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New York health insurance rates will plummet next year

Obamacare's marriage of regulation and competition appears to be getting results by James R. Hood of ConsumerAffairs | July 20, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. | Updated July 20, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.

"From Bergdorf's to Filene's" is how one official described the cost of health insurance in New York under Obamacare. New Yorkers, traditionally hard to shock, are still assimilating the news that the average individual health insurance premium will fall 50 percent next year when the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

"Health insurance has suddenly become affordable in New York," said Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president for health initiatives with the Community Service Society of New York, according to The New York Times. 

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo broke the news, as he announced that state insurance regulators have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available. 

"New York's health benefits exchange will offer the type of real competition that helps drive down health insurance costs for consumers and businesses," said Cuomo. "The opportunity to choose among affordable, quality health insurance options will mean improved health outcomes, stronger economic security, and better peace of mind for New York families."

New Yorkers who now pay $1,000 a month or more for insurance will be able to find policies for as little as $308 per month. Federal subsidies for low-income people will drive their out-of-pocket cost down ever further.

"In setting these rates, we worked hard to do right by consumers and small businesses so they have access to affordable, quality health insurance," said Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services. "Moreover, where New York previously had a dizzying array of thousands upon thousands of plans, small businesses will now be able to truly comparison shop for the best prices. New York will continue to move ahead rapidly so the exchange is up and running for 2014."

Invisible hand or iron fist?

How can this be? Is it that fabled invisible hand of the marketplace? Or is the iron fist of the state?

Well, it's actually a little of each. It's competition, something that has been sadly lacking in health insurance recently, and it's being stimulated by the state health insurance exchanges established under Obamacare, as it's widely known.

The New York situation mirrors that in the biggest megastate of all -- California, which was quick to set up its health insurance exchanges. In the most competitive markets, like Los Angeles, a 25-year-old could pay as little as $190 per month for a basic plan, much less than had been expected.

Insurers have been rushing to get in on the action, not wanting to see Blue Cross Blue Shield and other big players wrap up the market. New York says it has approved 17 insurers to sell individual policies in the state, eight of them new to New York.

Small-business premiums will not fall as sharply as individual premiums but they are much lower to start with, insurance experts note.

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