Monday, March 28, 2022

11 states where higher-income ACA marketplace enrollees went for cheap gold plans

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(Program note: the second part of this post looks at 11 states where gold plan selection was highest in 2022. If you've no use for my musings on what ACA markets should look like, skip down to the subhead "Top gold plan markets in 2022" below.)

Having spent much of Saturday looking into gold plan selection in the ACA marketplace in 2022 (it's at a record level), I found myself musing on Sunday morning that an ideal metal level distribution, in very broad outline, would be silver for low income, gold for the middle class, and bronze for the wealthy.

Silver at low incomes, because Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR), available only with silver plans, is such a huge value-add for enrollees with incomes up to 200% FPL, rendering silver plans roughly platinum-equivalent at no additional cost to the enrollee. Silver plans are now free for enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL and available for no more than 2% of income up to 200% FPL. They should be the near-universal choice up to that threshold (alas, they're not).

Friday, March 25, 2022 should tell 600,000 low-income bronze plan enrollees: switch to silver

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The message above, provided to shoppers on who estimate low incomes, isn't enough to keep a significant number of low-income enrollees out of bronze plans.

My last post focused on the stubborn persistence of significant bronze plan selection among low-income enrollees in the ACA marketplace in 2022, despite the fact that premium subsidy increases provided by the American Rescue Plan Act made the benchmark silver plan with strong Cost Sharing Reduction free to enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL, and much cheaper than in previous years for those with incomes in the 150-200% FPL range.

Among enrollees with income between 100% and 150% FPL, 14% -- more than 600,000 -- selected bronze plans for 2022. While bronze plan selection at incomes in the 100-150% range did tick down a bit from the prior year, it remained higher than in any year prior to 2021.

President Biden's January 28, 2021 Executive Order 14009, “Strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act," declares, "it is the policy of my Administration to protect and strengthen Medicaid and the ACA and to make high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for every American." Bronze plans obtained by people with income below 150% FPL do not advance that policy.

Bronze plan single-person deductibles average over $7,000, compared to under $150 for silver plans as enhanced by the CSR provided to enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL. Annual out-of-pocket maximums in bronze plans generally exceed $8,000,* compared to an average of $1,208 in silver plans. 

600,000 bronze plan enrollees below the 150% FPL threshold is almost 600,000 too many.

CMS has given itself a tool to reduce this underinsured population. Last July it finalized, and this month it implemented, a rule creating "monthly special enrollment period" for enrollees with incomes up to 150% FPL -- effectively establishing continuous year-round enrollment for the lowest-income marketplace applicants. The rule not only allows the uninsured to enroll outside the annual Open Enrollment Period; it also allows current enrollees with income up to 150% FPL to switch to a silver plan. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

In ACA marketplace in 2022, too much underinsurance (bronze plan selection) at low incomes

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We have had plenty of time to celebrate the 21% surge in ACA marketplace enrollment, most likely triggered primarily by the major boosts to premium subsidies provided last March by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Now, with CMS's Public Use Files tracking marketplace enrollment for 2022 released on the ACA's 12th anniversary, it's time for some disappointment.  

In the 33 states, for which CMS provides detailed plan selection breakouts, the ARPA subsidy boosts did not reduce underinsurance as much as might have been expected during the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) for 2022.  That is, silver plan selection at low incomes (up to 200% FPL), where Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) makes silver plans far and away the best value for almost all enrollees, modestly reversed a four-year slide, but not nearly as much as might have been expected. 

In states this year, 60% of enrollees had incomes below 200% FPL, and 80% of them selected silver plans. 

Enrollment by metal level at low incomes states

100-150% FPL


% bronze

% silver
















SEP 2021(0-150%)


93.0% (estimate)




Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Good news alert: Web search for health insurance has been cleaned up

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ACA marketplace enrollment surged by 21% in 2022, from 12.0 million as of the end of the Open Enrollment Period for 2021 to 14.5 million in OEP 2022.  The primary cause was plainly the massive boosts to premium subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan in March 2021 (witness the enrollment surge in the emergency Special Enrollment Period in effect when the boosted subsidies came into effect). Ramped-up federally funded enrollment assistance and advertising may also have helped.

A less visible marketing measure may also have been a factor: the online search environment has been cleaned up.  Search today on Google for "health insurance" or "Obamacare" and, the federal exchange that serves 33 states, will top the search results. Search for "health insurance Nevada" and Nevada Health Link, the state-run ACA exchange, will be on top. The same is true for all of the 17 states (and D.C.) that run their own exchanges. There are some slight variations on Yahoo and Bing, but results there are also generally reliable. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Not your older sister's marketplace: Web awards for the ACA exchanges

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Whatever you think of the ACA marketplace as a means of providing health insurance to those who lack access to other sources, the exchanges themselves, viewed as online enrollment and information portals, have come a long way in recent years, with a few exceptions.*

Since 2020, six states  -- Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nevada, Maine, New Mexico and Kentucky -- have left, the federal exchange now used by 33 states, and launched new state-based exchanges -- or, in the case of Kentucky, revived an SBE that had been killed by a Republican governor. All work pretty well with the exception of Kentucky's KyNect, which has some bugs to work out as it attempts to serve as a portal for multiple government benefits. 

Three of the new exchanges-- in PA, NJ and NV -- were designed by the tech vendor GetInsured, and are similar in many respects, notably a pretty user-friendly shop and compare tool that manages to display the handful of questions you need to answer to get price estimates on one page. GetInsured also designed exchanges for California and Idaho and revamped the shopping tool for Minnesota and Washington. In the pre-application plan preview stage, these exchanges all have a similar look and feel, both in the shop-and-compare question phase and in the display of available plans -- with the exception of Washington, which retains an archaic and confusing design in the latter. 

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Did ARPA increase CSR takeup and so reduce underinsurance? A view from Covered California

Ever since the American Rescue Plan Act's boosts to premium subsidies in the ACA marketplace came online last March (and even before), a chief interest of mine has been whether the enhanced subsidies will reduce underinsurance as well as boosting enrollment (and so reducing uninsurance). 

The chief source of reductions in underinsurance would be improved takeup of silver plans with Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) at incomes up to 200% FPL* ($25,760 for a solo enrollee). CSR is available only with silver plans. As boosted by ARPA,  a benchmark (second cheapest) silver plan is now free at incomes up to 150% FPL and costs 0-2% of income at 150-200% FPL. At 200% FPL, benchmark silver used to cost about $135 per month for a single person; it now tops out at $43/month. More than half of ACA marketplace enrollees have income below 200% FPL.

As noted in this post, silver plan selection among low-income enrollees had been sliding since 2017, but  ARPA did apparently reverse the trend during the emergency Special Enrollment Period that ran from Feb. 15 to Aug. 15 last year in states, and for varying periods in the 18 state-based exchanges.  Below, we'll get a point of comparison from California.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

A clarification re year-round marketplace enrollment at incomes below 150% FPL

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This is an update concerning the new "monthly Special Enrollment Period" -- effectively, year-round enrollment - -that CMS has implemented on for applicants with incomes below 150% FPL (currently $19,140 for an individual, $32,580 for a family of four).* 

In a prior post about the monthly SEP, I emphasized that the vast majority  (88%) of enrollees with incomes below the 150% FPL threshold are in states that have refused to enact the ACA Medicaid expansion, and that one effect may be to reduce the "coverage gap" in those states -- that is, the lack of subsidized coverage available to adults with incomes below 100% FPL, the minimum threshold for marketplace subsidy eligibility. During the pandemic, marketplace enrollment has increased by leaps and bounds in nonexpansion states -- it's up 45% in two years -- and half the enrolment in those states is at incomes below 150% FPL. Noting that subsidy eligibility is based on an applicant's estimate of future income, and that income is notoriously difficult to predict for low earners, I outlined a regulatory question posed by the rule establishing the monthly SEP: