Health insurance rate hikes likely had impact on election, analyst says

Reports of sharp rises in the cost of health insurance premiums through the exchanges may have helped President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in key states in November's presidential election, according to one political analyst.

Although Arizona was always a long shot for Clinton, the announcement that premiums for the average benchmark plans offered by the two remaining insurers selling on the exchanges would rise considerably made it even less winnable, said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.

Analysts across the country are digging into the data to try and identify the main reasons for Trump’s victory in November. More analysis needs to be done as more data rolls in, Skelley told Patient Daily last week.

Skelley and a team at the University of Virginia are seeing patterns, including one that shows Trump appears to have performed better in states where health care premium hikes were the greatest. Across the country, the benchmark average plan — the second-lowest priced silver plan — rose just under 25 percent from 2016 to 2017.

The rate hikes only make up part of the reason for the victory but given they were announced just before the election, it likely made a difference, Skelley said.

In Arizona, there were several news stories about price increases on the exchanges and announcements that insurance companies were pulling out of the state. Large rate hikes for the two remaining plans were approved by the Arizona Department of Insurance just ahead of the election.

The benchmark average plan in Arizona rose 145 percent from 2016 to 2017. But nearly seven in 10 Arizonans with a marketplace plan get subsidized coverage and are paying no more than they did in 2016. More than 200,000 residents signed up for insurance through the exchanges during the latest open enrollment period, which ended Jan. 31. 

Skelley said Clinton lost by three points in Arizona, which was a lot closer than Barack Obama performed against Mitt Romney in 2012. It was a promising state for Democrats and certainly more competitive than, for example, Texas, Skelley added.

“But with all the negative news, it came home for Trump,” he said. “Maybe it was winnable given the margin in the end. The announcement of the rate hike a couple of weeks before the election likely made a difference.”

But Skelley cautioned that the announcement of a rate hike, in Arizona and across the country, was only one reason for Trump’s victory.

“In the last few weeks, pretty much all the news was bad for Hillary Clinton, roll that up with the Comey letter and the leaks from Wikileaks,” he said. 

In the final week of the election campaign FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress stating that the bureau was checking further emails that may be relevant to the Clinton email investigation.

In addition, Skelley said, Trump held back in those last weeks, largely staying off Twitter and holding campaign events without any major distractions.

“If you look at the data, late deciders went toward Trump. You cannot separate out all the issues, but I would say the rate hike played into that late campaign negativity and might have helped the win,” Skelley said. “The rate hike news in the final couple of weeks played a role and reminded Republican-leaning voters that they did not like the status quo, even if they had concerns and skepticism. Overall, the negative news for the Democrats and for Hillary Clinton probably helped bring Republican-leaning voters back into the fold for Trump.”

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