Study: Coverage-shopping can help curtail ACA plan premium hikes

Leading up to the Affordable Care Act's third open enrollment period, the government emphasized the benefits of customers shopping around for healthcare for 2016. In a newly published brief, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reaches a similar conclusion after looking at how the premiums for the lowest-cost silver plans have shifted.

In the brief, KFF looks at how premiums for the lowest-cost silver plan for a 40-year-old adult changed between 2015 and 2016 both before and after subsidies, then measured whether the enrollee could obtain a lower premium by switching to a different plan.

The research found that the lowest-cost silver plan in 2015 is no longer the least expensive in 2016. In three counties where a 40-year-old single consumer making $20,000 annually automatically renewed coverage for 2016, the premium would increase to an average of $103 per month, which is 37 percent higher. If the customer switched to the new lowest-cost silver plan, he or she would pay an average of $76 for a monthly premium, or just 1 percent more than in 2015, the brief says.

Also, over the course of a year, the 40-year-old would save an average of $322 by switching from the 2015 lowest-cost silver to the new lowest-cost silver plan in 2016.

But even though one could save money by switching plans, doing so can also come with tradeoffs, the brief notes. In 58 percent of the counties where consumers understood that they could get savings by switching plans, they may be forced to switch insurance carriers in order to take advantage of a lower-cost silver plan. Doing so may mean having to change doctors or other providers, and consumers should meticulously review a new plan's deductible, copayments and drug coverage, the brief suggests.

In October, the Department of Health and Human Services said that the average savings for switching plans was about $400 annually. It also has said premiums for the "benchmark" ACA plan, or the second-lowest-cost silver plan, will rise by an average of 7.5 percent in 2016. More than 540,000 people signed up for health insurance in the first week of the current open enrollment period, about 66 percent of whom were returning customers, according to HHS.

To learn more:
- here is the Kaiser brief