Silver Loading and you

This is a follow-up from yesterday’s post on how systems need to change to address the weirdness of Silver Loading and Gold Gapping in the individual market. Today’ we’ll talk about what you should do.  This only applies if you buy your insurance in the individual market.

First, let’s establish some basic guidelines for everyone:

  1. Health insurance is complicated and your situation is your own
  2. SHOP, SHOP, SHOP
  3. Ask for help from brokers/agents and navigators as needed
  4. SHOP, SHOP, SHOP

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a great set of FAQs for everybody to peruse. That should be your first stop.

The second thing to do is check to see if you are Medicaid eligible.  The exchange should send you towards Medicaid if your income qualifies you.  This is under $16,600 for a single person or $33,900 for a family of four.

If you are not Medicaid eligible and earn between 100% and 150% FPL ($12,060 to $18,090) go Silver.  You still qualify for the reduced out of pocket expenses.  The insurer has to give that to you.  The entire CSR fight is a behind the scenes fight on how these costs are reimbursed to the insurer.

No Load States (North Dakota, Vermont, Washington DC)

Nothing has changed, do what you did last year.

Broad Load States  (Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Oklahoma, Colorado)

All plans are more expensive.  Bronze plans will be comparatively cheaper for subsidized buyers and Gold/Platinum plans will be comparatively more expensive.  The benchmark Silver will cost the same for subsidized buyers and the least expensive Silver will be slightly cheaper as the gap is bigger.  Off-Exchange, you’re paying more.  Look around and determine what is the minimal network you need and be ready to switch insurers and plans to save some money.

Silver Load and Silver Switch States

This is where it gets confusing. In some regions of the state, the price order will be Bronze-Silver-Gold-Platinum.  In those areas, follow the rules of Broad Load.

In other regions, the price order will be Bronze-Gold-Silver-Platinum.  Here is where you need to pay attention.

If you make between 150% and 200% FPL ($24,120) you have some choices to make.  You still qualify for good CSR but the monthly premiums will be higher than some Gold plans.  Gold plans for people who qualify for mid-range CSR have higher deductibles but may have lower premiums.  If you see a Silver plan and a Gold plan with an insurer and network that you like, you have to make a choice.  Do you trade a bigger monthly payment for a smaller out of pocket maximum.  For people who think that they are likely to be healthy and have some assets to absorb a financial hit, this trade for Gold may make sense.  For people who know that they will hit the out of pocket max no matter what, staying with Silver is probably a good idea.

In the Silver Load and Silver Switch states, the complexity really starts to happen.  We’ll work through Pennsylvania’s Silver Switch loading below the fold:

 

Not every county in Pennsylvania has a Gold Gap. The counties that don’t have a Gold Gap are the counties where one company decided to Broad Load and everyone else decided to Silver Load.  This makes the Gold plan just slightly more expensive than the benchmark Silver.  In those counties people have to make the decision as to whether or not paying a little more for Gold per month is worth buying the much lower out of pocket expenses.  In most cases in Pennsylvania it will be as most counties the extra premium for Gold is less than $25 per month for a single individual.  $300 a year to avoid several thousand dollars in out of pocket expenses is a reasonable trade for many people.  However there are counties like Franklin and Lancaster where Gold is priced significantly above Silver so this is not an automatic case.

In most counties in Pennsylvania including the two largest, Philadelphia and Allegheny, Gold is less expensive then the Benchmark Silver.  In Allegheny County, the choice is simple, the least expensive Gold plan is from my former employer, UPMC Health Plan.  It is on the same network (Partners) as the benchmark Silver and they are both EPOs.  The Gold plan in this case dominates the benchmark Silver as it is the same network with lower out of pocket costs and lower premiums.  In Allegheny County anyone who makes between 200% and 400% FPL should not buy Silver if they are only shopping on price.

Greater Philadelphia is more complicated.  There is a Gold plan $1 less than the benchmark Silver.  There is also a Silver plan $102 less than the Benchmark Silver for a 21 year old (for a 64 year old that plan is $306 less than the Benchmark).  The challenge is figuring out if the extra premiums for a Gold plan are worth the lower out of pocket hit.  For people who know that they are likely to max-out, Gold is probably worth it if the network is sufficient.  For people who think that they will be pretty healthy, Silver in Philadelphia is still a decent choice.

So yeah, this is complicated. In regions where there is only a single insurer, it is simpler when there is Silver Loading.  In regions with multiple insurers making multiple choices, there will be a good deal available compared to last year but there are no hard and fast decision rules.

 

 






14 replies
  1. 1
    Brachiator says:

    NPR news and others are covering the insurance sign up period and seem to be getting some things right.

    Because of a wrinkle in premium pricing this year, some consumers may be able to buy gold plans for a lower premium cost than that of a silver plan. For the same reason, consumers who buy a bronze plan may owe no premium at all.

    They also note the shorter signups period and lack of marketing.

  2. 2
    StringOnAStick says:

    This post basically shows that their strategy now is to make the whole process as complicated as possible, I think because the frustration that engenders will make it easier to kill eventually.

    Hearing Avik Roy obfuscate yesterday on NPR with little push back pissed me off. He made it sound like there are zero people needing to buy individual health insurance who won’t be sucking up that sweet, sweet free CSR money. All this distraction means no one us talking about a HUGE issue for anyone: coverage for pre existing conditions. Its like that just disappeared. Sure, maybe this coming year you’ll be covered, but what if huge increases in costs of your current plan for 2019 force you to shop for another, will your pre existing condition still be covered? What if you stay with your current plan but the rules change and pre existing becomes uninsurable? Care to risk your life and/or financial stability on that?

  3. 3

    @StringOnAStick: String — pre-ex conditions are safe unless there is a massive bill that passes the House-Senate and signed in the White House.

    And that is what we mobilized against all of this year and that is what we won on this year.

  4. 4
    MomSense says:

    I’m sort of numb to all of this right now. It has been months of worry and frustration and I really wish I could just tune out all of it. If I feel this way I can imagine it is much worse for someone who isn’t a news junkie and who has to deal with these decisions on the fly. I’ve given myself until the 25th(crap that’s tomorrow!) to ignore this whole mess and then get smart about my options. I am thinking it makes sense to take care of enrollment as close to November 1st as possible but who knows.

  5. 5
    StringOnAStick says:

    @David Anderson: Yes, we won this year on that but what about next year when they take another swing at it?

    This is personal and I am someone who assesses every risk. My husband, whose job provides our insurance, would like to become a contractor for his company when he hits 60 this January. We both have pre existing conditions, mine being bad knees and his being CLL. We live in CO, and we have 5 years before Medicare (if that isn’t changed or killed). Dare we take the risk this January? Do we wait until after the 2018 elections since that outcome could reduce the R ability to keep screwing with health care?

    My husband is burned out and watching his only sibling die last year makes him want to work less and enjoy more of his time than he can now. The health care stuff has been chaotic and they wont stop trying to kill the ACA. If I could convince him to wait until the 2018 elections are over, I’d feel safer. I hate that I feel like he has to stay lashed to grindstone thanks to R sociopathy.

  6. 6
    JAFD says:

    Minor quibble;

    Passing this on to my friends in Penn’s Woods. People not keeping up with this might be bewildered hitting phrases such as ‘gold gap’ or ‘silver load’ for the first time. Mayhaps a glossary of ‘health insurance wonkspeak’ might be useful ?

    regardless, keep up the good work. (even if no more stories of lascivious soccer players…)

  7. 7
    Another Scott says:

    Thanks for the detailed examples. Here’s hoping this gets lots of visibility.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  8. 8

    […] off payments to health insurance companies that sell Silver plans to the lowest-income enrollees, some states allowed insurers to add extra rate increases to Silver […]

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    […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance […]

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    […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

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    […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

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    […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance […]

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    […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

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  1. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

  2. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance […]

  3. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

  4. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

  5. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance companies […]

  6. […] dealt with this complication in different ways. Some allowed insurers to increase rates across the board. Some didn’t allow insurance […]

  7. […] off payments to health insurance companies that sell Silver plans to the lowest-income enrollees, some states allowed insurers to add extra rate increases to Silver […]

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