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Analysis: Before ACA Benefits Rules, Care for Maternity, Mental Health, Substance Abuse Most Often Uncovered by Non-Group Health Plans

Three in four health plans in the non-group insurance market did not cover delivery and inpatient maternity care in 2013, before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) essential health benefits requirement took effect, finds a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

Other major benefits most often left uncovered before the ACA include substance abuse disorder services (inpatient and outpatient services each not covered by 45% of 2013 non-group plans) and mental/behavioral health services (inpatient and outpatient services each uncovered by 38% of the plans).

Additionally, some plans that covered maternity, substance abuse or mental health care services included meaningful limits or restrictions, the analysis finds.

Since 2014, the ACA has required non-group plans to cover 10 categories of essential health benefits comparable to those offered in employer group plans. The new analysis offers a window into how insurers could respond if the essential health benefits requirement is rolled back, a change being considered by Congressional leaders and allowed through state waivers by the House-passed American Health Care Act as a potential way for lowering premiums.

Without the requirement, however, insurers in the non-group market would likely be reluctant to offer coverage for some expensive services that have an element of predictability and persistence, as people who needed these benefits would disproportionately select policies covering them. Unlike in the pre-ACA market, insurers would not be able to exclude from coverage altogether people with pre-existing conditions.

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The new analysis finds that all 2013 non-group plans covered basic benefits, such as inpatient hospital services, inpatient physician and surgical services, and emergency room services. Some plans didn’t provide various levels of prescription drug coverage, however.

The analysis uses data insurers provided for the Health Plan Finder on HealthCare.gov for the last quarter of 2013.  Certain provisions of the ACA, such as the prohibition of annual and lifetime dollar limits on benefits, had already begun to be phased in by that point, so the data does not reflect all of the types of limitations in non-group policies prior to the ACA.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.