Report: Health plans cheaper on exchanges

Four major healthcare companies offer plans separate from ObamaCare marketplaces that are more costly than similar plans on the exchanges, according to a study released this week.

HealthPocket, a consumer research group, compared off-exchange plans based on premium prices offered by United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna, and Assurant to similar bronze, silver, and gold plans sold through the exchanges and found the off-exchange plans average 40 percent more expensive.

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The battle over premium prices in the federal and state exchanges is already heating up as states begin to release premium costs over the summer.

As the midterm elections roll around, Republicans have warned costs are bound to balloon by double-digit percentages, but Democrats have fought back saying the issue is baseless and overblown.

A major point in the debate has been how to compare future premium prices with past costs. Earlier this week the Commonwealth Fund released a report that found premium prices were rising 10 percent annually before ObamaCare went into effect.

During the first round of enrollments, insurers such as United and Aetna were among companies that sold individual health insurance plans in several states without participating in the federal and state exchanges.

After enrollment numbers for the government exchanges spiked, many of these insurers are planning to join the marketplaces for the upcoming November enrollment period.

“This suggests that if these carriers entered new exchanges in 2015, then they would not usually be competitive with the cheapest on-exchange plans unless they substantially lowered their current premiums,” the HealthPocket report said.

The researchers say because of the price transparency offered through the federal and state exchanges, insurers may have dropped their premium prices substantially to show they are cheaper than off-exchange plans.

“While there are web sites such as HealthPocket that compare both on-exchange and off-exchange premiums together, off-exchange insurance companies may have believed there would be lesser consumer awareness of these sites,” added the report.

The report also notes it may be that off-exchange insurance plans offer lower deductibles and co-insurance compared to the on-exchange plans, which may be more important for some consumers.