2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Minnesota, currently entering their second year of their official reinsurance waiver program to help keep unsubsidized premiums down, announced their preliminary 2019 rate hikes way back in June. At the time, the carriers were looking at roughly an 8% average reduction in rates next year...although they would be dropping prices by more like 15% if not for the ACA's individual mandate being repealed and the expansion of #ShortAssPlans.

Today the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce posted the approved 2019 premium changes, and there's been some dramatic reductionsfor three of the five carriers offering policies in the state. Group Health and Medica were approved as is, but Blue Plus was told to drop their rates a whopping 27.7% instead of the 11.8% they were planning on. Ucare was shaved down from a 7 point reduction to 10 points, and PreferredOne (which only sells individual market policies off-exchange and only has 300 enrollees anyway) was knocked down from a 3-point reduction to 11 points.

The official annual ACA Open Enrollment Period (OEP) starting and ending dates have jumped around a lot since the exchanges kicked off back on October 1, 2013.

For the first OEP, people were given 6 months since the technology and the process were brand new to everyone...and thank God they were given the technical mess that the federal exchange (HealthCare.Gov) as well as many of the state-based exchanges experienced at launch. Things were eventually worked out, but not only was that extra time in spring 2014 vitally important, many people still needed some extra time beyond that as well. The official deadline to enroll for 2014 coverage was March 31, but the HHS Dept. gave people who had started their application by then an extra 15-day "overtime" period to complete the process.

For the 2015 OEP, the official dates were from November 15 - February 15th, cutting the time period down to three months. This time there was a one-week "overtime" period tacked onto the end.

For 2016 and 2017, HHS settled on November 1st - January 31st, which seemed to make sense since it was easier to remember: November, December, January.

I ran the numbers for Nevada's preliminary 2019 ACA individual market rate changes back in July. At the time, the average requested rate increase was around 2.3% statewide.

With the 2019 Open Enrollment Period coming up fast, I checked on the approved rate changes and found that state regulators had cut down on the rates quite a bit...although mostly for carriers which only offer off-exchange plans and only have small numbers of enrollees anyway.

For instance, HMO Colorado (dba HMO Nevada) originally requested a 20.9% increase; this was reduced to 9.5%...but they only have 200 people enrolled anyway, so it's not even a rounding error. Rocky Mountain was cut from 34.4% to 18.5%...but only has 300 enrollees, and so on.

The three carriers which hold the vast bulk of the market had far less dramatic changes, although Silver Summit was cut from a 5.2% increase to a 1.1% decrease for 2019.

eHealth Insurance is a leading private online health insurance exchange, and is licensed to sell health insurance in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They also publicly post survey results of both their membership and insurance carriers from time to time. While eHealth isn't necessarily fully representative of the entire individual health insurance market, the fact that they cover every state +DC means their surveys should provide at least some big picture insight into the landscape.

(For those wondering: No, this is not an endorsement, they aren't paying me to promote them, and I haven't a clue whether or not they're a good or bad company to do business with.)

In any event, eHealth recently conducted an anonymous survey of health insurance companies operating in the Affordable Care Act market, asking about their plans for market participation in 2019. Insurers invited to participate in the survey are responsible collectively for insuring more than 200 million Americans. Here's some of their findings for what they're worth:

Louise Norris gave me a heads up the other day...a very early heads up:

NM will operate its own exchange platform starting with the 2021 plan year

New Mexico has a unique exchange; the state runs the small business portion, and while the individual exchange is also technically state-run, Healthcare.gov is used to enroll people in individual insurance (ie, a federally-supported state-based marketplace). But the exchange is planning to establish its own enrollment platform that will be in use by the fall of 2020.

Normally I'd just use a snippet of the entry, but Norris manages to cover all the relevant angles in just a few paragraphs; I think she'll be OK with me cribbing more of it:

Initially, the state had planned to establish a state-run website for individual enrollments fairly soon after the exchanges went live in the fall of 2013, and that was still in the works until early spring 2015. But in April 2015, the exchange board voted to continue to use Healthcare.gov, as that was viewed as the less-costly alternative.

Today at 11am CST (I think that's Noon EST?), HHS Secretary and Donald Trump's Used Car Salesman Alex Azar will give a Big Speech to the Nashville Health Care Council in Tennessee:

Tomorrow, HHS Secretary Azar will join Governor Haslam in Nashville, Tennessee to deliver remarks at an event hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council.

Secretary Azar will share news regarding the Affordable Care Act marketplace and reflect on lessons for healthcare reform.

In advance of tomorrow, here are a few excerpts of Secretary Azar’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“The previous administration’s major healthcare achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was an attempt to use more government regulation and intervention to improve American healthcare.

“As we all know, the results were disastrous, with skyrocketing costs and disappearing choices.

“But today, I am here to share with you some good news.

via U.S. News & World Report:

Later Wednesday, [Democratic Governor Gina] Raimondo held her own news conference to sign an executive order that, among other steps, directs the state to seek to codify in state law protections for people with preexisting conditions, dependents up to age 26, prescription drug benefits and maternity coverage in case federal action is taken to weaken the Affordable Care Act.

Rhode Island has one of the highest insured rates in the country, and Raimondo said she was defending "Rhode Islanders' access to high-quality, affordable health coverage."

I'm not quite sure what an executive order has to do with codifying ACA protections into law, since that's really up to the state legislature to do, but I guess it at least kicks their butts into gear?

This is also refreshing to hear from a Republican challenger:

A few minutes ago I posted about North Dakota's approved 2019 rate hikes, which are coming in at a mere 3.2% on average (but which would likely be dropping nearly 20 points without both last and this year's #ACASabotage factors).

However, there was something else equally interesting included in the ND DOI press release: Like Montana and several other states, North Dakota is also considering jumping onboard the state-based reinsurance waiver train!

As I noted last month when I first analyzed the requested 2019 rates for North Dakota insurers, ND was somewhat unique last year in that it was one of only two states (the other was Vermont) which didn't tack on any extra premium increases for 2018 to account for the lost Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement revenue after Donald Trump cut off those payments last October.

This led to one of North Dakota's three carriers, Medica, dropping off the ACA exchange altogether, though they still ended up enrolling a few hundred people directly via the off-exchange market.

A few years back I posted an entry which breaks out the income eligibility thresholds for Medicaid and CHIP in every state. I've reposted an updated version below, which also takes into account Basic Health Plan (BHP) eligibility in Minnesota and New York. This comes directly from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Note the footnotes at the bottom. The pink cells on the right indicate that the state has not yet expanded Medicaid under the ACA (Maine and Virginia have passed but note implemented doing so, while Medicaid expansion is on the ballot in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah this November).

As a reminder, here's the 2018 Federal Poverty Level income chart for every state except Alaska and Hawaii (Alaska is 25% higher, Hawaii is 15% higher):

via Montana Standard:

The state is exploring whether a Montana-run reinsurance program would help lower the premiums people pay when buying their health insurance on the federal marketplace, in some cases by 10-20 percent.

Yes. Yes, it would.

...Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Department of Administration Director John Lewis are creating a 13-person working group to explore how a state-run reinsurance program might work in Montana. The group will use information from a recent study commissioned by the Montana Healthcare Foundation looking at what reinsurance could mean for the state.

The study shows reinsurance could lower premiums that have risen by double digits in recent years. Those rates could drop anywhere from 9.6 percent to nearly 30 percent on extreme ends of the spectrum, according to the study.

As I noted back in July, in addition to the Trump Administration's Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) chopping down the marketing budget for HealthCare.Gov by 90% last year, they also slashed the navigator/personal outreach budget by over 40% as well, from $63 million down to $36 million...and this year have cut it by another $26 million, to just $10 million across all 34 states which rely on HealthCare.Gov to host their ACA exchange open enrollment functionality (there are 5 more states which are hosted by HC.gov, but which I believe operate their own exchange and navigator budget: Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Kentucky and Arkansas). Combined, that makes an 84% reduction in navigator funding over a 2 year period.

BREAKING: Governor @JerryBrownGov today signed several #Care4AllCA bills that protects patients and places greater accountability on health insurers now on Gov's desk:#SB910 & #SB1375 to ban/limit "junk" insurance;#AB2499 on MLR; and#AB2472 on a public option study.

— Health Access CA (@healthaccess) September 22, 2018

With the 2019 Open Enrollment Period rapidly approaching, I figured this might be a good time to remind everyone that while it starts on November 1st for most of the country, the largest state, California, is kicking things off 2 weeks early (17 days early, actually). Covered California is launching their 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period on Monday, October 15th, 2018:

Open enrollment for 2019 coverage will begin October 15, 2018 in California, and continue until January 15, 2019

Nationwide, open enrollment for 2019 coverage is scheduled to run from November 1, 2018 to December 15, 2018 — the same schedule that was followed in late 2017 for 2018 coverage. But Covered California was one of only three state-run exchanges that opted in 2017 to keep open enrollment at three months in duration for 2018 coverage (the others were New York and DC).

And the state enacted legislation (A.B.156) in late 2017 that codifies a three-month open enrollment period going forward — California will not be switching to the November 1 – December 15 open enrollment window that other states will be using.

This is a pretty minor update, but I'm trying to lock in all of the approved 2019 rate changes as they come in. Last month, South Dakota's two carriers, Avera and Sanford, posted requested rate increases which I thought were 2.6% and 10.0% at the time. I also estimated their relative enrollment at around 27,000 and 4,000 enrollees apiece for market share calculations, which gave a statewide average increase of around 3.5%.

I checked the South Dakota Insurance Division website again today, and it certainly looks like the filings have been approved by the state insurance regulators...however, when I double-checked the filings themselves, it looks like they were actually slightly lower than I thought: 2.5% and 9.7% respectively.

In addition, I was able to find the hard enrollment numbers for each...the total is pretty close to what I had it at (29,180 vs. 31,000), but the splut is quite different. Insetad of Avera still having an 87% market share, it looks ike the split is more like 63/37 this year. Since Sanford is requesting a significantly higher increase than Avera, that means the weighted statewide average is higher as well...around 5.2% instead of 3.5%.

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