Too soon to tell if bronze plans will go extinct

Though it is likely that the distribution of Affordable Care Act marketplace plans among the different metal tiers will change over time, it's not yet clear whether multiple insurers will move away from offering bronze plans, Kaiser Health News reports.

News that a CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield subsidiary in Virginia would stop offering plans in the bronze tier prompted some industry experts to wonder if others would soon follow suit, as the presence of healthier, younger bronze plan enrollees often results in insurers having to pay into the risk adjustment program.

Yet it's far from certain that the insurer's move is part of a larger trend, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Katherine Hempstead, Ph.D., tells KHN.

What is more likely, she says, is that bronze and silver plans may become more similar over time. She wonders, for instance, whether the most common plan will become "sort of bronzy silver."

RWJF data shows that the number of bronze plans offered on the exchanges grew much slower than the number of silver plans between 2015 and 2016. What's more, an analysis shows the average prices for the two types of plans moved toward each other slightly from 2015 to 2016, Hempstead says.

Along similar lines, a report from Milliman found that customers gravitated toward less expensive plans in the silver tier, but did the opposite in the bronze tier, noting that insurers found it difficult to sell lower-range bronze plans.

More changes are coming to plans in bronze, silver and gold metal tiers, meanwhile, with the implementation of the federal government's optional standardized exchange plan options. Some insurers have voiced opposition to the concept, though, arguing they want more, not less flexibility in coverage design options.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article
- here's the RWJF data
- access the Milliman report

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