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On February 23, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released an insurance standards bulletin allowing states once again to extend the life of “grandmothered” (aka transitional health insurance or non-ACA) medical policies to policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2018, as long as the policies do not extend beyond December 31, 2018. These plans will continue to be exempt from most of the ACA’s insurance reform provisions which otherwise became effective on January 1, 2014.
On November 14, 2013, facing political pressure from millions of consumers who were receiving cancellation notices for their 2013 coverage, the Obama administration announced in guidance that states could allow insurers to extend noncompliant coverage for policy years beginning before October 1, 2014, free from certain of the ACA reforms. In March of 2014, the administration extended the life of these “grandmothered” or “transitional” plans to coverage renewed by October 1, 2016 and eventually until the end of 2017.
While the original transitional decision could perhaps have been justified by the inherent authority in the executive to reasonably delay the implementation of new legal requirements, the extension of the original delay looked increasingly political and was harder to justify legally. It also likely did serious damage to the ACA-compliant individual market. Insurers had set their 2014 premiums in the expectation that the entire non-grandfathered market would transfer to ACA-compliant plans. Instead, healthier individuals likely remained with their earlier, health-status-underwritten coverage, making the pool of consumers that actually bought 2014 coverage less healthy than expected. The transitional policy very likely played a significant role in the large insurer losses in the individual market for 2014, and played a role in raising premiums going forward.
As of today, there are probably a little fewer than a million Americans still in individual market transitional plans, although the percentage of the individual market in transitional plans varies greatly from state to state, and many remain covered in small group transitional plans. It has been thought that consumers and employers prefer transitional plans because they cost less or have lower cost-sharing.
The Trump administration’s guidance states that it is based on a commitment to “smoothly bringing all non-grandfathered coverage in the individual and small group market into compliance with all applicable” ACA requirements. One must wonder, however, why four years will be enough for a smooth transition if three years was not.
The guidance gives states the option of extending the transition for a shorter (but not longer) period of time and also of applying it to both the small group and individual markets or to either market separately. States also have the option of authorizing part-year policies if necessary to ensure that coverage ends at the end of 2018.
If you currently have an individual health insurance plan, you will be in for a big change when you sign up for your coverage in 2014.
Approximately 50% of the individual health plans that are currently being sold in the marketplace do not meet the standards of Obamacare to be sold in 2014. The reason for this is because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) sets new minimums for the basic coverage every individual health care plan must provide effective on renewals on or after January 1, 2014.
About 15 million Americans (or about 6% of non-elderly adults) currently have coverage in the individual health market. Beginning in the fall of 2013, they will be able to shop for and enroll in health insurance through state-based exchanges (aka SHOP or The Exchange) with coverage taking effect in January. By 2016, it is projected that around 24 million people will get their insurance through the exchanges, while another 12 million will continue to obtain individual coverage outside of the exchange.
Beginning in 2014, nearly all plans, both group and individual, will be required to cover an array of “essential” services regardless of if they are purchased within the exchange or not. These “essential” services will include medication, maternity, and mental health care. Many individual plans do not currently offer these benefits.
What will happen to the plans that do not meet the new minimum standards? They will more than likely disappear and you will not be allowed to renew your existing coverage on the plan you currently have. A handful of existing plans will be grandfathered in, but the qualifying criteria for a grandfathered plan is hard to meet. In order for your existing individual plan to be considered “grandfathered”, (1) you have to have been enrolled on this plan before the ACA was passed in 2010 and (2) the plan has to have maintained fairly steady co-pay, deductible and coverage rates until now.
Many insurers in the individual marketplace have already acknowledged that the majority of their existing individual plans do not meet Obamacare standards for 2014 and they are currently working to ready new product lineups for 2014.
In the future, consumers buying individual plans will be able to choose between four levels of coverage: platinum, gold, silver, and bronze.
Platinum plans will carry the highest premiums but will offer the lowest out of pocket expenses, with enrollees paying no more than 10%, on average. At the other end of the spectrum are the bronze plans, which will have the lowest monthly premiums but will have higher deductibles and copayments totaling up to 40% of the out of pocket costs on average.
Starting also in 2014, all Americans will be required to carry health care coverage or face fines. Those penalties will start at $95 per adult or 1% of the adjusted family income, whichever is greater, and will escalate in later years.
Individuals will annual incomes of up to 400% of the poverty line (or roughly $45,000 for an individual and about $92,000 for a family of four) will get federal subsidies to help defray the premium costs.
Most individual plans sold next year, even the lowest level bronze plans, are likely to charge higher premiums than today’s most “bare-bones” individual insurance plans. Many consumers feel the costs will be offset by having lower out of pocket costs and more comprehensive coverage than their current “bare-bones” plan offers.
In today’s marketplace, with deductibles of $10,000, an individual can buy a policy and then when they get sick, they may go broke because the policy leaves them with such a high level of out of pocket expenses to pay. Many insurance industry experts feel, however, that consumers may now wind up with more coverage–and higher monthly costs– than they want. As a result, some individuals may just choose to simply pay the fine instead of obtaining health insurance coverage they will not use or can not afford.