The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released final rules pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (Act) that are designed to help consumers shop for and compare health insurance options in the individual and small group markets. According to the HHS, these final rules will promote consistency among health plans, protect consumers by ensuring that plans cover a core package of health benefits and limit out of pocket expenses.

To make it easier for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons among health insurance plans, the final rules create uniform standards of coverage and value.

Essential Health Benefits

The Act provides that health plans offered in the individual and small group markets, including those available through Health Insurance Marketplaces (Exchange), must offer a core package of items and services known as Essential Health Benefits or EHBs, which must be equal in scope to those benefits offered by a typical employer plan. Under the Act, EHBs must provide:

  • Ambulatory patient services
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Maternity and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance use services, including behavioral health treatment
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative services and devices
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

To protect consumers against discrimination the final rules also:

  • Prohibit discriminatory benefit designs
  • Include special standards and options for coverage not typically covered by individual and small group policies
  • Include standards for prescription drug coverage

Actuarial Value

The final rules outline actuarial values of individual and small group plans to help consumers distinguish and compare plans offering different levels of coverage. Actuarial Value, or AV, is calculated as the percentage of total average costs covered by a plan. For example, if a plan has an AV of 70%, a consumer could expect to pay an average of 30% of the costs.

Beginning in 2014, non-grandfathered health plans in the individual and small group markets must meet certain AVs, which have been assigned the following “metal levels”:

  • A platinum health plan has an AV of 90%.
  • A gold health plan has an AV of 8%.
  • A silver health plan has an AV of 70%.
  • A bronze health plan has an AV of 60%.

To give health plans some flexibility, a plan can meet a particular metal level if its AV is within 2% of the standard. For example, a silver plan may have an AV between 68% and 72%. The final rules also provide flexibility, if necessary, for issuers in the small group market regarding annual deductible limits to achieve a particular metal level.

To streamline and standardize the calculation of AV for health insurance issuers, HHS is providing a publicly available AV Calculator. In 2014, this calculator will use a national standard population, but in 2015, HHS will accept state-specific data sets for the standard population if states choose to submit alternate data for the calculator.

According to HHS, these final rules will give consumers a consistent way to compare and enroll in health coverage in the individual and small group markets, while giving states and insurers more flexibility and freedom to implement the Act. Time will tell if these final rules will achieve their desired purpose.

At Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk, we are committed to guiding you through Health Care Reform. Check back with us periodically for informational updates about the Affordable Care Act. If you have specific questions about the Act or if you are ready to take action and would like to see how Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk can help, contact us.

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