Expected health-insurance changes unlikely to affect 2017

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Change will come to how some consumers buy health insurance—the recent presidential election all but guarantees it—but two experts tell Consumers Digest that any changes likely won’t take effect in 2017. In other words, consumers who are eligible to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace should act as though nothing has changed.

The election of Donald J. Trump as president, who will have a Republican Congress when he takes office in January 2017, came with the promise that the ACA would be repealed, which long has been a goal of Republican legislators. However, experts doubt that the health-care legislation will be withdrawn entirely, because the Democrats can block a bill to repeal the ACA in its entirety through filibuster and because portions of the act that don’t pertain to consumer health insurance would cause too many problems for the industry if they were withdrawn.

A more likely scenario, experts say, is an adjustment of the law through a procedural process that’s called reconciliation. This procedure would allow Republicans to gut the ACA without the threat of filibuster. In fact, such a bill passed Congress in 2015, only to be vetoed by President Barack Obama.

The 2015 bill would have repealed major portions of the ACA, including the tax credits that are known as subsidies, the individual mandate to buy insurance (or face tax penalties), the expansion of Medicaid coverage and the ACA’s taxes, including those on the wealthy. Experts say such legislation almost certainly would be passed again, this time with the expected approval of a President Trump.

The 2015 bill also had a 2-year grace period where the ACA would continue as before while legislators worked on a replacement program, and Laura Adams of insuranceQuotes says it’s “very likely” that any new legislation would include a similar 2-year transition period. A President Trump also could change regulations of the ACA on his own—with an unknown time frame.

Open enrollment for health insurance through the ACA marketplace runs through Jan. 31, 2017. Timothy Jost, who is a health-care-law expert at Washington and Lee University, tells us that consumers “should absolutely sign up” for health insurance. He says the biggest potential problem for consumers would be the loss of subsidies before the end of 2017.

However, Adams disagrees that anything will happen to subsidies until at least 2018 because of the retroactive nature of tax law. She also warns that consumers who don’t have health insurance still will face consequences at tax time.

“You need to be shopping, and you need to know that the tax penalty will be in play for the next tax season and likely the next tax season [after that],” she says.