Every once in a while, an election comes along that hits you in the pocketbook. Direct impact. Cost or benefit.
You can almost hear the "ka-ching" with each tick of the ballot counter.
The US Senate race in Massachusetts between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown is one of those elections. A win by Ms. Coakley would probably allow national healthcare reform to pass. A win by Mr. Brown would probably kill it (although congressional Democrats are looking for ways to keep it alive).
Healthcare reform will directly affect how much Americans spend on health insurance in years to come. So how much will this race cost you?
Up to $2,100 a year. Or it might save a family about $5,000 a year, depending on who you are.
If you're among the majority of Americans insured through your company, then it doesn't much matter who wins the Senate seat in Massachusetts. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which has examined the effect of premiums under the Senate healthcare plan (.pdf), estimates that in 2016 a family plan would cost your company $20,100 a year if healthcare reform goes through and $20,300 a year if it doesn't.
That's $200 a year in savings if Coakley wins, but given the rough nature of these estimates, the CBO calls that negligible.
Those are estimates for large companies. The figures for companies with 50 employees or less are nearly identical: $19,200 with reform; $19,300 without it. Another wash.
For those who have to buy insurance on their own, it gets more interesting. In 2016, a family policy would cost $15,200 with reform and only $13,100 without it, according to the CBO. So a win by Brown, the Republican in Massachusetts, could save them $2,100.
But only some of them. About 57 percent of people, mostly lower-income families, would get government subsidies that would cover about two-thirds of their premiums, roughly a $5,000 savings. So a Coakley win would benefit them.
Even those who didn't get the subsidy would not see rates jump quite so much as $2,100, according to the CBO. But the increase – somewhat less than 10 to 13 percent – would still be sizable.
Not everyone agrees with the CBO's analysis. "Premiums will go up," warns Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry group. "The legislation is not bending the cost curve."
Of course, healthcare reform means not only changes in costs but also an expansion in coverage, especially for people who can't get insurance through an employer. Reform would prohibit an insurer from denying coverage to people and reduce their out-of-pocket costs.
If you like that idea, then cheer on Coakley.
But reform would also force other people to buy insurance, even if they don't want it or don't want as much insurance as the government would mandate.
If you don't like government forcing you to do something, then a win by Brown should make you smile.