Health care premiums aren’t skyrocketing

One of the most persistent arguments against the health-care act 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.

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 the health-care 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.

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 the system that demand attention. Let’s deal with worrisome premium increases if and when they occur.