Community Rating Under the Affordable Care Act'Premium Shock' and 'Premium Joy' Under the Affordable Care Act - NYTimes.com Sphere: Related Content
Under the law, an individual health plan selling policies in the small-group and nongroup market — whether it sells policies through the state’s exchange or not — will be free to set its own premium for a given policy. But within a given age group, it must apply the same premium to all comers, regardless of their health and their gender. Furthermore, the health plan cannot reject any applicant willing to pay that premium, a provision called “guaranteed issue,” or cancel existing policies.
In other words, the Xi based on the individual’s health status in the equation above will be replaced by the average expected health spending per insured, with the average calculated over the insurer’s entire anticipated risk pool of insured members of a given age. To calculate the average, the insurer must consider as one single risk pool all enrollees in all health plans offered by the insurer, whether or not they are offered on the exchange.
This form of premium setting is known as “community rating.” Because it forces healthier individuals to subsidize sicker individuals through the community-rated premiums, it has been much debated.
Community rating invites “cherry-picking” by insurers — i.e., attempts to attract mainly low-risk applicants. To limit the profit potential from cherry-picking, there will be post-enrollment risk adjustments through which funds are transferred from insurers ending up with relatively healthier risk pools to those ending up with relatively higher risk pools.
The community rating under the law is not the pure version found in the social insurance systems of Europe (e.g., Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany) or Asia, where even age is not considered in setting premiums. Rather, the American version is called adjusted community rating, because it does allow insurers to adjust the community-rated premium for the age of the applicant.
Age-adjusting is done by multiplying the community-rated premium for the youngest members in the expected risk pool by a standard, multiplicative age ratio to be used by all insurers. Thus the quoted premium can increase step by step with age, but only up to a multiplicative factor of 3. At a given age, smokers can be charged up to 1.5 times the regular premium.
The change from what was in place before the Affordable Care Act to post-law arrangements in the nongroup market can be illustrated graphically. In the chart below, we assume initially that all members of a given population are covered by either medically underwritten or community-rated health insurance, with a given package of covered health benefits. The white line represents the premium individuals would have to pay under medical underwriting. The dashed segment of that line is meant to show the actuarial cost and the premium range in which insurers in the real world would reject applicants outright. The green line shows the community-rated premium for this same population. We assume here that age is either not factored into the premium or the population in question is all of the same age, which is why the green line is horizontal.
As the chart illustrates, a switch from medically underwritten premiums to community-rated ones raises the premiums for the relatively healthier members of the insurer’s risk pool. Many of them will suffer what has come to be called premium shock.
Younger and healthier members of the pool should realize that, in effect, they are buying a call option that allows them to buy coverage at a premium far below the high actuarial cost of covering them when they are sicker. The price charged the healthy for this call option is the difference between the premium they must pay and the current lower actuarial cost of covering them.
Furthermore, for Americans in households with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty line, the green and red lines exaggerate the impact of the law on their spending. These Americans will be granted often quite generous, income-dependent federal subsidies toward the premiums they face on the exchanges and their out-of-pocket costs for health care. This makes it well-nigh impossible to make general statements, based on averages, about the net after-subsidy impact of the law.