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.