Government Watch

Obamacare Insurance Plans Will Be Bare Bones — And Expensive

By Scott Gottlieb – Real Clear Markets

There’s mounting evidence that come fall, the health plans sold through the Obamacare exchanges will be bare bones affairs – with narrow networks of providers to select from, and heavy co-insurance once patients go “out of network.”

In many ways these plans will be a throwback to insurance schemes of the late 1990s, when managed care was dominant and restrictive networks standard fare.

With one difference: The Obamacare plans won’t be cheap.

Quality of coverage is just one issue. Price is the other. There’s mounting evidence that even though the new health coverage will be austere, it’ll still be pricey.

Health plans have ample incentives to price the Obamacare coverage high, which is precisely what they’re likely to do.

For one thing, insurers will want to protect against the risk that individuals entering the exchanges are those who most need health insurance because of pre-existing illness. If this sort of “adverse selection” occurs, it will raise costs to insurers. To guard against this, insurers are likely to price the coverage at a premium.

Second, health plans want to reduce uncertainty around how all the risk-sharing provisions in Obamacare will eventually play out. The legislation puts in place mechanisms that forces Washington to share with health plans some of the cost of the covering the sickest beneficiaries. But the regulations outlining these parameters were only released last Friday. Nobody yet trusts how they’ll work.

To mitigate uncertainty, plans will price their products high. Insurers know that any excess profits they earn will have to be paid back to the government, anyway (owing to caps that Obamacare places on how much profit health plans can earn). Health plans are better off aiming high, and owing money back, then getting underwater.

After all, Washington takes away “excess” profits, but it doesn’t share in losses.

Third, health insurers will want to reduce the incentive for employers to drop coverage and dump employees into the exchanges. This is especially true when it comes to insurers’ lucrative small group and large group segments.

If insurers price the exchange products too low, they’ll give employers another inducement to do this sort of dropping. By pricing exchange products higher relative to the insurance offered in the private market, they reduce this incentive.

Finally, the providers that Obamacare plans must contract with are unlikely to offer significant price cuts to attract this volume. Since the Obamacare plans are likely to pay providers less than rates offered by standard private coverage (and maybe even less than Medicare rates) many doctors could also refuse to accept Obamacare, just like they refuse Medicaid. Or refuse to offer insurers discounts for these patients.

The architects of Obamacare designed the scheme without much thought to how its overlapping incentives would discourage competition on the price of the new coverage. Health plans will try to drive down costs by offering very narrow networks of providers that they can more easily control. It will be a race to the bottom to see which plan can offer the cheapest benefit, while still meeting minimum standards. But it won’t be a race to the bottom on price.

Plans have too many reasons to price their products cautiously, and not automatically pass along any cost savings to consumers.

If the Obamacare plans are priced higher than initial assumptions made by the Congressional Budget Office, it will burst the estimates placed on Obamacare’s total costs. It could also make these plans unappealing to consumers.

Economics turns on simple principles. They’ve evaded Obamacare’s architects.

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Resident Scholar Scott Gottlieb, M.D. is a practicing physician.  He previously served in senior positions at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). By Scott Gottlieb – Real Clear Markets

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An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I feel that you simply should certainly write alot more on this topic, it could possibly not be a taboo subject but typically people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

Michael Kors Bags

Larry Conner

From what I see here on the AMAC site they are modeled after AARP. They sell the same products as AARP. So why am I supposed to believe AMAC is any different than AARP? How can AMAC blame Insurance Companies for raising premiums and then ask it’s members to buy those policies? It seems to me AMAC is working for the same Insurance industry as AARP. Am I wrong, I really wish someone would explain to me just what the difference in the two is.


I agree with Gloria (03/09/2013) Almag(03/09/2013 and vesuvius1313. The three of you have summed it up perfitly.
Wake up America. Listen to Fox News and hear the truth. We are domed if the 47% ‘s mind can’t be changed.


We are so lucky that the idiot’s that voted Obama into office the first time were still around to do it again last fall. Of course, it was part of his plan when he asked/demanded that more people go on the government dole. That was part of his plans in the first place. Everyone in the country that has a brain that works above an IQ of 10 should have seen the Movie 2016. That spelled out what he wanted/wants to do. He also told us some of it when he ran for election the first time. He indicated that he wanted to get us to be equal to a third World County in the way we lived and our wealth. He also stated that he wanted our military to be equal to the level of any third world Arab/Muslim country. There are MANY people in this country that need… Read more »


Government is known to keep making the mistakes until they find a solution as long as they have our money to bang into the wall they could care less..this has to stop, I am damn tired of paying good money to idiots who come up with horrible solutions and can’t find their own butts…

This HC scam ought to be used to send the left side of the asile to jail and fire a pot load of RINO’s, they closed the doors to pass it and they couldn’t even read it before or after they passed it thru the bowels of the senate, it is bad medicine, snakeoil and a medicine show act with the horses kept hitched to the wagon…If you like socialism and the communist brethern, then you need to find another country that accomodates special kinds of stupid…


Just another of the elements of a Marxist form of government, along with housing, auto manufacturing, transportation, health care. All of Obama’s activities fit exactly into the academic definitions of Socialism or Communism. Maybe suspension of 22nd Amendment by some type of executive order, in order to get the job done.


Just another way for Obama and his cronies to get more money and taxes out of the people.

legal conservative

Anyone ever think of the number of un=employed if all the insurance companies went broke? My son works for one, and is head actuary, of course with all that math getting another job wouldn’t be hard. But bet your bottom dollar we will be shelling out more of our dollars to pony up for all the illegal aliens on their “pathway to citizenship” that Obama has insisted will happen, hope they talk that out on the Senate floor like they did last week. This will make the dollar amount SKYROCKET, because most of the illegal aliens don’t have high paying jobs, so we will also have to be subsidizing their health care. I don’t see where the popularity of Obama comes from. I don’t know where obama is going to get all the Doctors from, because they can’t FORCE them to take Medicaid, or Medicare now, so who is going… Read more »


What does the mandate to purchase insurance coverage mean for people sixty years of age who are living on the gains made from the sale of their homes, or the homes of their parents, and who cannot find jobs in this economy. Does that mean the government can raid their bank accounts to cover the cost of health insurance until they’ve gone broke and can no longer support themselves?


..thoughts on economic principals..

1. Resources are scarce.
2. An economy consists of product and services that people want and use.
3. Demand-side economics doesn’t work; and are exclusively the tools of a central government. The Federal Government policy is to create demand with “easy money.” However, money is never central to an economy because people will only buy products and services they want. Money is a commodity and the more of it there is, the less it is worth relative the the desired goods and services. That is why the printing press destroys an economy by inflation.
4. Supply-side economics always works because it promotes growth by creating incentives in the private sector to produce goods and services that are useful. The printing press plays no part in the transaction.


Also contributing to the increase in insurance cost will be the provision eliminating a persons yearly and lifetime cap on healthcare expenditure by insurance companies. Many ihealthcra insurance policies have a yrarly cap of $75,000, to $100,000.00 which will eliminated in 2014 with the ACA. A company providing coverage now at a cost of $300.00 per month per employee will skyrocket to 2X or 3X the current cost. This will contribute to employer dropping coverage and paying the annual penalty of $2,200.00.

Jim J

Simple principles. There is a great thought.

My simple principle is that if there are a substantial number of steady participants, then they are ALL making too damn much money!

Simple principle — Single Payer — now that is a simple principle.

Makes all of those insurance guys CRINGE.


So the way I understand this: someone without health insurance, like my son, will have to pick one of these bare bone plans for health ins. If he does not buy a plan then it will be taken out of his income tax refund. Those people who do not file a return probably won’t get the insurance or have to pay for it either. Do I have that right!!


Nobody seems to be able to answer my primary question: I have Medicare Part A, but have not signed up for Medicare Part B or the pharmaceutical program. Will I be forced to do so under Obamacare? What’s going to happen is probably not what those analyzing the insurance industry are predicting. (Don’t forget….AMAC sells insurance). Of course, the policies will be as expensive as the insurance companies can make them with the highese co-pays possible. And they will escalate immensely almost immediately as those who’ve had unadressed medical problems “pile on” to their new insurance. What I think will happen is that they wealthy will pay the penalty to opt out of ObamaCare. Then they’ll have an elite health care network….with the medical personnel, care facilities, therapies that can afford to go off the grid and only serve those who don’t use Obamacare. It’s already happened with dental care.… Read more »


“Third, health insurers will want to reduce the incentive for employers to drop coverage and dump employees into the exchanges. This is especially true when it comes to insurers’ lucrative small group and large group segments. If insurers price the exchange products too low, they’ll give employers another inducement to do this sort of dropping. By pricing exchange products higher relative to the insurance offered in the private market, they reduce this incentive.” Wouldn’t an employer make the decision to drop coverage — or not — based on the cost to the employer? i.e. If the cost to cover an employee is greater than the penalty they’ll pay to not cover an employee, the employer could decide to drop coverage and “dump” employees into the exchange, regardless of the what the exchange changes for coverage. Also, if the exchanges price their plans very high, wouldn’t that just increase the income-based… Read more »


With all the new mandated coverage HHS is dictating that “conforming health plans MUST include”, I don’t think the plans that will be offered by the exchanges, or for that matter what any of us will be allowed to own once Obamacare goes into effect, will be what you call bare bones. If anything, they are likely to be extremely bloated, with all kinds of mandated coverage criteria that most people would have no use for. Of course we will be paying for the inclusion of all these mandates as part of the standard conforming health insurance plans, so part of your article would be correct. The insurance plans offer through either the exchanges or for that matter anywhere else, will be incredibly expensive. You should disregard the initial cost estimates for Obamacare, which were always pure fantasy, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has increased the estimated costs from… Read more »