Study: Health reform law will hike premiums between 1 and 2 percent

The new healthcare reform law will have only a modest impact on the insurance premium hikes projected to hit employers next year, an independent research group reported this week. 

Hewitt Associates, a global consulting firm, said the most immediate reforms under the law — including the new protections known collectively as the Patient's Bill of Rights — will contribute "approximately 1 percent to 2 percent of the 8.8 percent projected increase for 2011."

The tougher pill to swallow will be for employees, whose premiums will go up at even higher rates in 2011 (12.4 percent), as employers shift more health costs on their workers, Hewitt reported.  

The issue has been a contentious one on Capitol Hill, where Republicans — echoing the message of insurers — have slammed the reform law as the leading driver behind the premium increases projected to hit next year.

"ObamaCare represents everything that’s gone wrong with our government," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said recently. 

The White House was quick to trumpet Hewitt's findings as evidence that Boehner and the other critics have got it wrong. 

"The study confirms our own analysis," Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the President for special projects, wrote Monday on the White House blog. "And it’s important to remember that any increases will be offset by a number of provisions in the new law that will save money for consumers and employers." 

Earlier in the month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned the insurance industry that the agency would have "zero tolerance" for "unjustified rate increases" — or for companies that blame the law for the hikes.  

"According to our analysis and those of some industry and academic experts, any potential premium impact from the new consumer protections and increased quality provisions under the Affordable Care Act will be minimal," Sebelius wrote to Karen Ignagni, head of America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. 

"We estimate that that the effect will be no more than one to two percent."