- The subsidies are tax credits – but you don’t have to wait until tax season.
- Premium subsidies are larger and more widely available in 2021 and 2022, thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
- The subsidy amounts fluctuate from one year to the next, due to changes in the cost of the benchmark plan in each area.
- Average subsidy-eligible enrollees get most of their premiums covered.
- Premium subsidies don’t apply to supplemental coverage.
- Cost-sharing reductions are a different type of ACA subsidy.
If you’re worried about the cost of health insurance premiums in the exchanges, it might help to know that – thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s generous subsidies, which have been temporarily enhanced under the American Rescue Plan — your premiums could end up a lot lower than you expect.
Who’s eligible? Of the nearly 10.7 million people who had effectuated coverage through the exchanges as of 2020, 86 percent were receiving premium subsidies. Enrollment has increased in 2021, and more people are eligible for subsidies now that the American Rescue Plan has temporarily eliminated the “subsidy cliff.”
Yet about two-thirds of uninsured Americans haven’t checked recently to see if they’re eligible for financial assistance with their health insurance costs. A few more quick facts about Obamacare subsidies:
- The subsidies are tax credits, which means you can opt to pay full price for your coverage (purchased through the exchange in your state) each month, and then get your tax credit when you file your tax return. But unlike other tax credits, the subsidies can be taken throughout the year, paid directly to your health insurer to offset the cost of your coverage.
- Premium subsidies are normally available if your projected household income (an ACA-specific calculation) doesn’t exceed 400% of the prior year’s poverty level. But for 2021 and 2022, this limit does not apply. Before the American Rescue Plan was enacted, a single individual in the continental U.S. was ineligible for subsidies in 2021 if their income exceeded $51,040; for a family of four, the income limit was $104,800. But the American Rescue Plan changed the rules for 2021 and 2022. Instead of an income cap, the new rules allow for premium subsidies if the cost of the benchmark plan would otherwise exceed 8.5% of their ACA-specific modified adjusted gross income.
- On the lower end, subsidies are available in most states if your income is at least 139% of the poverty level, with Medicaid available below that. But in the states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid, premium subsidies are available if your income is at least equal to the poverty level. Unfortunately, Medicaid isn’t available below that level in those states, unless the applicant is eligible based on strict pre-ACA eligibility guidelines (ie, the states that have rejected Medicaid expansion have created a coverage gap). The American Rescue Plan does allow for $0-premium Silver plans if a person is receiving unemployment compensation in 2021, assuming the person is not otherwise eligible for Medicaid, premium-free Medicare Part A, or an employer-sponsored plan that’s considered affordable. This provision does apply to people who would otherwise be in the coverage gap, so it will help some people obtain health coverage in 2021 when they would otherwise be in the coverage gap.
- Here’s where you can learn exactly how the subsidy amounts are determined. But you can also just use the subsidy calculator at the top of this page (note that as of early April, it has data for the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov; if you’re in a state that runs its own exchange, you can determine how much your subsidy will be using the math outlined here). The additional premium subsidies became available on HealthCare.gov as of April 1 2021, and the state-run exchanges are also working to get the new subsidy amounts displayed as quickly as possible. Subsidy eligibility determinations are fairly simple: In a nutshell, you look at your income as a percentage of the poverty level, and then find where that puts you in the sliding scale of the percentage of income you’re expected to pay for the benchmark Silver plan (it’ll be somewhere between 0% and 8.5%, depending on your income). Then you see how much more than that the benchmark plan actually costs, and the difference is the amount of your subsidy — which can be applied to any metal-level plan in the marketplace.
- Premium subsidies aren’t available to people who are impacted by the family glitch.
- Premium subsidy amounts fluctuate from one year to another, based on changes in the cost of the benchmark plan in each area. Premium subsidies continue to be much higher in most of the country than they were in 2017, due to the way the cost of cost-sharing reductions (CSR) has been added to silver plan premiums in most states. But for 2019, 2020, and again for 2021, premiums have decreased in some areas and new insurers have entered some markets with lower prices, resulting in smaller benchmark premiums. When benchmark premiums decrease, either due to the introduction of new plans or a reduction in prices for existing plans, premium subsidy amounts will decline. But if the benchmark premium increases, premium subsidies will also increase. And for 2021 and 2022, premium subsidy amounts are now much larger than they would otherwise be, thanks to the American Rescue Plan.
- The subsidies cover the majority of the premiums for people who are subsidy-eligible. 86% of the people who were enrolled in exchange plans nationwide as of early 2020 were receiving premium subsidies. And the subsidies covered an average of 85% of their premium costs. The average subsidy amount in 2020 was $492/month, which covered the large majority of the average $576/month premium (note that both of these amounts are lower than they were in 2019). Again, subsidies have increased for 2021 (and will remain larger in 2022) due to the American Rescue Plan. For some people who were previously ineligible for subsidies due to the “subsidy cliff,” the new subsidies could amount to thousands of dollars a month. For others, the increase will be much smaller but still amount to significant savings.
- Premium subsidies don’t apply to supplemental coverage, including accident supplements, adult dental/visions plans (or pediatric dental/vision plans that are sold separately from metal coverage, as opposed to being embedded in the medical plan), critical illness plans, or stand-alone prescription drug insurance (but there are free prescription drug discount plans available). Subsidies also cannot be used to purchase short-term health insurance.
- Subsidies can lower your premium significantly, but the ACA also provides subsidies that can reduce your out-of-pocket costs when you need to use your coverage. And even though the Trump administration stopped reimbursing insurers for the cost of those cost-sharing subsidies, the benefits are still available to eligible enrollees (50% of the people with coverage through the exchanges nationwide were receiving cost-sharing subsidies in 2020, and this is likely to increase in 2021 and 2022, thanks to the American Rescue Plan’s provision that makes Silver plans more affordable for lower-income applicants).
It pays to calculate your subsidy!