Here's why Obamacare premiums are going down for the first time

2 hours ago

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, premiums are going down for most policies sold in the federally run exchanges. 

One reason 2019 premiums will be 1.5 percent lower? It has to do with how high they were in 2018. They increased by an average of 36.9 percent for 2018, said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

"These premium decreases are really about returning excess profits," he said. 

Insurers raised premiums so much a year ago because they were nervous about the prospects for the health insurance marketplace.

"There was a repeal-and-replace debate going on. President Trump was out there talking about the law collapsing," Levitt said. Congress and the president ended certain subsidies for low-income Americans. To prepare for that, and for just general chaos, insurers raised rates. But then things turned out to be not as terrible as insurance companies thought.

For starters, Republicans failed to fully repeal Obamacare.

"Many insurers may feel like they've weathered the storm a little bit," said Sabrina Corlette, research professor at Georgetown University. Corlette said Congress is probably not going to try to destroy Obamacare again. And she said as some federal subsidies ended, other federal assistance programs kicked in.

"So what we saw was enrollment stayed remarkably stable this year," she said.

In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, insurance company profits are higher than they were before Obamacare. And now some insurers are returning to markets they'd abandoned.