NH Union Leader Uses Flawed Study To Attack Obamacare

The New Hampshire Union Leader used a widely criticized study to attack the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that insurance premium rates will be increasing exponentially in New Hampshire. However, the study has been panned for its low response rate while the data found in the study is at odds with official data provided by the state.

A Union Leader editorial highlighted a survey first reported in Forbes and conducted by Morgan Stanley which purports to show that premium prices will increase nationally mostly due to the ACA. The Union Leader used one aspect of the survey's findings, that premium prices will increase 90 percent on the individual market in New Hampshire, to attack the ACA and claim it will not bring down premium prices as originally intended:

The stunning news this week was that health insurance premiums in New Hampshire are up 90 percent under the Affordable Care Act, according to a regular survey of health insurance brokers by Morgan Stanley's health care analysts. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, writing in Forbes, relayed that the Morgan Stanley team attributed the increase to four factors directly related to Obamacare: “the age bands that don't allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs.”

Despite the Union Leader and Forbes' ringing endorsement of the findings, the study has come under withering scrutiny. The study itself explains that “the trends among the individual insurers” are not as useful as the aggregate trends due to the fact the observations were much smaller. Indeed, for New Hampshire, there was only one registered response to the survey. Only two states produced double digit responses, California with 14 and Idaho with 31.

As a post by local television state WMUR 9 explained, “21 percent of all survey respondents were from Idaho” while in New Hampshire, “they said they talked to one person, who they don't name.” The piece went on to explain that because of the study's low response rate for New Hampshire, WMUR did not run the story saying, “it's all based on one anonymous person's opinion.”  

In addition, as the Huffington Post explained, “less than 7 percent of New Hampshire's insured have individual plans, as the vast majority of insured residents are covered by their employees” meaning most people will see no difference to their premium prices under the ACA, but will receive the expanded benefits the law provides.

Even the Union Leader's own news report on the study cast doubt on the findings. In a news report from April 7, the director of communications for the New Hampshire Department of Insurance explained that the Morgan Stanley study is “at odds with the department's data.” The article continued:

“It is unclear how they came to a 90-percent increase,” she said. “We produce an annual report that looks at premium trends based on extensive data collection, and the (Morgan Stanley) survey is very inconsistent with our findings, which reflect single-digit increases per year over the past few years. We don't have data on 2014 yet, but all recent trends suggest that the increase would be similar to recent prior years.”

In New Hampshire, average health insurance premiums increased 1.1 percent, but benefits decreased about 5 percent in the last full year surveyed by the Insurance Department.

Experts have previously pointed out that these types of stories don't give the full picture. As Kaiser Health News explained, comparing ACA-compliant plans to pre-ACA plans doesn't account for all the new benefits, or subsidies, given under the law. Therefore, believing the hype over individual studies, without taking into account other factors, will lead to publishing misleading pieces on many aspects of the ACA, something the Union Leader is more than willing to do.