When income is too high for a subsidy for ACA plans

Without a subsidy, couple faces higher insurance premiums

By Carla K. Johnson
Associated Press, August 20, 2016

With a household income too high for a federal subsidy, Bruce Mainzer and Beth Shadur are bracing for higher health insurance premiums in 2017.

As in other states, many insurers in Illinois have requested double-digit rate increases. Americans ineligible for the government subsidies that help cover their premiums will be hit hardest.

Health insurance already takes a hefty bite out of the couple's budget. They pay $1,200 a month for a bronze plan with high deductibles, which means they pay $13,000 annually out of pocket before their coverage even kicks in.

"It has been a challenge, and it causes us to dip into our retirement savings and increase our debts," Mainzer said.

On top of the cost, they've experienced the hassles of major disruptions in the Illinois insurance market. For one, their insurance company recently folded. It was one of the struggling co-ops set up under the federal health care law.

They are switching to Aetna in October but will start shopping again for another insurer a month later because Aetna recently said it is bailing out of the Illinois exchange-based marketplace.

They are in good health, but Mainzer has a blood disorder, a pre-existing condition that led insurers to reject him before the Affordable Care Act took effect. He was able to get coverage only through Illinois' high-risk pool, at about the same price he pays today.

Mainzer rejects the "repeal and replace" Republican solution, in part because getting rid of the law would mean that insurance companies could go back to denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

"Ultimately, it's clear that health care is not something that can be efficiently provided by the private sector," he said. "The rest of the Western world has figured out that health care is a right and is intrinsically a government, public-sector activity."


Experts Predict Sharp Decline in Competition across the ACA Exchanges

By Dan Mendelson
Avalere, August 19, 2016

A new analysis from Avalere finds that nearly 36 percent of exchange market rating regions may have only one participating insurance carrier offering plans for the 2017 plan year and there may be some sub-region counties where no plans are available. Nearly 55 percent of exchange market rating regions may have two or fewer carriers.

“Lower-than-expected enrollment, a high cost population, and troubled risk mitigation programs have led to decreased plan participation for 2017,” said Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

An important measure of the success of the Affordable Care Act is how well it is working for middle and upper middle income working families who are not eligible for employer-sponsored health plans. The experience of the two-income couple described in this AP article demonstrates that it is not working so well for some.

Bruce Mainzer and Beth Shadur received their coverage through the ACA exchange in Illinois, but it was with one of the co-ops that failed (giving us a hint of what might happen to a “public option” once the private insurers provide their input into the design of such an option).

They had then applied for coverage with Aetna, but now it is pulling out of the Illinois exchange. Fewer plans will be available. In fact, according to the Avalere report, over one-third of exchange market rating regions throughout the United States will have only one plan available, eliminating competition as a means of holding down premiums (not that it was particularly effective anyway).

Because insurers in the exchanges have been experiencing losses, typical premium increases are expected to be in the double digits for 2017. For their bottom-tier bronze plan which has high deductibles, this couple has been paying $1,200 per month for coverage. Next year it will certainly be higher. Also the instability of plan coverage destabilizes access to health care because of the incongruity of the narrow provider networks.

In rejecting single payer, progressive politicians say that we should build on the success of ACA. What changes would you make in the system so that it would work well for Bruce and Beth? When you think about it, it is obvious that mere tweaks will not work. The changes that they need would require comprehensive reconstruction of the health care financing infrastructure.

Well, Bruce Mainzer has figured it out. As he says, “Ultimately, it's clear that health care is not something that can be efficiently provided by the private sector. The rest of the Western world has figured out that health care is a right and is intrinsically a government, public-sector activity.”