The requirement that every American have healthcare coverage or pay a financial penalty was one of the key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Known as the individual mandate, it was one of the most controversial provisions of the ACA. Some questioned its legality and others questioned its effectiveness at driving insureds into the insurance pool.
The U.S. Supreme Court settled the issue of the mandate’s legality in 2012, ruling that attaching a financial penalty to a failure to purchase health insurance did not run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. This decision, though, did not settle the issue of its effectiveness. And in late 2017, Congress enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced the financial penalty to $0 beginning with the 2019 mandate year, effectively eliminating the individual mandate.
Understanding the impact of this change on the health insurance risk pool is important to both insurers offering ACA-compliant products and state policy makers evaluating alternatives to the individual mandate. Health insurers—now in the process of setting rates for 2019—need to understand how elimination of the individual mandate penalty will affect future enrollment rates, which have a significant impact on rate projections. Some states are considering implementing state-based individual mandates, in some cases in conjunction with a Section 1332 State Innovation waiver.