The reason for high premiums in Obamacare is simple: Therewasn't enough carrier participation.

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Economists Leemore Dafny, Jonathan Gruber and Christopher Odydraw that conclusion in a paper for the National Bureau of EconomicResearch.

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For example, had UnitedHealthcare, the country's largestcarrier, participated and offered plans through the federalexchange—and more in other exchanges—prices would have been a greatdeal less. Researchers calculated that if UnitedHealth participatedin markets where it already sold individual policies, premiums forsilver plans would have been 5.4 percent less.

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And if all carriers who sold individual insurance policies in2011 had participated in all ratings areas in that state'sexchange, average premiums for silver plans would have been 11.1percent less.

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That competition also would have saved taxpayers $1.7 billion infederal subsidies.

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Overall, “these results suggest that additional competitors canhave a large impact on premiums and federal subsidies for HIMplans,” the report said.

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The economists focused on silver plans, which are important asthey determine the size of premium tax credits available in eacharea. They also are the most popular plan among enrollees.

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Big-name carriers—including UnitedHealth, Aetna, Cigna andHumana—proceeded with caution on the exchanges in their first yearof operation, limiting their participation. Their leeriness wasonly exacerbated by the exchanges' faulty launch in the fall.

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But more carriers said they plan to increase participate in2015, which, researchers say, could keep premiums in check.

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