One of President Barack Obama’s favorite new Obamacare sign-up pitches is that young enrollees, which the law banks on for sustainability, can get health insurance for the price of a monthly cellphone bill. But in reality, premiums are more than a little pricier.
“HealthCare.gov works great now,” Obama told Zack Galifianakis Tuesday in a Funny or Die “Between Two Ferns” video. “And millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans, and what we want is for people to know that you can get affordable health care — and most young Americans right now, they’re not covered.”
“And the truth is that they can get coverage all for what it costs you to pay your cell phone bill,” Obama said.
As competition heats up in the wireless war between the nation’s biggest carriers, prices and options for cellphone plans are spread across a wide range, depending on phone type, data limits, upgrade terms, etc. For comparison’s sake, we’ll define an average middle-of-the-road plan as consisting of a smartphone, two-year upgrade, unlimited calls, unlimited texts and an average of two gigs of downloadable Internet data per month.
Discounting taxes nationwide, that plan costs about $90 on Verizon, $80 on AT&T, $70 on Sprint, and $60 on T-Mobile every month. Both Sprint and T-Mobile offer the same plans with unlimited monthly data for $80. All pricing is relevant as of January 2014.
Verizon Wireless and AT&T, with 96.2 and 72.6 million respective wireless subscribers, make up the vast majority of cellphone users in the U.S.
Of the Affordable Care Act’s “bronze,” “silver” and “gold” coverage plans offered on the Washington, D.C. health insurance exchange marketplace, the cheapest middle-of-the-road equivalent silver plan is $181.01 per month, after subsidies, for the lowest age bracket, which covers 27-year-olds and under that make about $25,000 annually. Silver plans must cover 70 percent of all medical costs, according to the law.
For the same age group in Pennsylvania, which is one of the 10 cheapest states in which to purchase health insurance on the federal exchange run in 36 states, a silver plan with the same coverage still costs $145 per month. A similar plan under Covered California, the largest state-run exchange with the highest number of enrollees, costs an average of $175. California had the highest number of uninsured Americans nationwide prior to the implementation of the law last October.
Altogether, that makes the average monthly cost of health care for young people under the Affordable Care Act a little more than twice as expensive as the average cellphone bill.
The only instance in which the president’s math is slightly more correct is in terms of the lowest tier bronze plan, which covers 60 percent of all annual health care expenses included in the plan. The cheapest bronze plan on the D.C. health insurance exchange has a $124.05 monthly premium — still almost 70 percent more expensive than the average wireless service bill.