LEWISTON — For all the political volatility and verbal fireworks within Congress about health reform this past year, a certain achievement has been largely overlooked: the overall stability of health insurance premium prices from 2014 into the new year.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and published by the Commonwealth Fund, average 2015 Affordable Care Act marketplace health insurance premiums across the nation have not increased from 2014.

Perhaps nowhere else is this national phenomenon more evident than here in Maine, where premium prices have come down by 1 percent overall for coverage in 2015. This is quite the contrast to the previous decade of routine double-digit increases in premium pricing year over year.

And while other states around the country saw a very slight increase in deductibles, Maine is also enjoying an average decrease in deductibles among plan choices through the ACA marketplace. It’s no wonder, then, that the individual insurance market in Maine has doubled in size from 2013 to 2014.

These advantages to consumers come as a result of the renewed competition in the insurance market, including the entry of Maine Community Health Options as a member-led, nonprofit health insurer focused on benefiting ratepayers and the economy.

We at Maine Community Health Options lowered our plan premiums by 1 percent from 2014 to 2015 while growing our broad preferred provider organization network to ensure the greatest measure of access to care.

Our drop in average premiums is specifically designed to provide pricing relief and benefit the individuals, families and businesses that count on us to deliver value and stability.

Beyond this good news, there’s another story to tell, and that’s of the increased vibrancy of the creative economy and entrepreneurship that has been spurred by the increased vitality of the individual insurance market.

As documented in the Portland Press Herald just last month (“Affordable Care Act swelling ranks of self-employed, report says,” Dec. 14), there has been a growth of new businesses over the past year as people have been released from “job lock” (the continuance of employment for health benefits alone) because of the availability of health insurance through the ACA marketplace.

Speaking at the Bates Mill a decade ago, during the Blaine House Conference on Maine’s Creative Economy, urban studies theorist Richard Florida declared: “There is a long legacy of creative industry in Maine. Creativity is key to our economy. Creativity on all fronts is our economic engine. Now human creativity is the source of wealth and value. Our human energy has replaced raw materials as the critical factor in economic development. People are the resource.”

The experience 10 years later of the members of Maine Community Health Options amplifies this message. Whatever the entrepreneurial pursuit, release from job lock has spurred greater economic activity. And for others who’ve already taken the plunge, the opportunity to gain affordable health insurance coverage brings new peace of mind as they grow their businesses.

As one member said recently: “I have been a self-employed salon owner and hair stylist for 27 years, (but) without affordable health care the past two years as a single mother. I can not only afford health care now, but I am truly enjoying the sports and activities that keep me healthy and young, without the fear of the unknown!”

What’s more, Maine Community Health Options’ own growth as a business has contributed to growing the economy as well. With 130 people on the team, Maine Community Health Options has more than quadrupled in size over the past 18 months, adding significantly to the vibrant commercial hub of the Bates Mill complex in Lewiston.

This growth itself contributes to our economy even more with the accompanying multiplier effect that new jobs inherently introduce to the broader economy.

As economist Enrico Moretti documents in his recent book, “The New Geography of Jobs”: “With only a fraction of the jobs, the innovation sector generates a disproportionate number of additional local jobs and therefore profoundly shapes the local economy.”

Our economic success further reinforces the stability of premium pricing for both our individual and group plans. With another six weeks of open enrollment available, now is the time to get in on this quiet achievement of health care reform and plow the savings back into consumers’ pockets and our local economy.

— Special to the Press Herald