Obamacare turns 5, and is none the wiser

Sally C. Pipes

Obamacare turns 5 years old today. But don’t break out the cake and candles. There’s not much to celebrate.

When he signed his signature piece of legislation into law, President Barac Obama guaranteed lower health costs, universal coverage, and higher-quality care. Five years later, the health law has failed to fulfill those grandiose promises.

“In the Obama administration,” candidate Obama boasted in 2008, “we’ll lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family in a year.”

Flash forward to 2015. A recent report by HealthPocket — an online insurance marketplace — has revealed that premiums for individual Americans skyrocketed after Obamacare became law. For 23-year-old men, premiums rose by as much as 78 percent. Sixty-three-year-old men saw their premiums increase 23 percent.

The story was much the same for women. Twenty-three-year-olds experienced premium spikes of 45 percent, while those 63 years of age saw premiums jump 38 percent.

Drug costs have jumped, too.

On Obamacare’s third birthday, the White House reassured Americans that the health law would protect vulnerable patient populations. “[P]reventing them from being charged more because of a pre-existing condition or getting fewer benefits like mental health services or prescription drugs,” was one of the key purposes behind the law, explained the White House.

Instead, drug costs for these patients have skyrocketed. The majority of health plans offered on the exchanges have shifted costs for expensive medications onto patients, according to a study by Avalere Health. In 2015, more than 40 percent of all “silver” exchange plans — the most commonly purchased — charged patients 30 percent or more for specialty drugs. Only 27 percent of silver plans did so last year.

The president promised in 2013 that “this law means more choice, more competition, lower costs for millions of Americans.” But that hasn’t turned out to be true. According to the Heritage Foundation, the number of insurers selling to individual consumers in the exchanges this year is 21.5 percent less than the number that were on the market in 2013, the year before the law took effect.

The Government Accountability Office reports that insurers have left the market in droves. In 2013, 1,232 carriers offered insurance coverage in the individual market. By 2015, that number had shrunk to 310.

With competition in the exchanges on the decline, quality is going down, too — just like President Obama said, in 2013: “without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down.”

Consumers who purchase insurance on the law’s exchanges have fewer options than they had pre-Obamacare. The consulting firm McKinsey & Co. noted that roughly two-thirds of the hospital networks available on the exchanges were either “narrow” or “ultra-narrow.” That means that these insurance plans have refused to partner with at least 30 percent of the area’s hospitals. Other plans exclude more than 70 percent.

Patients may also have fewer doctors to pick from. More than 60 percent of doctors plan to retire earlier than anticipated. The Physicians Foundation reported in the fall that nearly half of all doctors — especially those with more experience — considered Obamacare’s reforms a failure.

Quality of care hasn’t improved, and costs continue to grow. That’s Obamacare’s five-year-old legacy.

Sally C. Pipes is president, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.