Many issuers faced financial challenges in the individual market in the first few years of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The continually changing landscape made it difficult to keep up even after significant rate increases, and issuers repeatedly reported medical loss ratios (MLRs) well above sustainable targets.
As experience emerges for plan year 2018, the tides are changing. A number of issuers filed rate decreases across the marketplace for plan year 2019 and new market entrants are appearing once again, a sign of a more stable market with potential for profitability. MLRs are projected to approach, and potentially to drop below, the 80% threshold for the individual market, on average. As the average MLR continues to decrease, the portion of ACA issuers below the MLR threshold continues to increase.
As MLRs decrease, individual ACA issuers need to start thinking about something that has been mostly irrelevant for them until now—MLR rebates. Although MLR rebate requirements have applied in several markets since 2011, the individual ACA market is unique in that high MLRs have prevented rebates from entering the equation for the majority of issuers since the ACA’s inception.
MLR rebates were introduced in the ACA market with the goals of stabilizing the market and providing customer protection by returning money back to policyholders when an issuer’s MLR reflects high profitability, administrative inefficiencies, or low claim levels not otherwise reflected in premium.