BY KATHRYN MAYER
The debate over Obamacare prices — and data supporting both sides — rages on. New analysis from HealthPocket indicates plans are cheaper on the exchanges than off them.
Analyzing premium prices from four major carriers that are offered off the exchanges with comparable bronze, silver and gold plans on the exchanges, researchers found that off-exchange plans on average are 40 percent more expensive. For the off-exchange plans, HealthPocket — a consumer resource website — examined ones from United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna and Assurant.
Part of the reason is because exchange plans tend to be more transparent, helping consumers compare health prices, HealthPocket said. At the same time, researchers noted the higher prices could be in lieu of lower deductible and co-insurance, which some consumers consider as more important when choosing a plan.
Premium prices under Obamacare continues to be a major talking point, and a battle among political parties. Some firms, including Avalere Health — as well as many brokers — say the law is responsible for double-digit premium increases. Others say that assumption is unfounded. Last week, the Commonwealth Fund released a report that found that premium prices were rising 10 percent annually before Obamacare went into effect.
HealthPocket researchers said carriers who plan to join the exchanges in 2015 would need to lower their premiums if they wanted to be competitive.
“Given the current expense of the off-exchange plans we examined, we don’t expect their entrance on exchanges will introduce higher levels of premium competition,” said Kev Coleman, head of research and data at HealthPocket. “However, health plans are more than premiums and we are interested in exploring other issues such as out-of-pocket costs and health care provider network breadth.”