Many young, healthy Americans soon could see a jump in their health insurance costs, and insurance companies are saying: It's not our fault.
The nation's insurers are engaged in an all-out, last-ditch effort to shield themselves from blame for what they predict will be rate increases on new policies they must unveil this spring to comply with President
Insurers point to several reasons that premiums will rise. They soon will be required to offer more-comprehensive coverage than many currently provide. Also, their costs will increase because they will be barred from rejecting the sick, and they no longer will be allowed to charge older customers sharply higher premiums than younger ones.
Supporters of the law counter that concerns about price hikes are overstated, partly because federal subsidies will cushion the blow.
The insurers' public relations blitz is being propelled by a growing cast of executives, lobbyists, conservative activists and state health officials. They increasingly use the same catchphrase - "rate shock" - to warn about the potential for price surges.
Aetna chief executive
The danger of "rate shock" also has become the favored weapon of conservative opponents of the law, repeated in a drumbeat of op-eds and policy papers in recent weeks.
The argument is a powerful one because the success of the law depends on enough people signing up for insurance, particularly healthy people. The issue is surfacing as the most recent significant challenge in implementing the health care overhaul.
Supporters of the law complain that the warnings amount to a smear attack by special interests and political partisans, akin to earlier claims that the law would allow bureaucrats to deny life- saving care to save money.
" 'Rate shock' is the new 'death panels,' " said
Yet even analysts who favor the law concede that it will result in higher costs for some young, healthy people.
Most of the new rules that could push up premiums will not apply to plans sponsored by large employers, only to those sold to individuals and small businesses. These policies will be available on insurance marketplaces, or "exchanges," that the law sets up in each state beginning in 2014, and that are ultimately expected to serve about 26 million people.
The law will require insurers to offer a generous package of benefits for exchange plans, including coverage of maternity care, prescription drugs and treatment for mental illness. It also caps customers' out-of-pocket expenses.
Many 20-somethings who buy their own insurance have plans that are considerably skimpier. So, under the new law, they will be getting and paying for more, whether they want the added coverage or not.
Another key driver of higher prices: Insurers no longer will be able to turn away or charge more to people with pre-existing conditions. Perhaps most significant, insurers will be allowed to charge their oldest customers only three times as much as their youngest. In most states, older customers are paying at least five times as much.