ACA rate hikes: Red-hot issue in tight congressional races

capitol building above trees

The news of double-digit premium hikes for Affordable Care Act benchmark plans may not bode well for the law’s backers, but it is a welcome development for at least one group--Republicans fighting for seats in Congress.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed this week that premiums for the average ACA benchmark plan--the second-lowest cost silver plan used to calculate subsidies--will rise by an average of 22 percent across states that use and those state exchanges for which data was available, FierceHealthPayer reported.

The Obama administration points out that cost-sharing subsidies will still allow most consumers to access an affordable plan, and policy experts noted that the rate hikes--which vary considerably by region--are most likely a one-time market correction. But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was quick to use the news to reiterate his plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

The healthcare issue, though, could be an even bigger boon for conservatives in down-ballot races, according to the Associated Press. Average premiums for a typical 27-year-old buying a midlevel exchange plan are rising by more than 40 percent in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, both of which have competitive Senate rates. And in other states, the ACA's troubles have already--or will--become a campaign issue:

  • For months, incumbent Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain Democratic has run ads criticizing Democratic opponent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick for her support of the ACA.
  • In Indiana, Republican senate candidate Todd Young brought up the ACA multiple times in a debate last week against his Democratic rival, former Sen. Evan Bayh.
  • In Florida, canvassers supporting sitting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio plan to tell voters about Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy's votes in the House against GOP efforts to repeal the law.

Indeed, in the homestretch leading up to the election, "Obamacare's shortcomings should be part of every Republican candidate's closing pitch to voters,” Lanhee J. Chen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and former Mitt Romney adviser, writes in a CNN article.