And still pretty cheap, too.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Obamacare Premiums Aren't Skyrocketing

Christopher Flavelle writes editorials on health care, energy and environment for Bloomberg View. He was a senior policy analyst for Bloomberg Government and chief speechwriter for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
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One of the most persistent arguments against Obamacare has been that the cost of coverage on state exchanges will skyrocket. Figures released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, listing average 2016 premium increases for the 37 states whose exchanges are run by the federal government, suggest that argument just isn't true.

QuickTake Health Insurance Exchanges

Yes, some of those states will see eye-popping increases: a 36 percent jump in Oklahoma, for example, and a 32 percent rise in Alaska. But in other states, the average cost of the so-called benchmark plan (the second-cheapest silver plan in a given geographic area) will fall -- by 13 percent in Indiana, 8 percent in Mississippi and 1 percent in Ohio. On average, benchmark premiums will go up by just 7.5 percent.

That's not nothing; it's far greater than the 2 percent increase for federally run exchanges between 2014 and 2015. It's also twice the increase in nationwide premiums for employer-provided health over that same period. But it's leagues away from the sort of doomsday warnings issued over the past few months. On Sunday, Donald Trump said Obamacare premiums are "going up 35, 45, 55 percent." That's pretty far off, even for Trump.

Nor are the new numbers particularly surprising. In June, analysts from the Kaiser Family Foundation looked at 2016 premium increases for 11 major cities. They found those increases to be 4.4 percent on average -- more than the 0.6 percent decrease in those same cities between 2014 and 2015, but still pretty good.

One response to Monday's figures is to say that the jaw-dropping premiums are still coming -- they're just not here yet. That may be right, but until it actually happens it's an argument that with each passing year is increasingly drained of credibility. Sure, some states will see big jumps in average premiums next year. But that doesn't put the sustainability of the system as a whole into doubt.

There are plenty of actual problems with Obamacare that demand attention. Let's deal with worrisome premium increases if and when they occur. This isn't the year.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Christopher Flavelle at cflavelle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net