AP FACT CHECK: Biden exaggerates $10 a month ‘Obamacare’

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By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — has inspired many exaggerated claims through the years, both from fans and foes. Now President Joe Biden is adding his own.

With a few loose words turned into a pithy formula, the president implies that his enhanced version of the ACA is much better than it really is. Biden suggests that considerably more people are getting health insurance for less than $10 a month than what’s actually been the case.

BIDEN: “The American Rescue Plan did more to lower costs and expand access to health care than any action since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It made quality coverage more affordable than ever — with families saving an average of $2,400 on their annual premiums, and four out of five consumers finding quality coverage for under $10 a month.” — Jan. 27 statement on health insurance enrollment.

THE FACTS: His numbers are off the mark. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, about one in three of HealthCare.gov consumers (32%) is paying less than $10 a month in premiums after tax credits.

That’s not four out of five, as Biden suggests, which would translate to a much bigger share — 80%.

Biden’s coronavirus relief bill did significantly reduce costs for people covered through the health insurance marketplaces. It increased taxpayer-provided subsidies for the private plans offered by participating insurers, and it made more people eligible for financial assistance. As a result, enrollment has grown to 14.5 million people this year, an increase of about 20% from the previous sign-up season.

The four-out-of-five statistic cited by Biden actually seems to refer to something else.

According to figures from CMS, four out of five consumers have access to a plan for less than $10 a month after financial assistance. These consumers can find a plan for less than $10 if they want to. But it doesn’t mean they’ve picked one. Or even that they’re aware such low-priced plans are available.

Consumers may have good reasons not to go for rock-bottom premiums. Such plans may not have the hospitals and doctors they’re looking for, or the copays and deductibles may be higher than what they’d like.

“While it is important for consumers to have access to low-cost premiums, many consumers are choosing to balance premiums with other plan features like copays and deductibles,” says Massey Whorley of the consulting firm Avalere Health. “Access to coverage starts with affordable premiums, but consumers are also thinking ahead to when they actually use their insurance.”

So while most consumers can find plans for less than $10 a month after financial assistance, finders aren’t necessarily keepers.

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