Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Blesses Proposal To Expand Access To Obamacare Subsidies

Mar 30, 2017

The agency that oversees health insurance in Tennessee approves of a new proposal that would change how some people can buy insurance.

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker introduced the bill in Congress yesterday to allow people to use federal tax subsidies on more insurance plans.

About 200,000 people in Tennessee get federal subsidies to help pay for their health care, according to the Dept. of Commerce of Insurance, which helps those Tennesseans offset the increasing monthly premiums of individual health insurance. But there's a catch — you can only use a federal subsidy on a plan that's sold on Healthcare.gov, the "marketplace" created by the Affordable Care Act.

But insurance companies have been dropping out of the marketplace, citing unsustainable costs to cover that portion of the population. For example, in the Knoxville area, the only company left in 2017 is Humana — and last month, Humana has announced it's dropping out too.

More: As Humana Plans To End Obamacare Coverage, Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Is 'Very Concerned'

Health insurance commissioner Julie McPeak says if nothing changes, some people around Knoxville may not have any health insurance option they can buy on the marketplace next year. There will still likely be options off the marketplace, but those are ineligible for subsidies.

Alexander's bill would address that last step, changing the rules so that people who have no marketplace option — like those in Knoxville — can use their government subsidy toward an off-marketplace plan.

"After the one remaining insurer pulled out of the exchange for 2018, these subsidies are worth as much as bus tickets in a town with no buses running," he said.

In a statement, McPeak says she'll support any legislation that gives people who qualify for a subsidy a way to use it.

"It is completely unacceptable for our consumers to have a subsidy but no ability to purchase insurance on the exchange," she said. "We support any option that avoids that result.”