The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) introduced many changes to the individual health insurance market beginning in calendar year (CY) 2014, including new rating rules and the introduction of federal financial assistance to purchase health insurance through the insurance marketplaces. It is important for state policymakers to understand the health and stability of the individual health insurance market and how the ACA has affected its health insurance consumers.
Milliman actuaries Paul Houchens, Jason Clarkson, and Zachary Fohl have prepared a profile of the individual health insurance market for each state along with the District of Columbia (DC). The profile summarizes insurer financials, marketplace enrollment, and federal assistance provided to households purchasing insurance coverage through the insurance marketplaces, incorporating recently released data from the 2017 open enrollment period.
Policyholders may receive a lower advanced federal subsidy than they otherwise would if they fail to visit the federal health insurance exchange to reenroll or update their financial information, resulting in higher out-of-pocket costs. Milliman actuary Paul Houchens discussed the auto-enrollment process with Trudy Lieberman, and explains how premium trends affect subsidies and out-of-pocket costs in this Rural Health News article.
The actuarial consulting firm Milliman has found that even small premium increases – in the 5 percent range – can lead to out-of-pocket increases of between 30 and 100 percent for those with low incomes if income information is not updated. Data suggest that most individuals with exchange policies have incomes of $25,000 or less and most families have incomes around $50,000, said Paul Houchens, an actuary with Milliman.
Houchens told me several reasons premiums will be higher this year for many exchange buyers. (Some will see decreases.) Insurers, which offered super low rates in the exchanges last year to entice more customers to their plans, are finding they need to increase their premiums. And in many parts of the country the benchmark plan (the second lowest cost silver level policy) on which subsidies are based has changed, meaning higher premiums for some people.
Premiums also go up each year gradually each year you get older. Because the Affordable Care Act allows insurers to charge older people three times more than younger ones, older people will certainly feel the pinch if last year’s subsidy is too low. They might get larger subsidies if they reapply.
This paper provides more perspective on the potential implications for policyholders and insurance companies related to changes in federal subsidies and the renewal process.
The federal health exchange’s automatic reenrollment process was intended to simplify renewing policies. However, auto enrollment could also introduce unpredictability for insurers. This New York Times article examines how these issues will impact the exchange and quotes Paul Houchens offering some perspective in regards to the financial implications.
Here’s an excerpt:
Automatically renewing marketplace plans will be a mistake for many people, but it is an especially risky one for the 85 percent of people who qualified for some sort of subsidy. The Obama administration has chosen not to recalculate the value of tax credits for people who don’t return to the Healthcare.gov site.
If your subsidy should go down – either because you have received a raise since last year or because the benchmark plan in the market became cheaper – you could end up owing the government a lot more money than you think, and you won’t find out until tax time.
…Not everyone has to worry about these invisible price changes, especially if incomes haven’t changed. But in markets where federal rules apply and the benchmark is going down a lot, it pays to return to the marketplace before renewing. Places where that will be an issue include parts of Georgia, Indiana and Ohio – where benchmark prices are declining by more than 15 percent. For people in those areas, returning to the marketplace could prevent a surprise tax bill.
“The structure makes for a very competitive environment among the insurance carriers,” said Paul Houchens, an actuary at Milliman, who estimates that, in some cases, what looks like a 5 percent premium rise could actually mean an increase of more than 30 percent. “But,” he said, “I can see how it would create more confusion for consumers.”
To understand how the reenrollment process will affect premiums and potentially create financial barriers to coverage in 2015, read this healthcare reform paper.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed, for the federal health exchange, that the majority of policyholders receiving premium subsidy assistance will be automatically reenrolled in the same plan unless they elect otherwise during the 2015 open enrollment period. State-run exchanges may follow this guidance but also have the option of requiring consumers to reenroll through the exchange or proposing an alternative reenrollment methodology. Approximately 83% of enrollees on the exchanges receive federal subsidies. Policyholders who are automatically reenrolled will receive the same dollar-amount subsidy for 2015 as they did in 2014. In most cases, this will be less than the advanced subsidy that would be applicable if the policyholder enrolls through the exchange in 2015 through the “redetermination” process.
The proposed federal exchange auto-enrollment process only impacts a policyholder’s net premium contribution—total premium less Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC)—prior to the reconciliation process. Regardless of how a policyholder enrolls in a plan in 2015, the final premium subsidy will be reconciled with enrollees’ 2015 tax returns to ensure consistency with the prescribed subsidy formula of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
This Milliman healthcare reform briefing paper by Paul Houchens and Susan Pantely summarizes the potential implications for policyholders and insurance companies related to changes in federal subsidies and the renewal process.
A recent Managed Healthcare Executive article suggests that individuals’ decisions to purchase plans on the health exchange were largely price-driven. According to the article, Milliman’s Tom Snook agrees that buyers were more price-sensitive than many anticipated.”
Managed Healthcare Executive published the graphic below showing the percentage of plans selected by tiers.
Offering less expensive plans under a “copper” tier has also been suggested, although data is needed to establish rates and learn who may benefit from such plans. In the article, Snook addresses the challenges insurers face setting rates for existing tier plans ahead of 2015:
Because of the confusion accompanying the rollout of the insurance exchanges, [insurers] have not yet yielded much insight into how accurate rate setting will be for 2015. However, this lack of data is not surprising to executives of health plans. “They knew going in that they would be flying not entirely blind but close to it for 2015,” says Snook. “Even if they know their risk profile they don’t know how they compare to the rest of marketplace.”
…“There is a sense that 2015 may be the first real year of ACA experience,” he says. However, he believes that health plans are still likely to see a lot of unexpected developments and that it will take several years for things to settle into a recognizable pattern.”
For more of Tom Snook’s perspective on healthcare reform, click here.
Health insurers can no longer use health underwriting to determine who they will insure. This change has caused a shift in how insurers approach the individual market. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) quotes Milliman’s Tom Snook providing some perspective on the paradigm shift:
Health plans need to know the health status of those signing up for coverage so they can project whether the costs are likely to outrun the premiums coming in. That information will be critical in figuring out prices for next year, among other things. But, under the law’s new rules, enrollees don’t have to disclose pre-existing conditions to buy insurance.
…”In the past, the whole game was about risk selection,” said Tom Snook, an actuary with Milliman Inc. who works with insurers offering plans on public exchanges. “Now the game’s all about risk management.”
The new paradigm introduces a new question for insurers: What is the risk mix of the insurance pool? While the health exchange marketplace has reportedly seen an uptick in enrollment by younger individuals recently, age alone is not a clear indicator of an insurer’s potential risk.
Here’s what Snook told The Wall Street Journal in a recent article concerning younger enrollees:
Insurance officials also caution that age doesn’t always indicate health status–younger people may have serious, expensive conditions, while some older people rarely need medical services. Age is a “pretty good predictor,” said Tom Snook, an actuary with Milliman Inc. who works with insurers offering plans on public exchanges, but “it’s not even close to a perfect measure.”