CBO Releases Cost Estimate for the AHCA

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have completed an estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017, as passed by the House of Representatives. CBO and JCT estimate that enacting that version of H.R. 1628 would reduce the cumulative Federal deficit over the 2017-2026 period by $119 billion.

CBO and JCT estimate that, over the 2017-2026 period, enacting H.R. 1628 would reduce direct spending by $1,111 billion and reduce revenues by $992 billion, for a net reduction of $119 billion in the deficit over that period. The provisions dealing with health insurance coverage would reduce the deficit, on net, by $783 billion; the noncoverage provisions would increase the deficit by $664 billion, mostly by reducing revenues.

The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid and from the replacement of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) subsidies for nongroup health insurance with new tax credits for nongroup health insurance. Those savings would be partially offset by other changes in coverage provisions, designed to reduce premiums, and a reduction in revenues from repealing penalties on employers who do not offer insurance and on people who do not purchase insurance. The largest increases in the deficit would come from repealing or modifying tax provisions in the ACA that are not directly related to health insurance coverage.

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under H.R. 1628 than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026. In 2026, an estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law. Under the legislation, a few millions of those people would use tax credits to purchase policies that would not cover major medical risks.

The agencies expect that the nongroup market in many areas of the country would continue to be stable in 2020 and beyond, including in some states that obtain waivers from market regulations. Even though the new tax credits, which would take effect in 2020, would be structured differently from the current subsidies and would generally be less generous for those receiving subsidies under current law, other changes would, in the agencies’ view, lower average premiums enough to attract a sufficient number of relatively healthy people to stabilize the market.

However, the agencies estimate that about one-sixth of the population resides in areas in which the nongroup market would start to become unstable beginning in 2020. That instability would result from market responses to decisions by some states to waive two provisions of Federal law, as would be permitted under H.R. 1628. One type of waiver would allow states to modify the requirements governing essential health benefits (EHB), which set minimum standards for the benefits that insurance in the nongroup and small-group markets must cover. A second type of waiver would allow insurers to set premiums on the basis of an individual’s health status if the person had not demonstrated continuous coverage; that is, the waiver would eliminate the requirement for what is termed community rating for premiums charged to such people.

CBO and JCT anticipate that most healthy people applying for insurance in the nongroup market in those states would be able to choose between premiums based on their own expected health care costs (medically underwritten premiums) and premiums based on the average health care costs for people who share the same age and smoking status and who reside in the same geographic area (community-rated premiums). By choosing the former, people who are healthier than average would be able to purchase nongroup insurance with relatively low premiums.

CBO and JCT expect that, as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all–despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums. As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected healthcare costs. That instability would cause some people who would have been insured in the nongroup market under current law to be uninsured. Others would obtain coverage through a family member’s employer or through their own employer.

John Garner

About John Garner

John Garner has over thirty five years of experience in employee benefits. He specializes in compliance, health care reform, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). He helps clients with life, health, and disability benefits, cost containment, flexible benefits, and claim consulting.

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