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Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Obama sold voters bill of goods on health care

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama sold his signature universal health care plan with the promise that it would "cut the cost of a typical family's premium by up to $2,500 a year."
Now that the Affordable Care Act exchanges are open for business, voters are finding that the biggest problem with Obamacare is not that some websites crashed last week but that the Obama promise of big savings for the average family was too good to be true.
Now that the exchanges are open for business, people who already have individual coverage have something new not to like: sticker shock. The Affordable Care Act isn't affordable after all.
Last week, I began hearing from readers whose individual policy premiums are going up, not down. A local architect sent me a notice he received from Kaiser Permanente informing him that his individual coverage will increase by $199.95 per month, or 78.9 percent. When he added his two sons, the percentage increase was even greater.
A freelance journalist told me she made $98,000 last year. But she and her retired husband, both 51, wouldn't pay $7,200 in premiums for high-deductible coverage. It's cheaper to pay the fine, she said. Besides, she added, "we're healthy."
A reader wrote that her premiums will rise considerably, and she doesn't think she qualifies for a subsidy.
It is becoming increasingly clear that while poor working families will have access to their own health care policies at affordable rates -- affordable because they are subsidized -- middle-class and affluent people stand to pay more. Forget that $2,500 savings.
That raises this question: How was Kaiser able to offer bare-bones coverage more cheaply than the Affordable Care Act bare-bones plan?
According to Kaiser spokesman John Nelson, the architect had enrolled in a plan with a "medically screened population" that was very healthy.
Under Obamacare, providers can't screen for pre-existing conditions. So healthy policyholders pay higher premiums to subsidize those with health problems. Also, the Affordable Care Act expands coverage to include maternity benefits and substance abuse treatment.
Older people may see a reduction in their premiums because the law prevents providers from charging older adults more than three times the premium for young consumers. That also means young people can expect to pay even higher premiums than they did under the old market.
With his slick, deceitful sales pitch about lowering people's premiums, Obama now has to contend with voter expectations. Democrats sold this package as a big bonanza for American families who have been squeezed too hard. Now many are finding out not only that there is no $2,500 in savings but also that instead, surprise, their premiums just went up.
The administration won't say how many people have enrolled. Wonder why.
Voters never should have believed that Washington could offer more health care benefits to more people and that it would end up saving families thousands of dollars. It was too good to be true, and now the bill is coming due.
Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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