Americans’ Views on Health Insurance at the End of a Turbulent Year


The Affordable Care Act’s 2018 open enrollment period came at the end of a turbulent year in health care. The Trump administration took several steps to weaken the ACA’s insurance marketplaces. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans engaged in a nine-month effort to repeal and replace the law’s coverage expansions and roll back Medicaid.

Nevertheless, 11.8 million people had selected plans through the marketplaces by the end of January, about 3.7 percent fewer than the prior year.1 There was an overall increase in enrollment this year in states that run their own marketplaces and a decrease in those states that rely on the federal marketplace.

To gauge the perspectives of Americans on the marketplaces, Medicaid, and other health insurance issues, the Commonwealth Fund Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey interviewed a random, nationally representative sample of 2,410 adults ages 19 to 64 between November 2 and December 27, 2017, including 541 people who have marketplace or Medicaid coverage. The findings are compared to prior ACA tracking surveys, the most recent of which was fielded between March and June 2017. The survey research firm SSRS conducted the survey, which has an overall margin of error is +/– 2.7 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. See How We Conducted This Study to learn more about the survey methods.


Adults were asked about:

  • INSURANCE COVERAGE 14 percent of working age adults were uninsured at the end of 2017, unchanged from March–June 2017.
  • AWARENESS OF THE MARKETPLACES 35 percent of uninsured adults were not aware of the marketplaces.
  • REASONS FOR NOT GETTING COVERED Among uninsured adults who were aware of the marketplaces but did not plan to visit them, 71 percent said they didn’t think they could afford health insurance, while 23 percent thought the ACA was going to be repealed.
  • CONFIDENCE ABOUT STAYING COVERED About three in 10 people with marketplace coverage or Medicaid said they were not confident they would be able to keep their coverage in the future. Of those, 47 percent said they felt this way because either the Trump administration would not carry out the law (32%) or Congress would repeal it (15%).
  • SHOULD AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE BE A RIGHT? 92 percent of working-age adults think that all Americans should have the right to affordable health care, including 99 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Republicans, and 92 percent of independents.

A Big Divergence Is Coming in Health Care Among States


Little by little, the Trump administration is dismantling elements of the Affordable Care Act and creating a health care system that looks more like the one that preceded it. But some states don’t want to go back and are working to build it back up.

Congress and the Trump administration have reduced Obamacare outreach, weakened benefit requirements, repealed the unpopular individual insurance mandate and broadened opportunities for insurers to offer inexpensive but skimpy plans to more customers.

Last week, the administration released its latest proposal along these lines, by changing the definition of so-called short-term plans. These plans don’t need to follow any of the Obamacare requirements, including popular rules that plans include a standard set of benefits, or cover people with pre-existing conditions. If the rule becomes final, these plans could go from short term to lasting nearly a year or longer.

Taken together, experts say, the administration’s actions will tend to increase the price of health insurance that follows all the Affordable Care Act’s rules and increase the popularity of health plans that cover fewer services. The resultcould be divided markets, where healthier people buy lightly regulated plans that don’t cover much health care, lower earners get highly subsidized Obamacare — and sicker middle-class peopleface escalating costs for insurance with comprehensive benefits.

But not everywhere. Several states are considering whether to adopt their own versions of the individual mandate, Obamacare’s rule that people who can afford insurance should pay a fine if they don’t obtain it. A few are looking to tighten rules for short-term health plans. Some states are investing heavily on Obamacare outreach and marketing, even as the federal government cuts back.

The result is likely to be big differences in health insurance options and coverage, depending on where you live. States that lean into the changes might have more health insurance offerings with small price tags, but ones that are inaccessible to people with health problems and don’t cover major health services, like prescription drugs. States pushing back may see more robust Obamacare markets of highly regulated plans, but the price of those plans is likely to remain higher.

 Legislation to replace the individual mandate has already been introduced in Maryland and New Jersey with prominent sponsors. Political leaders in other states, including California, Washington, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut as well as the District of Columbia, are weighing options for replacing the mandate this year, as Stephanie Armour reported in The Wall Street Journal. The mandate was designed to give healthier people an incentive to buy insurance before they fell ill, lowering the cost of insurance for everyone who buys it.

“Clearly, I think the federal administration and Congress are moving in one direction,” said Brian Feldman, a Maryland state senator who leads the state health subcommittee and was the primary sponsor of mandate legislation there. “And I think states like Maryland would like to move in a different direction.”

Mr. Feldman and his colleagues aren’t planning simply to replicate the federal individual mandate. Instead, they are trying a new strategy. People who fail to obtain insurance would still be charged a fine, but they would be allowed to use that money as a “down payment” on a health plan if they wished. Legislators estimate that many people subject to the penalty would not owe anything more to buy health insurance, after federal tax credits are applied.

Other states are hoping to mimic the expiring federal policy more closely. The board governing the insurance marketplace for the District of Columbia voted last week to recommend the adoption of an individual mandate replacement. Connecticut’s governor, Dannel Malloy, is considering a proposal by a Yale health economist.

Those plans are more similar to the Affordable Care Act’s approach, in part for expedience. The federal mandate is set to expire next year, and insurance companies need to develop their health plans and submit 2019 prices by this summer.

“The idea that a state would be able to stand up something, and put out any guidance, and advise stakeholders, and be able to do it by 2019, is pretty infeasible,” said Jason Levitis, a former Obama administration Treasury Department official who has developed legislation to help states draft mandate replacement bills.

Imposing state-level versions of the mandate may be a political challenge even in blue states. But other strategies are in play, too. California is one of a handful of states considering a bill that would effectively ban the short-term insurance plans proposed by the Trump administration. (New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island already effectively block them.)

A number of states across the political spectrum are also considering policies that would provide so-called reinsurance funds, to help protect health insurers from rare, very expensive patients, and help them lower the prices for everyone else.

Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon have already adopted such plans. Washington, New Jersey, Maine, Colorado, Wisconsin and Maryland are working on proposals. Heather Howard, who directs the state health and values strategies program at Princeton University, said that reinsurance plans operated more like a “carrot” in stabilizing insurance markets. They may prove appealing to a broader array of states, while the mandate, a “stick,” may interest politicians only in the most liberal places.

Some Obamacare-averse states are pursuing policies meant to circumvent the health law’s rules for insurance, and broaden options for cheaper, lightly regulated health plans. Idaho has announced a plan to allow insurers to offer health plans that don’t comply with many of Obamacare’s core rules, and one insurer, Blue Cross of Idaho, has said it will begin selling such plans next month.

Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, has been cagey about whether he will step in to enforce federal law forbidding such products. Meanwhile, the Iowa legislature is considering a bill that would allow a different type of health plan to circumvent Obamacare rules, as The Des Moines Register recently reported. Medica, the only insurer currently offering Obamacare plans, said it might depart the Iowa market if the plan were approved.

The Affordable Care Act was drafted with room for state customization, but one of its primary goals was to make health insurance around the country more uniform. Thanks to state resistance to the health law, varying local conditions and a Supreme Court decision that made the Medicaid expansion optional, results have been much more uneven. Some states have seen much bigger reductions in the share of the uninsured than others. Only some states have seen insurance premiums stabilize.

“Without question I think we’re going to see a natural experiment in the states and a growing divergence in outcomes,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

Evidence of that divergence is already here. This year, signups for Affordable Care Act health plans were nearly flat compared with last year, despite huge cuts in federal outreach and advertisement. But states that ran their marketplaces and spent heavily on advertising saw stronger signups, while states that were more resistant to the health law experienced drops. The loss of the mandate, and the proliferation of health plans that don’t follow Obamacare’s rules, are likely to widen those gulfs.



20 states sue over Obamacare mandate — again

A man is pictured entering health insurance exchange center. | Getty

Twenty states are suing the Trump administration over Obamacare’s individual mandate — again.

Wisconsin, Texas and several other red states said in a lawsuit filed today that since Congress repealed the individual mandate’s tax penalty for not having coverage, that means the mandate itself — and the whole health care law — is invalid.

The GOP tax law “eliminated the tax penalty of the ACA, without eliminating the mandate itself,” the states argue in a complaint filed today in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas. “What remains, then, is the individual mandate, without any accompanying exercise of Congress’s taxing power, which the Supreme Court already held that Congress has no authority to enact.”

The Supreme Court in 2012 upheld Obamacare’s individual mandate in one of the highest-profile court cases in years. The justices did not agree then with the Obama administration’s main argument that the mandate penalty was valid under the Commerce Clause. But the justices did say that the mandate was a constitutional tax. The ruling riled conservatives who felt that Chief Justice John Roberts bent legal reasoning to preserve Obamacare.

Now, the states want to use that same Supreme Court ruling to take down the Affordable Care Act — which has withstood numerous legal challenges but which over the past year has been undermined by executive and regulatory actions the Trump administration has taken.

The states also argue that since the mandate is unconstitutional, the whole law should go. They note that Obamacare did not have a “severability clause” — a provision that says if one part of the law is struck by the courts, the rest would stand — so that once part of it is struck down, the rest in invalid.



UPDATE: CMS seeks expansion of short-term plans to sidestep ACA

Image result for Out of Pocket expenses

Dive Brief:

  • HHS issued a proposed rule on Tuesday that expands the availability of short-term health insurance by allowing the purchase of plans providing coverage for up to 12 months, the latest in the Trump administration’s plans to weaken the Affordable Care Act. The action builds off a request for information by HHS last June on ways to increase affordability of health insurance.
  • The current maximum period for such plans is less than three months, a change made by the Obama administration in 2016. The proposed rule would mark a return to the pre-2016 era, but CMS noted that it is seeking comment on offering short-term plans for periods longer than 12 months.
  • Short-term plans are not required to comply with federal rules for individual health insurance under the ACA, so the plans could charge more for those with preexisting conditions and not provide what the ACA deemed essential health benefits like maternity care.

Dive Insight:

The proposed rule builds off of an executive order President Donald Trump signed in October, which instructed the federal government to explore more access to association health plans, expanding short-term limited duration plans and changes to health reimbursement arrangements or HRAs.

Consumers buying these short-terms plans could lose access to certain healthcare services and providers and experience an increase in out-of-pocket expenditures for some patients, according to the proposal.

The short-term plans “would be unlikely to include all the elements of ACA-compliant plans, such as the preexisting condition exclusion prohibition, coverage of essential health benefits without annual or lifetime dollar limits, preventive care, maternity and prescription drug coverage, rating restrictions and guaranteed renewability,” according to the proposed rule.

The Trump administration argues that expanding access to short-term plans is increasingly important due to rising premiums in the individual markets.

But if young and healthy people leave the individual market for short-term plans, it could contribute to an unbalanced risk pool. HHS itself states that the exodus of young and healthy exchange members could contribute to rising premiums within the ACA exchange markets.

“If individual market single risk pools change as a result, it would result in an increase in premiums for the individuals remaining in those risk pools,” the proposed rule stated.

But when asked about concerns that the idea might hurt the stability of the ACA marketplaces by siphoning healthy people away, CMS Administrator Seema Verma argued there would be little impact.

“No, we don’t think there’s any validity to that — based on our projections only a very small number of healthy people will shift from the individual market to these short-term limited duration plans. Specifically, we estimate that only 100,000 to 200,000 people will shift. And this shift will have will have virtually no impact on the individual market premiums,” Verma said on a press call.

But the insurance lobby cautioned that the action could increase insurance prices for the most vulnerable.

The American Hospital Association and Association for Community Affiliated Plans also slammed the short-term plans, saying they would increase the cost of comprehensive coverage.

“Short-term, limited-duration health plans have a role for consumers who experience gaps in coverage. They are not unlike the small spare tire in a car: they get the job done for short periods of time, but they have severe limitations and you’ll get in trouble if you drive too fast on them,” ACAP CEO Margaret Murray said in a statement.

“While we are reviewing the proposed rule to understand its impact on the people we serve, we remain concerned that expanded use of short-term policies could further fragment the individual market, which would lead to higher premiums for many consumers, particularly those with pre-existing conditions,” said Kristine Grow, SVP of communications at America’s Health Insurance Plans.

HHS anticipates most individuals switching from individual market plans to short-term coverage plans would be relatively young or healthy and not eligible to receive ACA’s premium tax credits.

CMS said the proposal is one to help the 28 million Americans without health insurance, pointing to the 6.7 million who chose to pay the individual mandate penalty in 2015 as evidence that ACA-compliant plans are too expensive.

“In a market that is experiencing double-digit rate increases, allowing short-term, limited-duration insurance to cover longer periods gives Americans options and could be the difference between someone getting coverage or going without coverage at all,” Verma said in a statement.

Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., praised the action, but cautioned that states still have a responsibility to protect consumers.

“Millions of Americans who are between jobs and who pay for their own insurance will welcome this extended option for lower-cost, short-term policies. States will have the responsibility for making sure these policies benefit consumers,” Alexander said in a statement.

Democrats largely oppose the move, arguing it will further destabilize the market for millions of Americans in the ACA exchanges. “Widespread marketing of these bare bones, junk plans will further destabilize health insurance markets, and will lead to higher premiums for everyone,” a group of House Democrats said in a joint statement.

As Republicans are not likely to take up ACA repeal again any time soon, the Trump administration has been working to pare back the law in the past several months. It halved the enrollment period and stopped paying cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. Also, the recent tax overhaul included a repeal of the law’s requirement that most people have coverage.

KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ What Do The Budget, Idaho And FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb Have In Common?

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ What Do The Budget, Idaho And FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb Have In Common?

Image result for kaiser what the health


President Donald Trump released his first full budget proposal this week, with many recommended cuts and some major changes to health programs. But Congress has already agreed on most spending levels for next year, so this budget is even more likely to be ignored than a typical presidential budget plan.

Meanwhile, states are trying to cope with last year’s changes to the Affordable Care Act in very different ways. Several states, mostly led by Democrats, are considering whether to set penalties for people who don’t have insurance — a provision of the ACA that Congress repealed in December. Idaho, meanwhile, is offering to let insurers sell plans that don’t cover the ACA’s required set of benefits and discriminate against people with preexisting health conditions.

Plus, Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, talks about getting generic drugs to market faster and how the agency is working with Congress on ways to help patients with terminal illnesses get easier access to experimental treatments.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Even though few of the proposals in Trump’s budget are likely to be enacted, it does lay down some important markers for the administration. Those include backing sweeping changes to Medicaid and eliminating many of the ACA’s coverage requirements.
  •  Blue states considering stepping into the void left by Congress’ repeal of the individual insurance mandate penalties have limited time to act. Insurers start making decisions about whether to participate in the individual market in the spring.
  • The FDA’s Gottlieb tells Rovner and KHN’s Sarah Jane Tribble he expects there will be a compromise on Capitol Hill on “right-to-try” legislation that would make it easier for patients with terminal illnesses to gain access to experimental therapies.
  • Idaho is moving forward on its plan to allow insurers to offer policies that do not comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. On Capitol Hill this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would not say whether the federal government will step up to stop them.

What’s at Stake: States’ Progress on Health Coverage and Access to Care, 2013–2016

Image result for What’s at Stake: States’ Progress on Health Coverage and Access to Care, 2013–2016



  • Issue: Given uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act, it is useful to examine the progress in coverage and access made under the law.
  • Goal: Compare state trends in access to affordable health care between 2013 and 2016.
  • Methods: Analysis of recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
  • Findings and Conclusions: Between 2013 and 2016, the uninsured rate for adults ages 19 to 64 declined in all states and the District of Columbia, and fell by at least 5 percentage points in 47 states. Among children, uninsured rates declined by at least 2 percentage points in 33 states. There were reductions of at least 2 percentage points in the share of adults age 18 and older who reported skipping care because of costs in the past year in 36 states and D.C., with greater declines, on average, in Medicaid expansion states. The share of at-risk adults without a recent routine checkup, and of nonelderly individuals who spent a high portion of income on medical care, declined in at least of half of states and D.C. These findings offer evidence that the ACA has improved access to health care for millions of Americans. However, actions at the federal level — including a shortened open enrollment period for marketplace coverage, a failure to extend CHIP funding, and a potential repeal of the individual mandate’s penalties — could jeopardize the gains made to date.


The year 2017 marked a turning point in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans in Congress attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act numerous times, ultimately failing but promising to try again. In addition, the Trump administration significantly cut funding for outreach and enrollment activities during 2018’s open enrollment period for the marketplaces, and disrupted markets by declining to pay insurers money owed to them for providing cost-reduced plans for lower-income enrollees. In December, Senate Republicans passed a tax bill that included a provision to repeal the ACA’s individual mandate penalties, paid by most people who do not have health insurance. Given these developments, many Americans are confused about the ACA’s status, which could reduce the number of people who enroll in health plans for the coming year, despite strong enrollment thus far.

It is useful to assess the changes in coverage and access that happened across states under the law before this tumultuous year. Between 2013, the year before the ACA’s major coverage expansions took effect, and the end of 2016, the number of uninsured Americans under age 65 fell by an estimated 17.8 million.1 Uninsured rates declined in every state and the District of Columbia (Exhibit 1).

In this issue brief, we examine the extent to which health care access and affordability improved from 2013 to 2016 for residents in each of the 50 states and D.C. We use six indicators: uninsured rates for working-age adults and for children, three measures of adults’ access to care, and the percentage of individuals under age 65 with high out-of-pocket medical costs relative to their income (Exhibit 2). These measures align with those reported in the Commonwealth Fund’s ongoing series of Health System Performance Scorecards.


After three years of the ACA’s major coverage expansions, the number of uninsured working-age adults and children in the United States had fallen to a record low. This historic decline was accompanied by widespread reductions in cost-related access problems and improvements in access to routine care for at-risk adults, particularly in states that expanded Medicaid. If the 19 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid decided to expand, they could see similar positive effects for their residents.

There is no deadline for adopting the Medicaid expansion. In November, Maine residents voted to expand Medicaid under a citizen-initiated ballot referendum, indicating that popular support for expanding the program may exist in states where elected officials have rejected it. While implementation in Maine could face hurdles because of opposition from the state’s governor, similar efforts are now under way in other nonexpansion states.

Actions at the federal level could, however, jeopardize the gains made under the ACA. Recent actions by the Trump administration, including a shortened open enrollment period for marketplace coverage and deep cuts in advertising and outreach, could reduce enrollment for 2018.10 In addition, Congress has yet to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expired at the end of September. In the absence of an extension, more than half of states are projected to run out of federal CHIP dollars by March 2018.11 The result could be a loss of coverage for millions of children.12

Further, the tax bill passed by Senate Republicans included a repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate penalties, which would mean a cancellation of the penalties owed by people who do not take up insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that repealing the penalties would reduce the number of Americans with health insurance by 13 million by 2027 and significantly increase premiums for plans purchased in the individual market. This is because healthy individuals would be the most likely to forgo coverage, leaving sicker people (who are more expensive to insure) in the risk pool.13

People who buy their own coverage on the individual market and who have incomes above 400 percent of the federal poverty level (about $48,200 for an individual and $98,400 for a family of four) — the threshold for ACA premium subsidies — would face the brunt of the premium increase.14 A recent Commonwealth Fund analysis estimates that a 40-year-old buying unsubsidized individual market coverage in one of the 39 states that uses the federally facilitated marketplace would face an average dollar increase in premiums ranging from $556 in North Dakota to $1,264 in Nebraska (Exhibit 10).15

9 states considering individual mandate rules: report

9 states considering individual mandate rules: report

Nine states are considering laws that would require their residents to purchase health insurance, the The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The proposals come less than two months after Republicans, as part of a sweeping tax code overhaul, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance.

Lawmakers in Maryland are considering a law requiring residents to buy health insurance. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, are also considering similar proposals, according to the Journal report.

The ACA’s individual mandate was implemented as a way to keep premiums low by requiring everyone to have insurance. Proponents of the mandate say that, without it, healthy people are less inclined to buy insurance, causing premiums to rise for those who need it the most.

But Republicans have long argued against the idea that people should be forced to purchase health coverage.

The decision to repeal the mandate as part of the GOP tax bill was touted as a victory in Republicans’ effort to repeal the ACA. While the provision did not do away with the entire law, it was a blow.

The proposals to impose health coverage mandates in some states marks a shift of authority over health care from the federal government to the states, possibly leading to significant coverage differences between red states and blue states.

“The federal government has just stalled. They don’t accomplish the basics, and that leaves states with a great opportunity to step up and craft policy,” Connecticut state Rep. Sean Scanlon (D), who sits on a health-care working group, told the Journal.