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Federal health coverage may mimic workplace shift

Cost-saving plans could attract new users, studies say

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s health care law appears to mirror a trend in job-based insurance, in which employees are being nudged into cost-saving plans that require them to pay a bigger share of their medical expenses.

Two independent studies out this week highlighted attractive prices for less-generous ‘‘bronze’’ plans that will offer low monthly premiums but require patients to pick
up more of the cost if they get sick.

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Consumers might avoid ‘‘rate shock’’ over premiums, but some could end up struggling with bigger bills for the care they receive.

The Obama plans will be available starting Oct. 1 for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job.

Studies by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and Avalere Health provided the first look at rates filed by insurers around the country, ahead of the Oct. 1 opening of new state insurance markets under the law.

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Consumers will use the markets to find out whether they qualify for tax credits to help pay their premiums and to pick a private insurance plan from a range of coverage levels: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.

Come Jan. 1, most people in the United States will be required to have coverage or face fines if they don’t. At the same time, insurance companies can no longer turn away people in poor health.

‘‘What was really striking as we dug into the numbers is how inexpensive the bronze plans are,’’ said Larry Levitt, a Kaiser vice president.

Avalere, a private data analysis firm, found the average monthly premium for a bronze plan is $274, compared with $336 for the next level of coverage, a silver plan.

The savings from going with bronze adds up to $744 annually, and that is off the sticker price, before federal tax credits that will reduce premiums for an estimated 4 out of 5 customers in the new markets.

It is ‘‘likely to entice healthier enrollees to opt for a less generous benefit package,’’ said Caroline Pearson, a lead author of the study.

The law’s tax credits work by limiting what you pay for premiums to a given percentage of your income.

By pairing their tax credit with a bronze policy, some younger consumers can bring their premiums down to the range of $100 to $140 a month, the Kaiser study found.

Older people can drive their monthly cost even lower — well below $100, and zero in some cases.

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