GAO: Insurers charge wide range of premiums

In an increasingly contentious debate about whether premiums will increase, decrease or remain the same in the post-reform health insurance market, the Government Accountability Office has tossed its own projections into the public conversation.

In a report released Monday, the GAO broke down premium costs on a state-by-state basis using data from the federal website The analysis showed insurers charge a range of premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs based on characteristics like members' age, health history, family size and geographic location.

For example, a single, 30-year-old, nonsmoking male in Wisconsin could pay $468 a year for a plan with a $3,500 deductible or he could spend $3,924 for a plan with a $500 deductible. And in New York, a young male nonsmoker's premiums could range between $1,986 and $24,324. California's premiums for the same consumer could vary from $672 to $13,836, the report found.

Although it's one of the most detailed analyses of health insurance prices, the GAO report still has its limitations: The online database lacks about 20 percent of insurers' premium information as well as enrollment information. Additionally, the information represents base premiums, so insurers could actually be charging higher premiums for consumers with poor health, for example.

The GAO report is the newest addition to the debate, following Indiana's claim last week that individual health premiums would rise 72 percent next year and New York's assertion that its premiums will drop by as much as 53 percent on its health insurance exchange.

To learn more:
- here's the GAO report (.pdf)