ELLIOT: The silver scam another Obamacare lie exposed

Lucy Nicholson—Reuters
Arminda Murillo

There are so many lies surrounding Obamacare that it’s hard to keep track. “You can keep your doctor.” “You can keep your plan.” Insurance premiums would fall by “$2,500 per family per year.” Obamacare would not degrade coverage for “Americans who already have health insurance.” Etc.Each of those lies has been known for years, but one important lie has so far escaped revelation. It’s a lie that has cost millions of Americans serious money. It keeps happening. And it’s a whopper.First, a review of some recent coverage of Obamacare’s price increases. “The Obama administration Monday confirmed a 25% average jump in premiums for the Affordable Care Act’s benchmark health plans…” read the Wall Street Journal’s article. “The average monthly premium for the benchmark plan is rising to $302 from $242 in 2016…” reported Reuters.It’s just as bad in North Carolina. “The 24.3 (percent) average rate increase for 2017, on top of a 32 percent rate that took effect this year, is evidence that rising costs are not sustainable for the long term,” reads a Blue Cross Blue Shield NC blog post on its 2017 plan announcements. That’s called compounding the problem.All this is horrifying for the 9 million middle-class families that buy insurance on the private market without subsidies. But unpacking the ACA premium hike coverage yields a land mine under the leaves. Both articles above refer to “benchmark” plans. OK, so what are benchmark plans? Later in the Reuters article we find out: the benchmark is the second-lowest cost “silver” plan on the ACA’s bronze-to-platinum metallic schedule. Because health insurance plans are so complicated and varied, having a benchmark for comparison makes sense. And sliver is the most popular level, so using it is appropriate. Good so far.But what makes a plan silver? According to healthcare.gov — it was working when I wrote this — plans are given a metal level based on one metric: how the insurance company and the consumer split costs. For bronze-level plans, insurance pays 60 percent and the consumer 40 percent; that increases all the way to a 90/10 split in the platinum plans.Co-insurance is just one of the metrics that affect the quality and price of a plan, of course. Major costs left out include premiums and deductibles, but there are others. Qualitative metrics, such as provider network, are missing as well. Still, reducing complex plans to a simple rating system is likely helpful for many people, and co-insurance is an honest — if incomplete — way to do it. The problem is the way dishonest government bureaucrats and politicians use the metallic system to mislead the public.The silver scam is that the Obama administration, enabled by the news media, compares the premium rate hikes every year for the benchmark silver plan. But silver plans change substantially from one year to the next. As noted in USA TODAY, “In more than a tenth of the counties covered through healthcare.gov, the minimum deductible available for a family plan at the silver level has increased since last year — sometimes as much as $5,000. In other cases, consumers are trading high deductibles for lower premiums. And in some areas, the number of insurance providers has affected deductible levels.”Deductibles go up, coverage gets worse, provider networks shrink. But the plan is still silver!It would be bad enough if the cost of health insurance were going up 25 percent for 2017. But what that higher premium buys gets worse every year. It’s like saying a 4-cylinder car will cost 25 percent more for 2017, but not mentioning that it gets worse gas mileage and tops out at 38 mph.This metalline mendacity is just one more way that politicians and bureaucrats conspire to make the disaster of Obamacare less evident than it already is. It may seem silly to point out that the orchestra on the Titanic is out of tune, but one of the few electoral mandates held by the next president will be “fixing” Obamacare. Americans must demand that when it goes, every single deception dies with it. Otherwise we’ll end up with a new name and another passel of lies.