Premium Cost Is Top Concern for Health Insurance Shoppers: Survey

Image: Deadline Approaches To Signup For Health Insurance Under Affordable Care Act
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 05: Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on February 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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By Maggie Fox

Americans, long used to seeking bargains, look mostly at price when they’re shopping for health insurance, a new survey shows.

More than half of those who looked but didn't buy anything on the new Obamacare exchanges said they couldn’t find a plan they could afford, the survey found. And two-thirds who switched coverage said price was the main factor.

“Consistent with these findings, many adults opted for a limited network of doctors and hospitals in exchange for lower premiums,” the report reads.

That’s good news for those who could get subsidized plans on the exchanges, which are a way for people without employer-sponsored insurance to get decent coverage without necessarily paying the full premium all alone.

"Many adults opted for a limited network of doctors and hos­pitals in exchange for lower premiums."

The survey – two surveys, actually – by the Commonwealth Fund find that 60 percent of people who bought insurance on the exchanges paid $125 a month or less in premiums for their coverage and some paid nothing. That compares to 55 percent of people who get health insurance through an employer

“The survey findings suggest that the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies have been effective in making the cost of marketplace coverage similar to that of employer plans for people who have been most at risk of being uninsured,” said Sara Collins, who led both Commonwealth Fund studies.

But when people shop by premium alone, they may not realize they’re paying later, for instance with a plan that has a high deductible.

"On average, larger shares of people with marketplace plans have higher deductibles than those in employer plans," the report reads.

In the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, bronze plans cover 60 percent on average of medical costs for those enrolled, silver plans cover 70 percent, gold plans cover 80 percent, and platinum plans cover 90 percent. People with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of poverty who buy silver plans through the marketplaces are eligible for a federal subsidy for the premium.

The survey found that 47 percent of adults who looked at Obamacare plans over the past two years signed up. Thirty percent of them bought a private health plan, 15 percent enrolled in Medicaid, and 2 percent either did not know their coverage type or refused to respond.

Those who did buy a plan were happy, the survey of 4,800 people found.

"Overall, a majority of people with marketplace coverage said their insurance was good, very good, or excellent (70 percent)," the report reads.

According to Commonwealth, 23 million Americans have health insurance through either the marketplace or via expansion of Medicaid in the states that have chosen to do that.

But 25 million adults remain uninsured.

According to the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of people going without health insurance fell three points from 13 percent of the population in 2013 to 10 percent in 2014.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act aims to get as many Americans insured as possible through the exchanges, by expanding Medicaid to make it available to more people, and by requiring health insurers to cover more people.

It also requires some employers to provide insurance. Beginning this year, employers with at least 100 full-time employees must offer health insurance to full-time workers, and that will include employers with 50 or more full-time employees beginning in 2016.

It’s working. More than 7 million people who didn't have health insurance last year got coverage this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The Obama administration says nearly 11.7 million people signed up for health insurance under Obamacare in 2015.

"Overall, a majority of people with marketplace coverage said their insurance was good, very good, or excellent (70 percent)."

The premiums seem comparable to premiums charged for employer-sponsored plans, according to another survey published this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Health insurance premiums have grown an average of 5 percent each year since 2005, Kaiser says, compared to 11 percent annually between 1999 and 2005.

This year, 57 percent of employers offer health benefits to at least some of their workers, Kaiser said.

The average annual employer-sponsored premium for single coverage is $6,251 a year. The average employee pays $1,071 of that. The average family premium is $17,545, with the covered employee paying on average $4,955.