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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Definition of Income in PPACA for Certain Medicaid Provisions and Premium Credits

Janemarie Mulvey, Coordinator
Specialist in Aging and Income Security

Evelyne P. Baumrucker
Analyst in Health Care Financing

Bernadette Fernandez
Specialist in Health Care Financing

Christine Scott
Specialist in Social Policy

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA; P.L. 111-148, as amended), the definition of income for eligibility for certain Medicaid populations and premium credits in the exchanges is based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). The initial intent of using MAGI was to standardize the definition of income for Medicaid eligibility purposes to reduce some of the variability and complexity that exists under the current program and to provide consistency between Medicaid and the health insurance exchange. The use of MAGI, however, has raised some concerns among Congress and the Obama Administration as it excludes some types of income either partially or altogether. Of particular interest has been the potential impact of eligibility for Medicaid and premium credits for early retirees (aged 62 through 64) receiving Social Security benefits, as some or all of their Social Security income may be excluded from the MAGI definition of income. By excluding some types of income, individuals and families with a higher percentage of total income relative to the federal poverty level may qualify for Medicaid and premium credits. A recent cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office finds that changing the MAGI income calculation to include all Social Security benefits would reduce the deficit by $13 billion over the 2012-2021 period.

Legislative proposals have been introduced in both chambers of Congress to change the definition of income to be more inclusive and consistent with other low-income programs. In evaluating these proposals, a number of issues might be considered. First, an alternative definition may add complexity compared with the use of MAGI. Specifically, because adjusted gross income (on which MAGI is based) can be computed largely from information on an individual’s federal tax return, verification of income is streamlined. If an alternative definition is used that is not based on tax return information, the administrative complexity of verifying nontaxable income from different sources comes into play. Second, the definition was developed to ensure coordination between Medicaid and premium credits in the health insurance exchange. A change in the definition of income for Medicaid should then also apply to premium credits to ensure consistency between Medicaid and the premium credit offered to selected individuals who purchase private health insurance through the exchanges. Finally, many of the current legislative proposals have focused largely on the inclusion of Social Security benefits in income definitions for eligibility purposes. However, most other low-income programs include other types of income (e.g., nontaxable pensions) and asset holdings that are also excluded from MAGI.

Date of Report:
September 13, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R4199
Price: $29.95

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