Another $1.1 billion in savings, the report said, came from the statute's medical-loss-ratio provision, which requires insurers to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on medical expenses or else pay the difference to consumers through rebates.
HHS has distributed about $160 million of $250 million the law provided for grants to help states review rate increases. But Thomas Miller, resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, questioned whether HHS could rightly claim credit for taming premium hikes, noting that most states used their existing authority to review rates.
Gary Cohen, director of HHS' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said states made 69% of the rate-review determinations, while HHS decided on the remaining 31%.
The AEI's Miller also said HHS is claiming credit for other factors that are keeping premiums down. “If you want to bring healthcare down, they've got a foolproof approach: Depress the economy,” he said. “If people don't have money, they won't buy expensive health insurance.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called the report “an election-year gimmick that ignores the true total cost increases of the new healthcare law.”
Enzi also noted in a statement that the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust found that family healthcare premiums are 4% higher this year than in 2011. “What this administration does not want people to know is that the new mandates contained in the healthcare law are significantly increasing the cost of insurance, which will make it harder for many Americans to purchase affordable coverage.”
A Kaiser and HRET news release about the finding, based on a survey of 2,000 large and small businesses, characterized the 4% growth rate as “moderate by historical standards,” though still outpacing wages.