So it came as a surprise last week when news broke that California's program was showing lower than projected premiums. Ezra Klein called it "Very Good News for Obamacare." Major news networks cited the release telling viewers that premiums were going down.
Then came the rest of the story. Indeed Covered California was going to see a rate reduction for individual insurance. BUT, these plans were compared to the average small group plans. For perspective, the average premium for individual plans sold through EHealthInsurance in California last year was $177 a month. Covered California said the average premium for the three lowest Silver plans statewide was $321 a month, albeit for more comprehensive benefits.
So, why compare 2014 individual rates to today's small group rates? Well, Covered California provided this little gem for you:
"It is difficult to make a direct comparison of low rates to existing premiums in the commercial individual market because in 2014 there will be new benefits and today’s coverage on an actuarial basis is all over the map. The best frame of reference is by looking at current rates available in the small group market in California. Each market is a competitive market with guaranteed issue. Comparing rates to comparable products in the small employer market, rates ranged from two percent above the 2013 average premium to 29 percent below the rates in California’s most populous markets. This is impressive since the 2014 products include doctor visits, prescriptions, hospital stays and more essential benefits."
What's really going to be impressive is if these "preliminary" rates will actually hold.