President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have called for a publicly operated health plan to offer individual coverage. The intent is to bolster coverage options that have dwindled in some states as health plan issuers rethink their individual market participation as well as to bring to bear market pressure on participating plan issuers to hold down premium rates.
One existing provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act designed to do just that is at Section 1334 of law. It creates federally chartered health plans overseen by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and authorizes OPM to contract with health insurance issuers (or a group of health insurance issuers affiliated either by common ownership and control or by the common use of a nationally licensed service mark) to offer plans in multiple states.
Under Section 1334, such plans are to be available in all states starting in 2017. Turns out that isn’t going to happen. According to this page at the OPM website, just 22 state exchanges will have multi-state plans for sale next year. That contradicts Section 1334(e), which mandates OPM contract only with multistate plan issuers offering plans in all states in 2017.
OPM issued guidance earlier this year explaining why the requirement cannot be met:
While section 1334(e) of the ACA authorizes OPM to contract with issuers that offer nationwide expansion of coverage over a four-year schedule, the law does not preclude OPM from contracting with issuers that offer fewer than the scheduled number of states in any given year. The statute establishes general authority for OPM to contract for at least two plans in each state, but does not mandate firm parameters for attaining nationwide coverage. It remains the goal of the MSP Program to provide nationwide availability of MSP options by an issuer or group of issuers.
However, the experience of the first three years of the program has demonstrated that providing nationwide coverage for any issuer or group of issuers is difficult to achieve. Moreover, the statute does not give the Director of OPM authority to compel any issuer to provide nationwide coverage or to participate in the MSP Program. Therefore, OPM will exercise administrative discretion in deciding whether to contract with an issuer or group of issuers who would like to participate in the MSP Program but who cannot commit to offering coverage in all 51 jurisdictions by the fourth year of their participation in the program.
In sum, OPM is saying Section 1334(e)’s requirement notwithstanding, if health plan issuers don’t want to play in all states, it cannot force them to given the Affordable Care Act’s recognition of health insurance markets as voluntary. Also, the realities of the individual market in 2017 substantially reduced the likelihood of plan issuers offering multi-state plans nationwide as they reassess their participation in the state individual health insurance markets and the exchanges 2017 and post.
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