Geographical Variations In Health Insurance Pricing and Coverage

Find the Cheapest Health Insurance Quotes in Your Area

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Using health insurance marketplace data we compiled to create our pricing and quoting tools, we created an interactive data tool to map the geographical variations in these health insurance markets. That tool can be found here: Visualizing The Uninsured And The Affordable Care Act

Looking at the data in this way helped to illustrate the variations in health insurance choice, price and coverage that consumers living in different areas would experience.

Identifying Where Health Insurance Coverage Is Most Expensive

The first piece of data we looked at was cost. In this case we used the price of the second cheapest silver plan available in each county as a benchmark. For those unfamiliar with the Affordable Care Act, the price of this plan is the one used to determine the size of your subsidy. Outside of location, the other component that affects the price of health insurance is the age of the consumer.

Examining the costs for a 21 year old consumer yielded the following result:

Map of Silver Plan Health Insurance Pricing for Consumers Age 21

Silver Plan Price: Age 21

Here the darker areas show where high areas of relative health insurance costs are concentrated. In particular New York and Vermont as a whole are very expensive for 21 year olds, as well as Wyoming much of rural Nevada and a small section in Colorado. The isolated expensive area for Colorado are those counties that fall into the "resort area" region of the state, where cost of living is significantly higher.

Changing our demographic information to focus on 65 year olds, the other end of the age spectrum paints a slightly different picture:

Map of Silver Plan Prices Age 65

Silver Plan Price: Age 65

While the relative costs for most counties and states remain the same at age 65, we see a massive shift in the states of New York and Vermont. What used to be the highest cost areas are now in fact the lowest. Those familiar with health insurance laws of these states will know that insurance carriers are prohibited from using age as a pricing factor. With the cost of health coverage the same for everyone prices are averaged out across the entire population. This results in younger people in the state paying much more than they would have to, while older consumers pay much less.

What The Data Says About Competition

Another aspect about the exchanges worth investigating is the availability of options for consumer shopping on the exchange. If the goal of the exchanges is leverage the competitive aspects of a marketplace to lower prices in the long run, we should look to see how much competition there really is.

Map of Health Insurance Plan Options by County

Relative Number of Plan Options

We can immediately see that consumer options on the exchange will vary widely, and the competitiveness of these marketplaces is very dependent upon where you live. Perhaps more interesting is that the number of plans available seems to have some correlation to the relative costs in those areas as well. In Nevada for instance, the areas with the least options also happen to have the highest relative costs. This pattern continues to hold true in many of the South Eastern states. The county with the fewest options is Florence, Wisconsin where only two plans are available on the exchange.

The # of available plans however is not really an indicator of competition. After all many carriers offer a portfolio of plans. Instead we decided to go further and look at how many companies sold in each area:

Map of Health Insurance Carrier Competition

Relative Number of Carrier Options

The results seem problematic. In all the white colored areas consumers only have access to 1 insurer on the marketplace while light blue areas offer 2 companies. In large swaths of the nation, consumers may not yet be benefiting from the competition the marketplaces were supposed to provide. This appears to be a function of the population density in these areas, as those counties with large cities almost invariable have lots of participants.

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