Half of Americans think the ACA marketplace is collapsing

Most Americans are happy with the insurance they buy on the individual market, yet those same people think the markets are collapsing before their eyes.

A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation  (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation), released Tuesday, found that 61 percent of people enrolled in marketplace plans are satisfied with their insurance choices and that a majority say they are not paying more this year compared with last year’s premium costs.

Yet, more than half of the overall public — 53 percent — also think the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces are “collapsing.”

Experts have warned that some policy actions supported by the Trump administration would undermine the market, including repealing the penalty for going without insurance and giving people the option to buy short-term plans. Such plans are often less expensive but cover fewer benefits. They are not automatically renewable, and insurers are able to charge people with medical conditions more — or exclude them altogether.

But only about one-fifth of people who obtain coverage on the individual market were even aware that the mandate penalty had been repealed as of 2019, according to the poll. It is still in effect this year.

Nine in 10 enrollees said they would still buy insurance without the penalty, and 34 percent said the mandate was a “major reason” they chose to buy insurance at all.

“They may have been prompted to buy the coverage in the first place because of the mandate,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But now that they’ve got it, they clearly value it.”

Most of the people who buy plans because they don’t get coverage through work or the government, 75 percent, said they bought insurance to protect against high medical bills, and 66 percent said peace of mind was a major reason.

In February, President Donald Trump eased some of the restrictions on short-term insurance plans, allowing them to cover people for 12 months instead of three.

Critics worried this alternative would draw people away from traditional insurance plans and weaken the individual market. According to the poll, though, only 12 percent of respondents buying on that market said they’d be interested in buying one of the short-term plans.

Georgetown’s Corlette cautioned that these numbers could change when people are faced with an actual choice next open enrollment season.

“If you look at how these things are marketed, your average consumer will not be able to tell that these products are any different from a traditional health plan,” she said.

Most people said they didn’t face a premium increase this year. Thirty-four percent said their premiums were “about the same” as last year and 23 percent said they actually went down.

That’s not surprising, said Joseph Antos, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who follows the health industry. Many consumers saw their premium subsidies rise too.

Thirty-five percent of people said one of the major reasons they bought insurance was because government subsidies made it affordable.

The subsidies that people receive, Antos noted, went up to offset the premium increase in many cases, especially if consumers took the advice of experts and shopped around for coverage.

“They’re buying because they feel they need insurance and that their net premiums and deductibles add up to something they’re willing to buy,” Antos said.

The poll was conducted Feb. 15-20 and March 8-13 among 2,534 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/-2 percentage points for the full sample, +/-7 percentage points for all non-group enrollees and +/-9 percentage points for marketplace enrollees.

Source: Kaiser Health News senior correspondent Julie Appleby contributed to this report.
By Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News | April 03, 2018 at 10:06 AM | Originally published on BenefitsPro


Summarized Report of The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll March 2018 for Non-Group Enrollees

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Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – March 2018: Non-Group Enrollees

Key Findings: As part of the Republican tax reform plan signed into law at the end of 2017, lawmakers eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate penalty starting in 2019. About one-fifth of non-group enrollees (19 percent) are aware the mandate penalty has been repealed but is still in effect for this year. Regardless of the lack of awareness, nine in ten non-group enrollees say they intend to continue to buy their own insurance even with the repeal of the individual mandate. About one-third (34 percent) say the mandate was a “major reason” why they chose to buy insurance.

Survey: 9 in 10 people with non-group health insurance plan to continue buying insurance despite the repeal of the individual mandate penalty About half the public overall believes the ACA marketplaces are “collapsing,” including six in ten of those with coverage purchased through these marketplaces. In fact, across party identification and insurance type, more say the marketplaces are “collapsing” than say the marketplaces are not collapsing. Overall, the population who buy their insurance through the ACA marketplace report being satisfied with the insurance options available to them during the most recent open enrollment period and more than half give the value of their insurance a positive rating. Yet, some (32 percent) experienced problems while trying to renew or buy their coverage and six in ten marketplace enrollees say they are worried about the possible lack of health insurance coverage in their areas.

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order directing his administration to expand the availability of non-renewable short-term insurance plans, and regulations have been proposed to implement the order. When asked whether non-group enrollees would prefer to purchase such a plan or prefer to keep the plan they have now, the vast majority (84 percent) say they would keep the plan they have now while 12 percent say they would want to purchase a short-term plan. The most common response offered by people who are uninsured when asked the reason why they don’t have health insurance is that it is too expensive and they can’t afford it (36 percent), followed by job-related issues such as unemployment or their employer doesn’t offer health insurance (20 percent).

Who Are Non-Group Enrollees?
This report examines people’s experiences with the current health insurance market focusing on individuals who currently have health insurance they purchased themselves (referred to as “non-group enrollees” throughout the report). This is comprised of individuals who purchase their own insurance through an Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace (“marketplace enrollees”) as well as those who purchase their insurance outside of the ACA markets. 1 In the first half of 2017, 10.1 million people had health insurance that they purchased through the ACA exchanges or marketplaces. 2 For comparison, the report also examines individuals ages 18-64 without health insurance (“uninsured”) as well as those who get their insurance through their employer (“employer-sponsored insurance”).

These extended interviews were conducted as part of the February and March Kaiser Health Tracking Polls and were completed after the close of the law’s fifth open enrollment period, which ended earlier this year. The Individual Mandate as part of the Republican tax reform plan signed into law at the end of 2017, lawmakers eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate penalty. The tax plan reduced the individual penalty for not having health insurance to zero beginning in 2019, effectively repealing the least favorable provision of the ACA (according to polling conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation). There is still uncertainty among the public as well as among the groups most directly affected by the individual mandate (non-group enrollees and the uninsured) on the status of the mandate.

—kff.org


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.

Source:
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.

Source:
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.

Margins

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.

Discussion

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.

Methods

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.

 

Source:

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/


FREE ACA RESOURCES FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

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.

Source:
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.

Source:

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.

 

Source:

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.
Source:
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)

Methods

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.


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