As we near open enrollment in new health plans, all eyes are on insurance premiums and the rates they are based on. As we have blogged about here before, industry-backed sources have been fueling the media with doomsday scenarios about cost increases due to the ACA. But what if those increases never materialize?

In a number of states that have recently released proposed premium rates for plans under the ACA, including California, Washington and Maryland, prices are reasonable and lower than many anticipated. And in Oregon, as the post below details, public posting of the insurance premiums actually lowered prices from their original bids. While certain interests continue to stress concern over the “rate shock” myth, the reality is that the ACA is meeting its promise in bringing greater transparency and competition between health plans to keep prices fair.

Oregon, as the below post from Jesse Ellis O’Brien of OSPIRG indicates, is a success story in reviewing premiums rates. While many states do not have the same regulatory infrastructure as Oregon, there are steps advocates can take to push for more accountability from insurers. Interested in learning more about these advocacy strategies? Read Jesse’s blog (originally posted here) and check our new toolkit.

Something remarkable just happened to health insurance costs here in Oregon. Last week, after the state’s health insurers posted their proposed premium rates for next year, two insurers publicly reversed course and moved to cut their prices.

Why? Because thanks to Oregon’s new health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, insurers will be competing head to head for customers, and those customers will be able to make true apples-to-apples comparisons between plans for the first time. And thanks to an OSPIRG-backed law, the state’s insurance regulators now post proposed rates and all supporting documents online, enabling the public to compare rates—and insurers’ justifications for their rates—before they go into effect.

For example, see here for a price comparison of proposed rates for individual and family plans in the Portland area. (For information on proposed rates for plans available in your area, see here.)

Looking at these proposed rates, it is easy to see why insurers like Providence and FamilyCare would backtrack. To bring in customers, their rates must be competitive, and the rates they proposed are more expensive than the competition.

Why is this exciting? Because in our fragmented health insurance market, this kind of competition is new, and now we have concrete evidence that competition on a health insurance exchange can help bring down premium costs.

The events of the past week have shown that Oregon’s approach—advancing transparency and fostering head-to-head competition between insurers—can lead to real gains for consumers. But as experts warn that a third or more of health care spending wasted on things that do not improve health, we know we can do better. See OSPIRG Foundation’s recent report, Advancing Accountability, Cutting Health Care Waste, for ideas about how Oregon can take the next steps to tackle this waste and bring down the cost of care for all Oregonians.

— Jesse Ellis O’Brien, Health Care Advocate OSPIRG