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Feds cut estimate for public health exchange enrollments

Posted On: Jan. 26, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Feds cut estimate for public health exchange enrollments

Far fewer people will get coverage in 2016 through public health insurance exchanges this year compared to earlier government estimates, the Congressional Budget Office reported Monday.

In its annual budget and economic outlook, the CBO estimated that 13 million people will get coverage through the exchanges this year, with 11 million receiving federal subsidies to partially or completely pay for enrollees' premiums. The subsidies are available to the uninsured earning between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level; for example, subsidies are available in 2016 for a family of four with an income of up to $97,000.

Those coverage estimates are sharply lower than those published a year ago, when CBO projected that exchange enrollment would hit 21 million in 2016, with 15 million people using Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act subsidies to purchase coverage and 6 million individuals obtaining unsubsidized exchange coverage.

The CBO, in its latest report, did not fully explain its sharp downward revision in its estimates of enrollment in the public insurance exchanges.

In a brief footnote, though, the researchers said most of the unsubsidized individuals not purchasing coverage through the exchanges were expected, instead, to obtain coverage directly from insurers.

It also is possible that fewer employers than once thought will drop coverage, keeping their employees out of the exchanges.

Indeed, in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, there was widespread speculation that many employers would, eliminate coverage once the public exchanges began operating.

That speculation was based on the assumption that employers would find it less expensive — even after paying a $2,000 per employee penalty and boosting employees' salaries to help offset premiums employees would pay for coverage in exchanges — than continuing their plans.

Few employers, though have taken such as approach.

For example, just 0.2% of benefit professionals surveyed last year by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans said their employers would drop coverage in 2016.

The top two reasons, according to the IFEBP survey, employers said they would continue coverage are the need to attract top talent, cited by 78.7% of respondents, and to retain current employees, cited by 74.8% of benefit professionals surveyed.