Would Employee Choice Drive Up Health Insurance Costs?

Obama administration officials recently released a document implying that allowing small-business employees to choose their health insurance policy could raise premium levels.

BenefitsPro.com reported last month on a document issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  The document requires state insurance commissioners to certify:

That the 2015 Transition to Employee Choice would be in the best interest of small employers and their employees and dependents, given the likelihood that implementing employee choice would cause issuers to price their products and plans higher than they would otherwise price them.

The form and certification relate to the small-business insurance exchanges implemented under the Affordable Care Act. The law was designed to allow employees of small businesses to pick plans from a variety of insurers (Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, etc.). But technical delays associated with the botched launch of HealthCare.gov forced the CMS to postpone the rollout of employee choice. As a result, small-business employees in the federally run exchange this year choose only from plans offered by the insurer their employer picks—rather than any insurer offering exchange coverage.

The CMS statement that expanding employee choice would cause insurers to raise premiums directly contradicts administration reports last year that the exchanges prove “market competition works.” It remains unclear what prompted this about-face. But given ongoing technical problems with the federal exchange, it’s possible that the CMS is attempting to dissuade states from participating in an employee choice program still not ready for prime time.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal Think Tank blog.