In 2014, an estimated 15 million individuals who currently do not have health insurance, including many with chronic mental illness, are expected to obtain coverage through state insurance exchanges. The authors examined how two mechanisms in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), namely, risk adjustment and reinsurance, might perform to ensure the financial solvency of health plans that have a disproportionate share of enrollees with mental health conditions. Risk adjustment is an ACA provision requiring that a federal or state exchange move funds from insurance plans with healthier enrollees to plans with sicker enrollees. Reinsurance is a provision in which all plans in the state contribute to an overall pool of money that is used to reimburse costs to individual market plans for expenditures of any individual enrollee that exceed a high predetermined level.
Using 2006–2007 claims data from a sample of private and public health plans, the authors compared expected health plan compensation under diagnosis-based risk adjustment with actual health care expenditures, under different assumptions for chronic mental health and medical conditions. Analyses were conducted with and without the addition of $100,000 reinsurance.
Risk adjustment performed well for most plans. For some plans with a high share of enrollees with mental health conditions, underpayment was substantial enough to raise concern. Reinsurance appeared to be helpful in addressing the most serious underpayment problems remaining after risk adjustment. Risk adjustment performed similarly for health plan cohorts that had a disproportionate share of enrollees with chronic mental health and medical conditions.
Cost models indicate that the regulatory provisions in the ACA requiring risk adjustment and reinsurance can help protect health plans covering treatment for mentally ill individuals against risk selection. This model analysis may be useful for advocates for individuals with mental illness in considering their own state's insurance exchange.