Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act

Here's a helpful chart from the Kaiser Family Foundation to decipher the penalties employers may have for not offering ACA coverage in 2018.

The Affordable Care Act does not require businesses to provide health benefits to their workers, but applicable large employers may face penalties if they don’t make affordable coverage available. The employer shared responsibility provision of the Affordable Care Act penalizes employers who either do not offer coverage or do not offer coverage that meets minimum value and affordability standards. These penalties apply to firms with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees. This flowchart illustrates how those employer responsibilities work.

Read the article.

Kaiser Family Foundation (5 March 2018). "Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/infographic/employer-responsibility-under-the-affordable-care-act/

Despite Compressed Sign-Up Period, ACA Enrollment Nearly Matches Last Year’s

President Trump decided to take away ACA, but that didn’t stop people from signing up. Read this article for the shocking numbers of enrollment.

A day after President Donald Trump said the Affordable Care Act “has been repealed,” officials reported that 8.8 million Americans have signed up for coverage on the federal insurance exchange in 2018 — nearly reaching 2017’s number in half the sign-up time.

That total is far from complete. Enrollment is still open in parts of seven states, including Florida and Texas, that use the federal healthcare.gov exchange but were affected by hurricanes earlier this year. The numbers released Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services also did not include those who signed up between midnight Dec. 15 and 3 a.m. ET on Dec. 16, the final deadline for 2018 coverage, as well as those who could not finish enrolling before the deadline and left their phone number for a call back.

And enrollment has not yet closed in 11 states — including California and New York — plus Washington, D.C., that run their own insurance exchanges. Those states are expected to add several million more enrollees.

The robust numbers for sign-ups on the federal exchange — 96 percent of last year’s total — surprised both supporters and opponents of the health law, who almost universally thought the numbers would be lower. Not only was the sign-up period reduced by half, but the Trump administration dramatically cut funding for advertising and enrollment aid. Republicans in Congress spent much of the year trying to repeal and replace the law, while Trump repeatedly declared the health law dead, leading to widespread confusion.

On the other hand, a Trump decision aimed at hurting the exchanges may have backfired. When he canceled federal subsidies to help insurers offer discounts to their lowest-income customers, it produced some surprising bargains for those who qualify for federal premium help. That may have boosted enrollment.

“Enrollment defied expectations and the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine it,” said Lori Lodes, a former Obama administration health official who joined with other Obama alumni to try to promote enrollment in the absence of federal outreach efforts. “The demand for affordable coverage speaks volumes — proving, yet again, the staying power of the marketplaces.”

“The ACA is not repealed and not going away,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, who oversaw the ACA under President Barack Obama.

The tax bill passed by Congress this week repeals the fines for those who fail to obtain health coverage, but those fines do not go away until 2019. Still, that has added to the confusion for 2018 coverage.

And it remains unclear whether Congress will make another attempt to repeal the law in 2018.

“I think we’ll probably move on to other issues,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in an interview Friday with NPR.

Read further.

Rovner J. (21 December 2017). "Despite Compressed Sign-Up Period, ACA Enrollment Nearly Matches Last Year’s" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://khn.org/news/despite-compressed-sign-up-period-aca-enrollment-nearly-matches-last-years/view/republish/

Individual Insurance Market Performance in Late 2017

In this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation, we will take a look at the individual insurance market performance as of late 2017. This is a great article for employers to get the low down on how to understand and read performance charts, as well as prepare for any instability in the next quarter.

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets, and again with renewed intensity in recent months during the debate over repeal of the health law. Our earlier analysis of first quarter financial data from 2011-2017 found that insurer financial performance indeed worsened in 2014 and 2015 with the opening of the exchange markets, but showed signs of improving in 2016 and stabilizing in 2017 as insurers began to regain profitability.

In this brief, we look at recently-released third quarter financial data from 2017 to examine whether recent premium increases were sufficient to bring insurer performance back to pre-ACA levels. These new data from the first nine months of 2017 offer further evidence that the individual market has been stabilizing and insurers are regaining profitability, even as political and policy uncertainty and the repeal of the individual mandatepenalty as part of tax reform legislation cloud expectations for 2018 and beyond.

Third quarter financial data reflects insurer performance in 2017 through September, before the Administration ceased payments for cost-sharing subsidies effective October 12, 2017. The loss of these payments during the fourth quarter of 2017 will diminish insurer profits, but nonetheless, insurers are likely to see better financial results in 2017 than they did in earlier years of the ACA Marketplaces.

We use financial data reported by insurance companies to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and compiled by Mark Farrah Associates to look at the average premiums, claims, medical loss ratios, gross margins, and enrollee utilization from third quarter 2011 through third quarter 2017 in the individual insurance market.1 Third quarter data is year-to-date from January 1 – September 30. These figures include coverage purchased through the ACA’s exchange marketplaces and ACA-compliant plans purchased directly from insurers outside the marketplaces (which are part of the same risk pool), as well as individual plans originally purchased before the ACA went into effect.

Medical Loss Ratios

As we found in our previous analysis, insurer financial performance as measured by loss ratios (the share of health premiums paid out as claims) worsened in the earliest years of the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces, but began to improve more recently. This is to be expected, as the market had just undergone significant regulatory changes in 2014 and insurers had very little information to work with in setting their premiums, even going into the second year of the exchange markets.

Loss ratios began to decline in 2016, suggesting improved financial performance. In 2017, following relatively large premium increases, individual market insurers saw significant improvement in loss ratios, averaging 81% through the third quarter. Third quarter loss ratios tend to follow the same pattern as annual loss ratios, but in recent years have been lower than annual loss ratios.2 Though 2017 annual loss ratios are likely to be impacted by the loss of cost-sharing subsidy payments during the last three months of the year, this is nevertheless a sign that individual market insurers on average were beginning to stabilize in 2017.


Another way to look at individual market financial performance is to examine average gross margins per member per month, or the average amount by which premium income exceeds claims costs per enrollee in a given month. Gross margins are an indicator of performance, but positive margins do not necessarily translate into profitability since they do not account for administrative expenses. As with medical loss ratios, third quarter margins tend to follow a similar pattern to annual margins, but generally look more favorable as enrollees are still paying toward their deductibles in the early part of the year, lowering claims costs for insurers.

Looking at gross margins, we see a similar pattern as we did looking at loss ratios, where insurer financial performance improved dramatically through the third quarter of 2017 (increasing to $79 per enrollee, from a recent third quarter low of $10 in 2015). Again, third quarter data tend to indicate the general direction of the annual trend, and while annual 2017 margins are unlikely to end as high as they are in the third quarter, these data suggest that insurers in this market are on track to reach pre-ACA individual market performance levels.

Underlying Trends

Driving recent improvements in individual market insurer financial performance are the premium increases in 2017 and simultaneous slow growth in claims for medical expenses. On average, premiums per enrollee grew 17% from third quarter 2016 to third quarter 2017, while per person claims grew only 4%.

Figure 3: Average Third Quarter Individual Market Monthly Premiums and Claims Per Person, 2011 – 2017
One concern about rising premiums in the individual market was whether healthy enrollees would drop out of the market in large numbers rather than pay higher rates. While the vast majority of exchange enrollees are subsidized and sheltered from paying premium increases, those enrolling off-exchange would have to pay the full increase. As average claims costs grew very slowly through the third quarter of 2017, it does not appear that the enrollees today are noticeably sicker than last year.

On average, the number of days individual market enrollees spent in a hospital through the third quarter of 2017 was similar to third quarter inpatient days in the previous two years. (The third quarter of 2014 is not necessarily representative of the full year because open enrollment was longer that year and a number of exchange enrollees did not begin their coverage until mid-year 2014).

Figure 4: Average Third Quarter Individual Market Monthly Hospital Patient Days Per 1,000 Enrollees, 2011 – 2017
Taken together, these data on claims and utilization suggest that the individual market risk pool is relatively stable, though sicker on average than the pre-ACA market, which is to be expected since people with pre-existing conditions have guaranteed access to coverage under the ACA.


Third quarter results from 2017 suggest the individual market was stabilizing and insurers in this market were regaining profitability. Insurer financial results as of the third quarter 2017 – before the Administration’s decision to stop making cost-sharing subsidy payments and before the repeal of the individual mandate penalty in the tax overhaul – showed no sign of a market collapse. Third quarter premium and claims data from 2017 support the notion that 2017 premium increases were necessary as a one-time market correction to adjust for a sicker-than-expected risk pool. Although individual market enrollees appear on average to be sicker than the market pre-ACA, data on hospitalizations in this market suggest that the risk pool is stable on average and not getting progressively sicker as of late 2017. Some insurers have exited the market in recent years, but others have been successful and expanded their footprints, as would be expected in a competitive marketplace.

While the market on average is stabilizing, there remain some areas of the country that are more fragile. In addition, policy uncertainty has the potential to destabilize the individual market generally. The decision by the Administration to cease cost-sharing subsidy payments led  some insurers to leave the market or request larger premium increases than they would otherwise. A few parts of the country were thought to be at risk of having no insurer on exchange, though new entrants or expanding insurers have since moved in to cover all areas previously at risk of being bare. Signups through the federal marketplace during the recently completed open enrollment period were higher than many expected, which could help to keep the market stable. However, continued policy uncertainty and the repeal of the individual mandate as part of tax reform legislation complicate the outlook for 2018 and beyond.


We analyzed insurer-reported financial data from Health Coverage Portal TM, a market database maintained by Mark Farrah Associates, which includes information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The dataset analyzed in this report does not include NAIC plans licensed as life insurance or California HMOs regulated by California’s Department of Managed Health Care; in total, the plans in this dataset represent at least 80% of the individual market. All figures in this data note are for the individual health insurance market as a whole, which includes major medical insurance plans sold both on and off exchange. We excluded some plans that filed negative enrollment, premiums, or claims and corrected for plans that did not file “member months” in the third quarter but did file third quarter membership.

To calculate the weighted average loss ratio across the individual market, we divided the market-wide sum of total incurred claims by the sum of all health premiums earned. Medical loss ratios in this analysis are simple loss ratios and do not adjust for quality improvement expenses, taxes, or risk program payments. Gross margins were calculated by subtracting the sum of total incurred claims from the sum of health premiums earned and dividing by the total number of member months (average monthly enrollment) in the individual insurance market.



Cox C., Semanskee A., Levitt L. (4 January 2018). "Individual Insurance Market Performance in Late 2017" [web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/individual-insurance-market-performance-in-late-2017/


From The ACA Times, we've pulled this article that lists out some helpful resources for small businesses.

The federal government provides free online resources to help small businesses better understand the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how they might be able to offer health insurance to their employees. Here are some we thought might be helpful.

How the Affordable Care Act affects small businesses: This web page hosted by HealthCare.gov explains how the ACA can impact a small business with 1 to 50 full-time equivalent employees.

SHOP Guide: This web page on Healthcare.gov provides information for small businesses on how they can offer a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) insurance to their employees. The web page has links to help businesses learn more about SHOP and whether they qualify to offer such coverage to employees.

The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: Healthcare.gov, the Taxpayer Advocate Service and the IRS both provide web pages that provide information that helps small businesses determine if they are eligible to take advantage of tax credits if they offer SHOP to their employees.

The Future of SHOP: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is providing information on how CMS will be exploring a more efficient implementation of the Federally-facilitated SHOP Marketplaces in order to promote insurance company and agent/broker participation and make it easier for small employers to offer SHOP plans to their employees, while maintaining access to the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit.


Read the original article here.

Sheen R. (21 November 2017). "FREE ACA RESOURCES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://acatimes.com/free-aca-resources-for-small-businesses/

More than Half of Uninsured People Eligible for Marketplace Insurance Could Pay Less for Health Plan than Individual Mandate Penalty

Things are not looking up for the uninsured. Pay less and reach out to your health insurance professionals today. Want more facts? Check out this blog article from Kaiser Family Foundation.

new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that more than half (54% or 5.9 million) of the 10.7 million people who are uninsured and eligible to purchase an Affordable Care Act marketplace plan in 2018 could pay less in premiums for health insurance than they would owe as an individual mandate tax penalty for lacking coverage.

Within that 5.8 million, about 4.5 million (42% of the total) could obtain a bronze-level plan at no cost in 2018, after taking income-related premium tax credits into account, the analysis finds.

Most people without insurance who are eligible to buy marketplace coverage qualify for subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay premiums for marketplace plans (8.3 million out of 10.7 million). Among those eligible for premium subsidies, the analysis finds that 70 percent could pay less in premiums than what they’d owe as a tax penalty for lacking coverage, with 54 percent able to purchase a bronze plan at no cost and 16 percent contributing less to their health insurance premium than the tax penalty they owe.

Among the 2.4 million uninsured, marketplace-eligible people who do not qualify for a premium subsidy, 2 percent would be able to pay less for marketplace insurance than they’d owe for their 2018 penalty, the analysis finds.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requires that most people have health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty unless they qualify for certain exemptions. The individual mandate is still in effect, though Congress may consider repealing it as part of tax legislation.

Consumers can compare their estimated 2018 individual mandate penalty with the cost of marketplace insurance in their area with KFF’s new Individual Mandate Penalty Calculator.

The deadline for ACA open enrollment in most states is Dec. 15, 2017.


You can read the original article here.


Kaiser Family Foundation (9 November 2017). "ANALYSIS: More than Half of Uninsured People Eligible for Marketplace Insurance Could Pay Less for Health Plan than Individual Mandate Penalty" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/analysis-more-than-half-of-uninsured-people-eligible-for-marketplace-insurance-could-pay-less-for-health-plan-than-individual-mandate-penalty/

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Understanding your Letter 226-J

Letter 226-J is the initial letter issued to Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) to notify them that they may be liable for an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP). The determination of whether an ALE may be liable for an ESRP and the amount of the proposed ESRP in Letter 226-J are based on information from Forms 1094-C and 1095-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns filed by the ALE’s employees.

What you need to do

  • Read your letter and attachments carefully. These documents explain the ESRP process and how the information received affects the computation.
  • The letter fully explains the steps to take if you agree or disagree with the proposed ESRP computation.
  • Complete the response form (Form 14764) indicating your agreement or disagreement with the letter.
  • If you disagree with the proposed ESRP liability, you must provide a full explanation of your disagreement and/or indicate changes needed on Form 14765 (PTC Listing). Return all documents as instructed in the letter by the response date.
  • If you agree with the proposed ESRP liability, follow the instructions to sign the response form and return with full payment in the envelope provided.

You may want to

  • Review the information reported on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the applicable year to confirm that the information filed with the IRS was accurate because the IRS uses that information to compute the ESRP.
  • Keep a copy of the letter and any documents you submit.
  • Contact us using the information provided in the letter if you have any questions or need additional time to respond.
  • Send us a Form 2848 (Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative) to allow someone to contact us on your behalf. Note that the Form 2848 must state specifically the year and that it is for the Section 4980H Shared Responsibility Payment.

Answers to Common Questions

Why did I receive this letter?
The IRS used the information you provided on Forms 1094/5-C and determined that you are potentially liable for an ESRP.

Where did the IRS get the information used to compute the ESRP?
The IRS used form 1094/5-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns of your full-time employees to identify if they were allowed a premium tax credit.

Is this letter a bill?
No, the letter is the initial proposal of the ESRP

What do I need to do?
Review the letter and attachments carefully and complete the response form by the date provided.

What do I do if the information is wrong or I disagree?
Follow the instructions in the letter to provide corrected information for consideration by the IRS. The IRS will reply with an acknowledgement letter informing you of their final determination.

Do I have appeal rights?
Yes, the acknowledgement letter that you receive will spell out all your rights, including your right to appeal.

General Information

For more info visit ACA information center for Applicable Large Employers

Here’s an excerpt from the 226J letter, and a link to the official sample.



IRS (9 November 2017). "Understanding your Letter 226-J" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.irs.gov/individuals/understanding-your-letter-226-j

IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure

 Where does the IRS stand on ACA (Affordable Care Act)? It's time to know. Check out this article from Benefits Pro for more information.

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that for the first time, tax returns filed electronically in 2018 will be rejected if they do not contain the information about whether the filer has coverage, including whether the filer is exempt from the individual mandate or will pay the tax penalty imposed by the law on those who don’t buy coverage.

Tax returns filed on paper could have processing suspended and thus any possible refund delayed.

The New York Times reports that the IRS appears to be acting in contradiction to the first executive order issued by the Trump White House on inauguration day, in which Trump instructed agencies to “scale back” enforcement of regulations governing the ACA.

The move by the IRS reminds people that they can’t just ignore the ACA, despite the EO. Although only those lacking coverage have to pay the penalty, everyone has to indicate their insurance coverage status on their filing.

While the uninsured rate for all Americans dipped to a historic low of 8.6 percent in the first three months...5 states with lowest, highest uninsured rates

According to legal experts cited in the report, the IRS is indicating that although the administration may have leeway in how aggressively it enforces the mandate provision, it’s still in effect unless and until Congress specifically repeals it.

While many people thought they didn’t have to bother with reporting, and many insurers have raised rates anticipating that the lack of a mandate would lead to lower enrollments and higher costs for them, that’s not the case. Initially the IRS did not reject returns because the law was new.

The penalty is pretty steep; for those who don’t have coverage, it can range from $695 for an individual to a maximum of $2,085 for a family or 2.5 percent of AGI, whichever is higher. Not everyone without coverage would be penalized, though; if their income is too low or if the lowest-priced coverage costs more than 8.16 percent of their income, they’ll avoid the penalty.

That said, it’s not known how stringently the IRS will be in enforcing the mandate. But at least taxpayers will know whether they’re exempt from the penalty or whether they’re obligated to buy coverage.


 You can read the original article here.
Satter M. (23 October 2017). "IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/10/23/irs-to-reject-returns-lacking-health-coverage-disc?ref=hp-top-stories&slreturn=1509378329

The Effects of Ending the Affordable Care Act’s Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments

Controversy has emerged recently over federal payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) related to cost-sharing reductions for low-income enrollees in the ACA’s marketplaces.

The ACA requires insurers to offer plans with reduced patient cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles and copays) to marketplace enrollees with incomes 100-250% of the poverty level. The reduced cost-sharing is only available in silver-level plans, and the premiums are the same as standard silver plans.

To compensate for the added cost to insurers of the reduced cost-sharing, the federal governments makes payments directly to insurance companies. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost of these payments at $7 billion in fiscal year 2017, rising to $10 billion in 2018 and $16 billion by 2027.

The U.S. House of Representatives sued the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration, challenging the legality of making the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments without an explicit appropriation. A district court judge has ruled in favor of the House, but the ruling was appealed by the Secretary and the payments were permitted to continue pending the appeal. The case is currently in abeyance, with status reports required every three months, starting May 22, 2017.

If the CSR payments end – either through a court order or through a unilateral decision by the Trump Administration, assuming the payments are not explicitly authorized in an appropriation by Congress – insurers would face significant revenue shortfalls this year and next.

Many insurers might react to the end of subsidy payments by exiting the ACA marketplaces. If insurers choose to remain in the marketplaces, they would need to raise premiums to offset the loss of the payments.

We have previously estimated that insurers would need to raise silver premiums by about 19% on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments. Our assumption is that insurers would only increase silver premiums (if allowed to do so by regulators), since those are the only plans where cost-sharing reductions are available. The premium increases would be higher in states that have not expanded Medicaid (and lower in states that have), since there are a large number of marketplace enrollees in those states with incomes 100-138% of poverty who qualify for the largest cost-sharing reductions.

There would be a significant amount of uncertainty for insurers in setting premiums to offset the cost of cost-sharing reductions. For example, they would need to anticipate what share of enrollees in silver plans would be receiving reduced cost-sharing and at what level. Under a worst case scenario – where only people eligible for sharing reductions enrolled in silver plans – the required premium increase would be higher than 19%, and many insurers might request bigger rate hikes.

Figure 1: How much silver premiums would have to rise to compensate for loss of cost-sharing reduction payments

While the federal government would save money by not making CSR payments, it would face increased costs for tax credits that subsidize premiums for marketplace enrollees with incomes 100-400% of the poverty level.

The ACA’s premium tax credits are based on the premium for a benchmark plan in each area: the second-lowest-cost silver plan in the marketplace. The tax credit is calculated as the difference between the premium for that benchmark plan and a premium cap calculated as a percent of the enrollee’s household income (ranging from 2.04% at 100% of the poverty level to 9.69% at 400% of the poverty in 2017).

Any systematic increase in premiums for silver marketplace plans (including the benchmark plan) would increase the size of premium tax credits. The increased tax credits would completely cover the increased premium for subsidized enrollees covered through the benchmark plan and cushion the effect for enrollees signed up for more expensive silver plans. Enrollees who apply their tax credits to other tiers of plans (i.e., bronze, gold, and platinum) would also receive increased premium tax credits even though they do not qualify for reduced cost-sharing and the underlying premiums in their plans might not increase at all.

We estimate that the increased cost to the federal government of higher premium tax credits would actually be 23% more than the savings from eliminating cost-sharing reduction payments. For fiscal year 2018, that would result in a net increase in federal costs of $2.3 billion. Extrapolating to the 10-year budget window (2018-2027) using CBO’s projection of CSR payments, the federal government would end up spending $31 billion more if the payments end.

This assumes that insurers would be willing to stay in the market if CSR payments are eliminated.

Figure 2: How eliminating ACA cost-sharing reduction payments increases federal costs (2018)


We previously estimated that the increase in silver premiums necessary to offset the elimination of CSR payments would be 19%.

To estimate the average increase in premium tax credits per enrollee, we applied that premium increase to the average premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan in 2017. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that the average monthly premium for the lowest-cost silver plan in 2017 is $433. Our analysis of premium data shows that the second-lowest-cost silver plan has a premium 4% higher than average than the lowest-cost silver plan.

We applied our estimate of the average premium tax credit increase to the estimated total number of people receiving tax credits in 2017. This is based on the 10.1 million people who selected a plan during open enrollment and qualified for a tax credit, reduced by about 17% to reflect the difference between reported plan selections in 2016 and effectuated enrollment in June of 2016.

We believe the resulting 23% increase in federal costs is an underestimate. To the extent some people not receiving cost-sharing reductions migrate out of silver plans, the required premium increase to offset the loss of CSR payments would be higher. Selective exits by insurers (e.g., among those offering lower cost plans) could also drive benchmark premiums higher. In addition, higher silver premiums would somewhat increase the number of people receiving tax credits because currently some younger/higher-income people with incomes under 400% of the poverty level receive a tax credit of zero because their premium cap is lower than the premium for the second-lowest-cost silver plan. We have not accounted for any of these factors.

Our analysis produces results similar to recent estimates for California by Covered California and a January 2016 analysis from the Urban Institute.

An Early Look at 2018 Premium Changes and Insurer Participation on ACA Exchanges

Each year insurers submit filings to state regulators detailing their plans to participate on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces (also called exchanges). These filings include information on the premiums insurers plan to charge in the coming year and which areas they plan to serve. Each state or the federal government reviews premiums to ensure they are accurate and justifiable before the rate goes into effect, though regulators have varying types of authority and states make varying amounts of information public.

In this analysis, we look at preliminary premiums and insurer participation in the 20 states and the District of Columbia where publicly available rate filings include enough detail to be able to show the premium for a specific enrollee. As in previous years, we focus on the second-lowest cost silver plan in the major city in each state. This plan serves as the benchmark for premium tax credits. Enrollees must also enroll in a silver plan to obtain reduced cost sharing tied to their incomes. About 71% of marketplace enrollees are in silver plans this year.

States are still reviewing premiums and participation, so the data in this report are preliminary and could very well change. Rates and participation are not locked in until late summer or early fall (insurers must sign an annual contract by September 27 in states using Healthcare.gov).

Insurers in this market face new uncertainty in the current political environment and in some cases have factored this into their premium increases for the coming year. Specifically, insurers have been unsure whether the individual mandate (which brings down premiums by compelling healthy people to buy coverage) will be repealed by Congress or to what degree it will be enforced by the Trump Administration. Additionally, insurers in this market do not know whether the Trump Administration will continue to make payments to compensate insurers for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which are the subject of a lawsuit, or whether Congress will appropriate these funds. (More on these subsidies can be found here).

The vast majority of insurers included in this analysis cite uncertainty surrounding the individual mandate and/or cost sharing subsidies as a factor in their 2018 rates filings. Some insurers explicitly factor this uncertainty into their initial premium requests, while other companies say if they do not receive more clarity or if cost-sharing payments stop, they plan to either refile with higher premiums or withdraw from the market. We include a table in this analysis highlighting examples of companies that have factored this uncertainty into their initial premium increases and specified the amount by which the uncertainty is increasing rates.

Changes in the Second-Lowest Cost Silver Premium

The second-lowest silver plan is one of the most popular plan choices on the marketplace and is also the benchmark that is used to determine the amount of financial assistance individuals and families receive. The table below shows these premiums for a major city in each state with available data. (Our analyses from 201720162015, and 2014 examined changes in premiums and participation in these states and major cities since the exchange markets opened nearly four years ago.)

Across these 21 major cities, based on preliminary 2018 rate filings, the second-lowest silver premium for a 40-year-old non-smoker will range from $244 in Detroit, MI to $631 in Wilmington, DE, before accounting for the tax credit that most enrollees in this market receive.

Of these major cities, the steepest proposed increases in the unsubsidized second-lowest silver plan are in Wilmington, DE (up 49% from $423 to $631 per month for a 40-year-old non-smoker), Albuquerque, NM (up 34% from $258 to $346), and Richmond, VA (up 33% from $296 to $394). Meanwhile, unsubsidized premiums for the second-lowest silver premiums will decrease in Providence, RI (down -5% from $261 to $248 for a 40-year-old non-smoker) and remain essentially unchanged in Burlington, VT ($492 to $491).

As discussed in more detail below, this year’s preliminary rate requests are subject to much more uncertainty than in past years. An additional factor driving rates this year is the return of the ACA’s health insurance tax, which adds an estimated 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums.

Most enrollees in the marketplaces (84%) receive a tax credit to lower their premium and these enrollees will be protected from premium increases, though they may need to switch plans in order to take full advantage of the tax credit. The premium tax credit caps how much a person or family must spend on the benchmark plan in their area at a certain percentage of their income. For this reason, in 2017, a single adult making $30,000 per year would pay about $207 per month for the second-lowest-silver plan, regardless of the sticker price (unless their unsubsidized premium was less than $207 per month). If this person enrolls in the second lowest-cost silver plan is in 2018 as well, he or she will pay slightly less (the after-tax credit payment for a similar person in 2018 will be $201 per month, or a decrease of 2.9%). Enrollees can use their tax credits in any marketplace plan. So, because tax credits rise with the increase in benchmark premiums, enrollees are cushioned from the effect of premium hikes.

Table 1: Monthly Silver Premiums and Financial Assistance for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker Making $30,000 / Year
State  Major City 2nd Lowest Cost Silver
Before Tax Credit
2nd Lowest Cost Silver
After Tax Credit
Amount of Premium Tax Credit
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
California* Los Angeles $258 $289 12% $207 $201 -3% $51 $88 71%
Colorado Denver $313 $352 12% $207 $201 -3% $106 $150 42%
Connecticut Hartford $369 $417 13% $207 $201 -3% $162 $216 33%
DC Washington $298 $324 9% $207 $201 -3% $91 $122 35%
Delaware Wilmington $423 $631 49% $207 $201 -3% $216 $430 99%
Georgia Atlanta $286 $308 7% $207 $201 -3% $79 $106 34%
Idaho Boise $348 $442 27% $207 $201 -3% $141 $241 70%
Indiana Indianapolis $286 $337 18% $207 $201 -3% $79 $135 72%
Maine Portland $341 $397 17% $207 $201 -3% $134 $196 46%
Maryland Baltimore $313 $392 25% $207 $201 -3% $106 $191 81%
Michigan* Detroit $237 $244 3% $207 $201 -3% $29 $42 44%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $366 $383 5% $207 $201 -3% $159 $181 14%
New Mexico Albuquerque $258 $346 34% $207 $201 -3% $51 $144 183%
New York*** New York City $456 $504 10% $207 $201 -3% $249 $303 21%
Oregon Portland $312 $350 12% $207 $201 -3% $105 $149 42%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $418 $515 23% $207 $201 -3% $211 $313 49%
Rhode Island Providence $261 $248 -5% $207 $201 -3% $54 $47 -13%
Tennessee Nashville $419 $507 21% $207 $201 -3% $212 $306 44%
Vermont Burlington $492 $491 0% $207 $201 -3% $285 $289 2%
Virginia Richmond $296 $394 33% $207 $201 -3% $89 $193 117%
Washington Seattle $238 $306 29% $207 $201 -3% $31 $105 239%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Looking back to 2014, when changes to the individual insurance market under the ACA first took effect, reveals a wide range of premium changes. In many of these cities, average annual premium growth over the 2014-2018 period has been modest, and in two cites (Indianapolis and Providence), benchmark premiums have actually decreased. In other cities, premiums have risen rapidly over the period, though in some cases this rapid growth was because premiums were initially quite low (e.g., in Nashville and Minneapolis).

Table 2: Monthly Benchmark Silver Premiums
for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker, 2014-2018
State Major City 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Average Annual % Change from 2014 to 2018 Average Annual % Change After Tax Credit, $30K Income
California Los Angeles $255 $257 $245 $258 $289 3% -1%
Colorado Denver $250 $211 $278 $313 $352 9%  -1%
Connecticut Hartford $328 $312 $318 $369 $417 6%  -1%
DC Washington $242 $242 $244 $298 $324 8%  -1%
Delaware Wilmington $289 $301 $356 $423 $631 22%  -1%
Georgia Atlanta $250 $255 $254 $286 $308 5%  -1%
Idaho Boise $231 $210 $273 $348 $442 18%  -1%
Indiana Indianapolis $341 $329 $298 $286 $337 0%  -1%
Maine Portland $295 $282 $288 $341 $397 8%  -1%
Maryland Baltimore $228 $235 $249 $313 $392 15%  -1%
Michigan* Detroit $224 $230 $226 $237 $244 2%  -1%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $162 $183 $235 $366 $383 24%  6%
New Mexico Albuquerque $194 $171 $186 $258 $346 16%  1%
New York*** New York City $365 $372 $369 $456 $504 8%  -1%
Oregon Portland $213 $213 $261 $312 $350 13%  -1%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $300 $268 $276 $418 $515 14%  -1%
Rhode Island Providence $293 $260 $263 $261 $248 -4%  -1%
Tennessee Nashville $188 $203 $281 $419 $507 28%  2%
Vermont Burlington $413 $436 $468 $492 $491 4%  -1%
Virginia Richmond $253 $260 $276 $296 $394 12%  -1%
Washington Seattle $281 $254 $227 $238 $306 2% -1%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Changes in Insurer Participation

Across these 20 states and DC, an average of 4.6 insurers have indicated they intend to participate in 2018, compared to an average of 5.1 insurers per state in 2017, 6.2 in 2016, 6.7 in 2015, and 5.7 in 2014. In states using Healthcare.gov, insurers have until September 27 to sign final contracts to participate in 2018. Insurers often do not serve an entire state, so the number of choices available to consumers in a particular area will typically be less than these figures.

Table 3: Total Number of Insurers by State, 2014 – 2018
State Total Number of Issuers in the Marketplace
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (Preliminary)
California 11 10 12 11 11
Colorado 10 10 8 7 7
Connecticut 3 4 4 2 2
DC 3 3 2 2 2
Delaware 2 2 2 2 1 (Aetna exiting)
Georgia 5 9 8 5 4 (Humana exiting)
Idaho 4 5 5 5 4 (Cambia exiting)
Indiana 4 8 7 4 2 (Anthem and MDwise exiting)
Maine 2 3 3 3 3
Maryland 4 5 5 3 3 (Cigna exiting, Evergreen1 filed to reenter)
Michigan 9 13 11 9 8 (Humana exiting)
Minnesota 5 4 4 4 4
New Mexico 4 5 4 4 4
New York 16 16 15 14 14
Oregon 11 10 10 6 5 (Atrio exiting)
Pennsylvania 7 8 7 5 5
Rhode Island 2 3 3 2 2
Tennessee 4 5 4 3 3 (Humana exiting, Oscar entering)
Vermont 2 2 2 2 2
Virginia 5 6 7 8 6 (UnitedHealthcare and Aetna exiting)
Washington 7 9 8 6 5 (Community Health Plan of WA exiting)
Average (20 states + DC) 5.7 6.7 6.2 5.1 4.6
NOTES: Insurers are grouped by parent company or group affiliation, which we obtained from HHS Medical Loss Ratio public use files and supplemented with additional research.
1The number of preliminary 2018 insurers in Maryland includes Evergreen, which submitted a filing but has been placed in receivership.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Uncertainty Surrounding ACA Provisions

Insurers in the individual market must submit filings with their premiums and service areas to states and/or the federal government for review well in advance of these rates going into effect. States vary in their deadlines and processes, but generally, insurers were required to submit their initial rate requests in May or June of 2017 for products that go into effect in January 2018. Once insurers set their premiums for 2018 and sign final contacts at the end of September, those premiums are locked in for the entire calendar year and insurers do not have an opportunity to revise their rates or service areas until the following year.

Meanwhile, over the course of this summer, the debate in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has carried on as insurers set their rates for next year. Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would have made significant changes to the law effective in 2018 or even retroactively, including repeal of the individual mandate penalty. Additionally, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals over whether it would continue to enforce the individual mandate or make payments to insurers to reimburse them for the cost of providing legally required cost-sharing assistance to low-income enrollees.

Because this policy uncertainty is far outside the norm, insurers are making varying assumptions about how this uncertainty will play out and affect premiums. Some states have attempted to standardize the process by requesting rate submissions under multiple scenarios, while other states appear to have left the decision up to each individual company. There is no standard place in the filings where insurers across all states can explain this type of assumption, and some states do not post complete filings to allow the public to examine which assumptions insurers are making.

In the 20 states and DC with detailed rate filings included in the previous sections of this analysis, the vast majority of insurers cite policy uncertainty in their rate filings. Some insurers make an explicit assumption about the individual mandate not being enforced or cost-sharing subsidies not being paid and specify how much each assumption contributes to the overall rate increase. Other insurers state that if they do not get clarity by the time final rates must be submitted – which has now been delayed to September 5 for the federal marketplace – they may either increase their premiums further or withdraw from the market.

Table 4 highlights examples of insurers that have explicitly factored into their premiums an assumption that either the individual mandate will not be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will not be made and have specified the degree to which that assumption is influencing their initial rate request. As mentioned above, the vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the Administration.

Insurers assuming the individual mandate will not be enforced have factored in to their rate increases an additional 1.2% to 20%. Those assuming cost-sharing subsidy payments will not continue and factoring this into their initial rate requests have applied an additional rate increase ranging from 2% to 23%. Because cost-sharing reductions are only available in silver plans, insurers may seek to raise premiums just in those plans if the payments end. We estimate that silver premiums would have to increase by 19% on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments, with the amount varying substantially by state.

Several insurers assumed in their initial rate filing that payment of the cost-sharing subsidies would continue, but indicated the degree to which rates would increase if they are discontinued. These insurers are not included in the Table 4. If CSR payments end or there is continued uncertainty, these insurers say they would raise their rates an additional 3% to 10% beyond their initial request – or ranging from 9% to 38% in cases when the rate increases would only apply to silver plans. Some states have instructed insurers to submit two sets of rates to account for the possibility of discontinued cost-sharing subsidies. In California, for example, a surcharge would be added to silver plans on the exchange, increasing proposed rates an additional 12.4% on average across all 11 carriers, ranging from 8% to 27%.

Table 4: Examples of Preliminary Insurer Assumptions Regarding Individual Mandate Enforcement and
Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR) Payments
State Insurer Average Rate Increase  Requested Individual Mandate Assumption CSR Payments Assumption Requested Rate Increase Due to Mandate or CSR Uncertainty
CT ConnectiCare 17.5% Weakly enforced1 Not specified Mandate: 2.4%
DE Highmark BCBSD 33.6% Not enforced Not paid Mandate and CSR: 12.8% combined impact
GA Alliant Health Plans 34.5% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.0%
CSR: Unspecified
ID Mountain Health CO-OP 25.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 17.0%
ID PacificSource Health Plans 45.6% Not specified Not paid CSR: 23.2%
ID SelectHealth 45.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 20.0%
MD CareFirst BlueChoice 45.6% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
ME Harvard PilgrimHealth Care 39.7% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 15.9%
MI BCBS of MI 26.9% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Blue Care Network of MI 13.8% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Molina Healthcare of MI 19.3% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 9.5%
NM CHRISTUS Health Plan 49.2% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.0%, combined impact of individual mandate non-enforcement and reduced advertising and outreach
NM Molina Healthcare of NM 21.2% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 11.0%
NM New Mexico Health Connections 32.8% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
OR* BridgeSpan 17.2% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 11.0%
OR* Moda Health 13.1% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 1.2%
OR* Providence Health Plan 20.7% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.7%, largely due to individual mandate non-enforcement
TN BCBS of TN 21.4% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 7.0%
CSR:  14.0%
TN Cigna 42.1% Weakly enforced Not paid CSR: 14.1%
TN Oscar Insurance  NA (New to state) Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 0%, despite non-enforcement
CSR: 17.0%, applied only to silver plans
VA CareFirst BlueChoice 21.5% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
VA CareFirst GHMSI 54.3% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
WA LifeWise Health Plan of Washington 21.6% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.2%
CSR: 2.3%
WA Premera Blue Cross 27.7% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 4.0%
CSR: 3.1%
WA Molina Healthcare of WA 38.5% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 5.4%
NOTES: The CSR assumption “Potentially not paid” refers to insurers that filed initial rates assuming CSR payments are made and indicated that uncertainty over CSR funding would change their initial rate requests. In Michigan, insurers were instructed to submit a second set of filings showing rate increases without CSR payments; the rates shown above assume continued CSR payments. *The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation reviewed insurer filings and advised adjustment of the impact of individual mandate uncertainty to between 2.4% and 5.1%. Although rates have since been finalized, the increases shown here are based on initial insurer requests. 1Connecticare assumes a public perception that the mandate will not be enforced.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.


A number of insurers have requested double-digit premium increases for 2018. Based on initial filings, the change in benchmark silver premiums will likely range from -5% to 49% across these 21 major cities. These rates are still being reviewed by regulators and may change.

In the past, requested premiums have been similar, if not equal to, the rates insurers ultimately charge. This year, because of the uncertainty insurers face over whether the individual mandate will be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will be made, some companies have included an additional rate increase in their initial rate requests, while other companies have said they may revise their premiums late in the process. It is therefore quite possible that the requested rates in this analysis will change between now and open enrollment.

Insurers attempting to price their plans and determine which states and counties they will service next year face a great deal of uncertainty. They must soon sign contracts locking in their premiums for the entire year of 2018, yet Congress or the Administration could make significant changes in the coming months to the law – or its implementation – that could lead to significant losses if companies have not appropriately priced for these changes. Insurers vary in the assumptions they make regarding the individual mandate and cost-sharing subsidies and the degree to which they are factoring this uncertainty into their rate requests.

Because most enrollees on the exchange receive subsidies, they will generally be protected from premium increases. Ultimately, most of the burden of higher premiums on exchanges falls on taxpayers. Middle and upper-middle income people purchasing their own coverage off-exchange, however, are not protected by subsidies and will pay the full premium increase, switch to a lower level plan, or drop their coverage. Although the individual market on average has been stabilizing, the concern remains that another year of steep premium increases could cause healthy people (particularly those buying off-exchange) to drop their coverage, potentially leading to further rate hikes or insurer exits.


Data were collected from health insurer rate filing submitted to state regulators. These submissions are publicly available for the states we analyzed. Most rate information is available in the form of a SERFF filing (System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing) that includes a base rate and other factors that build up to an individual rate. In states where filings were unavailable, we gathered data from tables released by state insurance departments. Premium data are current as of August 7, 2017; however, filings in most states are still preliminary and will likely change before open enrollment. All premiums in this analysis are at the rating area level, and some plans may not be available in all cities or counties within the rating area. Rating areas are typically groups of neighboring counties, so a major city in the area was chosen for identification purposes.

4 Main Impacts of Yesterday's Executive Order

Yesterday, President Trump used his pen to set his sights on healthcare having completed the signing of an executive order after Congress failed to repeal ObamaCare.

Here’s a quick dig into some of what this order means and who might be impacted from yesterday's signing.

A Focus On Small Businesses

The executive order eases rules on small businesses banding together to buy health insurance, through what are known as association health plans, and lifts limits on short-term health insurance plans, according to an administration source. This includes directing the Department of Labor to "modernize" rules to allow small employers to create association health plans, the source said. Small businesses will be able to band together if they are within the same state, in the same "line of business," or are in the same trade association.

Skinny Plans

The executive order expands the availability of short-term insurance policies, which offer limited benefits meant as a bridge for people between jobs or young adults no longer eligible for their parents’ health plans. This extends the limited three-month rule under the Obama administration to now nearly a year.

Pretax Dollars

This executive order also targets widening employers’ ability to use pretax dollars in “health reimbursement arrangements”, such as HSAs and HRAs, to help workers pay for any medical expenses, not just for health policies that meet ACA rules. This is a complete reversal of the original provisions of the Obama policy.

Research and Get Creative

The executive order additionally seeks to lead a federal study on ways to limit consolidation within the insurance and hospital industries, looking for new and creative ways to increase competition and choice in health care to improve quality and lower cost.