First will be the Affordable Care Act’s “essential benefits” requirements. All plans—including those currently exempted for hardship and old plans extended for various reasons—must provide all of the law’s mandated benefits from Jan. 1, 2017. On average roughly 15% of plans offered in 2013 will not qualify for sale on the insurance exchanges once all extensions are completed. Depending on the state, as many as 60% of the plans sold in 2013 would not be permitted for sale.
The law’s “reinsurance” program will also expire in 2017. Health insurers will no longer be able to bill the government for 80% of a patient’s health-care costs when they make more than $45,000 in annual claims. The multibillion-dollar risk corridors for insurance companies will also sunset in 2017—ending the taxpayer bailouts that kick in when insurance companies providing ACA plans lose money. Insurance companies will have neither option by 2017, leaving consumers to pick up the tab through premium payments. Federal subsidies will be unable to keep up with such dramatic rate spikes.
Confronted with this cost crisis, consumers will react the only way they know how: by looking for cheaper options such as the remaining high-deductible health plans offered by private companies and the exchanges as well as plans with very limited physician and hospital networks geared to achieve maximum efficiency for the average patient. These plans are likely to provide no or limited access to specialized facilities and physicians. Rising premiums will create a cyclical exodus from insurance plans, with each wave of departures fueling premium spikes that cause even more departures.