Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Three quarters of recent SEP enrollment in ACA marketplace is in nonexpansion states

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HHS announced yesterday that new enrollments in the emergency Special Enrollment Period that began on February 15 totaled 1.24 million through May 31 in the 36 states using HealthCare.gov. That's more than triple enrollments during the same time period in 2019, the last "normal" year in which enrollment was unaffected by the pandemic. Further, HHS pointed out that since the enhanced subsidies enacted in the American Rescue Plan appeared on HealthCare.gov on April 1, 43% of new enrollees selected plans for which they will pay $10 per month or less.

Charles Gaba pointed out yesterday that the single biggest determining factor of how much a state's SEP enrollment has increased over pre-COVID time is whether the state has enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion.  Say that again.

Of the 1.2 million new enrollees, three quarters were in 13 states that had not enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion as of May 31 -- excluding Wisconsin, which offers Medicaid to state residents with incomes up to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.*

Friday, June 11, 2021

How do you spell "affordable care"? ARP!

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 I have an article up at healthinsurance.org that surveys how the American Rescue Plan changed ACA subsidies, the significant impact on enrollment so far, and ways to build on this progress by smoothing the enrollment process.

With regard to the subsidy boosts, a lot of holes have been plugged:

How affordable is affordable? According to KFF, 6 million uninsured people are eligible for free plans. It’s true that for most of these (4.7 million), the free plan would be Bronze, with deductibles averaging in the $7,000 range. But for many of those eligible for free Bronze plans, Silver – and in some cases Gold plans – are available at very low cost or even no cost at all.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Obamacare mid-year enrollment is likely up 19% over past peak

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Charles Gaba estimates current enrollment in the ACA marketplace at 12.4 million. That's based on effectuated enrollment as of February of 11.3 million, plus about 1.6 million new enrollments during the emergency Special Enrollment Period (SEP) commenced on Feb. 15, minus an estimate of monthly attrition based on last year's monthly totals. Attrition may be a bit higher, but this is a good estimate.

A lot of people who pay attention to marketplace enrollment patterns have imprinted a number: 12.7 million. That was the (rounded) national total of signups for coverage as of the end of Open Enrollment  season (OE) in 2016 -- long understood to be the peak year for marketplace enrollment. Plan selections declined in subsequent years, probably due in part both to soaring premiums in 2017 and 2018 and Trump administration sabotage (which contributed to 2018 premium hikes though not to the correction of 2017).

Plan selections as of the end of OE is a very different metric, however, from effectuated enrollment, which measures people who are paid up on their premiums. Attrition was high in 2016: effectuated enrollment peaked at 10.8 million in March, and average monthly enrollment for the year was 10.0 million. Attrition fell in the Trump years, for reasons we'll touch on below, and fell further last year, as the pandemic triggered high SEP enrollment

This year, the emergency SEP, coupled with massive boosts to premium subsidies enacted in the American Rescue Plan, has triggered SEP enrollment that's 3.5 times higher than in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. The SEP enrollments logged to date have almost certainly outpaced normal attrition as experienced in the pre-pandemic years.  The ARP subsidy boosts have likely reduced disenrollments as well as stimulating new enrollment.

Bottom line: marketplace enrollment growth is larger than meets the eye, at least for those who measure "12.4 million" against the 2016 end-of-OE peak. June enrollment as estimated by Gaba is 20% higher than June enrollment in 2016, and 19% higher than in June 2020, when SEPs triggered by the pandemic pushed mid-year enrollment to a new high. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

The second-biggest health insurance exchange in the U.S. is...

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Almost from the (extremely rocky) inception of the ACA marketplace in fall 2013, CMS encouraged the development of commercial Direct Enrollment (DE) platforms. These were websites hosted by commercial brokers and health insurers themselves that could collect income and other eligibility data and send it to the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, which would determine subsidy eligibility and then send the application back to the private platform for completion of the enrollment process.  During Open Enrollment for 2019, CMS began approving brokers for Enhanced Direct Enrollment, EDE, which enabled commercial brokers to complete the whole transaction. At present there are 43 approved EDE platforms interfacing with HealthCare.gov, mostly hosted by health insurers.

The Trump administration encouraged DEs and EDEs, in keeping with its general enthusiasm for commercial brokers and hostility toward the federally established nonprofit Navigator program, for which it gutted funding -- not to say the government-run exchanges.  EDE promotion also dovetailed with the Trump CMS's development of a parallel ACA-noncompliant market of medically underwritten, lightly regulated "short-term limited development" (STLD) plans (which the administration rendered neither short-term nor of limited duration unless state governments make them so). Brokers that deploy DEs or EDEs can sell and promote STLD plans, though not on the DE/EDE platform per se. Development of the DE/EDE program had begun in the Obama administration, however.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

HHS devotes $4.8 billion to COVID-test the uninsured. P.S. How about insuring them?

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HHS announced today that it is dedicating $4.8 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to reimburse providers for providing Covid-19 testing to the uninsured, at no cost to the uninsured patient. That's a continuation of a program initiated last spring. So far, $2.5 billion has been allocated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for such reimbursement.

Am I letting a current preoccupation distort my vision in seeing something of a lost opportunity (and irony) in this HHS statement?

There are approximately 29 million uninsured individuals living in the United States. While this administration has been focused on decreasing the uninsured rate, as evidenced by the more than 1 million people who have enrolled into quality health coverage through the Special Enrollment Period (SEP), much work remains. By ensuring programs like the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program remains adequately funded, this administration is removing cost impediments so anyone exposed to COVID-19 may seek appropriate testing and care.

The funding announced today is dedicated to COVID-19 testing. HRSA also helps uninsured individuals’ access COVID-19 treatment and vaccinations through the COVID-19 Uninsured Program.  The program reimburses providers at national Medicare rates for providing these services.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Putting the "Affordable" in the Affordable Care Act: A role for the IRS

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 After the boost to ACA marketplace subsidies enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the largest remaining bar to affordable coverage for all but undocumented Americans (who are barred from any government help for coverage) may be the affordability threshold for employer-sponsored insurance. It's ridiculously high. The IRS can provide some relief now, without portentous rulemaking.

The ACA defines employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) as affordable if a plan providing Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC) as defined by the ACA costs less than 9.5% of income. That baseline is adjusted annually to account for inflation in premiums in excess of inflation in the consumer price index and currently stands at 9.83% of income.  MEC is equivalent to bronze-level coverage in the ACA marketplace, which typically means a single-person deductible in the $7,000 range. Those for whom an employer's offer of insurance is deemed affordable are ineligible for ACA marketplace subsidies (though not ineligible for Medicaid). KFF estimates that 3.5 million uninsured people are in this category.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Obamacare enrollment at vaccination sites, part 1

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                                             Getting jabbed? Get covered too!

11 million uninsured Americans are eligible for ACA marketplace subsidies, according to KFF estimates. With the premium subsidy increases enacted in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March, coverage can credibly be called "affordable" for most of them.  Another 7.3 million uninsured people are eligible for Medicaid, per KFF.

Ignorance of these offerings is rife. Less than a third of the public knows the ACA is still law, again according to KFF. Enrollment outreach, sabotaged by the Trump administration, has always been a challenge (as has the difficulty of navigating the application for some but not all enrollees).

While considering incremental ways to improve the ACA in my last post, it dawned on me that enrollment outreach at vaccination sites, or via email and texts connected with vaccination, was a golden opportunity to reach the uninsured.  Like most lightbulb thoughts, this one was far from unique.  It's occurred to many professional enrollment assisters -- probably hundreds. Some have acted on the thought.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The ACA as it should have been and may yet be: beyond premium subsidy boosts

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The Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Armour succinctly captures where Democrats seem to be at on the healthcare reform front:

Many progressive Democrats and President Biden are facing the political reality that far-reaching healthcare overhauls aren’t likely to succeed in the short term, which means their hopes may rest instead on building on recent Affordable Care Act changes and reducing prescription drug costs.

That is, make the premium subsidy boosts in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) permanent, and maybe maybe maybe pay for it by getting some tangible form of prescription drug cost control past Democratic moderates. 

Pretty plainly left behind is the centerpiece of candidate Biden's healthcare plan, which also happens to be the continually submerged Ur-template for Democratic healthcare reform:

Thursday, May 20, 2021

One more note to subscribers: feedburner stopped

 Dear xpostfactoid subscribers: as I noted a couple of weeks ago, Google is discontinuing feedburner, the subscriber service that's delivered xpostfactoid this many a year, as of July.  I accordingly transferred subscriptions to follow.it, and as the new service seems to be functioning adequately, I just cut the cord with feedburner. If you've been annoyed by getting two emails for each post, apologies: that ends now.  And if you haven't subscribed via follow it, please do, via the box at right. Thanks for reading...

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

In New Jersey, silver plans are free or all but free up to 200% FPL

When New Jersey launched supplemental state premium subsidies along with the launch of its state-based ACA marketplace, GetCoveredNJ, in the fall of 2020, I was somewhat taken aback to note that the state subsidies were heavily weighted toward enrollees at higher incomes. 

The supplemental NJ subsidies ranged from $20/month at an income of 138% FPL ($17,609 for an individual) to $95/month, beginning at an income somewhere between 250% and 300% FPL (around $38,000 for 40 year-old individual, according to my price checks on GetCoveredNJ).

As I noted at the time,

The smaller subsidies at low incomes leave substantial premiums in place at incomes below 200% FPL for silver plans, which carry a strong CSR [Cost Sharing Reduction] benefit up to that income threshold.

For a 40 year-old with an income of $25,000 (just under 200% FPL), the lowest cost silver plan in most of the state will cost $86/month. The deductible is $800; the out-of-pocket maximum is $2,600. The lowest cost bronze plan is $17/month, with a deductible of $6,000 and an OOP max of $7,000. Last year, cheapest silver would have cost about $125/month. 

Well, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March, with an extra boost from New Jersey, has solved that problem, at least through 2022 (and hopefully beyond, if Democrats make the new subsidy levels permanent as they intend).  New Jersey's income-weighted subsidies mesh quite well with the subsidy boosts provided by ARPA, which reduced premiums for a benchmark (second cheapest) silver plan with strong CSR to $0 at incomes up to 150% FPL and to 2% of income at 200% FPL.

The New Jersey supplemental subsidies all but wipe out premiums for a silver plan all the way to 200% FPL.  Here's what's available to a 40 year-old with an income of $25,500: