This weekend, the New York Times reported on a development that’s completely unsurprising to critics of President Obama’s national health care law: “Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.” The Times story heavily suggests that the problem is that Obamacare didn’t give federal regulators enough power to outright reject rate increases deemed too high. But Reason‘s Peter Suderman makes that case that the real culprit could be Obamacare itself — particularly its requirement that all insurance policies pay out at least 80 percent of what it collects in premiums on medical expenses. Known as the “medical loss ratio” (MLR) rule, this requirement creates an incentive for insurers to hike premiums by reducing their profit margins on any given policy.
Whatever the cause of the higher premiums, however, this trend presents a key structural challenge to Obamacare. The health care law aims to prevent insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions, to make sure that policies cover a specified package of benefits, and to limit how much extra money insurers can charge older and sicker patients. All of these provisions increase costs and decrease insurance industry profits. But through the mandate forcing individuals to purchase insurance, the law hopes to push enough younger and healthier Americans into the insurance pool to offset theses cost increases. This is where the problem with rising premiums comes in.