Study: Exchange plans offer good deals to displaced customers

People shopping for health insurance after the cancellation of prior plans may find better coverage at comparable or lower rates in the new exchange marketplace, according to a study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researchers from The Urban Institute examined average prices of the cheapest bronze-level plans sold by age and income group in all states, along with the second lowest-cost silver plans targeted for subsidies. They found low-cost ACA replacement coverage is available to most of the 7.6 million Americans affected by plan cancellations.

Though some will pay more for health insurance pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, displaced customers may come out ahead financially since exchange plans--unlike many canceled policies--cover essential health benefits while capping out-of-pocket costs, the study found. These attributes make it possible to pay less for health insurance when customers tally their previous out-of-pocket expenses.

Moreover, Americans who qualify for subsidies may pay zero premiums depending on plan selection, the study noted. Limits on age rating and guaranteed issue of all policies under the ACA give older adults access to products they may have been barred from in the pre-ACA individual market. And President Barack Obama's decision to open catastrophic plans to displaced customers may make even cheaper alternatives available.

"With the combination of subsidies to help purchase coverage and the requirement for plans to cover essential health benefits, many consumers are going to be hard-pressed to find a better deal than what's being offered in the marketplaces," RWJF's Katherine Hempstead said in an emailed study announcement.

Though these findings should soothe widespread concern about coverage affordability, recent reports suggest the good news may fall on deaf ears: Many Americans eligible for significant ACA subsides don't know financial help is available, as FierceHealthPayer reported. And surveys reveal low public confidence in healthcare reform as well as disappointment with exchange plan products.

For more:
- here's the RWJ study (.pdf)