By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Premiums for insurance plans purchased through South Carolina's new health care marketplace will be higher than the national average but lower than some 2011 prices, according to data in a new federal report.
People without health insurance can start shopping on Tuesday in the online marketplaces. South Carolina's exchange is being run by the federal government.
Nationally, the average premium for a middle-of-the-road plan purchased through a health care exchange will be $328 a month, according to the report from the Department of Health and Human Services. In South Carolina, it will be $339.
But compared to premiums in South Carolina in 2011, it appears the marketplace will offer some lower price tags when income-based subsidies are included.
The exchanges, created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, will allow consumers to choose from four levels of coverage, starting with bronze and moving upward to silver, gold and platinum. Catastrophic coverage will be available for people younger than 30.
The state-based marketplaces are meant to provide affordable insurance options for people who don't already get coverage from an employer or the government.
In South Carolina, a family of four earning $50,000 will be able to buy a silver-level plan through the state's exchange for $282, after the subsidy is applied. Gold level plans would be higher. Bronze level plans would be lower. Without the subsidy, the cost for a silver-level plan would be $809.
In 2011, the average monthly premium for a family in South Carolina in 2011 was $1,271, according to a 2012 report from the Commonwealth Fund.
"We are excited to see that rates in the South Carolina marketplace are even lower than originally projected," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "In the past, consumers were too often denied or priced-out of quality health insurance options, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, consumers will be able to choose from a number of new coverage options at a price that is affordable."
The HHS report predicts South Carolina consumers will have 26 different health plans to choose from, below the national average of 53.
The White House is promoting the new premium data as evidence that choice and competition in the marketplaces will benefit those who can't find adequate coverage at a reasonable price.
"I am pleased to see the law is achieving our goal of reducing insurance premiums through competition in the insurance marketplace," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-Columbia. "This is great news for so many South Carolinians who previously could not afford to insure their families."
A single 27-year-old in South Carolina will pay an average monthly premium of $176 for bronze, $219 for silver, and $259 for gold in the marketplace, depending on level of coverage. If that same person qualifies for a subsidy based on income, the figure could drop to $97 for bronze coverage.
The HHS report provided premium details for only some possible coverage levels, not all.
People who make less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $94,000 for a family of four, will be eligible for a tax subsidy that will be deducted from the cost of the insurance policy.
The White House released data on premiums in 36 states where marketplaces are being run by the federal government. The figures are statewide averages and do not include other out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and copays.
In South Carolina, there were about 665,000 people without health insurance in 2012, according to Census Bureau data.
The federal data released Wednesday applies only to health exchanges. Republicans say the data does not provide a complete picture because employers may respond to the 2010 health care law by dropping plans and limiting options for employees.
"Deductibles and expenses are going up," said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens. "Americans are seeing that."
Enrollment in the marketplaces continues until March 1.