New Georgetown – Urban Institute Report Finds Health Plans Bracing for More Federal Uncertainty Over Affordable Care Act

The year 2017 was a tumultuous one for health plans and consumers in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces. Although Congress ultimately failed to repeal and replace the law, the Trump administration used its regulatory authority to change key aspects of the ACA and promote new coverage options that are exempt from ACA standards and protections. Then, the December 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act successfully zeroed out the individual mandate penalty.

A new report, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and authored by Georgetown CHIR and Urban Institute researchers, examines how uncertainty over the long-term future of the ACA have affected insurers’ participation and premium setting decisions for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. We interviewed 10 insurance companies participating in the individual market in 28 states and D.C. and a few key takeaways include:

  • The rollback of the ACA’s individual mandate led insurers to implement higher premiums in 2018 and will likely drive premiums even higher in 2019. However, insurers’ views differed on the impact of repealing the individual mandate. Some felt it would ultimately lead to a collapse of the market and are considering further retrenchment; others felt confident that a market for highly subsidized, low-income consumers would continue.
  • The midyear loss of the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction plan reimbursements drove 2018 premium increases ranging from 10 percent to 20 percent. However, several insurers noted that proposed federal legislation to restore cost-sharing reduction funding could result in significant disruption and sticker shock for consumers receiving premium tax credits.
  • All insurers had concerns regarding an expansion of short-term and association health plans under the President’s October 12, 2017 executive order. Insurers worry that an expansion of these plans could siphon healthy people away from the individual market, leaving a sicker, costlier population.
  • Insurers with narrow provider networks reported concerns about the potential exit of competing insurers, noting that their network providers lacked capacity to take an influx of new, often sicker enrollees. They further noted that unexpected insurer exits can produce considerable disruption, particularly if remaining insurers lack sufficient time or ability to readjust their pricing.
  • A worsening of the risk pool will likely cause many insurers to reduce their market presence, will cause all insurers to raise their premiums, and may lead to more exits.

You can read more about these and other findings in our full report, available here.