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Utah health insurance marketplace: history and news of the state’s exchange

UUHP, SelectHealth are offering plans statewide; Molina has rejoined the exchange in 9 counties for 2019.

Latest Utah exchange and updates

Utah exchange overview

State legislative efforts to preserve or strengthen provisions of the Affordable Care Act

Utah is among the states that have done the least to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s gains.

Utah uses the federally run marketplace ( for individuals. Open enrollment for 2019 coverage ended on December 15, 2018. All plans selected during open enrollment will take effect January 1. (Residents with a qualifying events can still shop for ACA-compliant plans.)

During the open enrollment period for 2018 coverage, 194,118 people purchased individual market plans through the Utah exchange. That was about 1.6 percent lower than the 197,187 people who had enrolled for 2017, but it was still considerably higher than 2016’s enrollment, when 175,637 people selected a plan through the exchange. Effectuated enrollment as of mid-2018 stood at 173,419.

The majority of states that use saw a decline in enrollment from 2016 to 2017, but Utah bucked that trend, and had the third-highest year-over-year enrollment growth. For 2018, average enrollment declined by about 5 percent in states that use While Utah did see a slight decline for 2018, it was far smaller than the average.

SHOP exchange for small businesses

Utah had its own SHOP exchange for small businesses, called Avenue H, until 2018. A state task force voted in October 2016 to switch to a federally run SHOP exchange, and sent a letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert, asking him to formally request that the federal government take over Utah’s small business exchange as of January 1, 2018. As of late 2016, Avenue H had 800 participating small businesses, with about 14,500 people enrolled.

The task force recommended that a direct-to-carrier model be used for the SHOP exchange, much like Idaho and Vermont use. Avenue H stopped enrolling new groups or renewing existing groups after the end of 2017. Existing groups were able to maintain their Avenue H coverage until their renewal date in 2018. The state is utilizing for SHOP enrollments and renewals as of 2018, and the federal platform has switched to a more direct-to-carrier approach in all states where it operates.

2019 rates, carriers and plans

Molina exited Utah’s exchange at the end of 2017, but has rejoined the exchange for 2019. On-exchange plans are available in Utah for 2019 from three insurers: Molina, SelectHealth, and University of Utah Health Insurance Plans. Two other insurers — Regence and BridgeSpan — only offer plans outside the exchange. (There are no premium subsidies available outside the exchange, so people who purchase those plans must pay full price, regardless of their income; people who are subsidy-eligible must buy their plan in the exchange in order to take advantage of the subsidy.)

A quick backstory on Molina: The insurer offered 2017 exchange plans in nine states (California, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin). By June 2017, they had submitted initial filings for 2018 plans in all nine of those states. But their second-quarter report notes that marketplace performance had been “most disappointing” in four states: Florida, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Molina explained that during the second quarter, medical costs amounted to 127 percent of premiums collected for exchange plans in Utah and Wisconsin — a clearly unsustainable amount (for reference, the ACA requires individual market insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical costs and quality improvement; anything over 100 percent means that the insurer is spending more on claims than they’re collecting in premiums, and that’s before administrative costs have been paid).

As a result of the unsustainable losses, Molina exited the exchanges in both Utah and Wisconsin at the end of 2017. But they’ve rejoined both states’ exchanges for 2019. Their Utah rate filing for 2019 indicates that they had more than 69,000 enrollees in the state in 2017, although they do not have any in 2018. Technically, Molina did not completely exit the individual market in Utah in 2018. They continued to offer one off-exchange gold plan, but it was not actively marketed and did not have any enrollees. as their plans were not available for purchase for 2018.

The following average rate changes were approved for 2019 individual market plans:

  • Molina: 23.3 percent increase (this won’t directly affect any enrollees, as Molina does not have any enrollment in 2018; plans are available for 2019 in nine counties in northern and southwestern Utah: Cache, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Toole, Utah, Iron, and Washington. Molina is only offering gold and silver plans for 2019).
  • SelectHealth: 2.62 percent decrease. Plans are available statewide.
  • University of Utah Health Plans: 0.72 percent increase or a 0.62 percent decrease, depending on the plan. Plans are available statewide, but with different networks depending on the county.

As was the case in 2018, the cost of cost-sharing reductions (CSR) has been added to silver plan rates for 2019, resulting in disproportionately high silver plan premiums, and correspondingly large premium subsidies (since subsidy amounts are tied to the cost of the benchmark silver plan).

Larger premium subsidies result in lower premiums for many enrollees

Because the cost of CSR has been added to silver plan premiums in Utah, silver plan premiums increased by much larger percentages than the premiums of plans at other metal levels. Premium subsidies (premium tax credits) are based on the cost of the second-lowest-cost silver plan, so they grow to keep pace with the price of silver plans. The addition of the cost of CSR to silver plan premiums thus resulted in much larger premium subsidies for 2018.

For people who select silver plans (including anyone eligible for CSR benefits who wants to partake of those benefits), the larger premium subsidies keep the after-subsidy cost of silver plans roughly comparable to what it was in 2018. But for people who buy plans at other metal levels, the larger premium subsidies make their after-subsidy rates much more affordable than they were in 2017 and earlier years.

As an example, consider a 45-year-old living in Salt Lake City. If he earns $25,000 in 2019, he can get bronze plan for as little as 13 cents a month in premiumsAnd he can choose from among six different bronze plans that are all priced under 20 cents per month.

In contrast, a 45-year-old in Salt Lake City earning $25,000/month would have had to pay at least $67/month in premiums for a bronze plan in 2017.

That drop in after-subsidy premiums — from $67 a month to under 20 cents a month — is due to the fact that the insurers have added the cost of CSR to silver plan rates in 2019. They did the same thing for 2018, and a 45-year-old in Salt Lake earning $25,000 could get a bronze plan for as little as 33 cents a month in 2018.

Residents in the counties where Molina is offering coverage can select from among all three carriers for 2019 coverage. A 40-year-old living in Cache County, earning $30,000 in 2019 will qualify for a subsidy of $406/month. She can select from among 25 plans — six of which have after-subsidy premiums of less than $5/month. The very low-cost plan options are a direct result of the cost of CSR being added to silver plan rates, driving premium subsidies higher than they would otherwise have been.

University of Utah Health Plans expanded to offer coverage statewide in 2018; SelectHealth continued to offer statewide coverage

University of Utah Health Plans (UUHP) expanded their coverage area to offer 2018 plans in the exchange statewide in Utah. In 2017, University of Utah plans were available in 16 of the state’s 29 counties, so the coverage area expansion was expected to be substantial. This was the second year in a row that University of Utah Health Plans expanded its coverage area in the Utah exchange. The insurer joined the exchange in 2016, offering coverage in only nine counties; offered plans in 16 counties in 2017, and in all 29 counties in 2018. UUHP members with exchange coverage use the Healthy Preferred network in Salt Lake, Davis, and Utah counties, and the Health Premier network in the rest of the state.

There were concerns that Molina’s announcement about their impending exit could cause UUHP to reconsider their expansion plans, but the Utah Insurance Department confirmed by phone that University of Utah Health Plans did not make any changes to their proposal to offer statewide coverage in 2018, even in the wake of Molina’s announcement.

SelectHealth offered coverage in the Utah exchange statewide in 2017, and they maintained their statewide coverage area for 2018. So every enrollee in Utah’s exchange had two insurers from which to choose during open enrollment for 2018 coverage, and during special enrollment periods in 2018 triggered by qualifying events.

2018 rate filings – rate filings in Utah had to assume no CSR funding

The following average rate increases were implemented for 2018 in Utah’s exchange:

  • SelectHealth: 44 percent overall average rate increase. But the average increase was just 14 percent for bronze and catastrophic plans, and 21 percent for gold
    plans. Much of the overall average increase was driven by the fact that silver plans increased in price by an average of 57 percent. This is because the cost of CSR was added to silver plan rates for 2018. SelectHealth covered 119,094 people on their ACA-compliant individual market plans in 2017.
  • University of Utah Health Plans: 30.8 percent. The rate filing summary notes that “UUHP’s premium increase is primarily tied to the potential loss of Cost Share Reduction subsidy payments” and the cost of CSR was added to silver plan premiums for 2018.

Cost-sharing reductions (CSR) reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income enrollees who pick silver plans. Until October 2017, the federal government reimbursed insurers for the cost of providing better coverage to these enrollees, but the funding became the subject of a lawsuit in 2014. House Republicans sued the Obama Administration, arguing that the money for cost-sharing reductions was never appropriated by Congress. They won the lawsuit in 2016, but the Obama Administration appealed and the money continued to flow to insurers until the Trump Administration terminated it in October 2017.

In the spring and summer of 2017, however, states and insurers didn’t know what action the Trump Administration would ultimately take — and the question of CSR funding was crucial to the rate-setting process for 2018. The Utah Insurance Department issued a bulletin on June 2, clarifying that insurers’ rate filings should be based on the assumption that cost-sharing reductions will not continue to be funded in 2018. This is the approach that nearly every state ended up taking by October (especially after the Trump Administration officially terminated CSR funding), but it was a fairly rare approach in early June. The idea was that if the Trump Administration or Congress had committed to funding cost-sharing reductions over the summer, insurers in Utah would have been able to file new rates, reflecting the change. But that did not happen.

As described above, silver plan rates became disproportionately high in 2018, and that has continued in 2019. The result is disproportionately large premium subsidies, making coverage even more affordable for people who qualify for premium subsidies and select a non-silver plan.

2017 rates and carriers

There were four carriers that offered plans in the Utah exchange in 2016. The Utah Insurance Department confirmed that Humana is not offering any individual market health insurance plans in 2017, although they continue to have individual dental plans available, and off-exchange small group plans.

The other three exchange carriers are continuing to offer plans in the exchange in 2017, and had the following average rate increases for 2017 (total enrollment for each carrier is based on rate filings for 2017, and includes on and off-exchange membership):

  • Molina (HMO): 37.2 percent (up from the initially-requested 33.8 percent that Molina filed). Molina had 31,892 enrollees in 2016
  • SelectHealth (HMO): 30.1 percent (approved as-requested). SelectHealth had 132,208 enrollees in 2016
  • University of Utah Health Plans (PPO): 4.47 percent (approved as-requested). UUHP had 1,909 enrollees according to their rate filing. And although their overall rate change is very modest, there’s tremendous variation from one plan to another, with actual rate changes varying from a 41 percent decrease to a 63 percent increase.

So for the three carriers that are offering individual plans in the exchange in Utah in 2017, the weighted average approved rate increase—across on and off-exchange enrollment—is 31.1 percent. The Utah Insurance Department has a comprehensive website explaining the rate review process, and rates for a 21-year-old for each plan in each county (the rates don’t take subsidies into account; after subsidies, rates are lower).

More than 88 percent of Utah’s exchange enrollees were receiving premium subsidies in 2016. Those subsidies increased in 2017 to offset much of the premium increase, assuming enrollees were willing to shop around during open enrollment and possibly switch plans if necessary in order to get the best value. For enrollees who don’t receive premium subsidies—which includes everyone enrolling outside the exchange—overall rates are quite a bit higher in 2017 than they were in 2016.

But that has to also be viewed in light of the fact that Utah’s 2016 premiums were far lower than the national average.

2016 premiums well below national average

Once plan selections for 2016 were finalized, 86 percent of Utah exchange enrollees qualified for premium subsidies. Their average pre-subsidy premium was just $271/month, which was by far the lowest of the 38 states that used in 2016 (the second-lowest was Arizona, at $324/month). Jaakob, Sundberg, an actuary for the Utah Department of Insurance, explained that health insurance coverage in Utah “was definitely underpriced prior to this [2017 rate hikes]” and said that the 2017 rates are the first time he’s seen appropriate pricing for ACA-qualified plans in Utah.

The average pre-subsidy premium across the 38 states in 2016 was $396/month. For those receiving subsidies in the Utah exchange, the average after-subsidy premium was just $84/month, which was also lower than the $106/month average across all states.

By the end of March 2016, more than 88 percent of effectuated enrollees were receiving premium subsidies. At that point, the subsidies averaged just $187 per month, which was far lower than the $291 per month national average subsidy amount (since the pre-subsidy rates were lower than average in Utah, the subsidies didn’t need to be as large in order to get the after-subsidy premiums down to an affordable level). Across the country, only DC and New York had lower average subsidy amounts (New York has a Basic Health Plan, which provides coverage for people who would instead receive substantial subsidies if they lived in other states).

For reference, the average pre-subsidy premium in the Utah exchange in 2015 was also the lowest of all the states, at $248/month. But the average after-subsidy premium in the Utah exchange in 2015 was $89/month – slightly higher than it is in 2016. Although subsidies offset much of the increased rates for 2016, people also have the option of switching to lower-priced plans, which explains the even lower after-subsidy average premium in 2016.

2016 effectuated enrollment up 28% over prior year

Private plan enrollment in the Utah exchange in 2016 was more than double what it was in 2014, and new enrollees accounted for a significant portion of the 2016 enrollment. 175,637 people enrolled in private plans through the Utah exchange during the 2016 open enrollment period, including new enrollees and renewals. By the end of March, effectuated enrollment stood at 164,415.

During the 2015 open enrollment period, total enrollment reached 140,612 by the end of open enrollment. Effectuated enrollment as of March 2015 was 128,220. So effectuated enrollment at the end of the first quarter of 2015 was 28 percent higher than it had been a year earlier.

Arches Health Plan closed at the end of 2015

On October 27, 2015 – just five days before the start of the 2016 open enrollment period – the Utah Department of Insurance announced that Arches Health Plan (an ACA-created CO-OP) had been placed in receivership and state regulators would oversee the winding down of the carrier’s operations. Existing members – roughly a quarter of Utah’s exchange enrollees in 2015 – had to select coverage from another carrier in order to have coverage in place on January 1.

Any Arches members who did not select a new plan for 2016 were uninsured as of January 1. But open enrollment continued until January 31, and people who lost coverage qualify for a special enrollment period that continues for 60 days after the loss of coverage. So former Arches members technically have until February 29 to pick a new plan.

2016: two other carriers out, one in

In addition to Arches closing their doors, two smaller carriers in Utah exited the exchange at the end of 2015 (for all three carriers, the risk corridor shortfall announced in October 2015 was a major factor). Bridgespan and Altius (Coventry/Aetna) are continuing to offer plans outside the exchange in Utah, but not in the exchange.

University of Utah Health Plans has joined the exchange for 2016. UUHP is available in nine counties: Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Davis, Tooele, Box Elder, Wasatch, Morgan and Summit.

With three carriers leaving the exchange and one joining, Utah has a total of four carriers offering individual plans through the exchange in 2016:

  • Humana Medical Plan of Utah
  • Molina
  • SelectHealth
  • University of Utah Health Plans

Plan availability varies from one part of the state to another. In Salt Lake City, for example, plans are available from all four carriers. But in Moab, only SelectHealth offers plans in the exchange. That’s the case in 20 of the state’s 29 counties, as SelectHealth is the only carrier that offers plans state-wide.

2016 rates

Just prior to the start of the 2016 open enrollment period, the Utah Insurance Department published a list of rates that would be charged to a 21-year-old (pre-subsidy) for each plan available in each county, including both on and off-exchange plans.

For the three carriers that offered plans in 2015 and are continuing to offer exchange plans in 2016, average rate changes were:

  • Humana (HMO): average rate increase of 24%
  • Molina: average rate decrease of 0.34% (Molina’s average rate also decreased for 2015, by an average of 11.84%)
  • SelectHealth: average rate increase of 16.7%

For exchange enrollees who had coverage from Altius, Arches, or BridgeSpan in 2015, shopping around prior to December 31 was essential. All Arches plans ended on December 31, and BridgeSpan’s on-exchange plans terminated on December 31 as well (enrollees had the option to stay with BridgeSpan by re-enrolling with them outside the exchange, but no subsidies were available in that case).

Although it’s no doubt frustrating to find out that one’s health insurer is exiting the exchange or the entire market, it may be of some consolation to know that rates were going to increase sharply for Altius, Arches, and BridgeSpan if they had remained available. Here are the rates the three carriers had proposed before making their decisions to exit the market or the exchange:

  • Altius proposed an average rate increase of roughly 18 percent, with 11,000 insureds (on and off-exchange).
  • Arches Mutual proposed an average rate increase of 58 percent (POS) and 47 percent. Arches had roughly 32,000 on-exchange members.
  • BridgeSpan proposed an average rate increase of 26.9 percent across all plans (about $67 per member per month)

But even for enrollees who had 2015 coverage with Humana, Molina, and SelectHealth, it was important – as always – to shop around during open enrollment. Rate fluctuations and the introduction of a new carrier in nine counties might mean that the carrier and/or plan that presented the best value in 2015 was replaced by a competitor for 2016.

Average benchmark premiums (second-lowest-cost plan premiums) increased by 15.8 percent in Utah for 2016, which means subsidies are higher this year than they were last year, helping to offset some of the rate hikes that insureds would otherwise have had to pay. The benchmark rate increase in Utah was more than double the national average, but changes in benchmark premiums don’t give us the full picture of how rates have changed, since the benchmark plan itself isn’t necessarily the same plan from one year to the next.

Off-exchange carriers

In addition to the exchange options, nine carriers are offering plans outside the exchange in 2016:

  • Altius Health Plans (Aetna)
  • BridgeSpan Health Company
  • Humana
  • Molina Healthcare of Utah
  • National Foundation Life Insurance Company
  • Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Utah
  • SelectHealth Inc.
  • UnitedHealthcare
  • University of Utah Health Plans

Healthcare sharing ministries

Members of recognized healthcare sharing ministries that have been in existence since at least 1999 are exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate. Despite the fact that healthcare sharing ministry programs are not technically health insurance, their members do not have to pay a penalty for being without health insurance. Since these plans do not have to cover many of the things that are mandated for health insurance under the ACA, the monthly membership fees are typically lower than health insurance premiums, particularly for people who don’t qualify for premium subsidies in the exchange.

In Utah, Medi-Share – one of the largest healthcare sharing ministries in the US – has seen its membership grow five-fold in Utah since the ACA was implemented. HB113 was passed by the Utah House in February 2016, but did not advance in the Senate. It called for healthcare sharing ministries to be exempt from regulation by the Utah Insurance Department. Insurance Commissioner Todd Kiser is opposed to the bill, and notes that healthcare sharing ministries don’t actually provide their members with a guarantee that coverage will be there when they need it.

BYU student plan not compliant with ACA

The health insurance plan that BYU offers to students is not compliant with the ACA, and university officials have said there are currently no plans to bring the coverage into compliance. The requirement that health plans cover contraception is “one of the factors” that led the school to opt not to switch to a health plan that’s compliant with the ACA. The school had an exemption from complying with the ACA’s requirements until September 2015.

Roughly 30 percent of the university’s 27,000 students are enrolled in the school’s health plan. If they’re not exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, they’ll owe a penalty when they file their taxes (annually, the fee in 2015 was $325 per uninsured adult or 2 percent of taxable household income, whichever is greater, and has increased for 2016 to $695 per uninsured adult or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater; but the penalty is pro-rated based on the number of months without coverage).

But since Utah hasn’t expanded Medicaid, any adults in the state with household incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level are exempt from the penalty. Young adults also have the option to remain on a parent’s health insurance plan until they turn 26, which is an option that many college students utilize.

The University of Utah, which has 31,500 students, has brought their student health plan into compliance with the ACA.

2015 enrollment

140,612 people had enrolled in private health plans in the Utah exchange as of February 22, 2015. 71,959 of those enrollees were renewing plans from 2014, including 33,840 who “actively” renewed their coverage (as opposed to auto-renewal). Total enrollment for 2015 – including renewals – was about 166 percent of the total enrollment in the exchange at the end of the 2014 open enrollment period.

By the end of June, effectuated enrollment in the Utah exchange stood at 126,784 people. Attrition is a normal part of the individual health insurance market, and some enrollees never paid their initial premiums, meaning that their coverage wasn’t effectuated in the first place. In the second quarter of 2015, HHS stepped up their enforcement of immigration/financial requirements to maintain coverage and/or subsidies in the exchange, resulting in additional reductions in effectuated enrollments.

Of the 126,784 people who had in-force coverage in private plans through the Utah exchange as of June 30, nearly 66 percent qualified for premium subsidies (this is a significant reduction over the 88 percent of original enrollees who qualified for subsidies, suggesting that most of the attrition since the end of open enrollment has been among people who initially qualified for premium subsidies).

Between November 15, 2014 and February 22, 2015, another 29,017 exchange enrollees in Utah were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, based on the pre-ACA eligibility guidelines that are still in use in Utah. The state has been actively working to expand Medicaid for the last few years, but for now, eligibility remains unchanged from where it was prior to ACA implementation.

2015 rates

Overall, individual rates in the Utah exchange increased by an average of just 5.7 percent for 2015 (an analysis by the Commonwealth Fund puts the increase slightly lower, at 5 percent). For small groups, the average increase was even smaller, at 3.5 percent. Rate increases were slightly higher in rural areas (about 7 percent), but overall, the state saw a respite from the double digit rate hikes that had been common for many years. Across the entire individual market, including on and off-exchange policies, the weighted average rate increase in Utah was 7.6 percent for 2015.

The modest rate increases were especially good news considering rates in Utah were already lower than the national average. For 2014 plans, across all age groups, the average lowest cost bronze plan in Utah was $201/month before subsidies, compared with a national average of $249.

A report released in February 2014 found that Davis and Salt Lake were among the least expensive regions to purchase health insurance in the US in 2014; the two county region ranked 7th on a list of the ten least expensive health insurance areas.

The benchmark plan (second lowest cost silver plan) in most areas in Utah in 2015 was only slightly more expensive than the benchmark plan in 2014, and in some cases, even less expensive. But the Salt Lake area was an exception according to a November report issued by the NY Times. They found that the benchmark plan in the Salt Lake area was an average of 14.3 percent more expensive in 2015 than it was in 2014. On the other hand, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis published in November 2014 found that a 40 year old enrollee in Salt Lake would pay just 2.7 percent more for the benchmark plan in 2015 compared with the benchmark plan in 2014.

2014 enrollments

As of April 19, 2014, the number of people who had finalized their private plan selections in the Utah exchange had grown to 84,601. An additional 50,268 people had enrolled in the state’s existing Medicaid program through the Utah exchange by April 19.

In June 2014, HHS released a report showing the average pre-subsidy and after-subsidy premiums in each of the 36 states that have federally-facilitated marketplaces (FFM). Utah had the lowest average pre-subsidy premiums, at $243 per month (the next lowest was $272 per month in Arizona, and rates reached as high as $536 per month in Wyoming).

But in a demonstration of how well the ACA’s premium tax credits level the field when it comes to health insurance premiums, the 86 percent of Utah enrollees who received a subsidy paid an average after-subsidy premium of $84 in 2014, nearly the same as the $82 average across all 36 FFMs.

Gov. Herbert: anti-ACA, but a proponent of Medicaid expansion

Utah has been politically divided on the ACA, with some lawmakers championing HCR10, a non-binding resolution detailing the “devastating impacts of the ACA” that was signed by Gov. Herbert in April 2013.  But in January 2014, Gov. Herbert announced that Utah would look for a way to expand Medicaid, saying that “doing nothing is not an option” and noting that there are 60,000 people in Utah who would be left in a coverage gap if the state did not expand Medicaid. (A University of Utah study in 2014 pegged this number at 77,000 people, but other studies have indicated that it’s fewer than 60,000 people).

Gov. Herbert’s “block grant” approach to Medicaid expansion failed to win enough support in the 2014 legislative session in Utah.  But the governor kept working with HHS to get his plan approved, and neighboring states have been watching his progress to see if a similar approach might work for them too.

In late June 2014, a poll indicated that 88 percent of Utah residents favored Gov. Herbert’s “Healthy Utah” plan over doing nothing at all to assist low-income residents in securing health insurance.  And 70 percent of the poll respondents prefer the Governor’s privatized version over a straight Medicaid expansion as outlined in the ACA.

Ultimately, voters in Utah ended up bypassing the legislature and taking the measure into their own hands. A ballot initiative passed in November 2018 directs the state to expand Medicaid by April 2019.

Grandmothered plans

The Utah Department of Insurance accepted the Obama Administration’s March 2014 offer to allow pre-2014 (but non-grandfathered) health plans to be extended, and by June 2014, the state’s two largest insurers had also accepted the offer.

Regence Blue Cross and Blue Shield and SelectHealth – covering a total of 60 percent of the individual health insurance market in Utah – both allowed their members with pre-2014 plans to renew their coverage in the fall of 2014.

Insureds with grandmothered plans eligible for renewal can opt to switch to an ACA-compliant plan instead, either during general open enrollment or when their plan renews (renewal of an individual plan outside of general open enrollment is a qualifying event that triggers a special enrollment period).

Grandmothered plans were initially only extended for a year, but that extension has been renewed every year since, with the final decision left up to each state. Utah has gone along with all of the extensions, and grandmothered plans are currently allowed to remain in force until as late as the end of 2019.

Avenue H – Utah’s state-run SHOP exchange

Along with Massachusetts, Utah has a health insurance exchange that predates the Affordable Care Act. However, unlike the exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act, Utah’s exchange was not open to individual consumers to purchase health insurance. That fact led to a series of discussions and negotiations between the state and the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) — and ultimately, a unique approach to running the exchange; Utah runs the small business exchange, while the federal government runs the individual exchange via

The Utah Health Exchange for small businesses was established in 2009 and rebranded as Avenue H in October 2012. Avenue H offers a “fixed contribution” approach for small employers. An employer contributes a fixed amount toward each employee’s health insurance. An employee then uses the exchange website to pick an insurer and policy to fit his or her individual or family needs. According to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune, by August 2013, about 350 businesses were providing health insurance to about 7,800 people through Avenue H.

In 2015, small-businesses had their choice of 75 plans from three carriers on Avenue H (Arches Mutual Insurance, SelectHealth and UnitedHealthcare of Utah), and 576 plans from seven companies that are selling small group plans outside the exchange. In 2016, Arches Mutual plans were no longer available — on or off the exchange — as the CO-OP shut down at the end of 2015.

For 2017 coverage, however, there were two participating carriers (SelectHealth and HSA Health Plan) and only 28 available plans. And the Utah Health Reform Task Force voted in October 2016 to turn over the state’s small business exchange to federal control, as it was costing $1.5 million in annual operating expenses.

The state moved forward with the task force’s recommendation, and Avenue H stopped enrolling new groups and renewing existing groups after the end of 2017. New groups enroll through the federally-facilitated SHOP exchange (which has transitioned to a direct-to-carrier method nationwide), but existing groups were able to continue to utilize Avenue H until their renewal date in 2018.

Exchange history – a unique approach

Gov. Herbert asked President Obama to direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to approve Utah’s exchange and to consider it a “minimum standard” for an ACA-compliant state-based exchange. In January 2013, HHS granted conditional approval for Utah’s exchange while maintaining that it must be expanded to serve individual consumers.

Herbert continued to lobby for HHS to accept the Avenue H “as is” and proposed in February that the state continue running its small business exchange and that the federal government operate the individual exchange. In May, HHS and Utah reached an agreement for this dual-model approach, and Utah moved forward with two separate exchanges – small business run by the state and individual run by HHS – when open enrollment began for individual policies in October 2013.

New Mexico has also adopted a hybrid approach, but the specifics are different.

Contact the exchange
Use the federal marketplace to enroll in individual or family coverage

More Utah health insurance exchange links

Health Insurance Division Consumer Service
Assists consumers who have purchased insurance on the individual market or who have insurance through an employer who only does business in Utah.
(801) 538-3077

Office of Consumer Health Assistance (OCHA)
Serves residents with health care complaints.
(801) 538-9674 / Toll-Free: 1-800-439-3805 /

State Exchange Profile: Utah
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Utah’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.

Louise Norris is an individual health insurance broker who has been writing about health insurance and health reform since 2006. She has written dozens of opinions and educational pieces about the Affordable Care Act for Her state health exchange updates are regularly cited by media who cover health reform and by other health insurance experts.