The Department of Health and Human Services Releases 2023 Draft Marketplace Rules & Guidance for Health Issuers

On December 28, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Proposed 2023 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP), along with accompanying technical guidance on risk adjustment and on the premium adjustment percentage and cost-sharing limitations. HHS also released the Letter to Issuers in the Federally-facilitated Exchanges (Letter) on January 7, 2022, with few changes from prior years.

Additional guidance related to qualified health plan (QHP) certification timelines, and rate review was previously released in November 2021 and can be found at the following links:

PCG’s Health Policy News team compiled a timeline of key draft certification and rate review deadlines based on HHS’s guidance:

A timeline depicting the draft QHP Application Review and Certification Timeline. The QHP Key Dates are as follows: April 21st - Initial QHP application submission window opens; May 18th - Early Bird QHP Application submission deadline; May 29th through June 10th - CMS reviews Early Bird QHP Application data; June 15th - Initial QHP application deadline; June 16th through July 15th - CMS reviews initial QHP applications as of 6/17; August 10th through August 24th - Issuer plan confirmation/and submit final Plan ID Crosswalk; August 17th - Final deadline for issuers to change QHP application; submit marketing URLs; August 18th through September 12th - CMS reviews final QHP applications; September 13th through September 21st - CMS send QHP Certification Agreements to issuers & State sends CMS final plan recommendations; September 21st - Deadline for issuers’ machine-readable data to be posted and marketing URLs to be live and active; October 4th through October 5th - CMS releases certification notices to states and issuers; November 1st through January 15th - Open enrollment. The Rate Review Key Dates are as follows: June 1st - Submission deadline for proposed rate filing justifications into the Unified Rate Review (URR) module of HIOS in a state without an Effective Rate Review Program; July 20th - Initial rate filing deadline; August 17th - Final rate filing justifications that include a QHP on; November 1st - Target date on which CMS will post all final rate change.

As always, the NBPP, Letter, and other guidance address key timelines, certification standards, financial parameters, and operational and technical guidance for Exchanges, Qualified Health Plans (QHPs), and premium stabilization programs, as well as more significant policy changes. Below, we provide our annual overview of the significant proposed policy changes from previous years’ guidance, with a focus on key payment parameters and changes that impact state insurance markets and regulators.

Network Adequacy/Essential Community Providers (ECPs)

In response to a recent lawsuit, the proposed rule and Letter include substantial reforms to network adequacy, reinstituting the federal role in a way that mirrors initiatives already in place at the state level to strengthen network adequacy reviews. These reforms include:

  • Evaluating the adequacy of provider networks for plans seeking certification as Federally-Facilitated Exchange (FFE) QHPs—except for QHPs in FFE states that perform plan management functions and elect to perform their own reviews of network adequacy, so long as 1) the state applies and enforces quantitative network adequacy standards that are at least as stringent as the federal network adequacy standards, and 2) network adequacy reviews are conducted prior to QHP certification.
    • Standards would include time and distance standards and appointment wait-time standards, which are detailed in the Letter.
    • The provider specialty list for time and distance standards (with time and distance specific to each provider type and county type) is expanded from previous years, and can be found in full in the Letter.
    • Issuers would also be required to submit information about whether providers offer telehealth services.
  • Increasing the ECP threshold from 20 percent to 35 percent of available ECPs in a plan’s network.
    • For plans with tiered networks, only providers in the network tier with the lowest cost-sharing would be considered toward the satisfaction of network adequacy and ECP standards.

Essential Health Benefits (EHB)

  • HHS proposes a standing deadline for states to submit documentation requesting to amend their EHB benchmark plan: the first Wednesday in May two years before the date that the EHB changes would go into effect. The deadline for the 2025 plan year would be May 3, 2023; the deadline for the 2026 plan year would be May 4, 2024.
    • HHS believes that the early May deadline has provided states with enough time to submit this information and would like to stop readjusting this deadline each year, which will make it easier for states to plan going forward.
  • HHS also proposes eliminating the option for states to allow benefit substitution between EHB categories. HHS noted in the preamble that no state has requested this option to
  • The proposed rule would also eliminate the requirement that states report benefit mandates that exceed the EHB on an annual basis, though the defrayal requirement would remain in place.

Premium Adjustment Percentage / Cost-Sharing

At the same time that the proposed NBPP was released, HHS issued guidance outlining the premium adjustment percentage and cost-sharing limitations for 2023. We summarized this information in the following table:

A table containing the premium adjustment percentage and cost-sharing limitations for 2023. The Maximum Annual Limit on Cost-Sharing for self-only is $9,100, and for other than self-only, is $18,200. The Reduced Annual Limit on Cost-Sharing for Individuals between 100% and 150% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is $3,000 for self-only, and is $6,000 for other than self-only. The Reduced Annual Limit on Cost-Sharing for Individuals between 150% and 200% of the FPL is is $3,000 for self-only, and is $6,000 for other than self-only. The Reduced Annual Limit on Cost-Sharing for Individuals between 200% and 250% of the FPL is $7,250 for self-only, and is $14,500 for other than self-only.

The Letter proposes the cost-sharing limitations for Standalone Dental Plans in 2023 of $375 for one child and $750 for 2 or more children, which is the same as 2022.

Actuarial Value Levels

The NBPP proposes to change the range of de minimis variation permitted for QHPs. Starting in 2023, it would +2 / -2 percentage points for individual and small group QHPs in all metal levels other than the expanded bronze plans (which would be permitted a variation of +5 / -2) and individual market silver plans (which would be limited to a variation of +2 / 0). Income-based cost-sharing reduction (CSR) plans would be limited to a de minimis variation range of +1 / 0.

Standardized Plans

  • As a follow-up to a recent lawsuit and an executive order, HHS proposes to reinstate standardized plans on FFEs and state-based exchanges that use the federal platform (SBE-FPs), with the goal of supporting consumers’ comparison of plan options. Per the draft guidance, starting in 2023, QHP insurers in those Exchanges would be required to offer a standardized plan at every product network type and metal level and throughout every service area at which they offer non-standardized plans.
    • Based on the most popular QHPs in the FFEs and SBE-FPs in 2021, HHS proposes: a standard bronze plan, a standard expanded bronze plan, a standard silver plan (including standard versions for each of the income-based CSR variations), a standard gold plan, and a standard platinum plan.
      • A second set of plans is proposed to accommodate the state-specific cost-sharing rules in Delaware and Louisiana.
    • Any state-mandated standardized plans from prior to 2020 would apply instead of the federal standard plans.
  • The number of non-standardized plans would not be limited in 2023, but HHS is considering instituting a limit in future years and is seeking comments to that end.
  • HHS is “considering” implementing differential display of standardized plans on and requiring web-based brokers and issuers doing direct enrollment to do the same. Issuers would not be required to display standardized plans of other issuers.
  • A report issued by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation on the same day as the rule outlines the benefits of standardized plans.

User Fees

HHS proposes maintaining the user fees currently in place for 2022:

  • 75 percent for the FFE and
  • 25 percent for SBE-FPs.

HHS notes that this remains at a lower level than 2021 and the fees will be used, in part, to support consumer outreach and education, eligibility determinations, and enrollment activities. It also mentions that these fees balance the need for adequate funding against the need to mitigate premium increase, particularly if the enhanced premium tax credits under the American Rescue Plan Act are not extended.

Repayment of Past-Due Premiums

  • As expected, HHS addressed past-due premiums in the draft guidance, proposing to rescind the policy the allows issuers to apply first premium payments to past-due premiums and then refuse to effectuate coverage in a new product for failure to make first premium payments, or to otherwise deny coverage based on failure to pay a prior premium owed.
    • Under the proposed policy change, denying coverage based on past-due premiums would again be considered a violation guaranteed issue, which requires health insurance issuers offering non-grandfathered coverage in the individual or group market to accept every individual and employer in the state that applies for such coverage unless an exception applies.
    • HHS is proposing this change because it believes that the current policy’s negative impact on access to health coverage, particularly for low-income individuals, outweighs concerns that—if they do not have to repay premiums—enrollees will take advantage of grace periods when dropping coverage mid-year and re-enrolling during the Open Enrollment Period.
      • In particular, HHS is concerned that the impact is greatest for those individuals who receive advance premium tax credits. Because they are eligible for a three-month grace period for non-payment of premiums, it is more likely that they will owe back-premiums.
    • Issuers can continue to use the collections process to collect debts.

Display Standards for Web Broker

  • Under proposals included in the NBPP, web brokers that do not support enrollment in all QHPs would be required to have disclaimer language on their websites disclosing that, as well as the fact that enrollment support for other QHPs is available on the Exchange website, and provide a link to the Exchange website. The broker websites would also be required to provide specific comparative information about QHPs.
    • Specifically, the following minimum information for QHPs would need to be included: metal level; premium and cost-sharing information; summaries of benefits and coverage; the results of enrollee satisfaction surveys; quality ratings and provider directories; and a clear explanation of the default display of QHPs on the website.


The proposed rule restores protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, overturning the 2020 rule that eliminated them. The proposed protections are in line with the January 2021 Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.

The proposed rule notes that this change is in line with June 15, 2021 ruling by the Supreme Court in Bostock v Clayton County, which found that “because of sex” in Title VII includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Discriminatory Benefit Design

  • To further strengthen non-discrimination policies, the administration proposes that EHB design must be based on clinical evidence, supported by evidence-based guidelines, and rely upon current and relevant peer-reviewed medical journal articles, practice guidelines, or other reputable sources.
    • Examples of evidence-based guidelines noted include: American Medical Association (JAMA), published by the American Medical Association; Anesthesia, published by the Association of Anesthetists; Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics; Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal, published by the American Physical Therapy Association; the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), published by the Massachusetts Medical Society; and the American Journal of Psychiatry, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
    • The proposed rule includes examples of “discriminatory” benefit design to assist states as the primary regulators and reviewers of plans.

Plan Choice

In addition to considering limiting non-standardized plan options, HHS is considering resuming the “meaningful difference” standard in 2024.

HHS is also considering operating the FFE under an “active purchaser model” to negotiate with insurers, limit the number of insurers, prohibit non-standardized plans, and/or exclude plans based on value.

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