The Price of Good Health

The Price of Good Health

By Meghan Walsh

SourceAdam Voorhes/Gallerystock


A small stack of bills might serve you well.

By Meghan Walsh

For $100, you can buy 51 cans of Campbell’s soup, 204 postal stamps or 300+ cable channels (six of which you’ll actually watch). Or if you’re lucky enough to fall in the group that 8 out of 10 Americans do, you can buy a month’s worth of health insurance on the federal marketplace, after tax credits.

$100 health insurance?!

True, these are numbers from the U.S. agency that runs (and presumably is in favor of) the ever-debated Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But they reflect a reality that has little to do with politics and more to do with big business. Put simply, the health insurance industry is becoming more competitive. In just a year, the government estimates that there has been a 25 percent uptick in insurers offering plans on the federal exchange, which is driving prices down. 

For years, insurance costs were notorious for rising at a double-digit clip annually. Though, the tide started to change, and insurance fees became more stable around 2007, says Henry Aaron, a health care expert at the Brookings Institution. Part of the explanation is that the recession had people spending less at the doctor’s office. There’s also the combination of better technology and doctors working on salaries instead of on their own. But then premiums briefly shot up when Obamacare’s federal marketplace first came on scene. Now, thanks to the laws of competition, prices are headed back downward.   

Though insurance plans may be found for just 100 greenbacks, the reality is that’s not what most people pay. Premiums vary widely — age, gender and location can all affect the price tag — but here are some national averages:                                       

   Bronze Silver   Gold  Platinum
Age 30 $232  $283  $335  $415 
Age 40  $261 $318  $376  $467 
Age 50  $365 $445  $526  $653 
Age 60 $553  $676  $798  $993 

Based on data from HealthPocket 

Yet critics say Obamacare actually limits competition since the health care law requires insurers to offer a basic level of coverage that wasn’t mandated before. It also puts a cap on what they can charge the elderly. Drew Gonshorowski, a senior analyst at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, compares the market to playing pingpong on a miniature table. Sure, there is competition taking place, but “all the regulations make it a very limited game,” he says. 

Either way, no matter what you are paying now, nobody can say for sure what it will be next year. That’s to be decided by the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on a case this year that objects to the legality of the federal insurance marketplace at all. “Things could get very interesting,” Aaron says.