From Peter Suderman at Reason.com:
Over the weekend, The New York Times published a report noting that health insurers across the nation are both “seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums” — this despite the fact that “one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.” …
What’s going on? Why are these rates going up?
Suderman explains how mandated benefits explain some of the increase. He then explains a less obvious culprit: mandatory medical loss ratios. Suderman writes:
The MLR is an accounting requirement which says that insurers have to spend at least 80 percent of their total premium revenue on medical expenses, leaving just 20 percent for administrative costs, marketing, and other non-medical expenditures. Any insurer that fails to meet this target must issue rebates to customers. This year, insurers rebated about $1 billion.
The MLR provision creates two incentives for insurers to jack up health insurance premiums. One is the plain fact that with profit and administrative costs capped as a percentage of premium revenue, the easiest way to generate larger profits is to charge higher premiums.
The other is that the rebate requirement means insurers may need to charge higher up-front premiums in order to protect themselves from the risk of a bad year.