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Feds: ACA producing positive results in Md.

A healthcare practitioner conducts a blood pressure examination. Health care jobs were the largest growing sub-sector in Maryland in 2015, adding 10,800 jobs. (Centers for Disease Control photo)

A health care practitioner conducts a blood pressure examination. Three new reports indicate the Affordable Care Act has restrained the growth of health insurance costs, the federal government said. (Centers for Disease Control photo)

A trio of recent reports show that the Affordable Care Act has slowed the growth of health insurance costs, expanded insurance coverage and helped keep patients from needing to use the hospital, U.S. health officials announced Wednesday.

Nationwide, the average premiums for families with health care provided by an employer increased by 3.4 percent in 2016, continuing a trend of slow growth that began in 2010, officials from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said, citing recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“This is good news in and of itself for roughly 150 million Americans,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, senior counselor to the Secretary of Health & Human Services, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

From 2000 to 2010, premiums for Maryland families with employer coverage grew an average of 6.7 percent per year; in the five years the followed, premiums grew an average of 5.2 percent per year, officials said.

In Maryland, that slowdown saved families about $1,300 in 2015, according to HHS.

The number of Marylanders without health insurance continues to decline, dropping from 11.3 percent of the population in 2010 to 10.2 percent of the population in 2013 to 6.6 percent of the population in 2015.  As a result, 278,000 more Maryland residents had health insurance in 2015, according to HHS and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationally, number of people without health insurance has dropped from 14.5 percent to 9.4 percent, Census data shows.

Maryland has also made progress in lowering the rate of hospital readmissions — an indication that patients are getting a higher quality of care and staying healthier.

Data released this week from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that hospital readmissions for Medicare patients have dropped by 10.4 percent since 2010. When current rates are compared with the 2010 readmission rates, data suggests that Maryland beneficiaries avoided 3,789 hospital admissions in 2015 alone, according to HHS.

Nationwide, 49 states and Washington have been reducing preventable hospital readmissions, and Maryland is one of 11 states to make double-digit improvements, according to the CMS data.

The relatively slow growth of premiums for employer-sponsored plans contrasts with the double-digit premium rate increases that have been seen in the individual insurance marketplaces.

Last week, Maryland insurance regulators approved average individual-market premium rate increases of between 20.3 and 31.4 percent for 2017, which state Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. said were needed for carriers to cover the cost of insuring the new members they’ve acquired since the implementation of the ACA.

Those changes drew fire from groups such as the nonprofit Consumer Health First, which argued that healthier individuals would be less likely to buy insurance in the coming year because of the additional cost burden.

Aron-Dine told reporters on the conference call Wednesday that the relative stability of the employer-sponsored market was the result of its established history — that growth was driven by overall cost growth in the health care system, she said.

But the individual marketplace, which is entering its fourth year, is still in transition, and many carriers were compensating for initially underpricing plans, Aron-Dine said.

Prior to the adoption of the ACA, the individual market allowed people to be denied coverage for having pre-existing conditions, for example, so there was a lack of historical data about their insurance needs.

“No one knew how much it cost to insure those people,” Aron-Dine said.


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