What is Obamacare? | What is Metal Plan Health Insurance?

Obamacare Metal Plans

What is Metal Plans?

Metal Plans are the categories of Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care plans. There are four categories of health insurance plans available through the ACA Marketplace. They are Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum health insurance plans.

There are four possible “metal levels” of coverage that health insurers can sell through the Marketplace. The metal tiers are defined by their actuarial value, which is the share of health costs covered, on average, by the plan, taking into account the plans’ deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums.The higher the actuarial value of a plan, the lower the out-of-pocket costs for the plan member. With respect to the plan names, the more expensive the metal, the higher the actuarial value. For example, a Platinum Plan covers 90% of covered medical expenses while a Bronze Plan only covers 60%.

ACA Plan Coverage of Healthcare Expenses

insurers will charge progressively higher premiums among the plans;Bronze Plans will have the lowest premiums and Platinum plans the highest premiums. However, one company’s Silver Plan could be cheaper than another company’s Bronze Plan. All plans, whether Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum, will have a maximum out-of-pocket amount that an enrolled individual can pay in a calendar year before their plan covers the rest of their out-of-pocket expenses. In 2020 the maximum out-of-pocket limit for Obamacare plans is $8,200 for an individual, or $16,400 for a family.

All metal plans must offer the ten essential health benefits. These are the basic insurance benefit requirements the ACA stipulates all qualified health plans must provide to enrollees. States have the discretion to require additional benefits beyond the Essential Health Benefits. However, these are minimum benefits and plans can choose to offer additional benefits so long as the essential benefits are properly covered.Since plans differ by the amount of costs they cover, the aforementioned plans may all cover the Essential Health Benefits but they can cost the member different amounts due to the differences in insurance expenses paid for by the plans. Below is a brief summary of the 10 Essential Health Benefits that all metal plans must offer:

  • Ambulatory patient services (such as doctor visits and other care you receive as a “walk-in” as opposed to services a person receives as an “inpatient” at a hospital or other care facility)
  • Emergency services - These include care received in an Emergency Room
  • Hospitalization - These include medically-necessary surgeries and other inpatient procedures
  • Maternity care and newborn care
  • Mental health services & substance use disorder services – These services include counseling as well as behavioral health treatment for alcohol abuse and drug abuse
  • Drug coverage – This applies to prescription medication and not over-the-counter drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices - Rehabilitation covers services such as relearning to speak after an aneurysm while habilitative services involve learning a new skill such as managing diabetes through various behaviors
  • Laboratory tests and services (for example, X-Rays)
  • Preventive and wellness services as well as the management of chronic diseases
  • Pediatric medical services (including both oral care and vision care)

Individual insurance companies are not required to offer plans from all four metal tiers. There is also a catastrophic plan for individuals who are under 30 or who can demonstrate problems affording a Bronze Plan. Tax subsidies cannot be used to reduce premiums for catastrophic plans.

What is Obamacare?

“Obamacare” is a popular name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act since this health reform law was championed by President Barack Obama. While the legislation contained numerous changes to the American health insurance market, its principal aspirations were the reduction of the uninsured population and the lowering of health insurance premiums. The law also contained an uninsured tax penalty on Americans who fail to obtain creditable insurance as well as requirements regarding the types of medical benefits that must be included in health insurance purchased by individuals and small groups. This tax penalty, known as the Individual Shared Responsibility payment, will not longer be applied after 2019. Consumers are no longer required to have an ACA compliant plan to avoid the tax penalty.

Obamacare created new designs for health plans. These new health plans are often referred to as "metal plans" since they are each named after a different type of metal (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum).

Frequently Asked Question About Metal Plans

How much do Obamacare metal plans cost?

The monthly premium for any of the four metal plans are based on several factors:

  • Your age
  • Your smoking status (some regions do not allow smoking status to be considered)
  • Where you live
  • The number of people enrolling with you (e.g. a spouse or child)

An additional consideration is the company providing the insurance. For example, the monthly premium for a Bronze Plan for a 30 year-old nonsmoking female in New Haven Connecticut will not necessarily be the same at two different insurance companies serving that region. It is always best to compare plan premiums and benefits prior to enrolling. Premiums for metal plans can be compared on our health insurance premium quote page.

Do I have to sign up for Obamacare?

Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) imposed a health insurance mandate. You do not necessarily have to purchase a metal plan but you may face a penalty if your health insurance coverage does not meet the definition of an ACA compliant plan. Health insurance coverage can come from a number of sources such as, but not limited to: an employer, purchased privately, a public health plan such as Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), TRICARE for service members, retirees, and their families, the veteran’s health program, or a grandfathered health plan. A short-term health plan is not an ACA plan, but a catastrophic is, despite the fact that it is not considered a metal plan.

As of 2019 consumers are no longer subject to the ACA tax penalty known as the individual shared responsibility tax credit.

How do I sign up for Obamacare?

An insurance company, a health insurance exchange (Federally-facilitated marketplace or state marketplace), or an insurance broker can sell an Obamacare metal plan. HealthPocket’s health insurance premium comparison tool includes links to various organizations that sell insurance to consumers who have made a choice of which insurance plan they want to purchase. For those who are unsure about which plan to enroll in, agents of these organizations are trained to help answer questions about health insurance.

Can a metal plan’s list of covered medications (i.e. a formulary) change outside the annual enrollment period?

Yes. Insurers are permitted to change their formularies throughout the year as long as those formulary modifications remain compliant with Essential Health Benefit requirements. Moreover, Affordable Care Act regulations require every formulary to include (at a minimum) the greater of one drug in every USP drug category and class or the same number of prescription drugs in each category and class as covered by the benchmark plan chosen by a state. Insurers are not required to submit updated drug lists to HHS throughout the year but may be required to do so for states where the federal health insurance exchange is not used.

Why were ACA plan tiers named after metals?

Some people have questioned why the metal health plans have the names that they do. Part of the reason is that the Affordable Care Act was based on an earlier health insurance reform in Massachusetts. The plans in Massachusetts had the names Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Originally the marketing officer in charge of naming the plans was considering designations with historical significance for Massachusetts such as "The Minute Man Plan" and the "Patriot Plan." However, after hearing his ideas, his wife suggested that he use the name of the medals in the Olympics: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. She said that consumers would know instantly that a Silver Plan was better than a Bronze Plan and a Gold Plan was better than a Silver Plan.


March 31, 2016 Effectuated Enrollment Snapshot

The fee you pay if you don't have health coverage

IRS: Wealthy facing max fine of nearly $2,500 for not having insurance (July 24, 2014)


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