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Sun., July 28, 2013

Smart Bombs: Don’t buy Indiana’s baloney

The headline on my last column was, “Play fair on Obamacare.” It’s naïve to think that will happen, but the dishonesty is still appalling.

If this reform is so obviously horrific, why fudge the facts? That’s a question for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, who chose to put out a misleading number on the price of premiums on the state’s health care exchange. Then the national Republican Party pounced.

Last Friday, the state announced that the cost of the “average” monthly premium will rise to $570, a 72 percent increase. Before slicing the baloney from this estimate, let’s consider how we shop for baloney. In the deli section, there are a number of choices, from premium to barely edible. The higher the quality, the higher the price. But if Indiana officials were running the store, they would average the cost of each variety and produce this promotion:

“Baloney – now 72 percent more expensive!”

This is relevant to health insurance policies because they will be sold in four categories based on coverage levels: bronze (60 percent), silver (70 percent), gold (80 percent) and platinum (90 percent). But, like baloney, the cheaper brands are the most popular. In Massachusetts, which has had an exchange for several years, 84 percent of purchasers choose either bronze or silver plans, according to the Washington Post.

In using an average, Indiana officials are suggesting that as many platinum plans as bronze ones will be sold. Baloney.

So how much will premiums cost at each metal level in Indiana? Don’t know. The state has yet to produce the only figures that matter to shoppers. But let’s compare that bogus $570 figure to the estimates in other states. For a silver plan, the average monthly premium ranges from $280 in Oregon to $440 in Vermont. In Washington, it’s $355. Prices vary based on age.

Post reporter Sarah Kliff dug into the Indiana insurance filings and found insurer MDWise predicts premiums of $294 and $391 for bronze and silver plans for a 47-year-old male. In addition, the plans will cover maternity, mental health, prescription drugs and other services that some current Indiana plans don’t cover.

And remember, these are the figures before shoppers tap income-based subsidies that will reduce prices.

So, to recap: Indiana officials started with the price of current baloney (some of which is so bad it will be discontinued), assumed customers would suddenly buy as much premium baloney as popular brands, dismissed the availability of coupons and advertised a false, inflated price.

I’m beginning to think they don’t want to sell any.

Vital Statistics. It’s clear from the public relations kit spearheaded by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that Republicans will be taking aim at Obamacare when returning to their districts in August. If you happen to be at an “outreach” event and can squeeze in a question among the staff-prepared ones, try this:

The repeal of Obamacare would return us to the situation in which 81 million adults from ages 19-64, or 44 percent, were uninsured or underinsured at some point during 2010, according to a report from the Commonwealth Fund. That’s up from 61 million in 2003. Our country ranks last among 16 industrialized nations in preventable deaths. If we could ascend to the top of the ranking, we could head off 91,000 premature deaths annually. And if that weren’t enough – and, gosh, don’t you think it ought to be? – we have the most expensive care in the world. Given this dreary data, what should be done? And be specific.

I’d ask, but the kit suggests closing these gatherings to the media to facilitate candid discussions.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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