At midweek, the Department of Health and Human Services released its report on the health plan choices and insurance premiums available under the Affordable Care Act, which opens for enrollment on Oct. 1 in 36 states.
The HHS press release accompanying the report glistened with the positivity of a group hug, starting with its headline, “Significant choice and lower than expected premiums available in the new Health Insurance Marketplace.” The press release’s feel-good theme of “lower than expected premiums” ricocheted up and down many news columns the next day.
“Cost may be under forecasts”; “Obamacare To Cost Less, Feds Say”; “Rates from insurance exchanges lower than projected for most, HHS says”; and “Report: Georgia Obamacare premiums lower than expected”; read the print headlines in the Dallas Morning News, the Herald News of Passaic County, N.J., the Kansas City Business Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
The upbeat message prevailed in many of the stories about the HHS report, with the Austin American-Statesman reporting that “premiums could be approximately 16 percent lower than originally expected.” (The language in the press release had it only slightly different: “Premiums nationwide will also be around 16 percent lower than originally expected.”) CBS News echoed the report, too, stating, “premiums nationwide are expected to be around 16 percent lower than originally predicted,” as did the Detroit News and other outlets.
If “lower than expected” sounds like a shady retailer’s sales pitch to your ears, you’re on my wavelength. “Expected by whom?” is the first question that comes to the clever shopper’s mind. The HHS press release and some of the news accounts answer this question: The healthcare prices being showcased by HHS were from a government estimate, as was the previous — and higher — set of numbers, which were projected from Congressional Budget Office calculations (pdf). In other words, the only thing that has changed is the government’s best educated guess of what health coverage will cost, state-by-state, in the 36 states where the federal insurance exchanges operate.