Fact-Check: Insurance May Cost More Than Obamacare Site Shows

Image: Fact-Check: Insurance May Cost More Than Obamacare Site Shows

Monday, 25 Nov 2013 12:51 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Yet one more Obamacare glitch: Visitors to HealthCare.gov can get estimated insurance premiums if they visit the website anonymously, but when they sign up for coverage and provide their ages and details about tobacco use, actual costs may be much higher than the site's calculators indicate, fact-checkers say.

The website lets visitors browse for plans in their own states, reports FactCheck.org,  by clicking on a "See Plans Now" button.

However, the estimates are only rough guesses that don't consider the visitor's age, household size, or even tobacco use, all of which insurers take into account when calculated actual premiums.

And while the site's visitors initially are told that the "final premium you pay may be lower, perhaps much lower, than the prices shown" when they fill out an application and apply, it doesn't mention that premiums also may be much higher than the estimates anonymous visitors see, FactCheck.org points out.

"We didn't know how useless the website's window-shopper tool can be for certain consumers," FactCheck.org says.

Two of the site's staffers did comparison shopping for insurance to compare estimated premiums provided by the Obamacare site and another website, ValuePenguin.com, a consumer finance site that has its own comparison-shopping tool, and then went to insurance company websites for price quotes.

In all cases, the estimates given by the insurers and through the ValuePenguin site were much higher than those on HealthCare.gov, the fact-checking site says, because the premium estimates are "based on a limited set of sample ages," but the actual ages of the applicants may be much higher.

Under Obamacare rules, insurance companies can charge older Americans three times as much for coverage than younger people, and when users give their actual ages, the premium rates spike, warns FactCheck.org.

But while HealthCare.gov does not warn that prices may be higher than estimates, it tells users that "most people who apply for coverage in the marketplace will qualify for lower costs on monthly premiums based on their household size and income."

According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of the people buying their own insurance will qualify for the subsidies to offset their insurance costs.

"The average subsidy would be $5,548 per family, which would reduce their premium for the second-lowest-cost silver premium by an average of 66 percent," the foundation's report said.

However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the number of those receiving subsidies will grow, and by 2023, about 80 percent of the 25 million Americans with insurance through exchanges will get help paying for them.

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