Ending Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments Will Hurt Older Adults

Ending Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments Will Hurt Older Adults



Federal subsidies, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), have been critical to ensuring that over 2 million lower-income adults ages 50 to 64 who purchase coverage through health insurance Marketplaces can afford health care.[1] Despite the subsidies’ crucial role, the Administration announced yesterday that it will terminate payments for CSRs. The announcement—which comes less than 3 weeks before millions of Americans who buy insurance on the individual market start shopping for 2018 health coverage— is bad news for older adults and people of all ages.

That’s because the move could leave people facing significantly higher premiums and fewer plan choices—regardless of their income or whether they get CSRs.

What are cost-sharing reductions?

The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) better known premium tax credits help reduce the cost of monthly health insurance premiums for lower- and moderate-income individuals. CSRs address the other major expenses that can prevent people from being able to afford health care: out-of-pocket costs for health care services, such as deductibles, coinsurances and copayments. CSRs are available to lower-income people, with individuals of more modest incomes receiving greater subsidies.[2]

CSRs are critical to making individual health insurance affordable for people with lower incomes. This is especially true for lower-income older adults because over a third of the people enrolled in CSR plans are ages 50 to 64.[3] What’s more, older adults typically face higher out-of-pocket medical expenses and cost-sharing because they are more likely to have chronic conditions and health care needs. You can learn more about CSRs here.

Eliminating CSR payments will lead to significant increases in premiums.

Without the federal CSR payments, insurers will have to absorb an estimated $10 billion in costs.[4] A recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that silver plan premiums would jump 20% next year and 25% by 2020 without the federal CSR subsidies.

Due to uncertainty in recent months over the continuation of CSR payments, insurers in some states have already factored premiums increases into their 2018 rates. Other insurers will likely increase premiums in order to account for this loss in federal payments.

Premium increase will hit middle-income people the most – especially those who do not receive premium tax credit subsidies, or who are only eligible for limited tax credits.

The CBO also expects that controversy around CSR payments will encourage some insurance companies to stop offering coverage altogether or deter them from entering the Marketplaces—leaving consumers with fewer, or potentially, no plan choices.

Terminating CSR payments would increase the federal deficit.

If you think stopping CSR payments would save federal dollars, think again. Doing so would actually increase the federal deficit by $200 billion, CBO estimates. This is because the government is required to fund premium tax credits for lower-income enrollees, and the premium increases resulting from ending CSR payments would mean the government must spend billions of dollars more in premium tax credits to lower those premium costs for lower-income enrollees.

Eliminating CSRs altogether would make health care unaffordable for lower-income older adults.

Recent proposals to replace the ACA would have eliminated cost-sharing reductions altogether. Without CSRs, lower-income older adults would face steep increases in their medical bills—putting needed health care services out of reach for millions. We estimate that eliminating CSRs would mean lower-income persons could face as much as $5,600 more in out-of-pocket costs for copays, co-insurances and deductibles.[5] For someone earning $18,000 annually (about 150% of FPL), that’s nearly one-third of their income!

Here’s the bottom-line: Cost-sharing reductions are a critical financial protection for lower-income Americans, including many older adults. Terminating CSR payments will disrupt efforts to ensure a stable individual health insurance market and actually end up costing the government more.

 

 

Jane Sung is a senior strategic policy adviser with AARP’s Public Policy Institute, where she focuses on health insurance coverage among adults age 50 and older, private health insurance market reforms, retiree coverage, Medicare supplemental insurance and Medicare Advantage.

 

 

 

Olivia Dean is a policy analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute. Her work focuses on a wide variety of health-related issues, with an emphasis on public health, health disparities, and healthy behavior.

 

 

 

 

Claire Noel-Miller is a senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she provides expertise in quantitative research methods applied to a variety of health policy issues related to older adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Urban Institute, 2017 Health Insurance Policy Simulation Model, data for 2016 enrollment.

[2] Cost-sharing reductions are available for people who earn between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL). In 2017, this corresponds to incomes between $12,060 and $30,150 for an individual and to incomes between $24,600 and $61,500 for a family of four. Only people enrolled in Silver plans (which pay for 70% of total health care costs on average) are eligible for cost-sharing reductions.

[3] Urban Institute, 2017 Health Insurance Policy Simulation Model, data for 2016 enrollment.

[4] Total CSR payments in 2017 are estimated at $7 billion.

[5] For people with incomes between 100-150% of the federal poverty level, or between $12,060 and $18,090 for an individual. Estimates are based on 2017 federal poverty levels and out-of-pocket limits.



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MacArthur Amendment to AHCA Means Higher Premiums for Age and Pre-existing Conditions

MacArthur Amendment to AHCA Means Higher Premiums for Age and Pre-existing Conditions


We already know that health insurance legislation known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), is a bad deal for older Americans ages 50-64. For people who purchase coverage on their own in the individual (nongroup) market and are not yet eligible for Medicare, the bill would significantly increase premiums for all older adults and spike costs dramatically for lower- and moderate-income older adults.

Now a bad bill just got worse. The House is considering a new amendment introduced by Representative MacArthur that would make the legislation even more harmful for older consumers. The MacArthur amendment establishes state waivers that would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans and people with pre-existing health conditions higher premiums and weakens critical consumer protections.

Even Higher Premiums for Older Adults

AARP strongly opposes the AHCA for weakening the 3:1 limit on age rating in current law, which prohibits insurance companies from charging older adults more than three times the premium a younger person pays for the same coverage. The AHCA would allow insurance companies to charge older adults significantly higher rates — up to five times more than younger adults. The MacArthur amendment goes further by allowing states to set even higher limits – so that older adults can be charged six times, or more, what they charge younger adults.

Because of these changes, lower- and moderate- income older adults, who would receive significantly less tax credit assistance under the bill, would end up paying significantly higher premiums than under current law. Since the MacArthur amendment would allow insurers in waiver states to charge older adults even higher prices for health insurance, their premiums will increase higher than what we previously estimated.

Loss of Protections for People with Pre-existing Conditions

The amendment would also allow insurance companies to return to charging people with pre-existing conditions higher rates based on their health status – something that was previously common practice among insurers but prohibited by the ACA. If a person experiences a break in insurance coverage, insurers in waiver states could be free once again to charge people with pre-existing conditions significantly higher, and potentially cost-prohibitive, rates. This would hit the older adult population hard, since 40 percent of 50- to 64- year olds have a pre-existing condition.

Reduced Coverage and Fewer Choices for Older Adults and People with Pre-existing Conditions

The MacArthur amendment allows states to waive federal standards for minimum coverage (known as Essential Health Benefits) and instead set their own standards. Under current law, insurance companies have to sell plans that include basic comprehensive coverage, requiring benefits such as prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, and mental health care. Under this amendment, states could set standards that allow insurers to sell less comprehensive, potentially even “skimpy” coverage.

Once a state chooses to eliminate the requirement that policies include certain benefits, it is unlikely that those benefits would be offered at all in the individual market in that state. The result would be less choice and reduced access to needed services for people with pre-existing conditions and health needs.

Weaker Protections Against Lifetime and Annual Limits – Even for Those with Employer Sponsored Coverage

The MacArthur amendment’s language allowing states to weaken Essential Health Benefit requirements also weakens another related set of consumer protections – the ACA’s limits on annual out-of-pocket spending and ban against lifetime and annual insurance limits. For example, as a result of the ACA, 105 million Americans, including people with employer based coverage, benefited from the law’s ban on lifetime limits, providing consumers with critical protection from the risk of medical bankruptcy. Under the MacArthur amendment, waived essential health benefits would no longer be included in these protections. This would be particularly harmful for people with pre-existing conditions or people who develop serious health problems if the services they need once again become subject to such limits.

The MacArthur amendment, simply put, makes a bad bill even worse.

Photo: istock

 

Jane Sung is a senior strategic policy adviser with AARP’s Public Policy Institute (PPI), where she focuses on health insurance coverage among adults ages 50 and older, private health insurance market reforms, retiree coverage, Medicare supplement insurance and Medicare Advantage.

 

 

 

 



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State High-Risk Pools Failed Consumers in the Past—and They’d Fail Them Again

State High-Risk Pools Failed Consumers in the Past—and They’d Fail Them Again


Photo courtesy of iStock

The  American Health Care Act (AHCA) threatens to do away with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protection for people with preexisting health conditions. This provision prevents insurance companies from denying these individuals coverage.

Eliminating this protection would force millions of Americans to—once again—rely on state high-risk pools. State high-risk pools are supposed to provide access to health insurance for people who cannot get coverage in the individual health insurance market because of preexisting health conditions.

State high-risk pools may sound like a good idea but, in reality, they are fraught with problems. One of the biggest lessons learned from experience with state high-risk pools: steep premiums that put coverage out of reach for millions. In the past, monthly premiums in state high-risk pools could be up to 200 percent higher than in the individual (non-group) market. Consequently, only a small fraction of those with preexisting conditions could afford to buy a plan. Yet, these premiums—high as they were—only covered about half  the amount needed to pay enrollee claims. Most states tried to close the financial gap through taxes on providers and government subsidies, but even those efforts proved insufficient. We project that if states return to pre-ACA high risk pools in 2019, premiums for people with pre-existing conditions could be as high as $25,700 annually.¹

Another problem with state high-risk pools was that they typically offered skimpy coverage. For example, people who bought insurance through high-risk pools in nearly all states that offered them had to wait between six and 12 months before their preexisting conditions were covered. In addition, many had annual dollar limits on coverage for prescription drugs and behavioral health services.

The AHCA would provide $100 billion over nine years to fund—among other things—state high-risk pools. This level of funding is woefully inadequate to meet the need. One study estimates that it would cost at least $178 billion a year to adequately fund high-risk pools today. In the current policy environment, it is unlikely that the federal government will provide the necessary funding to make state high-risk pools work for the millions of people with a preexisting condition.

Bringing back insurers’ ability to consider preexisting conditions would hit older people especially hard—since people tend to have more health problems as they age; but younger people could be hurt by these policies too. Thus, the ban on preexisting conditions is an important protection for people of all ages. It’s time to stop recycling bad policies and come up with solutions that work for everybody.

 

Lynda Flowers is a senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute, specializing in Medicaid issues, health disparities and public health.

 

 

 

 

Claire Noel-Miller is a senior strategic policy adviser for the AARP Public Policy Institute, where she provides expertise in quantitative research methods applied to a variety of health policy issues related to older adults.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Calculations by AARP Public Policy Institute. Estimate derived as follows: State-specific average premium data in 2010 obtained by dividing total premium revenues over total enrollment in each state high-risk pool. The average premium was inflated to 2019, when the AHCA would allow high-risk pools, using actual and projected per capita growth rates from direct purchased private health insurance from CMS Office of the Actuaries.

 

 



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Proposed Tax Credits Raise Affordability Concerns For Older Adults

Proposed Tax Credits Raise Affordability Concerns For Older Adults


Did you know that over 3 million older adults ages 50-64 rely on Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax credits to purchase health coverage? In fact, pre-ACA, almost half of them were uninsured.

These credits help older adults with low- to moderate-incomes offset some or all of the cost of their health insurance premiums. They are a critical form of financial assistance for those without access to health insurance through an employer or public program.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA), as introduced on March 6, 2017, repeals current-law tax credits and replaces them with a new “flat” tax credit adjusted by age. We find that compared to current law, the proposed tax credit amounts would be substantially less for low- to moderate- income older adults, hitting the oldest particularly hard. Such changes could lead to older adults becoming uninsured or underinsured.

Lower- and Moderate-Income Persons Get Less

As figure 1 shows, under the AHCA, tax credits for those making $15,000 a year would be significantly less than what they receive today: between $2,200 and $5,900 less. Our paper also shows that for those earning $25,000 and $45,000 a year, tax credits would be between $850 and $4,500 less.

 

Figure 1

 

Older Persons Face Larger Reductions

Protections in current law provide larger tax credits when premiums are higher to ensure insurance remains affordable. Even though tax credits under AHCA increase by age, the increase isn’t sufficient to offset the much higher premiums that older adults pay relative to younger adults in the individual market. As a consequence, older adults face greater reductions in tax credits under AHCA than younger adults. A 64-year-old earning $25,000, for example, would face a reduction 5 times greater than that of a 50-year-old.

Combined Effect of Tax Credit Changes and Increasing Age-Rating

Potentially exacerbating the financial hit even further, the “flat” tax credits proposed under AHCA come alongside other changes that could further reduce health insurance affordability for older adults, including weakening limits on age-rating for health insurance premiums. In combination, the tax credits and age-rating changes could increase premiums for 50- to 64-year-olds by as much as $8,400 a year (figure 2).

 

Figure 2

 

Thirty-five percent of all nonelderly adults eligible for tax credits are between the ages of 50 and 64. They simply cannot afford to pay more for their health insurance. The lower tax credits proposed in AHCA will force millions of older Americans to forgo insurance or buy less expensive insurance that covers less, leaving them without the care that they need.

 

Jane Sung is a senior strategic policy adviser with AARP’s Public Policy Institute (PPI), where she focuseson health insurance coverage among adults age 50 and older, private health insurance market reforms, retiree coverage, Medicare supplemental insurance and Medicare Advantage.

 

 

 

Lina Walker is vice president at the AARP Public Policy Institute, working on health care issues.

 

 

 

 

Olivia Dean is a policy analyst with the AARP Public Policy Institute. Her work focuses on public health, mental health, health disparities and healthy behavior.

 

 

 



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