Friday, July 23, 2021

A Wisconsin window on the ACA coverage gap in pandemic time

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To pick up a thread from deep in the prior post...

In Wisconsin, ACA marketplace enrollment as of June 30, 2021 had increased by less than two percentage since June 2019. In the other thirteen states that had not enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion as of June 30 of this year, enrollment increased by 41% over the same period.

What's the matter (or rather, what's right) with Wisconsin?

    Enrollment in nonexpansion states, 2019-2021

     Sources: CMS, Early Effectuated Enrollment Snapshot, 20202021SEP enrollment 7/14/21; KFF
     See the prior post for an explanation of how June 2021 enrollment is estimated.

A lot of factors affect marketplace enrollment, which varies widely by state. But the most salient factor would appear to be the fact that Wisconsin has no "coverage gap." 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Obamacare enrollment in nonexpansion states is up 26% year-over-year and 41% since June 2019 (estimate)

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Not to indulge in monomania, I want to offer a clearer snapshot than previously of really major marketplace enrollment gains in the pandemic period in states that had not enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion as of June 30 of this year.  As the uninsured rate in the nonexpansion states was nearly double the rate in expansion states as of 2019 (15.5% vs. 8.3%),  particularly rapid enrollment growth in those states -- most of it at low incomes -- is having a significant impact where help is most needed.

Every June, CMS publishes "effectuated" (i.e., paid-up) enrollment in each state as of February of that year. Those reports also break out monthly enrollment by state in the year prior. This year, that information is supplemented by monthly reports on off-season enrollment, stimulated this year by an emergency Special Enrollment Period (SEP), running from February 15 through August 15 in the 36 states using HealthCare.gov, that's the functional equivalent of a second Open Enrollment Period (the 15 states that run their own exchanges have also opened emergency SEPs.) The SEP reports provide enough data, or so I assume below, to estimate effectuated enrollment through June 30 of this year.

By my estimate, enrollment in 13 nonexpansion states as of June 30 -- excluding Wisconsin, for reasons discussed below -- is up 26% year-over-year, and 41% since in June 2019. That's a two-year increase of 1.74 million.  Enrollment is up by more than 50% since June 2019 in Texas, Georgia and Mississippi. It's up by almost 500,000 in Texas and by more than 650,000 in Florida.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A huge increase in low-income ACA marketplace enrollment in nonexpansion states

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This is a postscript to my last post tracking massive SEP enrollment in nonexpansion states from February 15-June 30 of this year.  

I want to try to take the full measure of the enrollment surge in nonexpansion states at the lowest subsidy-eligible income level -- first in Open Enrollment season for 2021, and then in the emergency Special Enrolment Period (SEP) launched by the Biden administration on Feb. 15. This week, CMS reported SEP enrollment through June 30.

(This post is all numbers; please see the last post (and its backlinks to past posts ) for context, definitions, explanations.)

By my estimate, enrollment at the 100-150% FPL income level in 13 nonexpansion states (Wisconsin excluded*) in OE 2021 and the SEP for the Feb. 15-June 30 period combined exceeded 2020 enrollment in those two periods by almost 800,000.  That would be an increase of about 29%.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

More than half of all ACA SEP enrollment is in nonexpansion states

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CMS announced yesterday that ACA marketplace enrollment during the emergency Special Enrollment Period (SEP) that began on February 15 had passed 2 million by June 30. That's more than triple the total enrolled in the same period of 2019, the last year unaffected by the pandemic. By that standard, the emergency SEP, coupled with the subsidy boosts in the American Rescue Plan (ARP), has produced more than a million excess off-season enrollments. Mid-year on-exchange enrollment is certainly at an all-time high.

Let's look again (as I did in June) at emergency SEP enrollment in states that as of June 30* had not  enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion. In those states, eligibility for marketplace subsidies begins at an income of 100% FPL (as opposed to 138% FPL in expansion states), and more than a third of enrollees in normal times have incomes below 150% FPL -- which, as of ARP passage in March, now qualifies them for a free benchmark silver plan with low cost-sharing. 

As in the prior SEP report on enrollment through May 31, SEP enrollment in 13 nonexpansion states (excluding Wisconsin, which has no coverage gap**) accounts for 75% of enrollment in the 36 states that use the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov. These 13 states account for more than half of SEP enrollment nationally.  SEP enrollment in these states is more than quadruple enrollment in the same period in 2019, exceeding that year's total by more than 860,000.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Democrat to voters: "Friend, this past year, we saw just how important Medicaid expansion was to hard-working..."

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Terry McAuliffe, once and would-be future governor of Virginia, is running on the ACA Medicaid expansion (which opponent Glenn Youngkin opposed) and building on the ACA.  Here's the lead in a weekend email to supporters: 

Friend, this past year, we saw just how important Medicaid expansion was to hard-working Virginians and to folks across the country. Before COVID-19 hit, 394,000 Virginians were enrolled in Medicaid. Now? It’s over 550,000.

That’s over 150,000 Virginians who had coverage during the worst global public health crisis in recent history because of Medicaid expansion. But our work is not over.

700,000 Virginians - including 100,000 children - don't have access to health insurance. We NEED to continue to expand coverage to make sure every single Virginian has great health care.

The language there is a little sloppy -- over 550,000 Virginians (562,530 if you're keeping score at home, up 43% since March 1, 2020)  were rendered eligible for Medicaid by the ACA expansion criteria.  In total, 1.86 million people in the state are enrolled in Medicaid, up from 1.54 million on March 1, 2020, an increase of 20%.  

That safety net performance at a time of mass (if partially temporary) unemployment and mortal danger to health is something for Democrats to be proud of, especially since they scripted the moratorium on Medicaid disenrollments (in the Families First Act of March 2020) that's largely enabled the increase. They should all run on it. Remember, Republicans came within a breath of repealing the ACA's core programs, chief among them the Medicaid expansion.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Making the ACA work 2014-2016: Administrative roads not taken

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The Obama administration stood up the ACA's core programs in the face of a never-ending shitstorm of Republican defamation, disinformation, noncooperation on the state level, total litigation warfare, and fiscal sabotage. For that they deserve our undying thanks. 

By the time Obama left office, the ACA had cut the ranks of the uninsured by about 40 percent, mainly through Medicaid expansion. The marketplace and the expansion proved resilient through the Trump years and provided a vital safety net when the pandemic struck. Since February 2020, Medicaid enrollment by those rendered eligible by the expansion has increased by about 5 million, and marketplace enrollment (with a large push by the Biden administration) by close to two million.

In administering the ACA, however, the Obama administration operated under self-imposed restraints. Pre-Trump, and before Republicans passed their $2 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthy in 2017, Democrats had yet to recognize -- or rather, acknowledge --  the full extent of Republicans' economic fraudulence. Without new appropriations by Congress that they knew would not be forthcoming,  Obama and administration officials were reluctant to increase spending on ACA programs and so increase the deficit. They declined to take several measures that would make coverage more affordable or credible. These included the following.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Nudging people out of the coverage gap, cont.

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In my last post, I noted that on May 5 CMS finalized a rule that patches a bit of the coverage gap afflicting low-income people in 13 remaining states that have refused to implement the ACA Medicaid expansion.

In those states, eligibility for ACA premium subsidies begins at incomes above 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). State residents with incomes below that threshold who do not qualify for Medicaid under the states' restrictive criteria get no government help to pay for coverage. Some 2 million adults are in this gap.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

In May, CMS quietly moved to shrink the ACA's coverage gap in states that have refused to expand Medicaid

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One of the most intractable of the holes in the ACA's implicit promise of affordable care for all is the so-called "coverage gap" opened up when the Supreme Court made the ACA Medicaid expansion optional for states in 2012, two years prior to scheduled full implementation. 

As originally enacted, the ACA provided Medicaid eligibility to adults in households with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, just 25 states implemented this expansion upon the 2014 launch of the ACA's core programs. To date, thirteen holdout states have not enacted it. In those states, eligibility for ACA marketplace subsidies begins at 100% FPL, and some 2 million adults with incomes below that level get no help obtaining insurance.

There's no easy way for Democrats to plug this hole, as KFF's Larry Levitt recently explained on Twitter. They could make people in nonexpansion states with incomes below 100% FPL eligible for premium subsidies. But that might tempt states that have enacted the Medicaid expansion to rescind it, since the federal government pays 100% of marketplace premium subsidies and "only" 90% of Medicaid costs for expansion enrollees. They could create a new federally administered public option operating in nonexpansion states, but that's a heavy administrative lift, and very likely beyond the political capabilities of a Democratic party with razor-thin majorities.

As I mulled Levitt's thread, a partial and kludgy administrative response occurred to me: CMS could allow any applicant in a nonexpansion state to attest to an income over 100% FPL, without requiring documentation. In 2020, supplemental unemployment insurance provided by the CARES Act pushed a lot of incomes over the 100% FPL threshold, and enrollment for 2021 at 100-150% FPL in nonexpansion states soared 17%. Marketplace subsidy eligibility is based on an estimate of next year's income, and low income is notoriously uncertain and fluctuating. Why not open the door further?

I took a look at the statute setting the terms for marketplace subsidy eligibility and verification (42 U.S. Code § 18081) and the 2022 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) published May 5, 2021, seeking a way that current rules might be modified. It turns out that new rulemaking is unnecessary. 

As of now (effective May 5), CMS is declining to require verification of an income claimed to be above 100% FPL even if data sources tapped by CMS indicate that the applicant's income is below that threshold. The change is announced in the NBPP:

Elsewhere: the ACA survives and thrives

 For BlueWaveNJ, I've overviewed the legal threats to the ACA -- just overcome and still pending; the subsidy boosts enacted in the American Rescue Plan and their effects so far; and likely and unlikely next steps.  I covered similar ground at healthinsurance.org, with more attention to the remaining subsidy-eligible uninsured and measures to smooth and encourage enrollment.

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Friday, June 25, 2021

In NJ Spotlight News: "Affordable Care or a Loan?"

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I have an op-ed in NJ Spotlight News in support of a pending bill, A1023/S885, that would end Medicaid Estate Recovery pursued against enrollees in NJ FamilyCare (the state Medicaid program) who do not receive long-term care. The problem:

Unfortunately, in New Jersey — as in 19 other states and Washington, D.C. — efforts to make affordable coverage available to all come with a giant asterisk.

Applicants seeking health coverage on GetCoveredNJ, the state ACA exchange launched last fall, are routed either to the private plan marketplace or, if their family income is below 138% of the FPL (federal poverty level) — which is $1,482 for an individual, $3,048 for a family of four — to NJ FamilyCare, the state Medicaid program. If income qualifies an applicant for the latter, she must sign off on this disclosure:

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Obamacare enrollment at vaccination sites Part II: Navigators on their own, mostly

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A month ago, I posited that the impressive drive to vaccinate all U.S. adults is also a golden opportunity to insure the uninsured. 

Vaccinations are free to all, but in the vaccination process the uninsured must identify themselves as such. An estimated 11 million uninsured are eligible for marketplace subsidies (now often zeroing out premiums entirely), and another 7 million for Medicaid. The emergency Special Enrollment Period launched by the Biden administration on February 15, running through August 15, opens the enrollment door to anyone who's uninsured and lacks access to other coverage -- and coincides with the vaccination drive. 

As noted in the prior post, while some assister groups have done outreach at vaccination sites, and at least a couple of states have supported such efforts to some degree, the initiative has come mainly from the assisters themselves (generally operating on a shoestring through the lean Trump years), not government agencies, and efforts have been scattered.  

That is accurate. CMS confirmed to me that while the agency gives assister groups vaccine information to disseminate, "CMS...has not promoted or organized any official Marketplace outreach or enrollment events in conjunction with any COVID-19 vaccination site or event."

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

In 2021, will attrition in the ACA marketplace go negative?

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Until the pandemic struck, enrollment attrition throughout the coverage year in the ACA marketplace was an established norm. Every year, effectuated enrollment (i.e. paid-up enrollment) as of the first month after the end of Open Enrollment (OE) was between 6% and 15% lower than the "plan selection" total as of the end of OE. From February through December, enrollment would downtick by 600-800,000.

Attrition was reduced throughout the Trump years; possible causes are discussed here. (In brief, the Trump administration made it harder to enroll, weeding out less motivated enrollees, while silver loading made coverage much cheaper for a significant number of enrollees.) Last spring, as the pandemic triggered tens of millions of layoffs, 12 state exchanges opened emergency Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) in which anyone who needed insurance could enroll with relatively little friction (varying somewhat by exchange).  The Trump administration declined to open an emergency SEP for the 36 states using HealthCare.gov, but did reduce red tape for those who sought individual SEPs due to a qualifying "life change," usually loss of employer insurance. 

The net result was a steady reduction in attrition from 2017-2019 and a sharp reduction last year. In 2016, the year of peak plan selections as of the end of OE, average monthly enrollment (AME) was 79% of end-of-OE "plan selections." In 2019, AME was 86% of initial plan selections. In 2020, AME reached 92% of the end-of-OE tally.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

ACA marketplace enrollment in 2020 exceeded the 2016 peak (on-exchange)

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Every June, the first "effectuated enrollment snapshot" of the ACA marketplace for February includes month-by-month and average monthly enrollment for the previous year.

Though I had been eagerly awaiting this year's snapshot, having inferred last December that marketplace enrollment in June 2020 was probably at all-time mid-year high, I missed its release on June 5. But it's out, and it's official: average monthly enrollment in 2020 was the highest ever, exceeding the 2016 peak by 5.2%. 

That's notwithstanding the fact that initial "plan selections" as of the end of Open Enrollment for 2016 exceeded the 2020 end-of-OE tally by almost 1.2 million (12,681,874 vs. 11,444,141). Here are the official average monthly enrollment tallies by year:

Average monthly enrollment: ACA marketplace, 2016-2020

2016     10,007,113
2017       9,763,076
2018       9,895,197
2019       9,810,613
2020     10,531,978

Although end-of-OE plan selections were 9.8% higher in 2016 than in 2020, average monthly enrollment was 5.2% higher in 2020 than in 2016 (and 7.4% higher than in 2019).  Why? 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Three quarters of recent SEP enrollment on HealthCare.gov 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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see 6/18/21 update at bottom

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:

Monday, May 17, 2021

Emergency SEP enrollment, shrinking attrition boost ACA marketplace enrollment beyond yearly top lines

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In a report issued last September, Covered California, the golden state's ACA exchange, announced that effectuated enrollment in private health plans through the exchange had reached an all-time high of 1.53 million (1,527,730) as of June 2020.   That was in the midst of an emergency Special Enrollment Period (SEP), effectively a second open enrollment season, implemented by California in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  (In normal years, SEPs are open only to individuals who can demonstrate a qualifying "life change," such as loss of job-based insurance.)

The emergency SEP ran from March 20 through August 31, 2020. According to the September report, SEP enrollment increased by more than 100% over the same period in 2019, to 289,460.  As the CoveredCA report stresses, that's in contrast to a mere 27% increase in SEP enrollment in the 38 states then using the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, for which the Trump administration refused to open an emergency SEP.  In September, active membership enrolled through CoveredCA reached a new all-time high, 1,551,470.  

Driven largely by the boost in SEP enrollment, plan selections as of the end of OE 2021 in California finally surpassed their 2016 high point of 1,575,340, reaching 1,625,546. (The term "plan selections" acknowledges that not all those who "enroll" in plans during OE make a first payment and thus "effectuate" enrollment and become, in CoveredCA parlance, "active members").  

While plan selections as of the end of OE have always served as the headline number for ACA marketplace enrollment, they provide a somewhat misleading picture. Every year, an average of about 10% of those who "enroll" in plans during OE never pay their first premiums, and attrition continues throughout the year, as disenrollments exceed SEP enrollments -- at least through 2019, the last year for which monthly enrollment has been published.  But attrition has been shrinking beginning in 2018, perhaps because the silver loading that began that year sharply reduced net-of-subsidy premiums for many enrollees, including a substantial number who paid zero premium.  In 2016, national enrollment as of December was 28% below the end-of-OE total for plan selections. In 2019, December enrollment was just 20% below the end-of-OE tally.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

One quarter of the U.S. population is on Medicaid

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Time for an estimate of Medicaid enrollment growth since the eve of the pandemic, February 2020.  Monthly enrollment growth may finally be slowing, though it probably will not stop until the pause in disenrollments mandated by the Family First Act (passed in March 2020) is ended. Then, watch out: many states will probably commence income/eligibility checks at short intervals with a vengeance. 

As noted my previous update, the cumulative growth rate recorded in my sample, which is based on available monthly reports issued by the states, generally exceeds CMS's official tally (which lags this tally by four months) by about half a percentage point (state reports differ from CMS's official count in numerous ways).  Based on that rule of thumb, I would venture that enrollment nationally is up 16% since February 2020 and now stands at about 82.6 million for all full-service Medicaid programs. That's exactly one quarter of the U.S population. Exclude the undocumented and also legally present noncitizens who are time-barred from Medicaid eligibility, and the percentage is higher still.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

ARPA should reduce underinsurance in the ACA marketplace

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  • While free bronze plans have been widely available to low income marketplace enrollees since 2018, the American Rescue Plan makes free or very low-cost silver plans with much lower out-of-pocket costs widely available.

  • Bronze plan enrollment at low incomes spiked during Open Enrollment for 2021

  • The American Rescue Plan may already be reversing the drift toward bronze at low incomes

The Urban Institute estimates that if the American Rescue Plan Act's increases to subsidies in the ACA marketplace are made permanent, enrollment will increase by 5.1 million, and the uninsured population will be reduced by 4.2 million. The enhanced subsidies are funded only through 2022 at present.

Urban foresees most of this enrollment increase -- about three quarters of it -- occurring at incomes over 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.  But ARPA should also reduce underinsurance, primarily at incomes below 200% FPL.

While ARPA does not reduce out-of-pocket costs at any metal level, it does make silver plans, which come with strong Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies at incomes up to 200% FPL, much more affordable to low income enrollees. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

A note to subscribers

 Dear xpostfactoid subscribers: you may (or may not) have heard that Google is discontinuing feedburner, the age-old subscription service through which you've received xpostfactoid posts. I am in the process of transferring subscriptions to a new delivery channel, follow.it. You do not have to take any action to maintain the subscription, though you can of course unsubscribe. Thank you for staying with us and continuing to read!

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

How much will free benchmark silver plans boost ACA marketplace enrollment in nonexpansion states?

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An Urban Institute brief estimates that if the premium subsidy increases for the ACA marketplace enacted through 2022 in the American Rescue Plan are made permanent, marketplace enrollment will increase by 5.1 million, and the uninsured population will decrease by 4.2 million.

That's somewhat higher than the increase of 3 million that KFF's Cynthia Cox floated to me as a soft estimate. A lot depends on the effectiveness of outreach and possible future improvements to the enrollment process, Cox stressed. Both estimates are pretty modest, given the magnitude of the subsidy boost, outlined below. By KFF's estimate, about 10.6 million uninsured are eligible for subsidies under the new schedule.

Here I want to focus on the category* in which Urban foresees minimal change: enrollment at 100-138% FPL in states that have refused the ACA Medicaid expansion. In those states, eligibility for marketplace subsidies begins at 100% FPL, whereas in expansion states, adults** with incomes up to 138% FPL are eligible for Medicaid. Under ARPA, benchmark silver coverage is free at this income level, and in fact up to 150% FPL. And up to that threshold, Cost Sharing Reduction boosts the actuarial value of the free silver plan to 94%, well above the average for employer-sponsored coverage. According to CMS, the average deductible for silver plans at this income level is just $69 in HealthCare.gov states (e.g., all nonexpansion states). While even modest out-of-pocket costs appear to be a barrier at near-poor incomes -- Medicaid logs higher satisfaction ratings than high-CSR marketplace coverage in surveys -- this is a very valuable free benefit.

The Urban Institute analysis estimates that ARPA will reduce the uninsured population at incomes below 138% FPL by only 312,000. The authors do not provide an estimate of the subsidy-eligible population at 100-138% FPL -- but as I noted in early April, the Kaiser Family Foundation does provide such estimates for 12 nonexpansion states.*** In those 12 states together, 1.8 million people with incomes in the 100-138% FPL range were uninsured in 2019, according to KFF's estimate.  

Monday, May 03, 2021

UI effect? ACA marketplace enrollment soared at low incomes in nonexpansion states in 2021

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Back in March 2020,  you may have read here that the emergency supplemental unemployment insurance provided by the CARES Act -- $600 per week for up to 4 months -- would likely lift some uninsured people in states that had refused to expand Medicaid out of the so-called "coverage gap." That is, the extra UI income would raise some low income people over the income threshold for marketplace subsidy eligibility in nonexpansion states: 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

Back in December, you may have read here that as of the end of Open Enrollment for 2021, marketplace enrollment was indeed up 10% over 2020 levels in nonexpansion states, but flat in expansion states.

This month, you may have read here that takeup of marketplace coverage at incomes just over the subsidy eligibility threshold in nonexpansion states -- 100-138% FPL -- has historically been weak -- under 50% in most expansion states.

More detailed data about 2021 enrollment was released by CMS on April 21. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that enrollment at the lowest subsidy-eligible income levels in nonexpansion states exploded this year. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

"How stupid is American healthcare?"

Somehow I took this from Adrianna McIntyre as an irresistible challenge:

And so...

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Free silver plans at incomes above 150% FPL

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The American Rescue Plan enacted last month radically though temporarily boosted premiums in the ACA marketplace. The premium paid by enrollees for the benchmark (second cheapest) silver plan is now set at $0 for enrollees with household incomes up to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level, and at 0-2% of income for enrollees with incomes in the 150-200% FPL range. That tops out at $43 per month for a single person with an income of $25,520.

Bronze plans are now available at zero premium to almost any enrollee with an income below 200% FPL (and to a fair number at higher incomes).  But bronze plan deductibles average $6,921.  At incomes up to 200% FPL, silver plans come with strong Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR), which brings deductibles down to an average of $177 for enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL and $800 in the 150-200% FPL range. The contrast is similarly dramatic in annual out-of-pocket maximums, which usually top $8,000 in bronze plans. CSR brings them down to an average of $1189 at incomes up to 150% FPL and $2529 at 150-200% FPL. 

Prior to the subsidy boost, increasing numbers of enrollees with incomes below 200% FPL were selecting bronze plans, especially in the 150-200% FPL range, where benchmark silver topped out at $135/month for an individual (see The darker side of free bronze). The newly enhanced subsidies should reverse that trend. Still, even modest premiums are often experienced as steep at low incomes, and zero-premium plans remove administrative friction that deters some enrollees (arranging and executing on monthly premium payment can be surprisingly difficult). 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The dark side of free bronze plans: Erosion of CSR silver enrollment accelerates

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While the 2021 Open Enrollment Report for the ACA marketplace released by CMS yesterday shows an overall increase in enrollment over 2020, the attendant Public Use Files show acceleration in a troubling trend: decreased selection of silver plans by enrollees with incomes below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Selecting bronze below that income threshold, as almost all who don't select silver plans do, means forgoing the strong Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) that attaches to silver plans only. 

Silver Plan Selection at 100-200% FPL
HealthCare.gov states

Year

Total enrolled

Silver enrolled

Percent silver

2017

5,258,797

4,574,172

87.0%

2018

4,865,014

4,152,230

85.4%

2019

4,712,094

3,944,471

83.7%

2020

4,725,360

3,864,275

81.8%

2021

4,933,622

3,830,086

77.6%

Source (all enrollment tables): CMS State-level Public Use Files. See note below.

For enrollees below the 200% FPL income threshold, silver plans are enhanced by strong Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies that sharply reduce out-of-pocket costs. CSR raises the actuarial value of a silver plan (the percentage of the average enrollee's medical costs allegedly* paid by the plan) to 94% for enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL and to 87% for those with incomes in the (150-200% FPL) range.  Bronze plans have an actuarial value of approximately 60%. Here's how that difference translates into deductibles in the 36 states using the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, according to the OE Report:

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

ACA 2.0 -- how's it going so far?

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On a temporary basis, the health insurance-related provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed into law on March 11 moved the Affordable Care Act much closer to living up to its name. Major boosts to premium subsidies effective through 2022 at every income level -- including an absolute cap on premiums for a benchmark plan as a percentage of income for every legally present person who lacks affordable access to other insurance -- credibly put coverage within financial reach of everyone motivated to seek it, albeit with more complexity of process and exposure to out-of-pocket costs than a truly universal system would require. That's a BFD, as a former vice president might say.

The changes became effective immediately and retroactively --  three months after the end of Open Enrollment for 2021 and with an emergency Special Enrollment Period still in progress. So, almost six weeks in, how's it going? A few notes below on implementation, benefit design, and future prospects.

  • Fixing a plane in mid-flight (as the emergency SEP is effectively an Open Enrollment period), federal and sometimes state governments have moved with impressive swiftness. While subsidy boosts for those already enrolled were retroactive to Jan. 1, and would be credited eventually by the IRS, HealthCare.gov got the new subsidy schedule loaded on April 1, enabling enrollees to update their applications and get the increase subsidies applied to their monthly payments as of May 1. Most of the 15 state-based marketplaces have followed suit, or set a date by which it will be done (see Charles Gaba's chart at point #2 here). On April 9, the IRS issued guidance enabling 2020 enrollees who underestimated their income and so owed back excess tax credits to take advantage of an ARPA provision forgiving that payback, announcing that the form that details tax credits paid out does not have to be filed at all, and that the IRS will credit back excess APTC already paid back without any further action from the tax filer. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Can free silver close much of the "upper coverage gap" in nonexpansion states?

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Update, 5/4/21: New data via the CMS state-level public use files for 2021 shows that enrollment at100-138% FPL in nonexpansion states increased dramatically in 2021. See this post for an update.

The principle harm wrought by states that refused to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court rendered expansion optional is well known. More than 2 million people with incomes below 100% the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in the fourteen states that have not yet enacted the expansion are uninsured and eligible neither for Medicaid nor for ACA marketplace subsidies, according to KFF estimates.

A secondary, less recognized harm is imposed on nonexpansion state residents whom the ACA intended to be at the upper end of eligibility for Medicaid, those with incomes in the 100-138% FPL range. In nonexpansion states, residents in this income category are eligible for marketplace subsidies. Until the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was enacted last month, a benchmark silver plan with strong Cost Sharing Reduction would cost enrollees in this income range 2% of income, or a maximum of $29 per month for a single person with an annual income of 138% FPL (currently $17,609). Thanks to ARPA, benchmark silver is now free for enrollees in this income range (and up to 150% FPL).

On paper, even the pre-ARPA offering doesn't sound like a bad deal. The actuarial value of silver in this income bracket is 94%; the average deductible is around $200, and the average annual out-of-pocket maximum is about $1100. But takeup, as I noted in my last post, has been poor. Recent KFF estimates of the uninsured in this income range in nonexpansion states, set against actual enrollment at this income level in 2020, suggest that only about 53% of those eligible have actually enrolled. Take Florida out of the equation, and the takeup rate drops to 43%. 

In this post I'd like to flip the script: what if we make Florida the equation, rather than taking it out? Something in the state's marketplace is going relatively right, and has since the launch of the ACA marketplace.  In Florida, to the extent KFF's estimates of the uninsured are on target, 72% of subsidy-eligible people in the 100-138% FPL bracket are enrolled. That exceeds takeup at 100-138% FPL in the other 11 nonexpansion states tracked by KFF* by almost 30 percentage points. If those states attained Florida takeup rates, the ranks of the uninsured in this category would drop by over 700,000 -- about half of them in Texas (Figure 1).

Sunday, April 11, 2021

In nonexpansion states, what percentage of near-poor adults (100-138% FPL) enroll in marketplace coverage?

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Update, 5/4/21: New data via the CMS state-level public use files for 2021 shows that enrollment at 100-138% FPL in nonexpansion states increased dramatically in 2021. See this post for an update.

In a brief estimating how many people remain in the "coverage gap" -- uninsured poor adults in states that have refused to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion -- the Kaiser Family Foundation also sheds a sidelight on a question I've been pondering.

It's this: In nonexpansion states, what percentage of those in the 100-138% FPL income bracket, who would be eligible for Medicaid had their states enacted the expansion, enroll in the marketplace coverage that's available on relatively favorable terms?

In expansion states, eligibility for marketplace subsidies begins at 138% FPL; people below that income level are eligible for Medicaid. In nonexpansion states, marketplace subsidy eligibility begins at 100% FPL. People with incomes in the 100-138% FPL income range, who "should" be in Medicaid, can purchase a benchmark silver plan with strong Cost Sharing Reduction for 2% of income, or a maximum of $29 per month at the high end. The actuarial value of silver at that income level is 94%; the average deductible is around $200, and the average annual out-of-pocket maximum is about $1100.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Where Medicaid enrollment growth may be concentrated

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I just stumbled on a little Medicaid factoid (ex-post, as always...) that made my eyes pop.  

As I've been noting for months, enrollment growth during the pandemic in the ACA Medicaid expansion population has been about double the rate of overall Medicaid enrollment growth -- about 30% for expansion population, February 2020 to February 2021, versus about 15% overall. 

The locus of rapid enrollment growth can perhaps be narrowed further. Arizona breaks out the ACA expansion population into two income categories: 0-100% FPL and 100-138% FPL. From April 2020 to April 2021, enrollment in the 0-100% FPL category increased by 21% from 133,514 to 204, 298.  In the 100-138% FPL category, enrollment increased by 94%, from 76,121 to 147,775.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

ACA's emergency Special Enrollment Period most effective in states that have not expanded Medicaid

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CMS has released a report showing strong response in the first six weeks to the emergency Special Enrollment Period for the ACA marketplace that commenced on February 15. The emergency SEP, now extended to August 31, allows anyone who is uninsured to enroll in marketplace coverage, and allows current enrollees to change plans. From February 15 through March 31, 528,000 people enrolled via SEP this year, compared to 209,000 in 2020 and 171,000 in 2019.

The CMS report also highlights increased relative enrollment shares for black and lower income enrollees. In particular, the SEP is being accessed in large numbers by enrollees with incomes in the 100-138% FPL range -- that is, enrollees in states that have refused or not yet enacted the ACA Medicaid expansion who would be eligible for Medicaid had their states already embraced the expansion:

Among consumers requesting financial assistance, 41% have a household income between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level, compared to 38% in 2020 and 33% in 2019.

The SEP continues a 2021 pattern: the pandemic, and government action to mitigate its financial impact, have boosted enrollment more in nonexpansion than in expansion states. In the Open Enrollment period for 2021, enrollment increased by 10% in nonexpansion states and was virtually flat in expansion states (up slightly in states that run their own exchanges, down slightly in expansion states that use HealthCare.gov).  

In the first six weeks of the emergency SEP, enrollment in expansion states using HealthCare.gov was up 95% over same-period SEP enrollment in 2020. In the nonexpansion states (all of which use HealthCare.gov), enrollment was up 176% year-over-year. Among the 36 states using HealthCare.gov in 2021, nonexpansion states accounted for 70% of SEP enrollment from Feb. 15--March 31 in 2020, and 77% this year.  

Here's the state-by-state breakout:

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Is the U.S. uninsured rate at an all-time low?

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Enough states have reported Medicaid tallies through February to posit that the pandemic has increased enrollment by more than ten million nationally since February 2020. Adjusting for the usual difference* between CMS's official totals (now posted through November**) and my sample below (based on state monthly reports), year-over-year enrollment growth since February 2020 is likely about 14.8%, and total enrollment likely stands at about 81.7 million. A quarter of the U.S. population is enrolled in Medicaid.

I don't think we've fully fathomed the effect on access to health insurance of the pandemic, the battered and flawed but still functioning and funded ACA programs in place as the pandemic hit, and pandemic relief measures.  Consider...

The Families First Act effectively required states to pause Medicaid disenrollments for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency, and enrollment will continue to grow until that moratorium ends.***  Enrollment growth among those rendered eligible by the ACA Medicaid expansion is close to 30%. In the ACA marketplace, average monthly enrollment in 2021 will probably exceed 2019 enrollment by at least a million, perhaps more, spurred by extended Special Enrollment Periods and subsidies enhanced by the American Rescue Plan Act. As the population ages, Medicare enrollment grows by about 1.5 million yearly. Meanwhile, the huge job losses triggered by the pandemic appear to have had only a modest effect on employer-sponsored insurance: enrollment through September was down by just 2-3 million, according to a KFF estimate.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Will 60-64 year-olds have a choice between Medicare and Obamacare? What will that look like?

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I turned 62 recently. Yesterday, for the first time, I took seriously the possibility that my wife and I might be enrolled in Medicare before we turn 65.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Amour and Kristina Peterson, the Democrats' next healthcare initiative, envisioned for spring 2022, is likely to contain

measures to reduce drug prices and expand health coverage, lawmakers said. Proposals to expand Medicare eligibility from age 65 to 60 and to enable the federal government to negotiate drug prices in the health program for seniors—both of which President Biden supported on the campaign trail—are also likely to be included.

I can think of a lot of reasons these measures -- paired so that the prescription drug savings will finance the expanded eligibility -- may not happen.  But the odds that they will be enacted are not negligible. Democrats' success holding together to pass the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package have made a lot of bold initiatives seem possible.

If Democrats do manage to drop the Medicare eligibility age, they are also likely to make permanent the major increases to premium subsidies in the ACA marketplace enacted through 2022 in the Covid relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act. And the two initiatives could overlap -- or clash -- to some degree.

The possibility of passing all of the above raises questions: will Medicare be offered to 60-65 year-olds on the same terms as Medicare for people over age 65?  Will enrollment delayed past age 60 be penalized on the same terms as enrollment delayed past age 65 at present? If enrollment at 60-65 is optional, will those who lack access to employer-sponsored insurance also be eligible for subsidized ACA marketplace coverage? -- will they have a choice between the two programs?

If Medicare is indeed subsidized as heavily at ages 60-64 as at age 65 and over, and if enrollment is optional, and if the ARPA subsidy schedule for the ACA marketplace (or something close to it) becomes permanent, some 60-65 year-olds will have a tough choice to make between Medicare and marketplace coverage. 

Broadly speaking, those with incomes up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) will likely find lower costs in the marketplace -- if they're not dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Those with incomes over 400% FPL will likely favor Medicare.  In between is a gray area, with tradeoffs that are charted and discussed below.

Friday, March 26, 2021

An American Rescue Plan benefit you'll have to wait for

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UPDATE: On April 9, the IRS solved the problem described, announcing that 2020 marketplace enrollees who received APTC do not have to file Form 8962. 

The Internal Revenue Service announced today that taxpayers with excess APTC for 2020 are not required to file Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, or report an excess advance Premium Tax Credit repayment on their 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, Schedule 2, Line 2, when they file.

Those who filed prior to the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and paid back excess APTC do not have to file an amended return; the IRS will reimburse them.

----

In addition to increasing premium subsidies for 2021 and 2022 in the ACA marketplace, the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Biden on March 11 provides an important benefit to 2020 marketplace enrollees. Section 9662 of ARPA stipulates that those enrollees who underestimated their income and so would normally have to pay back some the Advanced Premium Tax Credits (APTC) received will not have to pay back the excess APTC. 

That includes people who estimated their incomes at below 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, the cap for APTC eligibility, but ended up with a declared income above that threshold. Normally, they would have to pay back all APTC received. This year, they owe nothing.

That is not a trivial benefit. According to IRS estimates,* in 2019 3.2 million tax filing households paid back a portion of the APTC they received in 2018, with paybacks totaling $4.4 billion, or about $1,375 per household.  Estimating 1.7 enrollees per filing household** suggests payback of about $800 per enrollee. Similarly, the CBO report*** on the costs of ARPA estimated that APTC forgiveness for 2020 (when total enrollment was nearly identical to that of 2018) would cost $4.7 billion in 2021. (See Charles Gaba's detailed analysis here.)