Bronze Health Insurance Plans

Bronze Plan

What is a Bronze Plan?

Often the most affordable options, bronze Plans have the lowest actuarial value among the standard Affordable Care Act health insurance plan tiers. What that means is that, with a bronze Plan, you will have a lower premium but that will come with high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles compared to Silver, Gold, and Platinum plans.

While all Affordable Care Act health plans share the same minimum health benefits, out-of-pocket costs can differ significantly even within the same category of health plans (see the table containing examples of Bronze Plans below).

The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, requires health insurance companies to offer only four standard categories of plans to those consumers who purchase their coverage privately: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These plans all offer a minimum standard of benefits, known as "essential health benefits.", that the government determines.

What are a Bronze Plan's out-of-pocket costs?

Bronze Plans are designed so that insurance companies will typically pay 60% of covered healthcare expenses with the remaining 40% to be paid by consumers. However, as illustrated below, this does not mean that the insurer pays 60 cents of every dollar of healthcare expenses that are incurred. The estimated 40% of total costs that a consumer pays is distributed between the deductible, copays and coinsurance rates, and are over and above the cost of the plan’s monthly premium. The annual limit for out-of-pocket expenses in 2020 was $8,150 for individual plans and $16,300 for family plans, though plans can apply lower limits if they so choose.

The 60/40 payments by insurer versus enrollee are based on projected use of healthcare services by plan members. The actual out-of-pocket expenses of any single beneficiary may work out to be more or less than this ratio. Those people whose out-of-pocket limits reach the annual maximum could see their share of covered healthcare costs discontinue until a new calendar year begins and the annual limit is reset.

Out-of-pocket expenses include fees like deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance. Different plans will approach the 60/40 split in various ways (see the table below) so it is important to research the financial details of a specific plan before deciding which one to purchase. For example, a person who has frequent medical expenses may want a plan with a lower deductible (depending on premium) while a healthy person may want the opposite.

For some plans, the consumer’s share of expenses may come in the form of large deductibles (e.g. above $5,000) with low out-of-pocket costs for services received after the deductible is satisfied. For other plans, the deductible might be low but the consumer would be responsible for a significant percentage of the cost of every covered medical service he or she receives.

The examples above show significant differences between deductibles and coinsurance even though the plans offer the same essential benefits and cap the maximum out-of-pocket expenses at $8,150 for individuals in 2020. It’s also important to remember that coverage depends on you using the plan’s approved healthcare providers. Using a doctor or hospital outside of that network could result in significantly higher cost-shares.

It is estimated that the Bronze Plan requires higher cost-sharing for consumers than the typical employer-based plan. Moreover, people who are insuring family members along with themselves will have higher out-of-pocket limits as well as higher premiums. However, with respect to families, the income limits for government subsidies are also higher.

Frequently Asked Question About Bronze Plans

How are Bronze Plans different than other Obamacare health plans?

The fundamental difference among the new Obamacare health plans is the percentage of covered medical costs paid by the health plan. The Bronze Plan pays 60% of the covered medical costs among its enrollees while the other Obamacare health plans pay a higher percentage of these costs.

How much does a Bronze Plan cost?

The monthly premium for a Bronze Plan depends on the insurer from whom you purchase the plan, the number of people to be insured by the plan, your age, whether you smoke, and the region in which you live. You can use HealthPocket’s comparison tool to compare Bronze Plan premiums in your area. Another important factor to remember is Advanced Premium Tax Credits which can subsidize Bronze Plan premiums if an individual meets eligibility criteria.

When Can I Enroll in a Bronze Plan?

The annual enrollment period for the 2020 plan year will begin on November 1, 2019 and continue through December 15, 2019.

How much will a doctor visit cost for a Bronze Plan?

It depends on the Bronze Plan in which you enroll as well as your state of residence. For example, in California, Bronze Plans have a standardized charge of $60 (or 40% of total cost for HSA Bronze plans) for a primary care visit. In other states, the doctor visit charge is not standardized.

One of the issues to consider is that a deductible may apply to a doctor visit, which means you would pay the full cost until you satisfy the deductible amount on the plan. In California, the first three non-preventive care visits are exempted from a deductible but subsequent doctor visits are not exempted. The full cost of a doctor visit can be well over $100 depending on a person’s region.

How much will I have to pay for prescription drugs on a Bronze Plan?

All Affordable Care Act health plans are required to include prescription drug coverage among their benefits. However, that does not mean that your specific medications will be covered by every plan. The Affordable Care Act requires that at least one drug is covered in each therapeutic category and class. However, an individual state’s choice of a benchmark plan will provide the exact number of drugs that are required within each category and class. Depending on the health plan, this can mean that the cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor may be covered but Lipitor is not covered. Before enrolling in a Bronze Plan (or any health plan), it is important to determine:

  • Are your medications covered?
  • What are the copayment or coinsurance fees for your medications?
  • Does the provider network include your preferred pharmacy(s)?
  • Are there any restrictions placed on your medications (e.g. the need for prior authorization)?

Another consideration regarding drug costs is a deductible amount may need to be satisfied before the plan begins to share the cost of drugs.

What Is the Deductible Amount for a Bronze Plan?

A deductible is the amount a consumer pays for covered medical services before the insurance plan starts paying for covered medical costs. HealthPocket found individual Bronze plan medical deductibles were $6,446 on average for the 2020 plan year.

If I find the out-of-pocket costs for a Bronze Plan are too high for my budget, can I switch to another metal plan with lower cost-sharing?

Yes, but you will have to wait for your next enrollment period unless you qualify for a special enrollment period (e.g. you moved to a new area where your existing plan does not have a healthcare provider network).

Bronze Plan premiums

Bronze plans have the lowest average premiums of the four types of Affordable Care Act plans since they charge the highest out-of-pocket costs as compared to the other plans. However, there may be instances where the Silver Plan for one insurance company may charge a lower premium than the Bronze Plan of another insurance company. Comparison shopping is essential for anyone who wants to minimize their healthcare expenses. HealthPocket’s health insurance comparison tool allows people to compare all the plans available in their area.

Below are the average monthly premiums found for 2018, 2019, and 2020 for applicants in Bronze plans available in states using the marketplace.


Bronze Plan Enrollment Numbers

Recent data is hard to come by, but according to a new release by the government regarding active marketplace enrollment in 2020, approximately 33% of individuals who selected a marketplace plan chose a Bronze Plan.

Another government study indicated that in states using the federal marketplace,, 20% of female enrollees and 23% of male enrollees selected a Bronze Plan as their health insurance choice.

Additionally, one-third of individuals who selected a plan on the FFM without financial assistance chose a Bronze Plan. With respect to gender, 19% of males chose a bronze plan versus 16% of females. However, due to more females than males selecting a marketplace plan overall, the total number of women who selected a bronze plan (481,577) was slightly greater than the total number of men (457,410) who selected a Bronze Plan. The following table displays the age distribution of individuals who selected a Bronze Plan in the marketplace. For each age group the percent of Bronze total represents the proportion of individuals who selected a bronze Plan that were in the age group. Percent of age group total represents the proportion of individuals in the age group who selected a Bronze Plan.

Age GroupNumber of Individuals that Selected a Bronze Plan on FFM% of Bronze Total% of Age Group Total
Age Under 18168,3009.00%23.00%
Age 18-25194,31610.00%20.00%
Age 26-34316,31917.00%21.00%
Age 35-44288,78015.00%20.00%
Age 45-54402,61122.00%21.00%
Age 55-64487,54626.00%22.00%
Age 65 or Over9,5401%18.00%

Bronze Plans On-Exchange vs. Off-Exchange

Bronze plans can be purchased either on-exchange (via either the Federally-facilitated marketplace or a state-based marketplace) or off-exchange (via a private insurance company). Regardless of whether the Bronze Plan is sold on-exchange or off-exchange it must meet the minimum essential health benefit standards of the ACA. Typically the benefits and cost-sharing of the same plan sold by the same insurer on-exchange are the same off-exchange. However, it should be noted that an insurer may choose to offer different plans off-exchange than the plans they offer on-exchange.

Bronze Plans for Small Business Employees

Small business Bronze Plans are known as "group plans" since a single plan covers a collection of employees. Typically a group plan can obtain lower rates compared to an individual purchasing identical coverage. The larger the firm is, the greater its purchasing power. The Affordable Care Act requires companies employing 50 or more workers to provide health insurance to their employees or face a monetary penalty. Additionally, employee premiums cannot exceed 9.5% of household income or the employer can face penalties. For more information on small business health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, see our Small Business Health Insurance page.

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