Health Overhaul Disparities (copy)

A new report shows that the rise in health care costs in Wisconsin slowed dramatically under Obamacare. 

As Republicans debate how to dismantle Obamacare, a report released Wednesday shows that the rate of inflation for health insurance slowed dramatically since the implementation of the law.

This is the 11th year of the Citizen Action of Wisconsin report, which tracks health care costs across the state. This year’s report included for the first time the difference between health care costs before and after the inception of the Affordable Care Act's health marketplaces.

The report found that the cost of health insurance increased seven times faster in the 13 years before the exchanges than in the four years since. The data since the health care marketplace went into effect includes premiums for 2014 to previously announced premiums for 2017. 

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said the report doesn’t address the cause of the slowing of inflation. But he said it debunks claims by Affordable Care Act opponents that the law caused rates to raise.

Health care costs in Wisconsin, he said, are still too high.

“We not saying that everything was solved by the Affordable Care Act, or the Affordable Care Act caused this,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “But what we are saying is that claims that health insurance costs have spiked because of the Affordable Care Act are not supported by this data. In fact, the opposite is supported.”

In October, Republicans pounced on a 25 percent increase in 2017 premiums for benchmark Obamacare insurance plans as another reason to scuttle the law.  

But the Citizen Action Report shows that implementation of the law in Wisconsin has coincided with a marked decrease in the rate of health care inflation. The report says that large group health insurance rates rose by an average of 15 percent per year in the 13 years before the ACA, commonly called Obamacare. Since 2013, the rates slowed to 2 percent a year.

The report was clearly aimed at countering claims that Obamacare was making health care costs unaffordable, and that repealing the law would ease the burden on working families.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, taking part in the phone conference, said Obamacare clearly contributed to the slowing in health care inflation, and that outright repeal would result in millions of Americans losing their insurance.

"Before President-elect Trump and Governor Walker go around the state talking about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, first off they need to show what they are going to replace it with," he said. "If you repeal the health law, over 22 million Americans will lose their coverage. If it's repealed we're looking at huge unchecked health inflation once again. I would caution Gov. Walker and President-elect Trump to be cautious with people's' health."

The report also tracked dramatic differences in the cost of insurance by geographic regions. For instance, while the state has seen a 226 percent increase in large group health insurance rates, Green Bay saw an increase of 256 percent, the largest in the state. Madison saw the lowest increase at 168 percent.

As in years past, health insurance in the northern part of the state remained higher than in other regions, with premiums and deductibles in the Marshfield/Wisconsin Rapids are for large group, small group and individual plans averaging out to $10,007, compared with $7,429 on Madison.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.