The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s creation of the state health benefit exchange marketplace is aimed at restoring functionality to the individual and small group markets. By the time the Affordable Care Act was enacted in early 2010, these segments were inescapably mired in an adverse selection death spiral. Premiums grew unaffordable and carriers lost the ability to spread risk as state risk pools shrank. The exchange marketplace seeks to remedy this by scaling up the size of the pool and providing a demand aggregation mechanism that with sufficient enrollment can achieve better spread of risk and, in turn, lower premium rates.
The Affordable Care Act does not initially offer the demand aggregation mechanism of the public exchange marketplace for large employers but gives states the option of opening their exchanges to large employers in 2017. However, large employers seeking relief from rising employee health care costs aren’t about to wait. Instead, they are looking at private exchanges being formed by benefit consulting firms serving large employers. Several large employers participating in a private exchange could potentially cover many thousands of people and bring them into the pool far faster than state exchanges that have to enroll individuals and small employers one at a time. Private exchanges also make it easier for big employers to adopt defined contribution-based health benefits in which employees would select from a larger number of plans than might otherwise be offered by a single employer. Media coverage this week of burgeoning interest in the private exchange marketplace can be viewed here and here.
While large employers of relatively highly paid full time workers find the private exchange marketplace of interest to reduce the cost of covering their workforces, those with low wage, part time staff are looking to the state exchange marketplace. It provides a means for these employers to reduce their health care outgo by sending part time workers (defined in the ACA as having an average work week of less than 30 hours) to purchase individual plans sold on the state exchanges and subsidized by advance income tax credits. Two such employers – specialty grocer Trader Joe’s and Home Depot –indicated in recent days they would take this route.
Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email