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A State-By-State Guide To Those Wonky Obamacare Payments You Keep Hearing About

Some Obamacare plans are going to get more expensive next year, whether Congress likes it or not. The deal that two senators announced Tuesday to shore up the Obamacare marketplaces might have sounded like good news to the millions who rely on them. But even if that deal were to become law (and that already is starting to look unlikely), it almost surely couldn’t happen in time1 to stop the fallout from President Trump’s decision to halt payments to insurers that help the lowest-income marketplace enrollees. Price increases are coming.

Price increases were happening before Trump’s announcement, but his move to cut funding to insurers means that in most places, prices on some plans will go up even more. In anticipation of this move by Trump, states have been figuring out how the additional costs should be passed on, and their approaches vary; where buyers live, how much money they earn, and how they buy their insurance will determine whether they actually pay an increase.

Using information from ACASignups.net — which tracks and analyzes ACA-related policy — and additional news sources, we’ve categorized those approaches into five groups:

How new costs to insurers will affect what you pay

States are taking different approaches to the news that Trump will cut reimbursements to insurers

STATE
APPROACH
Colorado Spread new costs across all plans
Delaware Spread new costs across all plans
Indiana Spread new costs across all plans
Kentucky Spread new costs across all plans
Oklahoma Spread new costs across all plans
Alabama Spread across all silver plans
Alaska Spread across all silver plans
Arkansas Spread across all silver plans
Illinois Spread across all silver plans
Iowa Spread across all silver plans
Kansas Spread across all silver plans
Louisiana Spread across all silver plans
Maine Spread across all silver plans
Michigan Spread across all silver plans
Mississippi Spread across all silver plans
Missouri Spread across all silver plans
Nebraska Spread across all silver plans
New Hampshire Spread across all silver plans
New Jersey Spread across all silver plans
New York Spread across all silver plans
North Carolina Spread across all silver plans
Oregon Spread across all silver plans
South Dakota Spread across all silver plans
Tennessee Spread across all silver plans
Utah Spread across all silver plans
West Virginia Spread across all silver plans
Wisconsin Spread across all silver plans
Wyoming Spread across all silver plans
California Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Connecticut Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Florida Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Hawaii Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Idaho Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Minnesota Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Nevada Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Ohio Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Pennsylvania Only applied to silver marketplace plans
South Carolina Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Washington Only applied to silver marketplace plans
North Dakota No additional change to prices
Washington, D.C. No additional change to prices
Arizona No additional change to prices
Virginia No additional change to prices
Maryland No additional change to prices
Massachusetts No additional change to prices
Rhode Island No additional change to prices
Vermont No additional change to prices
Georgia Insurers taking different approaches
Montana Insurers taking different approaches
New Mexico Insurers taking different approaches
Texas Insurers taking different approaches

These categories reflect information available as of Oct. 18, 2017. They are based on the work of ACASignups.net, with additional reporting and categorization from FiveThirtyEight.

Source: ACASignups.net

A little bit of background before we get into those categories:

Since the ACA became law, there have been two branches to each state’s private insurance market. One is the ACA marketplace, where people can receive premium subsidies if they qualify based on income2 — about 11 million people buy there. The lowest income bracket of people who are eligible for subsidies — those earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty line — are also eligible for a second kind of discount, one that lowers out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles and co-pays. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers have to provide that second discount (known as cost-sharing reductions), and the federal government is supposed to reimburse them (that’s what Trump is halting).

To make matters more complicated, the cost-sharing reductions apply only to specific kinds of plans — those in the “silver” category3 — and only when those plans are bought through the Obamacare marketplaces. Silver plans are also available in the other branch of the private market, with one big difference: There are no subsidies. Some 7 million people buy on the second branch.4

Without those reimbursements, insurers lose money. States have taken a variety of approaches to allow them to recoup the costs and keep them from running for the hills.

The majority of states are planning to ask insurers to apply all of the additional cost from the lost reimbursements to silver plans. But some loaded them only on the silver plans sold in the ACA marketplace — those eligible for subsidies — and some are spreading it across all of the silver plans, both on and off the ACA market. In either case, these approaches keep the cost of other plans at the prices set before Trump’s announcement.

People who receive subsidies won’t pay anything extra: Because they pay only a percentage of their income toward the cost of their insurance, their contribution won’t really go up even when prices increase (the federal government makes up the difference through the subsidies it provides).

Pennsylvania, for example, set off alarm bells Monday when it said that because Trump ended the repayments, it had approved additional price increases that would average more than 20 percentage points for a market whose insurance prices were otherwise holding pretty steady. But those concerns are somewhat misplaced: Increases will be added only to subsidized marketplace plans, an actuarial sleight of hand that means the additional cost will be paid by the taxpayers at large via subsidies, not the individual enrollees.

But what about the 6.7 million people who either purchase ACA-compliant insurance outside the Obamacare marketplaces or don’t qualify for subsidies? Those buyers who live in states that aren’t planning to put the additional cost on only the Obamacare marketplaces will bear the full brunt of these double-digit price increases.

Other states, meanwhile, are planning to allow insurers to spread the extra cost across all insurance plans on both branches of the private market. In those states, people who receive subsidies still won’t see a difference in the price they pay. And those who don’t get help paying their premiums — people who buy insurance outside of the Obamacare marketplaces or earn too much for subsidies — will still end up paying more.

About a dozen states (and Washington, D.C.) currently aren’t allowing insurers to make any changes or are allowing insurers to take different approaches.

It all adds up to a bizarre and confusing marketplace. People will continue to pay very different rates by state, but some places will see much bigger across-the-board increases in the cost of private insurance. And because in many places the additional cost is being added to specific types of plans, there will be cases in which insurance covers more than the silver plans will cost less for people who don’t get subsidies. That seems likely to bring additional confusion to an already chaotic time for people who buy private insurance.

Footnotes

  1. It’s nearly impossible for the deal to prevent the hikes, even if a political miracle allowed it to pass before the Nov. 1 beginning of the open enrollment period, when people can begin choosing plans for 2018. There just isn’t enough time for the legislation to make its way through Congress and for all the subsequent back and forth that would need to take place between insurance companies and state regulators.

  2. People earning from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible for subsidies to pay for health insurance premiums on the Obamacare marketplaces.

  3. The ACA names plan types using metals (bronze, silver, gold and platinum), which rank plans in terms of what average percentage of the annual cost of care will be paid by the insurance company versus what a buyer pays. For a silver plan, insurers pay about 70 percent of health care costs and the individual pays 30. For gold, the insurer pays 80 and the individual 20, and so on.

  4. Mostly people who either aren’t eligible for subsidies or have pre-ACA plans that were grandfathered in.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester reports on public health, food and culture for FiveThirtyEight.

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