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 states


Total enrolled

Silver enrolled

Percent silver





















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,, 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, 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  

In the first six weeks of the emergency SEP, enrollment in expansion states using was up 95% over same-period SEP enrollment in 2020. In the nonexpansion states (all of which use, enrollment was up 176% year-over-year. Among the 36 states using 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.