President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) saved American consumers $1.5 billion on out-of-pocket health insurance premium costs in 2011, a study published Wednesday (PDF) claimed. Despite this, benefits of the law were not applied equally across all health insurance markets, leading the study’s authors to propose that stronger rules are needed.
Most of the savings cited by the report comes from the ACA’s requirement that medical loss ratios (MLR) stay at 80 percent, meaning 80 percent of all premium payments must be spent on actual health care. The goal of the requirement was to get premium costs down, but many of the law’s critics warned that it may not have that effect.
As 2011 was the first full year with the MLR rule in effect, health care advocacy group Commonwealth Fund looked at the annual financial reports of more than 2,000 insurance companies across the country, including a large proportion of organizations selling to policies to individual consumers. The study discovered that the MLR regulation forced insurers to pay $1.1 billion in rebates to their customers in 2011, while reducing their administrative costs by about $350 million to get profits within the approved range.
The biggest consumer benefits were seen in the individual market, where companies cut their overhead costs by about $66 per member, for a total of about $560 million in savings. An additional $394 million was sent back to customers who the law says overpaid on their premiums. Only one state, Rhode Island, saw an increase in administrative costs, while 39 states saw insurance companies slimming down and becoming more efficient in order to retain as much of their profits as possible.
The study said that consumers in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia and South Carolina saw the biggest benefits, where MLRs “improved 10 percentage points or more.” New Mexico saw the largest shift of all at 17.6 percent, followed by Missouri and West Virginia at 11.1 percent and Texas at 10.8 percent.