Seventeen business groups and the National Association of Health Underwriters have requested the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services delay implementation of a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision requiring states to expand the small group health insurance market starting next year.
Section 1304(b)(2) of the law defines the small group market as employers who employed at least 1 but not more than 100 employees on business days in the previous calendar year. Section 1304(b)(3) allows states to temporarily define the small group market as 50 or fewer employees for plan years starting before January 1, 2016.
In a February 18, 2015 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the signatories urge extending that date to January 1, 2018. Doing so would allow organizations employing 51 to 100 employees to continue to purchase company rated coverage not compliant with Affordable Care Act requirements for small group coverage including modified community-based rating based on a single statewide risk pool, specified essential health benefits and standards for minimum actuarial value and affordability for participating employees. They warn broadening the scope of the small group market will lead to market disruption among health insurers that could limit employer coverage options as well as potentially lead to premium increases. The signatories cite an Oliver Wyman study finding that two thirds of employers affected by the expansion would see premiums rise by an average of 18 percent in 2016. That could lead some employers to choose to self-insure, reducing the size of the risk pool and putting additional upward pressure on premiums, they contend. The implication is employers with 50 or fewer workers tend to employ less healthy staff with higher medical utilization than firms with 51 to 100 employees, degrading the quality of the risk pool if all employers of 100 or fewer employees were forced to jointly pool their risk.
In an issue brief examining the effect of the expansion of the small group market, the American Academy of Actuaries concluded premiums could increase for some employers – such as those employing relatively younger, healthier workforces – and conversely decline for those with less healthy staff members. The brief noted that since there are more than twice as many covered employees in the 1-50 employee group size cohort than in the 51-100 category, the impact on premium rates would be moderated.
John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, opposes the requested delay that would continue to segment off the smallest employers given no states have opted thus far to define their small group markets as employers with up to 100 employees. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would benefit from the increased spread of risk of more covered lives by having larger employers in the small group market, Arensmeyer wrote in a March 5, 2015 blog post. “The entire pool becomes bigger,” he observed.
That larger pool, Arensmeyer wrote, would help boost the struggling Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) of the state health benefit exchange marketplace and benefit brokers. “We’ll also see more broker involvement in SHOP as firms of this size are more likely to utilize the help of agents,” Arensmeyer added.
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