Everyone Agrees Obamacare Prices Have Been Rising Rapidly (But Everyone Is Wrong)

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It has been well publicized that premiums for Obamacare insurance plans have been rising at a disturbing rate. Local news is filled with reports of 21.5%36.3% and even higher price hikesPresident Trump complained in February that Obamacare premiums “have increased by double and triple digits,” even remarking that premiums in Arizona “went up 116% last year alone.”

If the cost of buying insurance were really rising this rapidly, we’d have a reason for bipartisan agreement that the Obamacare insurance experiment is a failure. But the rise in Obamacare premiums isn’t even close to the magnitude we are hearing about from reporters and politicians. And it is not because of fake news or dishonest discourse. It’s because everyone is looking at what’s for sale rather than what’s being sold.
Not sure what the heck I’m talking about? Then consider the Nike Mag 2016, a sneaker touted as “sensing the foot and lacing itself,” because, you know, it is so exhausting to tie your own shoes. Nike made less than a hundred pairs of these battery-powered, motor-driven sneakers, which now sell for an average of $26,000 a pair.
Suppose, for purposes of illustration, that before the Mag came to market, Nike had five lines of basketball shoes on the market. They sold for an average price of about $200. Then in 2016, it brings out the Mag. If healthcare reporters and politicians commented on these shoes, they would tell you that Nike prices have risen more than 2,000%. That’s because they’d be calculating the average price of Nike’s shoe offerings, as if people bought an equal number of each type of shoe. If you have five varieties priced at around $200 and one that’s priced at $26,000, you’ll have an average price of over $4,000.
But that’s an insane way to describe the price of Nike basketball shoes. To know how much their basketball shoes cost, on average, we need to know what shoes people actually buy. With hundreds of thousands of people buying the $200 sneakers and a handful of people buying $26,000 sneakers, the average price of Nike’s shoes won’t be much more than $200.
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