House Republicans released their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act on March 6. How does the GOP’s American Health Care Act differ from the ACA? We look at the major provisions of the amended version of the bill, as of May 4. (The legislation passed the House on May 4 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.)
Is there a requirement to have insurance or pay a tax?
No. For all months after Dec. 31, 2015, the bill eliminates the tax penalties that the ACA imposes on nonexempt individuals for not having health insurance, as well as employers with 50 or more full-time workers who do not offer health insurance to their employees. (To be clear, unless this bill becomes law quickly, those filing their 2016 tax returns will still be subject to the penalty.)
Are insurance companies required to offer coverage regardless of preexisting conditions?
Yes, but there’s a penalty for not having continuous coverage. Under both the ACA and the GOP bill, insurers can’t deny coverage to anyone based on health status. Under the GOP bill, they are required, however, to charge 30 percent higher premiums for one year, regardless of health status, to those entering the individual market who didn’t have continuous coverage, which is defined as a lapse of coverage of 63 days or more over the previous 12 months.
However, an amendment proposed in late April allows states to obtain a waiver that would enable insurers to charge more to people with preexisting conditions who do not maintain continuous coverage. Such policyholders could be charged higher premiums based on health status for one year. After that, provided there wasn’t another 63-day gap, the policyholder would get a new, less expensive premium that was not based on health status. This change would begin in 2019, or 2018 for those enrolling during special enrollment periods.
States with such a waiver would also have to have either a “risk mitigation program,” such as a high-risk pool, or participate in a new Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, as a House summary of the amendment says. Beyond those programs, another amendment to the bill would provide $8 billion in federal money over five years to financially aid those with preexisting conditions who find themselves facing higher premiums in waiver states.
For more on this waiver program, see our May 4 article, “The Preexisting Conditions Debate.”
What happens to the expansion of Medicaid?
It will be phased out.
Prior to the ACA, Medicaid was available to groups including qualified low-income families, pregnant women, children and the disabled. The ACA expanded eligibility to all individuals under age 65 who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,643 a year for an individual), but only in states that opted for the expansion. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have opted in to the expansion, which includes enhanced federal funding, so far. More than 11 million newly eligible adults had enrolled in Medicaid through March 2016, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Under the Republican health care plan, no new enrollment can occur under this Medicaid expansion, with enhanced federal funds, after Dec. 31, 2019. States that haven’t already opted in to the expansion by March 1, 2017, can’t get the ACA’s enhanced federal funding for the expansion-eligible population.
To be clear, the bill doesn’t eliminate the Medicaid expansion coverage for those who are enrolled prior to 2020 in the current expansion states. But if those enrollees have a break in coverage for more than one month after Dec. 31, 2019, they won’t be able to re-enroll (unless a state wanted to cover the additional cost itself).
The Republican plan includes another notable change to Medicaid. It would cap the amount of federal funding that states can receive per Medicaid enrollee, with varying amounts for each category of enrollee, such as children, and the blind and disabled. Currently, the federal government guarantees matching funds to states for qualifying Medicaid expenses, regardless of cost. Under the GOP bill, states have the option of receiving a block grant, rather than the per-capita amounts, for traditional adult enrollees and children – not the elderly or disabled. States also have the option of instituting work requirements for able-bodied adults, but not pregnant women.
Are insurers required to cover certain benefits?
The latest version of the bill requires insurers to provide 10 essential health benefits mandated by the ACA, unless a state obtains a waiver to set its own benefit requirements. The ACA’s essential health benefits required insurance companies to cover 10 health services: ambulatory, emergency, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive care and chronic disease management, and pediatric services including dental and vision.
Beginning in 2020, states could set their own essential health benefits by obtaining a waiver.
At that point, state requirements could vary, as they did before the ACA was enacted. For instance, a 2009 report from the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, a group representing insurance companies, said 47 states had a mandate for emergency service benefits, while 23 mandated maternity care and only three mandated prescription drug coverage.
State Medicaid plans would not have to meet the essential health benefits requirement after Dec. 31, 2019.
Are there subsidies to help individuals buy insurance? How do they differ from the Affordable Care Act?
There are two forms of financial assistance under the ACA: premium tax credits (which would change under the GOP plan) and cost-sharing to lower out-of-pocket costs (which would be eliminated).
Let’s look at the premium tax credits first. They would be available to individuals who buy their own coverage on the individual, or nongroup, market. But instead of a sliding scale based on income, as under the ACA, the Republican plan’s tax credits are based on age, with older Americans getting more. (The plan, however, allows insurers to charge older Americans up to five times more than younger people, as we will explain later.)
The ACA tax credits also take into account the local cost of insurance, varying the amount of the credit in order to put a cap on the amount an individual or family would have to spend for their premiums. The Republican plan doesn’t do that. (See this explanation from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation for more on how the ACA tax credits are currently calculated.)
There are income limits under the GOP bill. Those earning under $75,000, or $150,000 for a married couple, in modified adjusted gross income, get the same, fixed amounts for their age groups — starting at $2,000 a year for those under age 30, increasing in $500 increments per decade in age, up to $4,000 a year for those 60 and older. The tax credits are capped at $14,000 per family, using the five oldest family members to calculate the amount. This new structure would begin in 2020, with modifications in 2018 and 2019 to give more to younger people and less to older people.
For those earning above those income thresholds, the tax credit is reduced by 10 percent of the amount earned above the threshold. For instance, an individual age 60 or older earning $100,000 a year would get a tax credit of $1,500 ($4,000 minus 10 percent of $25,000).
That hypothetical 60-year-old gets $0 in tax credits under the ACA. But if our 60-year-old earns $30,000 a year, she would likely get more under the ACA than the GOP plan: In Franklin County, Ohio, for instance, the tax credit would be $6,550 under the ACA in 2020 and $4,000 under the Republican plan. (This interactive map from the KFF shows the difference in tax credits under the health care plans.)
As for the cost-sharing subsidies available now under the ACA — which can lower out-of-pocket costs for copays and other expenses for those earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level — those would be eliminated in 2020. However, the GOP bill sets up a Patient and State Stability Fund, with $100 billion in funding over nine years with state matching requirements, that can be used for various purposes, including lowering out-of-pocket costs of a state’s residents. An additional $30 billion was added to this fund for other programs: $15 billion would be used to set up the Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, another reinsurance program, and $15 billion is set aside specifically for maternity and mental health coverage.
Small-business tax credits would end in 2020. The health insurance marketplaces stay, but the tax credits can be used for plans sold outside of those marketplaces. And the different levels of plans (bronze, silver, etc.) based on actuarial value (the percentage of costs covered) are eliminated; anyone can buy a catastrophic plan, not just those under 30 as is the case with the ACA.
What does the bill do regarding health savings accounts?
It increases the contribution limits for tax-exempt HSAs, from $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families now to $6,550 and $13,100, respectively. It allows individuals to use HSA money for over-the-counter drugs, something the ACA had limited to only over-the-counter drugs for which individuals had obtained a prescription.
There were so-called winners and losers in the individual market under the ACA. How would that change under this bill?
Both the current law and the Republican proposal primarily impact the individual market, where 7 percent of the U.S. population buys its own health insurance. As we’ve written many times, how the ACA affected someone in this market depended on their individual circumstances — and the same goes for the House Republicans’ plan. In general, because the ACA said that insurers could no longer vary premiums based on health status and limited the variation based on age, older and sicker individuals could have paid less than they had before, while younger and healthier individuals could have paid more.
The GOP plan allows a wider variation in pricing based on age: Insurers can charge older individuals up to five times as much as younger people, and states can change that ratio. Under the ACA, the ratio was 3:1. So, younger individuals may see lower premiums under this bill, while older individuals could see higher premiums.
Older Americans do get higher tax credits than younger Americans under the Republican plan, but whether that amounts to more or less generous tax credits than under the ACA depends on other individual circumstances, including income and local insurance pricing. Those with low incomes could do worse under the GOP plan, while those who earned too much to qualify for tax credits under the ACA (an individual making more than $48,240) would get tax credits.
We would encourage readers to use the Kaiser Family Foundation’s interactive map to see how tax credits may change, depending on various circumstances. “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive larger tax credits under the ACA than they would under the American Health Care Act replacement,” KFF says. “Conversely, some people who are younger, higher-income, or live in low-premium areas (like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington) may receive larger assistance under the replacement plan.”
A few weeks after the bill was introduced, House Republicans, through an amendment, made a change to a tax provision to create placeholder funding that the Senate could use to boost tax credits for older Americans, as we explain in the next answer.
Also, some individuals with preexisting conditions could see higher premiums under the legislation, if they don’t maintain continuous coverage and live in states that received waivers for pricing some plans based on health status.
Which ACA taxes go away under the GOP plan?
Many of the ACA taxes would be eliminated.
As we said, the bill eliminates all fines on individuals for not having insurance and large employers for not offering insurance. Also, beginning in 2017, for high-income taxpayers, the bill eliminates the 3.8 percent tax on certain net investment income. The 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on earnings above a threshold stays in place until 2023. The bill repeals the 2.3 percent tax on the sale price of certain medical devices in 2017 and the 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services (effective June 30, 2017). It also gets rid of the annual fees on entities, according to the IRS, “in the business of providing health insurance for United States health risks,” as well as fees on “each covered entity engaged in the business of manufacturing or importing branded prescription drugs.”
It reduces the tax on distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs) not used for qualified medical expenses from 20 percent to 10 percent and the tax on such distributions from Archer medical savings accounts (MSAs) from 20 percent to 15 percent. It lowers the threshold for receiving a tax deduction for medical expenses from 10 percent to 5.8 percent of adjusted gross income. (Originally, the bill lowered the threshold to 7.5 percent, but House Republicans changed that to create some flexibility for potential funding changes the Senate could make. A congressional aide told us that the change is expected to provide $85 billion in spending over 10 years that the Senate could use to boost the tax credit or provide other support for Americans in the 50-64 age bracket.)
And from 2020 through 2025, the bill suspends the so-called “Cadillac tax,” a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance plans offered by employers.
Will young adults under the age of 26 still be able to remain on their parents’ plans?
Yes. The bill does not affect this provision of the ACA.
How does the bill treat abortion?
It puts a one-year freeze on funding to states for payments to a “prohibited entity,” defined as one that, among other criteria, provides abortions other than those due to rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. This would include funding to Planned Parenthood under Medicaid, which is most of the organization’s government funding. Under current law, Planned Parenthood can’t use federal money for abortions, except those in cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life.
Also under the GOP plan, tax credits can’t be used to purchase insurance that covers abortion beyond those three exceptions. Health insurance companies would still be able to offer “separate coverage” for expanded coverage of abortions, which individuals could then purchase on their own.
How many people will have insurance under the plan, as compared with the ACA?
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation, as passed by the House, would lead to 14 million fewer people having insurance in 2018 and 23 million fewer insured in 2026, compared with current law under the ACA.
How much will the bill cost, as compared with the ACA?
CBO estimated that the legislation passed by the House would reduce federal deficits by $119 billion over the next decade, 2017-2026. It would reduce revenues by $992 billion, mostly by repealing the ACA’s taxes and fees, and reduce spending by $1.11 trillion for a net savings of $119 billion, according to CBO.
Where can I get more information?
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