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Obamacare rate variations re-examined

8:42 AM, Dec 9, 2013   |    comments
Screenshot of HealthCare.gov on October 30, 2013
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(News-Press.com) - A recent USA Today analysis shows wide variation in insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act, depending on where you live.

Lee County residents will likely pay more for plans than those in Collier. Take the example of a family of four. According to the analysis, a bottom-tier "bronze"-level plan would cost $723 a month. In Collier, it would be $642. Florida's median rate for this would be $652.

So, what gives?

According to the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, rates are likely determined by two key factors - a community's overall health and the extent of health care competition.

I spoke Friday with Kaiser insurance analysis Cynthia Cox, who said the Affordable Care Act's role in the disparities are uncertain.

"This variation existed before the ACA," Cox said. "To what extent it's changed, it's hard to know because premiums for actual plans weren't available (publicly) before."

Unlike Collier County, Lee has one hospital provider operating the vast majority of patient beds. Lee also scores worse on annual health surveys (Collier ranks No. 3 for overall health in Florida, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Lee comes in at 11th place).

Still, it may be more complicated than that. The division of hospital beds does not factor in all the competing outpatient clinics and physicians in a given area. Nor does that take into consideration competition, or lack thereof, between insurance providers.

Whatever the reason, Kaiser will soon be taking a deeper look at the issue. It plans to soon release its own, more detailed, comparison of Affordable Care Act rates, Cox said.

Who's counting?

News that the healthcare.gov insurance sign-up website is starting to work more or less properly was a bright spot for what had been a major embarrassment for the Obama administration's signature law.

We know that 3,571 Floridians purchased coverage on the exchange last month. But what about locally? No one can say. I spoke with Lynne Thorp during a Fort Myers enrollment event last week, and she said she simply does not know, nor does her office track it.

Even so, she said her office has helped hundreds of people and families in the 10-county Southwest Florida region it covers. Thorp said she knows that at least 300 of them got enrollment help at libraries in Lee and Collier counties.

Santa's virtual visit

Santa Claus will make a virtual visit to the Golisano Children's Hospital this week to speak to kids too sick to see him.

The "Santa Connection Program" allows children to speak to Santa by using a webcam. Each of the patients will also get a gift bag after their video chat.

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