Tag Archive: advance premium tax credit subsidies

Tax bill’s evisceration of individual mandate will shrink, bifurcate non-group market

Reforms of the non-group market aimed at revitalizing it as it faced the death spiral of adverse selection at the start of the decade have reached a turning point. A major tax reform bill almost certain to be signed into law this month effectively cancels out one of three foundational elements designed to rescue the market contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: the tax penalty levied on households that go “bare” without medical coverage.

The Affordable Care Act reforms effectively force buyers and sellers together to sustain a functional non-group market. Plan issuers must accept everyone applying for coverage without medical underwriting. On the buyer side, the thinking was the penalty would provide incentive to purchase an individual plan, with the segment acting as a residual market for those without access to other forms of coverage. In retrospect, turns out the incentive wasn’t strong enough, particularly to improve the spread of risk by creating a diversified risk pool of young and old and those in good and ill health. Many households found the tax penalty the superior option over purchasing coverage, eroding the intended effect of strengthening the market and ensuring a good spread of risk.

Zeroing out the tax penalty as the pending tax bill does would not collapse non-group into a rapid adverse selection death spiral, accounting to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO projects the negation of the tax penalty will cut the estimated 15 million Americans in the individual market by one third by 2027. Nevertheless, the CBO said, the segment “would continue to be stable in almost all areas of the country throughout the coming decade.” In other words, a shrunken but not a fatally crippled market over the near term.

Going forward, a couple of factors not addressed in the CBO analysis could further downsize the non-group segment:

  • The exit of households earning in excess of 400 percent of federal poverty and therefore ineligible for premium subsidies offered though state health benefit exchanges, particularly for family plans and for individuals aged 50 to 64. Premium rates are already considered out of reach for many of these households. According to the CBO analysis, premiums will continue to rise by 10 percent a year over the next 10 years. The CBO analysis notes non-enforcement of the tax penalty would help drive the increases as healthier people would be less likely to obtain insurance, requiring plan issuers to make up the lost premium revenue by raising rates.
  • The replacement of Affordable Care Act compliant individual plans with short term plans. In October, the Trump administration directed three federal agencies to consider new regulations or guidance that would expand the availability of short term policies beyond the current 90 day limit. If short term policies are defined as up to 12 versus three months and be renewable for another year, they would offer a medically underwritten, lower cost alternative to those who can pass underwriting standards. That would reintroduce medical risk selection mostly barred by the Affordable Care Act, which permits premium rating based only on age, location, family size and tobacco use. According to  Modern Healthcare, at least two plan issuers – UnitedHealth and Aetna – are looking into issuing short term plans, potentially offering covered benefits on a par with individual plans. That would create a bifurcated non-group market rather than the single state risk pooling under the Affordable Care Act’s reforms and has raised concerns among stakeholders and state regulators according to Modern Healthcare.
 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Federal Judge Skeptical Of Claims That Dropping Subsidies Hurts Consumers | California Healthline

In California, 1.4 million people buy their own coverage through the state marketplace, and 90 percent receive federal subsidies that reduce what they pay. During the hearing, Chhabria read from a Covered California press release that predicts how the changes will affect consumers in 2018. It notes that even though silver plan premiums will rise as a result of the surcharge, the federal tax credits will also increase to cover the rise in premiums. That will leave 4 out of 5 consumers with monthly premiums that stay the same or decrease.

Source: Federal Judge Skeptical Of Claims That Dropping Subsidies Hurts Consumers | California Healthline

The judge’s skepticism stems from the fact that most consumers who purchase coverage though California’s health benefit exchange, Covered California, are protected from higher premiums since their maximum premiums are limited to a percentage of the adjusted gross household income.

In fact, some purchasing bronze plans could pay even less or nothing at all since their premium subsidies are based on the premium rate for the second lowest cost silver individual plan sold in the state. When the premium rate for that plan increases, the amount of the subsidy available for bronze and other plans also rises since the subsidy amount is based on that higher rate as a percentage of household income. Since the higher premium represents a greater proportion of household income, the subsidy level to make it more affordable increases accordingly.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Non-group market faces decidedly mixed outlook for plan year 2018 — and possible demise in 2019.

Several recent positive developments point toward plan issuers staying in the non-group or individual market next year.

  • The Trump administration finalized its Market Stabilization rulemaking intended to build confidence among plans by affording them more predictability and reducing the possibility of consumer gaming that plans say have increased their loss exposure.
  • On April 7, Standard & Poor’s opined that the individual market is showing signs of stabilizing in its fourth year based on its analysis of Blue Cross Blue Shield plans that found loss ratios declined from 106 and 102 percent for 2015 and 2014, respectively, to 92 percent for 2016.
  • This week in a closely watched move, Anthem tentatively committed to the individual market in 2018, but warned it could change its mind or raise premium rates by 20 percent or more depending on the outcome of pending litigation over cost sharing reduction subsidies that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes available to households earning between 100 and 250 of federal poverty levels for silver actuarial value plans sold on state health benefit exchanges.

Which brings us to the negatives. If the litigation, House v. Price, is not resolved by early June, Anthem could execute the aforementioned steep rate increases and possible state market withdrawals. The likelihood is high. The reason is neither the House of Representatives nor the Trump administration has sufficient motivation to resolve the case. The House prevailed when the U.S. District Court where the case was brought issued a ruling one year ago agreeing with the House that the Obama administration unconstitutionally infringed on the House’s appropriation powers by funding the cost sharing reductions administratively.

The district court held the ruling in abeyance pending appeal by the administration. That decision is likely to become final and go into effect following a status conference with the parties late next month. The Trump administration isn’t likely to appeal the decision and would be happy to see a final ruling “blow up” the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance market reforms in President Trump’s words. The House for its part isn’t likely to dismiss the case because it sees the ruling in its favor as an important precedent to check executive branch authority from impinging on its powers of appropriation.

In addition, Congress and the Trump administration are unlikely to moot the case by enacting their own health care reform legislation in place of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance market reforms in the current congressional term due to heavy reliance on the limited scope budget reconciliation process, intra-party squabbling, lack of bi-partisan support and the inability or unwillingness of the Trump administration to articulate clear guiding policy principles.

The loss of the cost sharing subsidies would blow a hole estimated at $10 billion in exchange finances. That could well prompt Anthem and other plan issuers to head for the exits just as their plans must be finalized for 2018. That could effectively end the exchanges and the individual market as a whole next year. The more likely scenario is the plans as Anthem indicated it would price in the loss of the cost sharing subsidies in their final premium rates.

That would keep the individual market alive and on life support for 2018. But it would face a possible demise in 2019, with shrunken statewide risk pools and increased risk of the dreaded death spiral of adverse selection. The number of covered lives would decline both inside and outside of the exchanges. Outside the exchanges, the 401 percenters – households earning more than 400 percent of federal poverty levels and ineligible for premium tax credit subsidies for qualified health plans sold on the state exchanges – would likely bolt from the individual market after getting notice of another 20 plus percent premium increase for the second consecutive year. (California’s exchange, Covered California, estimates the loss of reduced cost sharing subsidies would boost premiums for silver level plans double that amount, 42 percent on average and as many as 340,000 Californians would drop out of the individual market in 2018.) They will file for exemptions from the individual mandate based on unaffordable premiums, seek alternatives such as health sharing ministries or simply go bare in the hope the Internal Revenue Service under the Trump administration won’t enforce the individual mandate penalties for not having coverage.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

State health benefit exchanges not out of the woods yet

State health benefit exchanges dodged a legislative bullet last week that would have eliminated advance premium tax credit (APTC) subsidies to help low and moderate income households purchase non-group coverage. The nation’s largest exchange, Covered California, estimated the tabled budget reconciliation bill replacing the subsidies with an age-based tax credit beginning in 2020 would on average amount to only 60 percent of that provided under the APTC subsidies. That would have made coverage for less affordable for many households and potentially led to a dramatic drop in enrollment qualified health plans sold on the exchanges, shrinking the non-group risk pool and reducing spread of risk.

The exchanges now face a more immediate threat that could significantly disrupt plan year 2018 and potentially current year enrollees: the loss of cost sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies for silver level plans sold on the exchanges. The subsidies are available to households earning between 100 and 250 percent of federal poverty levels. By reducing out of pocket costs for eligible households, the subsidies effectively increase the actuarial value of silver plans that cover on average 70 percent of medical care costs.

A U.S. District court ruling issued last May found the Obama administration acted unconstitutionally in funding the subsidies without an explicit appropriation by Congress. The decision was put on hold pending appeal, where it sits pending possible action to resolve the underlying fiscal issue by the Trump administration and Congress. Without federal funding for the CSR subsidies, health plan issuers participating in the exchanges would incur billions in losses, according to an analysis prepared earlier this month by The Commonwealth Fund. There is no requested appropriation to cover the CSR subsidies in the Trump administration’s 2018 budget blueprint. As last week’s failed attempt to advance the budget reconciliation legislation illustrates, the Trump administration and Congress are unlikely to achieve a rapid agreement resolving the litigation as they struggle to form a majority party governing coalition.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

November elections increase likelihood of California revisiting single payer

Various media accounts report that California of all states stands to lose the most federal funding for health care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – 20 to 25 billion dollars annually – if the law’s health insurance reforms are repealed as expected next year. The large majority of that sum comes from enhanced federal cost sharing under the law’s Medicaid eligibility expansion, representing more than $18 billion this year, according to this issue brief by the State Health Reform Assistance Network. Accounting for the balance are advance premium tax credits and cost sharing subsidies to offset the cost of qualified health plans purchased on the state’s health benefit exchange, Covered California.

Other media accounts portray California’s state policymakers as circling the wagons to fight this substantial loss of federal dollars given the potential for many low and moderate income households not covered by employer group plans to lose health coverage as well as extensive fiscal damage the state budget. But they are unlikely to prevail against the political will of Washington under the new administration and Congress and will have to consider alternatives. One likely candidate would be some form of single payer coverage, perhaps utilizing an all payer Accountable Care Organization (ACO) structure to hold down rising health care costs and financed by income, payroll and self-employment taxes.

In the previous two decades, single payer failed to gain voter approval when proposed as a ballot measure or as legislation. This time, however, with a supermajority vote margin gained in the November elections, legislative Democrats along with incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown could enact a single payer measure with — or without — support from Republican lawmakers. It would represent a far more radical reform than the Affordable Care Act. However, among the states, California has a sufficiently large population base and economy to go single payer if it chooses. The Golden State may well have to if it wants to carve out its own health reform destiny in the post Affordable Care Act era.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Key factors driving perception of poor value in individual health insurance market

The law “requires you and each member of your family to have qualifying health care coverage (called minimum essential coverage), qualify for a coverage exemption, or make an individual shared responsibility payment when you file your federal income tax return,” the tax agency says on its website.

Some consumers who buy insurance on the exchanges still feel vulnerable. Deductibles are so high, they say, that the insurance seems useless. So some feel that whether they send hundreds of dollars to the I.R.S. or thousands to an insurance company, they are essentially paying something for nothing.

Obama administration officials say that perception is wrong. Even people with high deductibles have protection against catastrophic costs, they say, and many insurance plans cover common health care services before consumers meet their deductibles. In addition, even when consumers pay most or all of a hospital bill, they often get the benefit of discounts negotiated by their insurers

Source: Health Law Tax Penalty? I’ll Take It, Millions Say

Perception as political pundits often say is reality, particularly so when it comes to pocketbook issues. At the root of this perception is the more generous HMO plans that came about in the 1970s and 1980s that offered little or no out of pocket costs. That conditioned consumers to think of health insurance as pre-paid medical care rather than an insurance product. High deducible plans by comparison are predicated on a basic principle of insurance: to cover the risk of high and unexpected costs — and not to protect consumers from paying out of pocket to see a medical provider for routine care.

So not surprisingly, plans that come with high deductibles are seen as a poor value since consumers aren’t going to see any of their premium dollars returned to them unless they need high cost care such as hospitalization. Back in the pre-HMO days of the 1950s and 1960s, hospitalization and other “major medical” costs as health insurance policies were termed then was the main point of coverage and not primary care physician office visits. Hence, those policies came with high deductibles that were only triggered by high cost care.

A closely related perceptual problem with the return of the major medical model and high deductibles relates to high premiums for high deductible plans. That violates the established expectation of a tradeoff for accepting higher deductibles in exchange for lower premiums since less first dollar risk is being assumed by health plans. This is a huge issue for consumers in the individual market in age rating bands 50 and older but whose household incomes exceed 400 percent of federal poverty levels, thus disqualifying them for tax credit subsidies offered for coverage purchased through state health benefit exchanges. It has led to proposals such as allowing fifty somethings to buy into Medicare earlier than the minimum eligibility age of 65.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Bill Clinton criticizes ACA gaps

At a campaign event for his wife in Flint, Mich., Bill Clinton had praised the law for insuring millions of Americans, but noted that many middle-class Americans were still unable to afford coverage and talked up his wife’s plan to allow those close to retirement age to buy into Medicare.

“The people who are getting killed on this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies because they’re not organized,” he said. “They don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies so they’re getting whacked.

“So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.

Source: Bill Clinton’s Obamacare remarks put Hillary on the hot seat

The former president’s talking about shortcomings in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act relative to making health coverage more accessible and affordable for individuals and small employers. Regarding the former, I’ve referred to them as the “401 percenters” — those who exceed the household income cutoff of 400 percent of federal poverty for advance premium tax credits for individual qualified heath plans sold on state health benefit exchanges. There have been numerous accounts that even those with household incomes between 300 and 400 percent of federal poverty levels get too little in the way of subsidies to make coverage affordable or even worthwhile, federal income tax penalties for going bare notwithstanding.

As for Bill Clinton’s reference to small business, the Affordable Care Act envisioned small businesses organizing to gain some degree of bargaining power in the health benefit exchange’s Small Business Health Options Program known as SHOP. In theory, the SHOP was to enable small business to aggregate their market power, aided by the law’s creation of a single statewide risk pool for the small group market segment. In reality, it didn’t work out that way. SHOP turned out to be a flop, with little interest among small employers and insurance brokers in participating in the program.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Exchange subsidies, narrow managed care networks credited for stabilizing individual market

Before the majority of the individual market reforms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014, the individual health insurance market was mired in a death spiral of adverse selection and rapidly rising, unsustainable premiums. Now those reforms have brought stability to the market, with little risk of the market segment destabilizing, concludes a McKinsey & Company analysis. (h/t to Liz Osius of Manatt).

Key to achieving that stability are subsidies offered households with incomes not exceeding 400 percent of federal poverty levels and health plans’ use of managed care plans and narrow provider networks. The brief notes that an estimated 69 percent of households in the individual market qualify for premium and out of pocket cost sharing subsidies.

The individual market has little risk of entering a classic insurance ‘death spiral’ as long as the federal government continues to offer subsidies to those with incomes below 400% of the federal poverty level. Given the unique regulatory conditions of this market, the key determinants of its stability are not the traditional factors (risk and cost of care for this segment), but rather the ongoing subsidy payments.

McKinsey & Company’s review of plan issuer profitability correlated narrow networks with comparatively better loss experience and profitability compared to plans with wider networks as well as the ability of these plans to set lower premium rates. “The combination of the improving relative pricing of narrowed networks and their superior financial performance suggests that they may be emerging as one sustainable element of exchange plan design,” the McKinsey issue brief states.

Although the individual market has regained stability, profitability remained elusive in the first two years of the major reforms:

Our initial perspective, based on emerging financial results reported for 2015, is that aggregate losses in the individual market may have doubled from 2014, with post-tax margins between –9% to –11% (Exhibit 6). The larger losses are most likely the result of two primary factors: higher year-over-year medical loss ratios (MLRs) (around 4.5% to 5% margin reduction) and lower reinsurance payments (another 3.5% to 4% margin reduction).

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

San Francisco offers additional subsidization for exchange plans

Covered California premiums are relatively affordable. The cheapest one for single San Franciscans earning $58,850 — the cutoff for the new city subsidy — would cost roughly $202 a month. But the cheapest plans have the highest deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses for doctor visits, hospital stays and drug prescriptions, potentially totaling thousands of dollars per year. And the subsidies for these expenses that are available in states with market exchanges, like California, come only with plans on the costlier “silver” tier. As a result, many residents choose to remain uninsured, said Colleen Chawla, deputy director of health at the San Francisco Public Health Department. This means people eligible for Covered California are turning to clinics intended for people who can’t get insurance at all or who have Medi-Cal, the state’s version of free medical insurance for very low-income residents.

Source: San Francisco to Expand Health Insurance Support – New America Media

In high cost areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, the Affordable Care Act’s advance premium tax credits and subsidies for out of pocket costs for silver tier qualified health plans aren’t enough of a positive incentive to encourage people to sign up for coverage.

The implication is in these very expensive localities, the cost of housing and other necessities of life simply leave no room to pay for health care and insurance. Since going without coverage subjects medically uninsured San Franciscans to the ACA’s federal income tax penalties, the city’s Bridge To Coverage rolling out this year provides an additional local government subsidy to defray the cost of plans purchased on the Golden State’s health benefit exchange, Covered California, for households below 500 percent of federal poverty level — a multiple higher than the ACA’s 400 percent cutoff for advance premium tax credit subsidies.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

The paradox of Affordable Care Act individual health coverage affordability

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at Section 1401(b)(3)(a) provides advance individual health plan premium tax credit subsidies within six household adjusted gross income tranches between 100 and 400 percent of the current year federal household poverty levels. At the low end, the subsidies are calculated so that households with incomes between 100 and 133 percent of federal poverty pay no more than two percent of their incomes for a health plan. At the upper end, tax credits are applied so that households earning between 300 and 400 percent of federal poverty levels would pay no more than 9.5 percent of income. The subsidies are only available for health plans sold on state health benefit exchanges.

While designed to make individual health coverage more affordable to low and moderate income households, the subsidies employ a one size fits all approach that doesn’t easily achieve that goal in some parts of the nation such as those with high housing costs. Particularly for those over age 50, given the law allows health plan issuers to base premiums in part on age, and who earn close to or slightly above the 400 percent household income subsidy cutoff. And when their individual plan premiums rival or equal a significant portion of their monthly mortgage or rent payment. When that happens, the house payment is going to win out over the health insurance premium every time.

Case in point is San Jose, California resident Miguel Delgadillo, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

Until the price of health insurance comes way down, he said, don’t bother him.

“What little income there is after taxes goes to my house payment — that’s my top priority,” said the 55-year-old part-time teacher.

He said he likes the idea of a national health care law, but not the $451 he would have to pay each month for health insurance. That’s the cost of the lowest price plan available to him.

Delgadillo, who has been uninsured for seven years, shares a dilemma with tens of thousands of other Californians: He’s a middle-class person who narrowly misses the income threshold that would qualify him for a subsidized health plan.

That leaves Delgadillo potentially subject to the Affordable Care Act’s individual shared responsibility penalty for not having some form of minimum essential health coverage, which for 2016 is the higher of 2.5 percent of adjusted gross income or $695 per adult and $347.50 for children under 18, up to a household maximum of $2,085. Similarly situated individuals might do the math and figure it would cost less to pay the penalty than purchase coverage. Delgadillo and other similarly situated households may be able to avoid paying the penalty when filing their income tax returns if they can show that the lowest cost plan available to them would exceed 8 percent of actual household income.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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