Obamacare 2016: Where even a Ph.D. economist cannot get a good deal on health insurance

As the calendar flips to November, the Halloween decorations go back to the garage and the Thanksgiving decorations come out.

Now, there is a new special day in between that takes a piece of both holidays.

November 1 is the day that the new Obamacare health insurance plans are unwrapped. In a tribute to Halloween, the premiums are quite scary. In anticipation of Thanksgiving, most of the plans are turkeys.

The Healthcare.gov website is still clunky. When I looked this morning, I could not log on, but I could look at plans.

The website said that 87 plans were available in my state (Oregon), but the site showed only 80 plans. Go figure.

The site lets you sort by premium or deductible, but shows only 10 plans per page. That makes it difficult to see what is “best” and what is “worst.”

Of course that drives us at Econ Minute crazy. All that money, and they still can’t do a nice visualization of all the plans. Ugh!

So, in two hours, Econ Minute has accomplished something the mighty federal government could not do with three years and hundreds of millions of dollars (and Oregon couldn’t do at all).

The graph below shows the Obamacare plans available in Oregon for me and my wife together, a couple in their mid-40s.


Some things really pop out once the data is plotted:

  • There is a wide range in premiums. From $764 a month to $1,824 a month, or $9,168 a year to $21,888 a year. By way of comparison, you can buy a new 2016 Nissan Versa for less than $12,000.
  • Lower deductibles mean higher premiums, and vice versa. On average, a $1,000 decrease in deductible is associated with a $30 increase in the monthly premium.
  • Some plans are real stinkers. PacificSource has some of the worst plans in Oregon.  PacificSource’s Standard Gold plan is a whopping $600 a month more than a Providence gold plan with the same deductible. A plan is bad if:
    • Other plans have lower premiums for the same level of deductible, and/or
    • Other plans have lower deductibles for the same premium price.
  • Even the cheapest plans are darn expensive and kinda suck. The cheapest “best” plan in the graph above costs $772 a month, has a $10,000 deductible, and it covers just about … nothing:
    • Primary doctor: $60 Copay after deductible
    • Specialist doctor: $100 Copay after deductible
    • Emergency room care: 50% Coinsurance after deductible
    • Generic drugs: $20 Copay after deductible

The marketing folks like to make a big deal out of the whole “maximum out-of-pocket” thing.

For most people that is meaningless. To the insurers its seems to be meaningless. The graph below shows that there is almost no relationship between maximum out-of-pocket and a plan’s premium.


What about the penalties for no health insurance?

In 2016, the penalties for not being insured really kick in. Nevertheless, for all but the highest income Oregonians, the penalty is still substantially less than the cost of Obamacare insurance.

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