By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.
The Affordable Care Act has endured quite the onslaught in the past year and a half. From seeing its outreach budget cut in half to the elimination of the individual mandate, Obamacare has really taken a beating. Now, the Trump administration has dealt another destabilizing blow to the healthcare law. On Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it would be forced to suspend some $10.4 billion in so-called “risk-adjustment payments” to insurance companies. These payments were designed to stabilize insurance markets by offsetting the cost to insurers who took on sicker, costlier patients.
This move came because of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge James Browning which held that the Department of Health and Human Services could not use statewide average premiums to come up with its risk-adjustment formula. In the view of the court, the agency wrongly assumed that the Affordable Care Act required the program to be budget-neutral. The Trump administration promised to appeal this federal court ruling, but in the meanwhile, it announced its decision to suspend billions in payments to insurance companies.
While the suspension of risk-adjustment payments directly impacts the fully-insured market, it will inevitably have a spillover effect into the self-insured market. Insurers have indicated that if these payments are not restored, they will be forced to raise premiums in 2019. You can bet that they will look to make up losses in their self-insured lines of business as well. That said, since healthier, less-costly employees tend to be in self-insured plans, the effect may not be so bad. Plans with more costly groups of employees will suffer far more.
Importantly, the Trump administration could issue a new administrative rule to address the concerns raised by the federal judge in New Mexico. It is unclear if the administration will respond, or will wait to fight the battle at the appellate level.