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Extra Than a Web site: Ought to the Federal Authorities Set up Further Minimal Requirements for the ACA’s Well being Insurance coverage Marketplaces?

By Sabrina Corlette, Rachel Swindle, and Rachel Schwab

The Inexpensive Care Act (ACA) established medical health insurance Marketplaces (or “Exchanges”) to facilitate enrollment in complete and inexpensive medical health insurance plans. The ACA envisioned that the Marketplaces could be primarily state-run, with the federal authorities stepping in as a backstop. In apply, due partially to deep anti-ACA sentiment amongst some state policymakers, when the Marketplaces launched in 2013, solely 17 states and the District of Columbia had been state-run Marketplaces with their very own IT eligibility and enrollment platforms. The federal authorities needed to run the Marketplaces within the remaining 33 states, and because the inaugural 12 months, some state-run Marketplaces have used the federal enrollment platform Over the course of the primary decade of the ACA’s Marketplaces, the variety of state-based Marketplaces (SBM) has fluctuated from 17 within the first 12 months, to a low of 12 in plan 12 months 2017, to the present 18 in 2023. (See Exhibit). States transitioning to a full SBM in recent times sought management partially as a result of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll again the ACA led to instability of their insurance coverage markets and a rise within the numbers of uninsured. The power to adapt an SBM to state circumstances and priorities has enabled these states to construct on the ACA and broaden enrollment.

Extra not too long ago, a number of extra states have indicated they might undertake a transition to an SBM, together with Georgia and Texas, the place opposition to the ACA stays a bedrock precept for a lot of lawmakers. With total Market enrollment at an all-time excessive, and thousands and thousands extra folks poised to transition from Medicaid to industrial insurance coverage, the position of the ACA’s Marketplaces as a well being protection security internet has by no means been extra pivotal. But federal guidelines implementing the ACA impose few requirements for launching and sustaining a Market that adequately serves customers and builds on enrollment features. Given states’ curiosity in taking up operation of the Marketplaces, it could be time for the federal authorities to ascertain a stronger federal ground.

The Want For Minimal Requirements Earlier than Working a State-based Market

So far, SBMs have been main the best way in direction of better insurance coverage protection and an improved client expertise. They’re investing closely in advertising, outreach, and enrollment help, coordinating with Medicaid businesses to cut back churn, elevating the bar on high quality for collaborating insurers, and performing to enhance the patron buying expertise. Many SBMs have carried out progressive methods to succeed in the remaining uninsured, equivalent to state-funded subsidies, protection for undocumented residents, and “simple” or automated enrollment.

Within the final two years, the federally facilitated Market (FFM) has been catching up. The FFM has dramatically elevated funding for advertising and enrollment help. Federal officers have additionally carried out new insurance policies to lengthen enrollment home windows, simplify plan selections, broaden eligibility for tax credit (by fixing the “household glitch”), and scale back the amount of paperwork for customers to take away enrollment obstacles. These efforts are paying off, with record-breaking FFM enrollment in 2023.

Any state looking for to transition from to SBM standing immediately thus has a better danger of backsliding on these protection features. The ACA specified that state Marketplaces predating legislation’s enactment, equivalent to Massachusetts’s Market, had been presumed to qualify beneath the brand new federal requirements for SBMs provided that they continued to cowl roughly the identical portion of the inhabitants projected to be coated nationally beneath the ACA. The belief was that SBMs must construct on, not detract from, the ACA’s protection objectives.

But not all state leaders looking for to launch an SBM share a dedication to common insurance coverage protection. Certainly, 10 states, together with Georgia and Texas, haven’t taken up the choice to broaden Medicaid protection to their poorest residents. And though states are typically the primary line of enforcement of the ACA’s market reforms, Texas has declined to play this position, and as an alternative depends on federal enforcement. Furthermore, Georgia has beforehand sought permission to bypass a number of key Market necessities, together with the centralized enrollment web site. As a substitute, the state proposed to ship customers to non-public insurers and brokers, each of which have monetary incentives to restrict significant plan comparability.

Market Roles and Obligations

Beneath present federal guidelines, SBMs have an extended listing of essential tasks, however are topic to comparatively minimal federal requirements for a way they carry out these duties.


States can set up a Market as a governmental company or non-profit entity. Marketplaces run by unbiased state businesses and non-profit entities will need to have a governing board sure by a proper and public constitution or by-laws, maintain common and open conferences introduced prematurely, and meet sure membership requirements, equivalent to a ceiling on members with ties to the medical health insurance business. Market boards should even have publicly obtainable insurance policies governing conflicts of curiosity and monetary curiosity disclosures, ethics ideas, and accountability and transparency requirements. Federal guidelines implementing the ACA don’t specify the variety of instances Market boards should meet yearly, how far prematurely conferences should be introduced, the variety of people on the governing board, if there are time period limits for voting board members, or how board members are chosen or appointed.


In establishing a Market, states should guarantee it’s financially self-sufficient. States have broad flexibility to decide on the mechanism by which they fund their Market, equivalent to an evaluation or charge on insurers or a state appropriation of different funds. States may additionally apply for future federal grants, equivalent to when Congress allotted extra funding beneath the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Stakeholder Session

The ACA requires Marketplaces to seek the advice of with stakeholders on a “common and ongoing foundation,” together with Market enrollees, people and entities facilitating Market enrollments, small companies representatives, the state’s Medicaid company, “advocates for enrolling arduous to succeed in populations,” federally acknowledged Tribes, public well being consultants, suppliers, giant employers, insurers, and brokers/brokers. Federal guidelines don’t specify the frequency or kind for stakeholder session, which elements of the Market operations are topic to stakeholder enter, or a course of to make sure stakeholder suggestions is integrated into Market insurance policies and practices.

Extra Than a Web site

The Marketplaces should carry out a number of features designed to make sure that customers are capable of perceive their choices, decide their eligibility for premium tax credit, and enroll in a well being plan that meets minimal requirements. These features embody:

Plan Administration. States that function their very own Marketplaces are answerable for certifying that well being plans are “certified well being plans” (QHPs), merchandise eligible to be offered on the Market. This implies the plans should meet federal and state profit necessities, premium score guidelines, prescribed “actuarial worth” or plan generosity ranges, prohibitions in opposition to discriminatory profit design or pre-existing situation limitations, and community adequacy, amongst different requirements. Whereas some necessities apply to plans in each Market, others, equivalent to particular community adequacy requirements, range relying on whether or not the Market is state- or federally run. Some Marketplaces that function independently of their state division of insurance coverage (DOI) nonetheless depend on their DOI for sure plan administration duties.

On-line Eligibility and Enrollment Platform. Marketplaces should preserve an internet site for customers to buy and enroll in protection in a method that’s accessible for these with disabilities and/or restricted English language proficiency. Web sites should present, for instance, standardized details about QHPs to facilitate plan comparability, together with premium and cost-sharing particulars, a client price calculator, a abstract of advantages and protection for every product obtainable, high quality rankings, and supplier directories. Market web sites additionally function an entry level for different insurance coverage affordability applications, equivalent to Medicaid, both by working a full eligibility willpower or directing customers to the suitable state company. The character of medical health insurance enrollment additionally requires Marketplaces to gather delicate private data, and accordingly Marketplaces should meet federal privateness requirements or face financial penalties.

Lots of the first Market web sites had been a catastrophe, main a number of to pivot to the FFM of their first 12 months. Since then, each federal and state platforms have improved significantly and efficiently enrolled thousands and thousands of customers. Nonetheless, the continuing upkeep and operation of those web sites requires a substantial funding. Federal coverage adjustments, such because the latest premium subsidy enhancements in ARPA and the Biden administration’s “household glitch” repair, may also require speedy and costly updates to on-line eligibility programs. In each of these situations, some SBMs weren’t capable of make the required adjustments to their web sites in a well timed vogue.

Market Name Facilities. SBMs are required to function a toll-free name middle to area questions and requests from customers in regards to the eligibility and enrollment course of. Aside from the requirement to have a toll-free name middle, federal guidelines don’t impose exacting requirements on Marketplaces, equivalent to staffing ranges or most name wait instances. Some Market name facilities have skilled system outages and vital wait instances throughout their annual enrollment intervals. Up to date, clear federal requirements and ongoing oversight of customer support high quality might assist keep away from related points sooner or later.

Outreach and Enrollment Help. Federal laws require SBMs to “conduct outreach and schooling actions . . . to coach customers in regards to the [Marketplace] and insurance coverage affordability applications to encourage participation.” Aside from being accessible for folks with restricted English proficiency and other people with disabilities, SBMs have vital flexibility in how and to what extent they conduct this outreach.

SBMs are required to run and fund their very own Navigator applications, though federal guidelines depart many of the particulars of these applications to the states. As an illustration, though all Marketplaces should set up sure coaching requirements (equivalent to coaching on assembly the wants of underserved populations), states can decide the content material and frequency of these trainings.

Federal guidelines additionally don’t set up a minimal funding degree required for both Navigator applications or outreach campaigns. In consequence, there’s a wide selection of SBM funding ranges in these confirmed techniques for growing protection.

Course of for Transitioning to a State-Based mostly Market

The method for transitioning to an SBM typically requires the state to submit two major elements to the federal authorities: (1) a letter declaring the intent to transition, and (2) an “Change Blueprint” to display the state’s capacity to function a Market. Federal regulators have made some changes to the Blueprint over time, most notably permitting states to easily attest that they meet lots of the federal necessities to function a Market as an alternative of submitting documentation offering proof of compliance. And, regardless of stakeholder concern, starting in 2024 Blueprint approval is now not required at the very least 14 months previous to the beginning of the brand new SBM’s preliminary open interval, permitting for a shorter timeframe between federal approval and an SBM turning into operational to serve customers.

Setting a Bar: Potential Minimal Requirements

With out extra minimal requirements for the design and operation of an SBM, there’s a danger that the patron expertise with the Market will worsen, making enrollment tougher and in the end reducing protection charges. Whereas the ACA clearly envisions a excessive diploma of state autonomy over the operation of the Marketplaces, just a few extra requirements for SBMs might embody, for instance:

  • A deliberative SBM transition course of. Hiring workers with the required abilities and experience, procuring the required IT and different service suppliers, testing programs, constructing model consciousness, and fascinating with assisters, carriers, and different stakeholders all take time. Given the stakes for customers, it’s not a course of that ought to be rushed. It may be useful for states to spend a minimal of 1 12 months as an SBM on the federal platform (SBM-FP) earlier than absolutely transitioning to an SBM. This would offer a while for CMS to evaluate the state’s strategy to governance, client outreach and help, and stakeholder engagement, earlier than handing over full management.
  • Transparency and group engagement. States ought to be soliciting and incorporating public touch upon their proposed Blueprint, and publicly posting their Blueprint functions. Higher transparency surrounding SBMs’ income supply(s) and spending, equivalent to extra distinguished public posting of audits, in addition to knowledge on key metrics equivalent to plan picks, effectuated enrollments, name middle wait instances, and spending on Navigators and client help can be essential.
  • An funding in client outreach and help. Given the confirmed effectiveness of client outreach and help, it is going to be necessary for SBMs to satisfy minimal efficiency requirements for client outreach, name middle help, and Navigator applications.
  • Requirements for Market well being plans. Enrollees in all Marketplaces need to have plans that meet minimal standards for certification. Though CMS has to this point kept away from extending some requirements, equivalent to community adequacy, to insurers in SBM states, a federal ground may very well be useful to keep away from a large divergence in client protections throughout states. At a minimal, if a state just isn’t imposing the ACA market reforms, it shouldn’t be working an SBM.

Trying Forward

So far, states have chosen to function their very own Market based mostly on a dedication to inexpensive, complete medical health insurance for all their residents, with the SBM serving as a essential device for attaining that aim. However in some states which will search SBM standing sooner or later, notably people who have demonstrated antagonism in direction of the ACA’s protection expansions and client protections, additional federal guardrails might assist scale back the danger of a decline in customers’ expertise and, within the worst-case state of affairs, a reversal of the latest features in insurance coverage protection.

The authors thank Justin Giovannelli, Jason Levitis, Sarah Lueck, Claire Heyison and Tara Straw for his or her considerate evaluation and enhancing of this publish.



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