Washington — Millions of people who buy individual health insurance policies and get no financial help from the Affordable Care Act are bracing for another year of double-digit premium increases, and their frustration is boiling over.
Some are expecting premiums for 2018 to rival a mortgage payment.
What they pay is tied to the price of coverage on the health insurance markets created by the Obama-era law, but these consumers get no protection from the law’s tax credits, which cushion against rising premiums. Instead they pay full freight and bear the brunt of market problems such as high costs and diminished competition.
On Capitol Hill, there’s a chance that upcoming bipartisan hearings by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., can produce legislation offering some relief. But it depends on Republicans and Democrats working together despite a seven-year health care battle that has left raw feelings on both sides.
The most exposed consumers tend to be middle-class people who don’t qualify for the law’s income-based subsidies. They include early retirees, skilled tradespeople, musicians, self-employed professionals, business owners, and people such as Sharon Thornton, whose small employer doesn’t provide health insurance.
“We’re caught in the middle-class loophole of no help,” said Thornton, a hairdresser from Newark, Delaware. She said she’s currently paying about $740 a month in premiums, and expects her monthly bill next year to be around $1,000, a 35 percent increase.
“To me, $1,000 a month is my beach house that I wanted to have,” Thornton said.
About 17.6 million people buy individual health insurance policies, and half of them get no subsidies under the law, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The number of unsubsidized customers with ACA plans outside the health insurance marketplaces dropped by 20 percent this year, after the big premium increases.
Thornton said she doesn’t know what to believe anymore. She said she voted for Donald Trump — her first time for a Republican — partly out of frustration with her health care costs.
“I’m ready to stomp on the White House lawn,” she said. “I am fuming.”
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