plans that will be offered on exchanges across the nation starting Oct. 1.

WZZM 13 will air a live hour-long special "Countdown to ObamaCare" Thursday, Sept. 26 from 7:00pm - 8:00pm with local residents participating in Q&A.

In doing so, they offered a sneak peek for consumers in many states, including Michigan, to gauge just how "affordable" the plans will be in the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are a central provision of the Obama administration's health reform law.

An estimated 1.4 million uninsured or underinsured Michiganders can buy policies on the exchange through March 31. The law has plenty of critics, in large part because it also requires nearly everyone to carry insurance, whether from the exchange, directly from an insurer, through an employer, or through Medicaid or Medicare. If they don't, they face tax penalties.

Click here for more coverage from WZZM 13 and USA Today

On average, there are eight insurers in states with federally run exchanges like Michigan's, and the number of plans ranged from 6 to 169. Michigan has 13 insurers offering 142 plans, according to Caleb Buhs, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services.

Some plans will be limited to certain parts of the state, but on average, Michigan consumers might be eligible for 43 health plans when they go online, according to the national report.

Consumers will be able to compare policies within companies or policies between companies.

"It's going to be a very good and transparent shopping experience," said Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, part of the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

However, he and others emphasized that premiums will vary greatly, depending on factors such as age and whether the buyer is a tobacco user.

Consumers also will be able to get tax credits that will help anyone up to four times the federal poverty level pay for premiums. The poverty level for a single person in 2014 will be $11,490 and for a family of four $23,550.

Missing from the sneak peek: An analysis of platinum policies, considered the most expensive to buy up front, but that cover more medical costs - about 90%.

Still, it was "good news," said Rick Murdock, president of the Michigan Association of Health Plans.

Each of the Michigan insurers priced their plans "blind," he said - not knowing what their competition would do, or even who the competition was at the time.

Given the report, "it looks like everyone kind of drove the price low," he said.

Perhaps just as important, he said, is the answer to another question: Will the exchanges - a massive, technical undertaking - be ready to launch Oct. 1?

"You wouldn't be able to get this data unless everything is working," Murdock said. "So this tells you that all the hard work that the federal government has done, that the states have done, that the insurers have done, is coming together to give meaningful data."

Detroit Free Press

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