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Analysis: Health insurance prices for 3 households

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 11:09 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 10:41 p.m. CST

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CHICAGO — How much will an Illinois fast food cook pay for insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law? How about a preschool teacher? Or a freelance writer?

Price information has been difficult to come by because of technical glitches on the federal health insurance marketplace where Illinois residents must buy insurance if they want to take advantage of new tax credits that will help them pay the cost. Frustrating delays and error messages have prevented users from seeing prices.

The Associated Press asked an independent consulting company, Chicago-based Stonegate Advisors, to run an analysis of Illinois rates and find the average monthly costs for three hypothetical households: a single 30-year-old fast-food cook, a single 50-year-old preschool teacher and a 40-year-old freelance writer with a family.

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to buy insurance if they want their coverage to start Jan. 1. They can continue to shop for insurance through the end of March to avoid penalties. Federal officials have said the glitches are being fixed.

Marc Pierce of Stonegate Advisors, a company that conducts research for insurers and benefits managers, said the health plans offered on the new Illinois marketplace offer a wide range of prices for consumers with reasonable rates, especially after tax subsidies are calculated. Illinois consumers have more choices than in many other states, Pierce said.

"By and large, compared to what we've seen out there, it does appear to be more competitive," Pierce said. Six insurance companies are offering policies on the Illinois marketplace, which results in a broad price range even among similar plans.

Prices vary by age, family size and region. To keep it simple, the Stonegate analysis for AP covered three cities: Chicago, Springfield and Belleville.

The estimates are based on the average of prices available for bronze and silver plans, expected to be the most popular choices. Because these are averages, both lower prices and high prices are available, and many people may choose lower-priced plans. The numbers represent the cost after tax credits are figured in.

The health plans on the marketplace are categorized by four tiers: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans have the lowest monthly premiums and the highest out-of-pocket costs. Platinum plans have the highest premiums and the lowest out-of-pocket costs.

The analysis found:

FAST FOOD COOK: A 30-year-old fast food-cook living in Chicago and making $18,000 a year could expect to pay, on average, $98 a month for a bronze plan after receiving financial assistance. The same worker could expect to pay $156 a month for a silver plan, also after a subsidy.

In Springfield, the fast food cook could get a bronze plan for $31 a month or a silver plan for $101 a month, after subsidies. In Belleville, the cook could get a bronze plan for $23 a month or a silver plan for $89 a month, after the tax credit.

PRESCHOOL TEACHER: A 50-year-old preschool teacher living in Chicago and making $30,000 a year could expect to pay $261 a month for a bronze plan, or $352 a month for a silver plan, after qualifying for a tax credit.

In Springfield, the preschool teacher would pay $157 a month for a bronze plan or $267 a month for a silver plan. In Belleville, the teacher would pay $144 a month for a bronze plan or $249 a month for a silver plan.

FREELANCE WRITER AND FAMILY: A Chicago 40-year-old freelance writer and stay-at-home spouse and two children would pay $522 a month for a bronze plan or $716 a month for a silver plan. In Springfield, the family would pay $270 a month for a bronze plan or $495 a month for a silver plan.

In Belleville, the family would pay $296 a month for a bronze plan and $532 a month for a silver plan.

Many people may choose lower-cost plans instead of the average-cost plans. The Chicago family, for example, could get the second lowest cost silver plan for $410 a month, rather than the average of $716 a month.

An estimated 323,000 uninsured Illinois residents will be eligible for subsidized health insurance on the marketplace, according to a study by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Another 867,000 uninsured Illinoisans will qualify for free care under an expansion of Medicaid, the government safety-net program.

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AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

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