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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Will premiums increase more with the Affordable Care Act? Maybe

Dr. Chris Lillis, left, and Dr. Jody Crane took part in a forum last night on the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Tom Rothenberg)

Dr. Jody Crane and Dr. Chris Lillis agreed on much when they spoke at last night’s forum on the U.S. health care system and the Affordable Care Act.

But as moderator and Free Lance-Star editor Ed Jones noted, there was one issue where they were “diametrically opposed.”  That disagreement arose when Jones asked both panelists, “Do you think the act will cause health insurance premiums to go up more than they would have without the act in place?”

Lillis answered first with a resounding, “No.” He said that one of the features of the act, the insurance exchanges, will serve to dampen premium increases as insurers compete for new business. Consumers will be able to search the online marketplace for the type of coverage they want at a price they can afford.

“You’ll be able to see the prices that these different health insurers are advertising,” Lillis said. “They’ll have to compete on price.”

But Crane was equally blunt in his disagreement. “It will definitely go up,” he replied to Jones’ question.

“It’s economics,” Crane added. “If we force people to buy something, the person selling it can charge whatever they want.”

Crane also said that the new law will increases costs for insurance companies by requiring them to insure those they had not insured before. These costs will be passed on in the form of higher premiums.

“We’re forcing them to take on a lot more costs than they have right now,” Crane said.

Jones, the moderator, noted that the Congressional Budget Office describes its projections on premium increases as “quite uncertain.”

“The darn thing is so complicated,” he said. “It’s hard to know exactly what will happen when.”

Last night’s forum took place at the Lloyd F. Moss Free Clinic in Fredericksburg. It was sponsored by Healthy Life Virginia, a daily email newsletter produced by The Free Lance–Star.

Update, 2:45 p.m.: Dr. Chris Lillis wrote this afternoon, after publication of this blog post, to ask for a correction. He said the post fails to mention other points he made during the exchange with Ed Jones on the subject of premium increases. Lillis said in his email that it’s important to include these points so “readers do not get a sense of false equivalence that Dr. Crane’s musings equal measurable fact.”

His suggested additions are:

* The medical loss ratio regulations will not allow insurers to price gauge, as Dr. Crane alleged.

* Rebates are already going to consumers right now due to regulations in the Affordable Care Act, requiring insurers to justify their price increases and spend 80% of premium revenue on direct health care.

* Rates of health insurance costs have risen more slowly in Massachussetts since 2006 than in the rest of the U.S.

Lillis also offers three articles as references. One is here from Forbes; the second is here from USA Today; and the third is here from ThinkProgress.

(For more about the forum, see the story here from today’s paper.)