Sequent: How the new marketplace will affect insurance rates

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study that stated premiums available on state-based health insurance exchanges would be lower than expected. In Ohio, rates cited were even lower than the national average, with costs for the second-lowest silver tier plan at $249 compared to $320 nationally.

However, Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor had earlier announced that individual premiums were expected to increase by 41 percent.

Smart Business spoke with William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent, about whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will succeed in driving down health insurance costs.

Do the rates cited in the Kaiser study mean costs are going down?

Possibly for a couple of years — we’ve still not seen the community rating prices for small group coverage, and just maybe the lowest prices were illustrated in the Kaiser study. The rates indicate a very low and attractive premium structure. It’s unlikely these rates will be sustainable after 2016 because carriers don’t know the real cost of insuring this group yet.

In addition, the paper didn’t address complex tax implications for both the company and employees that must be considered for total cost. For example, the new taxes on insurance premiums paid by carriers, but collected from employers, are a protection for the carriers. The tax will be set aside to help carriers offset the real cost of coverage for the first two years. After that, the exchange carriers will be on their own, with no government subsidy.

What impact will these rates have on businesses and their health care plans?

One of the leading actuarial firms, Milliman, has an analysis tool to help any company dig through the ‘play or pay’ considerations. Having completed more than 250 separate analyses, Milliman reported it made sense to ‘pay’ for only two of those companies. However, it’s difficult to access the individual total costs relative to plan designs.
What do the delays mean for 2014?

This is a practice year for everyone; 2014 is a penalty-free zone. With the rollback in enforcing penalties and a delay in reporting incomes for the affordability test, people think they are off the hook regarding ACA requirements. But everything else is going forward, including a big increase in taxes.

Unfortunately, the early testing on the exchange, scheduled for early September, was delayed. The Department of Health and Human Services also delayed the deadline to sign final agreements on health plans that will be available to consumers on the exchanges, which might have occurred because some insurers have been hesitant to sign up.

Many people anticipate there may be massive technology glitches relative to the exchanges, including a brewing concern in the technology arena about confidentiality and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance. The system is going to be large and unwieldy.

Who is going to buy insurance from the exchanges?

Even with the individual mandate — which still could be delayed by the government — beginning next year, most people will not be making changes regarding their health care, whether they have insurance or not. If you haven’t purchased coverage because you’re young and invincible, you’re not going to purchase coverage now with minimal individual mandate penalties in the first year.

The people who will be truly interested in participating are the most needy — those who cannot afford other coverage because they are ill and not working.

As for businesses, depending on the average income per worker, some might drop plans and let employees go to the exchanges. Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees will not be penalized when penalties are assessed in 2015. So, they could drop coverage, give everyone a $4,000 raise and let employees buy their own insurance. But companies need to remember that giving a raise to buy exchange coverage causes everyone’s taxable income to increase. Therefore, the employee pays more in taxes, the company pays more in taxes and the increase might bump income over the subsidy limits.

It’s still very difficult to predict what exactly is going to happen because there are so many unknowns.

William F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or [email protected].

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