The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act retains the current system in which those not covered by employer-sponsored and government plans purchase their own medical coverage from insurance companies. The individual or non-group market as it’s termed is like buying life insurance. A policy is issued and the covered party pays a monthly premium to keep the coverage in force.
To ensure the market functions well with large numbers of people in the risk pool and a good spread of risk among those who use little medical care and those who use a lot, the Affordable Care Act compels health plan issuers to make coverage widely available to anyone wanting to buy it. Similarly, it stimulates buyer demand by requiring everyone to have some form of medical coverage or pay an income tax penalty.
The problem is while Americans like the idea of being able to purchase coverage and not be turned down for underwriting reasons as they can when applying for life insurance, they don’t support being forced to purchase individual coverage and want the option to go without. That gives health plan issuers concern because with too many people “going bare,” they will be nakedly exposed to too many high utilizers who aren’t inclined to forgo coverage because they suffer from costly-to-treat medical conditions. Summed up, what the buy and sell sides of the market feels the other side must do to make it work, the other side dislikes. Sellers and buyers are forced into an uneasy relationship, one that needs many years to determine if can sustainably work after a somewhat rocky start. Four years isn’t likely to be long enough, but political exigencies are now requiring policymakers to reexamine the relationship.
One alternative is coming from none other than one of the Affordable Care Act’s primary architects, Ezekiel Emanuel. In remarks delivered at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco this week, Emanuel suggested moving away from the market-based model of the law and toward making the individual market more like a government insurance program and specifically Medicare. Those eligible – presumably those not covered by an employer-sponsored or government plan – would be automatically enrolled in basic, catastrophic coverage. There would be an option to pay a premium for more generous coverage. Emanuel predicted that approach could garner bipartisan support. While he didn’t specifically raise the point, such as scheme could conceivably be funded at least in part by payroll and self employment taxes. It also wouldn’t be incompatible with conservative ideas such as providing a tax credit to help households offset the cost of medical insurance. Emanuel’s comments on this topic start at 13 minutes into this audio recording of his remarks.
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