Friday, May 20, 2022

ACA on the rocks

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Today Politico sounded an alarm that's been rising in Democratic policy circles: Democrats are walking right into an Obamacare fiasco of their own making. That is, if their lawmaking capacity is so paralyzed that they fail to extend the major boosts to ACA marketplace subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan Act through 2022.

Politico's Adam Cancryn and Megan Messerly warn concisely:

The scenario has alarmed vulnerable lawmakers and White House allies, who have privately warned senior Democrats in recent weeks that the issue could cost Democrats control of the Senate and decimate their hard-earned reputation as the party of health care.

Politico does report some talks between Manchin and Democratic leadership. At this point, whether ARPA subsidies get extended appears to boil down to whether Manchin and/or Sinema simply want to destroy Democrats' electoral prospects -- now, and given the Republican drive to suppress votes and doctor vote counts, maybe forever. At the Washington Post's Plum Line, Greg Sargent is doubtful that Manchin will let any meaningful legislation pass.

As the clock ticks, I feel compelled to add my popgun to the salvo of increasingly desperate progressive healthcare groups and individuals begging Democrats to find a way to break the Manchin-Sinema blockade and extend the marketplace subsidy boosts provided by the American Rescue Plan. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Hi diddley dee, it's HDHP for me

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Welp, after 25 years of employer-sponsored health coverage provided by a hospital, my wife and I are enrolled in ACA marketplace coverage, effective June 1.

I have a post pending  up at outlining how, as an older couple with enough savings to cover the annual out-of-pocket maximum, we were pushed relentlessly by the marketplace benefit structure (and the U.S. tax code) to enroll in a high deductible bronze plan linked to an HSA. 

Monday, May 09, 2022

John Roberts, James Joyce, the individual mandate, Medicaid Estate Recovery, and "affordable" care

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A good book about Ireland's history since 1958, Fintan O'Toole's We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland led me to a second attempt at James Joyce's Ulysses, which I stalled out on decades ago, somewhere after Leopold Bloom emerges from an outhouse. Further I plod. One thing I will say for Joyce's internal babble is it does make you somewhat more mindful -- inclined to track your own perceptions and fleeting thoughts. 

So it was that I caught one lightning round of associations at lunchtime today:

--  John Roberts -- trying to moderate Roe strike-down?

-- Roberts -- headed off one radical conservative decision by saving the ACA's individual mandate "as a tax." 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

If HHS cuts back short-term plans, they'd best be sure that the ARP subsidy boosts are extended

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 Alice Ollstein of Politico relays:

[HHS Secretary] Becerra says he's "in the midst of rulemaking" to crack down on skimpy health insurance plans that Democratic lawmakers and activists call "junk plans." No word on when that rule could come out, but it would undo the Trump admin's rule opening the door to more of those plans.

The "skimpy health plans" are so-called short-term limited duration (STLD) plans promoted and facilitated by the Trump administration. STLD plans are not ACA-compliant: they don't have to cover the ACA-mandated Essential Health Benefits (and usually don't provide coverage of most prescription drugs), and they are medically underwritten, meaning that applicants with pre-existing conditions can be charged more, denied coverage altogether, or offered coverage with the pre-existing condition excluded.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

How not to explain ACA metal levels (and, I hope, how to)

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I have a post up at that aims to guide ACA marketplace shoppers in selecting the metal level (bronze, silver, gold, very occasionally platform) that works best for them. My opener was the product of a lot of trial and error:

When shopping for a health plan in the ACA marketplace, it’s important to recognize that while Bronze, Gold and Platinum plans have the same value no matter who is shopping, the value of Silver plans varies with income. Accordingly, the metal level that will best suit your needs is also likely to vary with income.

That basic fact is a given to anyone who's studied the marketplace and so may seem obvious. But it's counterintuitive, and it's the single most salient fact about metal level selection.'s guide to the metal levels all but completely obscures it (and many other guides follow suit):

Monday, April 25, 2022

The "upper coverage gap" in nonexpansion states has likely shrunk dramatically since 2019

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In early 2021, the Kaiser Family Foundation published an updated analysis of the ACA coverage gap -- that is, the plight of low-income adults shut out of Medicaid in the twelve states that have refused to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion. While focused mainly on adults with income below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level -- those who qualify for no government help obtaining health insurance in nonexpansion states -- the analysis also included an estimate of the number of uninsured in the 100-138% FPL income range in each of these states. 

That population, which would be eligible for Medicaid had these states enacted the expansion, is eligible for premium subsidies in the ACA marketplace. In this income range, silver plans are enhanced by Cost Sharing Reduction that raises the actuarial value of a silver plan to 94%. Until March 2021, a benchmark silver plan cost 2% of income for enrollees with income up to 138% FPL. Nonetheless, KFF estimates indicated that almost half of adults in this income range in nonexpansion states were uninsured as of the end of the 2020 Open Enrollment Period.

Enrollment in this income bracket in nonexpansion states has surged since OEP 2020, however. It* increased by 17% during OEP 2021, doubtless spurred by the pandemic and its disruptions to employment and income (including supplemental unemployment income that may have pushed many people over the 100% FPL eligibility threshold).  It surged by another 24% in 2022, this time spurred in part by subsidy increases provided through 2022 by the American Rescue Plan, which made benchmark silver coverage free at this income level.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

How Republican lawmakers in Texas made their peace with (don't call it) Obamacare

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 ...not entirely, as they still refuse to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion, which would have the largest impact.  But still, remarkably, the Texas legislature unanimously passed a bipartisan bill designed to improve the state's ACA marketplace. I have told the political tale in The American Prospect.

Specifically, the enacted bill directs the Texas Department of Insurance to undertake 'focused rate review' of plans offered in the marketplace -- a decade after ceding that function to CMS. It directs the Department to “focus its rate review in a manner that uniformly maximizes the benefits of silver loading, making coverage more affordable.” That is, to make gold plans cheaper than silver, and increase discounts in bronze plans.

The rub-your-eyes aspect of this, to my mind, is that the bill's Republican sponsor in the Texas House, Tom Oliverson, now talks about the ACA marketplace in terms that Max Baucus might have envisioned certain Republican senators using in 2009, when he and other Democratic old bulls of the Senate dreamed of a bipartisan bill: 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Auto-upgrading in Covered California

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Music auto-enrolled

Back in early March, looking at Covered California's enrollment breakouts before CMS released detailed marketplace enrollment data for all states, I expressed some disappointment that the enhanced subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan  Act did not have a stronger impact on silver plan selection at low incomes. 

Under ARPA, the two cheapest silver plans in any rating area are free at incomes up to 150% FPL. At incomes up to 150% FPL, Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR), available only with silver plans, reduces the silver plan single-person medical deductible to $75 in California's standardized plans, compared to $6,300 for ordinary bronze plans (with a $500 drug deductible) and $7,000 for HDHP bronze. The out-of-pocket maximum for silver plans at this income level is $800, versus $8,200 for bronze and $7,000 for HDHP bronze. Silver benefits at this income level. are also superior to gold plans (OOP max $8,200) and platinum plans (OOP max $4,500).

In Open Enrollment 2022, 10% of California enrollees* in the 138-150% FPL category chose metal levels other than silver.  While that may seem like a modest percentage, it's not when you consider the extent to which CSR at this income level increases silver plan value beyond that of plans offered at any other metal level, including platinum. In California in 2022, silver selection at this income level was three percentage points higher than in 2021 and just one percentage point higher than in 2020.

The lack of a strong increase in silver plan selection when silver plans were available free is all the more surprising in light of a fact I didn't know when I wrote the prior post. In advance of Open Enrollment for 2022, Covered California, the state exchange, implemented a new policy, enabled by the ARPA subsidy boosts, whereby

Bronze enrollees eligible for the highest level of cost-sharing subsidies are autorenewed in a silver plan — allowing them to access cost-sharing assistance — with the same insurer and provider network for a $0 premium, if available.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Placeholder: silver loading in Texas

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I've had a pretty long blogging hiatus, and that's in part because I've been working on a longer piece about Texas -- Texas! -- passing a law directing the state department of insurance to take on active rate review in the ACA marketplace and in fact "focus its rate review in a manner that uniformly maximizes the benefits of silver loading."  

Mirabilis! The law has been fleshed out in a proposed rule, and in 2023 gold plans in Texas will be priced well below silver plans. 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

The high-income surge in ACA marketplace enrollment: nonexpansion state edition

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Enrollment in the ACA marketplace increased by 21% in the Open Enrollment Period for 2022, compared to OEP 2021. The main cause was almost surely the boost to premium subsidies provided through 2022 by the American Rescue Plan Act, which reduced the percentage of income required to buy a benchmark silver plan in every income category and removed the income cap on subsidy eligibility, formerly 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

My last post focused on the income distribution of the enrollment increases. In percentage terms, increases were concentrated at high incomes, though the raw number of new enrollees in the 100-150% FPL, by far the largest income bracket, was far higher than in higher brackets. In this post, we'll add the distribution in the twelve states that still have not enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion, where half of enrollees have incomes in the 100-150% FPL range. Those twelve states account for slightly more than half of ACA marketplace enrollment, as some 40% of their marketplace enrollees would be in Medicaid had these states enacted the expansion.