Some Cook County residents to see bump in Obamacare premiums

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A family of four living in Cook County and making $50,000 would pay about $22 more per month this year for the lowest available health insurance premium via President Barack Obama’s health care law than they did last year. A 25-year-old non-smoker making $25,000, meanwhile, would only pay $8 more compared to last year, while a 44-year-old woman who makes too much to qualify for tax credit would pay $40 more.

Those were among the findings, based on Chicago Sun-Times analysis using data made available Monday by the federal government.

The open enrollment period for people looking to purchase health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplace, with the help of tax credits, starts Nov. 15.

But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowed consumers in Illinois to begin “window-shopping” Monday at HealthCare.gov to see what was being offered. The department said that the premiums given on its website are only estimates.

Because prices vary based on a person’s age, where they live and their family size, the Sun-Times looked at insurers’ offerings for three hypothetical people: a single 25-year-old male making $25,000, a 44-year-old woman making $35,000 and a family of four with two kids younger than age 18 making $50,000.

There was no way last year to indicate whether a person smoked or not, so all of the hypothetical people are non-smokers. Under rules of the Affordable Care Act, in Illinois and most other states, insurers can charge smokers and other tobacco users as much as 50 percent more on their premiums due to the higher health risks they face compared to non-tobacco users.

The number of insurance plans offered for 2015 will be more than 400 – more than double last year’s offerings of 165, the state said. And three more insurers than last year will be part of the marketplace this year.

Though more insurers were offered this year, the lowest premium offered for all three hypothetical people in 2015 was the same Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance plan that was the lowest shown in 2014.

The Illinois Department of Insurance has noted, though, that some of the lowest-priced silver plans in 2015 may not be the same as the plans that had that distinction in 2014. And it, along with other experts, urged people who bought a 2014 plan to examine the new plans available — even though they would automatically be enrolled in the same plan if they did nothing.

Last week, the department issued a report saying that overall, premiums for the lowest-cost silver plans would see an average premium increase of just 2.6 percent across the state. Most Americans signed up for silver plans last year.

Individuals and families making 133 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level are supposed to get a tax credit that helps them pay their premiums, if purchased through the marketplace on HealthCare.gov.

There is some question about the legality of those tax subsidies. But the Obama administration has said that consumers would continue getting tax credits while those cases are reviewed.

The 2015 open enrollment period will be from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15.

The penalty for not having health insurance will be 2 percent of income or $325 per person next year, up from $90 or 1 percent this year. It will continue to increase.

In other news, a report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 9 million to 9.9 million paying customers will enroll for subsidized private coverage in 2015. That’s significantly lower than the 13 million the Congressional Budget Office had projected earlier this year.

Critics are bound to accuse the White House of moving the goal posts. “Obamacare” remains unpopular in much of the country, and Republicans will keep crusading for its repeal when they assume full control of Congress next year.

At least one independent nonpartisan expert said either number could turn out to be valid.

“An estimate of 9 million enrollees is just as plausible and defensible as an estimate of 13 million,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation. On one hand, said Levitt, the law’s mandate that most Americans get covered or risk fines would argue for a bigger number. On the other hand, “there has never been a program as controversial and politically divisive … which could dampen how quickly enrollment grows,” he added.

Contributing: Associated Press

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