Preserving and expanding medical health insurance coverage for Americans has been a salient goal of the Biden administration. Through legislative and executive initiatives, it has succeeded in bolstering federal programs directed toward this goal. But this success could also be short lived. A medical health insurance cliff looms that threatens to erode coverage gains achieved during Biden’s first two years. As 2022 ebbs, it stays an open query whether the Biden administration will maneuver around this cliff or plummet over it.
The cliff partly emanates from deadlines attached to Biden’s efforts to reinvigorate and expand the Reasonably priced Care Act’s (ACA) medical health insurance exchanges. These exchanges, or marketplaces, allow individuals to purchase coverage from participating insurance firms. The ACA authorized federal subsidies for purchasers with incomes from 100% to 400% of the poverty line (i.e., incomes between $26,500 and $106,000 for a family of 4 in 2021). Biden’s success in securing passage of the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021 greatly enhanced exchange subsidies. Approved on a strict party-line vote, the rescue plan increases the financial support for people within the ACA’s 100%-400% of poverty cohort. For the primary time it also subsidizes individuals with incomes above the 400% cutoff. The subsidy for this more affluent group kicks in when premium costs for a benchmark exchange plan exceeds 8.5% of an applicant’s household income. An estimated 2.4 million individuals with incomes between 400% and 600% of the poverty line would profit from this provision when in search of insurance coverage.
The rescue plan law and Biden’s executive initiatives (e.g., greatly expanded sign-up periods) kindled a surge in exchange enrollments, which reversed 4 years of declines throughout the Trump presidency. Sign-ups for exchange insurance for 2021 rose to over 12 million, a five percent increase over the preceding 12 months. Increases continued in 2022 with greater than 14.5 million enrolling. However the clock is ticking on this enrollment progress for the reason that American Rescue Plan subsidies apply only to 2021 and 2022. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that failure to renew the subsidies will lead exchange sign-ups to say no by three million, reducing enrollments to what they were the last 12 months of the Trump administration.
The Biden administration’s efforts to avert this enrollment cliff center on securing passage of Construct Back Higher laws. The unique expansive version of this laws floundered in late 2021 when, within the face of unified Republican opposition and two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kristen Sinema of Arizona, declined to support it. This setback prompted the Biden administration to hunt approval of a inexpensive “skinny” version of Construct Back Higher. This version is prone to include a continuation of the improved exchange subsidies. The laws has some probability of winning Sen. Manchin’s support since his opposition to the unique bill didn’t stem from its health care provisions. Still, Manchin has indicated that his backing of any such measure rests on whether it also includes tax reforms and doesn’t add to the federal deficit. Prospects for laws extending the exchange subsidies are, due to this fact, uncertain at best.
As if this enrollment cliff weren’t sufficiently daunting for the Biden administration, the pending termination of the Covid-inspired public health emergency also looms. Laws bolstering Medicaid in response to the pandemic forged this feature of the cliff. Medicaid is the biggest federal grant program to the states, which subsidizes health coverage for low-income Americans. The federal contribution ordinarily covers from 50% to about 75% of state spending (the match rate) on this system with less affluent states having fun with proportionately greater federal subsidies. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020 authorized a 6.2 percentage point increase within the Medicaid match rate to the states starting on January 1, 2020, and continuing until the federally declared public health emergency expires. To receive this enhanced subsidy, a state needed to refrain from making Medicaid eligibility criteria more stringent or disenrolling current beneficiaries. This meant that beneficiaries whose incomes subsequently exceeded the extent for Medicaid eligibility would remain enrolled during the general public health emergency. Subsequently, Medicaid enrollments soared by 25% from 64 million in February 2020 just before the pandemic to an all-time high of 80 million in mid-2022.
Once the president terminates the general public health emergency, nonetheless, states will lose the improved federal subsidy and might want to do timely, income-based eligibility redeterminations for enrollees or face federal fiscal penalties. This process threatens to fuel a decline in medical health insurance coverage. Many Medicaid beneficiaries would have incomes too high to qualify for this system any longer and fail to transition easily to the ACA’s insurance exchanges. Many others would proceed to satisfy Medicaid eligibility criteria but lose coverage for failure to comply with the often-burdensome administrative requirements for renewal.
The boundaries to state capability to process renewal applications compound problems. The National Association of Medicaid Directors has expressed concern that many states lack adequate numbers of well-trained, experienced staff to effectively perform the renewal function in a timely way. While some states plan to deal with their administrative capability limitations by contracting out the renewal function, it’s removed from clear whether these private entities are any more equipped to perform the duty. Furthermore, some states, desirous to pare Medicaid costs, may incentivize contractors in ways in which undercut the take-up of applicants who meet this system’s eligibility criteria. These aspects have prompted the Kaiser Family Foundation to project that at the least 5.3 million and possibly as many as 14.2 million enrollees will lose Medicaid coverage when the general public health emergency ends.
The Biden administration has acted to cut back the specter of a precipitous decline in insurance coverage. While the Trump administration had given states six months to finish the redetermination process, the Biden administration pledged to provide them 60 days advance notice of the health emergency’s end and one other 14 months to make eligibility redeterminations. The White House also moved to determine a special year-round open enrollment period on the ACA exchanges to transition those not eligible for Medicaid to this coverage. The Biden administration has also provided a gentle stream of guidance encouraging states to adopt client-friendly renewal practices. It has threatened to penalize states financially that adopt burdensome renewal procedures that skirt Medicaid law (e.g., by requiring in-person interviews for renewal applicants). A key issue for the Biden administration is when to finish the general public health emergency. Many health care providers and advocates for low-income beneficiaries have urged Biden to increase the emergency at the least through October. It appears likely that his administration won’t only accede to this request, but postpone this politically painful decision until after the election.
On balance, uncertainty shrouds the degree to which the Biden administration will give you the chance to avoid the medical health insurance cliff. Within the case of the ACA’s exchanges, this uncertainty stems from a legislative challenge. Will Biden secure passage of a version of Construct Back Higher that extends the American Rescue Plan’s subsides for those in search of coverage? Within the case of the pandemic-inspired Medicaid expansion, the uncertainty springs from an implementation challenge where the states hold the important thing cards. Whatever steps federal officials take to ease the threat to insurance coverage related to the tip of the general public health emergency, they have to depend on the states to implement them. On condition that states vary greatly of their administrative capability and commitment to preserving Medicaid enrollments, averting this coverage cliff is removed from assured.