By SARA ARTHURS
Hancock County — and 19 other counties in Ohio — are left with just one carrier selling insurance under Obamacare, an indication the federal health insurance law has not kept its promises, Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor told The Courier on Wednesday.
Taylor is also director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.
In Hancock County, only Anthem offers individual insurance policies to consumers through Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Medical Mutual, the last other remaining carrier, pulled out of Hancock County last year.
Nineteen other counties in the state are in the same situation, and another 28 counties have just two carriers, Taylor said. She said the “one-size-fits-all federal mandate” for health insurance is not working.
Taylor also said premiums have gone up 91 percent under Obamacare, on average.
That figure was challenged in a September cleveland.com article, which questioned whether it was truly an apples-to-apples comparison. Asked about this, Taylor replied that they compared the average of all health insurance policies sold in Ohio before Obamacare was implemented, to the average of all policies this year.
Nationally, a debate is brewing among Republicans whether to repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time, or repeal first, then replace later.
“I have said from the beginning repeal is necessary,” Taylor said. “I think that repealing is important, and I think replacing as quickly as possible would be helpful.”
She said if it is repealed without an immediate replacement, Ohio would go back to the market that previously existed.
“The laws are still in place,” she said. “The statutes are still in place. So the framework for health insurance in Ohio still exists.”
She said it’s also unlikely that 100 percent of Obamacare will be repealed, “practically speaking.”
“We’re clearly paying attention and watching because we want to be prepared. … It all depends on what decisions they make in Congress,” she said.
She said she would prefer to see flexibility for states.
Ohio, for example, had fewer mandates than some other states, where health insurance must cover more “as dictated to them by some legislative body,” which drives up the cost of health insurance. This is why Ohio had a competitive health insurance market, she said.
Taylor said prior to the implementation of Obamacare, more than 60 insurance carriers were selling insurance in Ohio. In 2016 there were 17, and this year there are just 11, she said.
She said consumers also have fewer choices, such as a young individual, “generally healthy,” who might want to purchase only catastrophic insurance and now cannot do so.
If a small business owner is spending more money on health insurance, he’s spending less on investing in technology or hiring new people, she said.
Taylor advised Ohioans seeking to purchase insurance to look at not only premium costs and a subsidy, if they qualify for one, but also deductibles and copays, “to understand fully what their financial responsibility’s going to be.”
And, she said, look at provider networks, which may be more limited in Hancock County, but may still differ with different Anthem plans.
When The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare in 2012, it left an expansion of Medicaid as optional for states. Gov. John Kasich chose to expand this health insurance program in Ohio for low-income residents.
Taylor noted that this was paid for with federal funds. “From the beginning I was concerned about expanding Medicaid,” she said, as future Congresses could change funding.
But she said Ohio has contained the growth of Medicaid, “and we’re doing that through innovation.” She and Kasich have been asked to send a letter to Congress with input on Obamacare repeal and replacement.
Taylor said her hope is that Washington gives states “as much flexibility as possible to manage Medicaid.” Giving states flexibility is “where you’re going to get your best results,” she said.