Aetna CEO Sees Obama Health Law Doubling Some Premiums

Health insurance premiums may as much as double for some small businesses and individual buyers in the U.S. when the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions start in 2014, Aetna Inc. (AET)’s chief executive officer said.

While subsidies in the law will shield some people, other consumers who make too much for assistance are in for “premium rate shock,” Mark Bertolini, who runs the third-biggest U.S. health-insurance company, told analysts yesterday at a conference in New York. The prospect has spurred discussion of having Congress delay or phase in parts of the law, he said.

“We’ve shared it all with the people in Washington and I think it’s a big concern,” the CEO said. “We’re going to see some markets go up as much as as 100 percent.”

Bertolini’s prediction is at odds with Congressional Budget Office estimates that the law will have little effect on small and large-employer plans and the Obama administration’s projections that middle-class families will actually save money. The 2010 law is expected to extend health care to about 30 million people who otherwise couldn’t get insurance, paid for by new taxes and fees on companies and wealthier individuals.

Those taxes will make coverage more expensive for insurers, as will other provisions such as a ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions, Bertolini said. Premiums are likely to increase 25 percent to 50 percent on average in the small-group and individual markets, he said, citing projections by his Hartford, Connecticut-based company.

High Estimate

The one-time jump in rates also includes increases in costs that would come even without the law, Bertolini said.

“That just seems silly,” said Gary Claxton, a vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California- based nonprofit that studies health issues. “I can’t imagine anything going on in the small-group market that would change the average premium that much. On the individual market, there’s arguments for things changing, but those magnitudes seem high.”

The Obama administration said last year that “middle-class families” buying insurance through the law’s new online exchanges may save as much as $2,300 a year starting in 2014. Nick Papas, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on Bertolini’s predictions.

The CBO estimated in 2009 that the law will increase premiums 10 percent to 13 percent for individuals and have little effect on small and large-employer plans. After the subsidies are factored in, individual bills will go down by about 60 percent, the agency predicted.

About 43 percent of people who buy on the exchanges, or individual markets outside of them, won’t be eligible for subsidies, according to the report. They would see premium increases “somewhat less” than 10 percent to 13 percent, CBO predicted.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York at anussbaum1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

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