Among the more aggravating of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s self-promotional spin is her use of selective employment numbers to paint a false picture, for reasons I’ve explained before. So, when she appeared on 10 News Conference with Bill Rappleye and proclaimed that ObamaCare “is working in Rhode Island,” I expected something of the same technique.
Sure enough, while Rappleye did a good job pushing back on her nationally driven talking points, when she declared that premiums on Rhode Island’s ObamaCare health benefits exchange, HealthSource RI, were actually falling, she got away with it. Rappleye looked a little surprised, but comparing premiums is complicated, so he’d have had to have memorized very complicated data in order to have a comeback. When the governor states something authoritatively, people are still inclined not to assume she’s being deceptive unless they can back up the statement on the spot.
She’s being deceptive.
In the current year, HealthSource plans are pretty evenly split between Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neighborhood, and 70% of all plans are in the “silver” category, so let’s limit our research to that range. Doing so, we see that, yes, as was reported in October, Neighborhood’s silver plans’ premiums dropped around 6% from the prior year. However, most Blue Cross silver plans went up more than 7%.
Moreover, Neighborhood jacked up its maximum out-of-pocket requirements 9% for the Value plan and 19% for the Community plan, which also saw a 4% increase in deductible. So, while a 40-year-old with an individual Community plan will save just under $200 in premiums for the year, he or she will have to pay another $100 in deductibles and has to cover an extra $750 in maximum out-of-pocket expenses. (This could be a really big deal if ObamaCare participants tend to be higher-cost customers.)
The numbers become more exaggerated if we go back to the 2014 plans. Since then, two silver Blue Cross plans have survived, as has the Neighborhood Value plan. Here again, yes, Neighborhood Value premiums are down about 12%, but Blue Cross premiums are up 7% for one plan and 22% for another, and Blue Cross deductibles are up 50% for the plan that saw the smaller premium increase. Meanwhile, maximum out-of-pocket expenses are up for all plans: 7.5% for the Blue Cross plans and 43% for Neighborhood Value. So, again, that 40-year-old Neighborhood customer is saving $416 in premiums, but has to pay a maximum out of pocket of $2,150 more.
That brings us to the kickers in the governor’s assertion that ObamaCare is “working.” We learned two very interesting things about Neighborhood’s premiums back when everybody was distracted with the historic election season.
First, because Rhode Island’s response to ObamaCare had essentially transformed Neighborhood from a quasi-public Medicaid provider into a private insurance company, it didn’t have the corporate experience to estimate its costs, and it greatly overcharged its customers. That meant (1) it scammed the federal government out of tax subsidies, (2) it had to refund money to plan members, and (3) it could lower its prices.
Second, HealthSource rejected two plans from Neighborhood that would have been even lower cost, because that would have reduced the amount of federal subsidies available to other HealthSource customers. Raimondo can talk about “bending the cost curve,” but when it came down to it, her health benefits exchange refused to let it bend enough to stop scamming the federal government for subsidies.
This isn’t a picture of something that’s “working.” With Neighborhood dropping its rates while Blue Cross raises them, we can be sure the near-parity between the two won’t last long… and it would be even more dramatic if the state had let Neighborhood provide customers with lower-cost options that many people, presumably, would want.
And that’s without even getting into the fact that HealthSource is shrinking, rather than growing, in large part because the Medicaid expansion is drawing paying HealthSource customers into a welfare program.
Even if she weren’t so obviously echoing the talking points required by her out-of-state donors, Governor Raimondo has proven that one can’t take her statements of fact at face value, and to use her own phrasing, it hurts Rhode Island families.