- - Monday, October 24, 2016

Are you enrolled in any of the Obamacare exchanges? If so, are you paying enough for health insurance?

I hope your answer was “no” — that you want to pay more. Because otherwise, you’re going to be very disappointed by the premium hikes coming next year.

Of course, for many of the millions enrolled in the Obamacare exchanges, costs have already been climbing. But it’s about to get worse in several states, according to insurers.

Vermont will get off relatively easy with a 5.5 percent increase. In Florida, it’s 19 percent. More typical is Colorado, with a 21.6 percent hike. Other states with increases in the 20 percent range include Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Oregon.

For some, though, it’s more than twice that much. In Tennessee, it’s 50.9 percent. Minnesota, meanwhile, faces a whopping 57.8 percent hike.

Perhaps you’re asking, “How can this be?” (Right after, “How can I possibly afford that?”) That’s probably because you heard how administration officials sold the so-called Affordable Care Act — as a way to lower prices and increase competition — and you took them at their word.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. Take Florida. Before the Obamacare insurance exchanges were established in 2013, Florida residents had 18 insurers operating in the state. Today, they have five. Other states have seen a similar exodus.

Less competition means higher prices, as surely as night follows day.

Florida was also one of 41 states to see an increase in Obamacare deductibles this year. On average, the state’s deductibles increased $990 — about a 23 percent increase from the previous year, according to the conservative advocacy group Freedom Partners.

Considering the costly health insurance benefits that the federal government is now mandating that insurers offer, this really isn’t surprising. As health care expert Robert Moffit has pointed out, paying for these mandates can be sustained only through a heavy dose of taxpayer subsidies which, of course, shield the true cost of coverage from lower-income customers.

Yet the federal subsidy program is so poorly designed that in 2015, half of the lower-income subsidy recipients ended up owing the government money. But they either have to buy the federally required insurance — or pay a penalty.

The insurers that remain have responded with the bigger deductibles mentioned above. But they’ve also shrunk the network of doctors and hospitals they cover, which only makes timely access to good, affordable care all the more difficult for patients.

Another factor driving up costs is the fact that millions of younger, healthier see no benefit to enrolling in Obamacare. The result: exchanges filled with older, sicker and poorer individuals.

According to health care expert Ed Haislmaier, “Without changing a lot of the basic design of the [Affordable Care Act], there’s no way to really bring down the cost for young, healthy people. Young, healthy people tend to have lower incomes and would rather spend their money on something else, so it’s difficult to give them a value proposition where they would instead spend money on [health insurance].”

So insurers, facing huge losses on the dysfunctional exchanges, turn to Congress for bailouts. And now that they’re not getting as much as they expected, some have resorted to filing suit against the federal government to get what they feel they’re owed.

Small wonder that Mr. Moffit has described Obamacare as a system experiencing “multi-organ failure.” The health insurance exchanges, he says, “are not quite in cardiac arrest, but the vital signs show them heading there: less choice, less competition, higher premiums, and more substantial deductibles.”

How far we’ve come from the days when President Obama told Americans that they could keep their plans and their doctors if they choose. Now they’re paying more for less — not to mention taking what they get and essentially being told to like it or else.

There’s only one viable prescription: repeal and replace this terrible law before it somehow inflicts even more damage, stat.

Ed Feulner is the founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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