Action on ACA individual market reforms successor must come in Q1 2017 to avoid messy market meltdown
Heading into this year’s elections, the individual health insurance market segment developed signs of instability as health plan issuers were pulling back their market presence for 2017 and reassessing their plans for 2018 and beyond. The election that sent Donald Trump headed to the presidency and afforded his party the opportunity to implement their stated policy to quickly repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act piled uncertainty on top of uncertainty for health plan issuers.
It’s unclear how much of the Affordable Care Act the incoming Trump administration and Congress will gut. However, it is clear that first in their sights are the individual health insurance market reforms contained in Title I of the expansive law. With these reforms first in line for the chopping block, there is no luxury of time to contemplate a gradual transition for the individual market. Congress and the new administration will have to quickly come to a consensus in the first quarter of next year.
As has been widely reported, Congress and the Trump administration could defund the bulk of the reforms using a budget reconciliation bill requiring a simple majority vote, thereby avoiding a Democratic filibuster. But that would only create more market uncertainty, crashing the old Affordable Care Act market rules before new ones could be put in place. Even more comes from the House’s successful court challenge this year of the Obama administration’s funding of out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for many lower income households buying coverage on state health benefit exchanges. It would take effect very early in the Trump administration if the administration as expected opts not to pursue an appeal, prompting health plan issuers to bail from state health benefit exchanges in 2017 and leave millions without coverage. These circumstances underscore the fact that under the Affordable Care Act, health plan market participation is voluntary. If plan issuers can’t predict their finances with any degree of certainty, all bets are off.
Health plan issuers need to begin pulling together their individual market offerings for plan year 2018 early next year. It will be difficult if not impossible for them to do so with the market rules up in the air. Lacking any certainty in the first quarter of 2017, a transition to a new scheme won’t happen in 2018. New policy will have to be nailed down in that critical first quarter. With the Affordable Care Act individual market rules well established, it’s now impossible to quickly unscramble the Obamacare omelet and turn the calendar back to 2009.
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