Final 2017 bid to temporarily stabilize non-group market includes reinsurance revival — and public option
In what is likely to be a final, last minute effort this year to temporarily bolster the challenging market that is non-group or individual medical coverage, two elements involved in the crafting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are being revived. One – reinsurance — was enacted as part of the law’s insurance market reforms but expired in 2017. Another – the so-called “public option” – wasn’t.
On August 30, a group of eight state governors called on Congress among other measures to restore reinsurance to protect health plan issuers wary of high cost claims and worse than expected statewide risk pools as part of a federal stability fund that would help states fund reinsurance programs in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, seven states have applied to the Trump administration for state innovation waivers under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to establish reinsurance programs in 2018 to help stabilize their non-group markets. Two other states enacted authorizing legislation for such a waiver, according to a chart prepared by the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.
The proposal by the eight state governors – notably both Republicans and Democrats – would fortify the non-group coverage by allowing individuals to buy coverage via the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program in counties where only one commercial non-group plan is offered. This in effect would provide a “public option” in the form of a government-run plan that was considered but rejected in the development of the Affordable Care Act. It also is in line with a suggestion by former President Barack Obama during his final year in office to create a public plan to address constrained choice among plans in some parts of the nation. Using the FEHBP for the public option could raise objections that as a large employer group plan, it’s not actuarially and administratively suitable for covering non-employees.
Those objections as well as declining affordability for plans sold off the state exchanges jeopardizing the non-group risk pool could help fuel a proposal expected this month by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to extend Medicare to those under age 65. Look for this proposed Medicare expansion to serve as a starting point for debate on a possible successor to the Affordable Care Act’s individual and possibly small group market reforms going into 2018-20. In the meantime, both Congress and the Trump administration will likely go along with some of the proposals to help stabilize non-group including extending — at least for 2018 — out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for low income households purchasing silver level plans on state health benefit exchanges. Uncertainty surrounding that funding has drawn widespread concern from states, the exchanges and plan issuers, and consumer interests with no one standing to gain politically if they are not continued.
A key element of the Medicare expansion proposal will likely be some form of presumptive eligibility and/or automatic continuous enrollment, accompanied by payroll and self-employment taxes to help fund the expansion for those under 65 and ineligible for other private or public coverage – along with a possible opt in for those eligible for employer sponsored plans. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle with the support of states, plan issuers and consumer groups will likely conclude the Affordable Care Act’s annual enrollment period used for employer group plans does not translate well to the non-group market. Annual enrollment is a very well established and administratively supported process for employer group plans. But it has proven challenging to implement in non-group due to the market segment’s characteristic high churn and part year enrollment by consumers that makes it difficult to risk rate.
Conventional political wisdom would hold expanded Medicare might be a non-starter among majority Republicans in Congress. But it stands a chance of advancing since it would with automatic enrollment potentially reduce the need for the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer shared responsibility mandates that have proven among the most unpopular provisions of the statute. A Medicare expansion might well include statutory authority allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices for the program, addressing concerns shared across the political spectrum over high medication costs.
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