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OUR OPINION: Tough sell: 'Costs more, offers less'

Round 1 began when insurers started cancelling people's health care plans. That proved the stark and embarrassing falsity of President Barack Obama's claim, "If you like your plan, you can keep it."...

Our Opinion

Round 1 began when insurers started cancelling people's health care plans. That proved the stark and embarrassing falsity of President Barack Obama's claim, "If you like your plan, you can keep it."

Round 2 began with the administration and Democrats' spin. OK, the spinners admitted: Some people with individual plans won't be able to keep their plans after all. And OK, their new coverage might very well cost them more.

But that's only because they had bad plans to begin with, this argument continues. And now, they'll be able to buy better (albeit more expensive) plans on their state's health insurance exchange.

But a Herald story and column this week preview what might very well be Round 3 -- and for the entire country, not just North Dakota:

Some of the replacement policies under Obamacare aren't offering better coverage after all.

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Some of them not only cost more but also offer fewer benefits.

"Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medica are reducing their offerings of insurance plans, but raising premiums to cover costs associated with changes established by the Affordable Care Act," Herald staff writer Brandi Jewett reported.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota explains why:

"The adjustments to plans and benefits are part of the two companies' efforts to meet that state benchmark, which was chosen by the state Department of Insurance and is sold by competitor Sanford Health," according to the story.

"'That plan does not offer as many benefits as most BCBSND plans,' (Blue Cross spokeswoman Andrea) Dinneen said.

'But in order to remain as affordable as other metallic plans offered on the health insurance marketplace, BCBSND adopted the same level of benefits as the benchmark plan for those products.'"

If cutting the number of benefits also was accompanied by premium cuts, then the impact on affected customers would be more benign. Unfortunately, "it seems many of the plan adjustments result in higher prices and fewer plan options to choose from for the customers," the story reports.

A column on Tuesday's editorial page offers an example of how that works.

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As a result of the Affordable Care Act, "Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota is decreasing the availability of mental health and addiction coverage for most individuals," wrote Kady Williams, a student in the psychiatric nurse practitioner program at UND.

The insurer "announced Oct. 1 that coverage for residential care, which is necessary for many individuals to achieve and maintain sobriety, would not be available as part of its existing coverage or part of the coverage available from the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

"The new 'light' addiction and mental health plans contain the minimum mandated by the Affordable Care Act, but do not maintain the coverage levels provided in the past or the coverage needed by many individuals seeking addiction and mental health services."

So:

No, you're not always going to be able to keep your plan. No, it's not always going to cost the same or less.

And no, the new plan isn't always going to be better. Sometimes, it's going to be worse.

Let the spinning begin. But if these problems continue, then Democrats who are fretting about this debacle's impact on the 2014 elections are right to be very worried indeed.

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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