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Complexity of the 90 day grace period for paying exchange plan premiums

The Ninety-Day Grace Period

Health Affairs, Health Policy Briefs, October 16, 2014

To help enrollees new to the system keep their insurance, the ACA provides a ninety-day grace period before an insurer can discontinue someone's coverage for failure to pay a monthly premium. This applies only to those who have received an advance premium tax credit to purchase health insurance through the Marketplaces and have previously paid at least one month's full premium in that benefit year.

The grace period allows for continuity of care for patients by preventing people from shifting or "churning" in and out of coverage when they fail to make a monthly premium payment.

In final regulations, CMS said issuers must pay all appropriate claims for medical services rendered to the enrollee during the first month of the grace period, and the insurer may put on hold claims for services rendered to the enrollee in the second and third months. Issuers must also notify HHS of such nonpayment and notify providers of the possibility for denied claims when an enrollee is in the second and third months of the grace period.

During these second and third months of the grace period, because the patient is still insured, he or she cannot be billed by the provider for any remainder that is owed for medical services that the enrollee received. But if an enrollee fails to pay his or her premiums and the entire grace period elapses, providers are allowed to seek payment for the medical services they gave to that patient and for which the insurance company did not reimburse claims.

Patient assistance programs: Some providers have expressed interest in providing premium and cost-sharing assistance for their patients enrolled in coverage through the Marketplaces. By helping their patients maintain coverage and avoid the grace period in the first place, providers hope to reduce the risk that medical claims for care they provide will go unpaid.

However, questions continue to swirl about the legality of such an approach. Although federal anti-kickback regulations might seem to prohibit this type of practice, HHS has stated that such regulations do not apply to the Marketplaces, their plans, and premium tax credits because they are not considered "federal health care programs."

The ACA's uniform grace period could prove to play an important role in keeping people enrolled in their plans. But big questions remain unanswered about the financial risks to which physician practices or hospitals could be exposed, as well as how much risk insurers face for claims in the grace period and how that might affect premium growth for all enrollees over time.

http://www.healthaffairs.org/healthpolicybriefs/brief.php?brief_id=128

Comment:

By Don McCanne, M.D.

The Affordable Care Act provides a 90 day grace period during which health care coverage through exchange plans is continued before insurers can cancel the plans for non-payment of premiums. However, the insurers must pay claims for only the first 30 days, whereas providers are not allow to collect from the patient during the remaining 60 days. After 90 days of nonpayment of premiums, the patient can be retroactively billed, though collection can be difficult since most of these patients do not have enough funds to pay their premiums, much less their health care bills.

If you read the full Health Policy Brief, you will see that the issues are even more complex. The 90 day rule is yet one more unnecessary administrative burden that ACA added to our already highly complex system of financing health care. Under a single payer system there would be no such thing as a 90 day grace period. Financing of the health care system would be as automatic as it is now with Medicare.