Playing the health insurance blame game

Politicians and at least one interest group seized the opportunity this week to point fingers over the news that health insurance premiums for thousands of Alaskans may increase next year.

 

Parnell blames Obama

Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration, in a Thursday news release titled “Alaska health insurance rates to increase substantially due to Obamacare,” was the first to chime in by blaming the Affordable Care Act.

“A thorough and lengthy review by the Division of Insurance shows that as a direct result of the ACA, insurers offering health plans in the individual market require historic rate increases, as high as 37 percent in 2015,” read the release from Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The release touts the Parnell administration for trying to keep costs down by allowing individuals to keep health care plans grandfathered in through late 2016.

“Governor Parnell has expressed concern from the beginning that Obamacare’s one-size-fits-all approach to health care for Alaskans is not going to work in our state, and that heavy-handed federal mandates, taxes, and penalties will only add to Alaska’s health care costs,” said Susan Bell, commissioner of the Department of Commerce. “His concerns are, unfortunately, proving to be true.”

NAACP blames Parnell

The NAACP fired the next shot Friday morning in a news release titled, “Parnell approves insurance rate hikes.”

It accused Parnell of neglecting to improve Alaska’s health insurance rate review process and said his denial of additional Medicaid funding is also to blame.

“Sean Parnell rejected Medicaid, failed to police the health insurance companies, and now the chickens are coming home to roost as he signs off on health insurance rate hikes,” said Kevin McGee, chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Anchorage NAACP.

Parnell previously told the Empire he denied Medicaid expansion funds because although there would be no cost to Alaska this year, in future years the state would be required to fund a portion of the expansion.

Sullivan blames Begich

Not long after, Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan’s campaign wagged its finger at Sen. Mark Begich, Sullivan’s opponent in the November general election, with an email entitled “Begich costs Alaskans dearly.”

“Today’s announcement is a major blow to hardworking Alaskan families and further proof that Mark Begich has been an utter failure in the United States Senate,” said Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson. “It was clear from the outset ObamaCare would kick thousands of Alaskans off their plans and hike up prices, yet Mark Begich voted for it and has said he’d do it again.”

Begich blames Parnell

Minutes after Sullivan’s statement was sent, Begich’s office sent out its own statement once again pointing at Parnell’s refusal to expand Medicaid and not applying for grants to bolster Alaska’s rate review program as the cause.

“After leaving millions of dollars of federal funding on the table and refusing to accept the Medicaid expansion to cover tens of thousands of Alaskans, it is frustrating to now see the State and Governor Parnell try and pass the buck on to consumers and use partisan scare tactics to confuse Alaskans about their health care,” Begich said.

HHS blames no one

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the rate increases will likely be much lower than 37 percent.

“Most Alaskans wouldn’t experience large premium increases because tax credits cut the cost of their Marketplace premiums — more so than in any other state on the federal Marketplace,” said HHS spokeswoman Tasha Bradley. “(About) 95 percent of silver plan enrollees received financial assistance, which cut the average silver plan premium by 85 percent, to $82 per month.”

Bradley said that until Alaska’s insurance department releases actual rate information instead of the “maximum possible rate increase,” those with health insurance marketplace plans “will not be able to tell how their premiums may change in 2015.”

• Contact managing editor Charles L. Westmoreland at 523-2265 or at charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com.

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