Marketplace Plans Provide Risk Protection, But Actuarial Values Overstate Realized Coverage For Most Enrollees

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has increased the number of Americans with health insurance. Yet many policy makers and consumers have questioned the value of Marketplace plan coverage because of the generally high levels of cost sharing. We simulated out-of-pocket spending for bronze, silver, or gold Marketplace plans (those having actuarial values of 60 percent, 70 percent, and 80 percent, respectively). We found that for the vast majority of consumers, the proportion of covered spending paid by the plans is likely to be far less than their actuarial values, the metric commonly used to convey plan generosity. Indeed, only when annual health care spending exceeds $16,500 for bronze plans, $19,500 for silver plans, and $21,500 for gold plans do plans in these metal tiers cover the proportion of costs matching their actuarial values. While Marketplace plans substantially reduce consumers’ exposure to financial risk relative to being uninsured, the use of actuarial values to communicate plan generosity is likely to be misleading to consumers.