ACA Sabotage

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Breaking out of Nevada...

The cost of plans through Nevada’s health insurance exchange are anticipated to only increase by an average of 1.9 percent next year in what the state’s insurance commissioner said is the lowest proposed rate increase from insurance companies since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

The announcement, made by the Division of Insurance late Tuesday morning, comes amid ongoing uncertainty about the impact that Congress’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and federal rule changes for two types of non-ACA-compliant health plans will have on the individual market as a whole. Insurance Commissioner Barbara Richardson cautioned that the proposed rates are subject to change based on any action by the federal government and said the division is working “diligently” to review the proposed rates from insurance companies.

That 1.9% figure is slightly misleading, though, because...

Via the Colorado Division of Insurance:

DENVER (July 13, 2018) – The Colorado Division of Insurance, part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), today released preliminary information for proposed health plans and premiums for 2019 for individuals and small groups. Colorado consumers can file formal comments on these plans through August 3.

2018 Companies Return for 2019
The same seven companies that offered on-exchange, individual plans are returning for 2019 - Anthem (as HMO Colorado), Bright Health, Cigna Health and Life, Denver Health Medical Plans, Friday Health Plans, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Colorado and Rocky Mountain HMO. And like in past years, this means that all counties in Colorado will have at least one on-exchange company selling individual health plans.

Holy guacamole. I've noted repeatedly that unlike last fall, when average rate increases of 20-30% or more were commonplace for ACA individual market policies (due mainly to Trump cutting off CSR reimbursement payments), the preliminary rate requests for 2019 are actually averageing quite a bit lower than originally expected; of the 20 or so states I've crunched the numbers for so far, the weighted average for unsubsidized premium hikes is hovering around the 10% mark.

At first glance, it may sound like Democrats have been overplaying their hand when it comes to the "individual mandate repeal/short-term plan expansion is causing massive hikes!" attack. However, the rate increases from deliberate sabotage are happening...they're just being partly cancelled out by other factors, including:

If you've followed this site for awhile, you may recall that about a year ago, I called out the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) for trying to pull a fast one regarding the 2017 Open Enrollment Period data.

The short version is that they tried to make it look as though only 10.3 million of the 12.2 million people who selected Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) from the ACA exchanges actually paid their first month's premium and were actually enrolled (i.e., "effectuated"), or around 84%. They then tried using this "fact" as evidence of how the ACA was failing, etc etc, because this was supposedly down from 2016 levels.

The difference, as I noted at the time, is that the 2016 effectuation numbers were as of March, while the 2017 effectuation numbers were as of February. This made a big difference, because around 500,000 people who enrolled during 2017 Open Enrollment couldn't have been effectuated for February...because about half a million people enrolled between Jan. 16th - Jan. 31st, which meant their policies weren't even scheduled to begin until March.

Last week I noted that after slashing the marketing budget for HealthCare.Gov, by a whopping 90% (from $100 million to just $10 million) and cutting the Open Enrollment Period itself in half (from 3 months to just 6 weeks) and cutting the navigator/outreach budget by 41% (from $59 million down to $36 million), Trump's CMS Dept. was "considering" slashing the navigator budget for 2019 down further yet:

The Trump administration is considering cutting funding for ObamaCare outreach groups that help people enroll in coverage, sources say.

An initial proposal by the administration would have cut the funding for the groups, known as "navigators," from $36 million last year to $10 million this year. Sources say that proposal now could be walked back, and it is possible funding could remain the same as last year, but it is unclear where the final number will end up.

This morning, CMS released the 2017 Risk Adjustment Summary Report for the Individual, Catastrophic and Small Group markets. As I noted at the time, the total amount of money we're talking about being shifted around here is around $10.4 billion, with around $7.5 billion in the individual market, $2.9 billion in the small group market and just $42 million in the catastrophic market.

However...this isn't actually a matter of insurance carriers being owed $10.4 billion. Because of how Risk Adjustment (RA) works, it's actually half as much as that--around $5.2 billion is owed by some carriers to other carriers.

OK, I wasn't expecting this at 10:40pm on a Friday night, but here you go...via Stephanie Armour and Anna Wilde Mathews of the Wall St. Journal:

Trump Administration Expected to Suspend ACA Program Related to Insurer Payments

The Trump administration is expected to suspend an Affordable Care Act program that plays a key role in the health law’s insurance markets, a move that could deal a financial blow to many insurers that expect payments.

The suspension of some payouts under the program, known as risk adjustment, could come in the wake of a recent decision by a federal judge in New Mexico, who ruled that part of its implementation was flawed and hadn’t been adequately justified by federal regulators, people familiar with the plans said.

Whew! Georgia only has 4 carriers participating in the individual market, but tracking down some of the data was a royal pain in the butt, especially Ambetter/Centene, which not only buried the numbers I needed inside a whopping 1,900-page PDF file, but the actual average requested rate increase wasn't even included; for that I had to check a different file. Yeesh.

The good news is that carriers in Georgia are only requesting around a 6.1% average rate increase for ACA-compliant individual market policies next year.

The bad news is that if it weren't for the ACA's individual mandate being repealed and the Trump Administration's expansion of #ShortAssPlans, 2019 premiums would likely be dropping by around 5.8% instead.

Last summer, as part of his blatant and openly-declared attempt to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act, Donald Trump's HHS Dept. slashed the marketing budget for HealthCare.Gov, the federal ACA exchange, by a whopping 90% (from $100 million to just $10 million), while also cutting the navigator/outreach budget by 41% (from $59 million down to $36 million). On top of this, they also proceeded to confuse the hell out of the grantees of those remaining funds by not providing any information or details before sending out the funds...and then changing their minds at the last minute in many cases and pulling the checks literally moments before they were supposed to be put in the mail. They also slashed the Open Enrollment Period itself in half while they were at it, from 3 months down to just 6 weeks.

*(OK, these are technically only "semi-approved" rates...there could still be some additional tweaks later on after public comment, etc.)

Oregon was the fourth state which I ran a preliminary 2019 rate increase analysis on back in May. At the time, I concluded that insurance carriers were requesting a weighted average increase of 10.5% for ACA-compliant individual market policies next year. I knew that Oregon's state-based Reinsurance program was helping keep that average down to some degree, but I didn't know exactly how much of a factor it was.

I also knew that efforts to sabotage the ACA by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans would play a major role in increasing 2019 rates: Repeal of the individual mandate is a big factor, along with the unnecessary 1-point increase in the state exchange fee being imposed on Oregon and the other four states which run their own exchange but "piggyback" on HealthCare.Gov's technology platform.

 

*As I explained 3 years ago:

Basically, Republicans have gone from saying "screw the poor" to "OK, you can see a doctor but only if you dance for me first."

ca·pri·cious (kəˈpriSHəs,kəˈprēSHəs/adjective): given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.

"a capricious and often brutal administration"

synonyms:fickle, inconstant, changeable, variable, mercurial, volatile, unpredictable, temperamental

HUGE. This doesn’t just impact Kentucky, it also has implications for Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas, Indiana...

This article from KTVQ is excellent for my purposes. It clearly and cleanly plugs in just about all of the hard numbers I need to run my rate hike analysis: Which carriers are participating in the 2019 ACA individual market; how many current enrollees each carrier has (both on and off the exchange); and the exact average increase each one is requesting for next year!

Health insurers selling individual policies on the “Obamacare” marketplace in Montana are proposing only modest increases for 2019, on average – or, no increase at all.

State Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale released the proposed rates Thursday, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana proposing an average increase of zero – and a 4.9 percent decline for small-group policies.

The other two companies selling policies on the online marketplace, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-op, proposed average increases of 6.2 percent and 10.6 percent for individual policies, respectively, and lesser increases for small-group policies.

A couple of days ago, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation posted an important new analysis (actually a follow-up version of an earlier one they did in May) which proved, in several different ways, that after years of turmoil, the ACA's individual market had finally stabilized as of 2017...or, at least, it would have if not for the deliberate sabotage efforts of one Donald J. Trump and several hundred Congressional Republicans. This included hard numbers for the first quarter of 2018 which showed the trend continuing in a dramatic fashion.

Following up on that, they went further yesterday and posted a whole bunch of handy raw individual market data for the 2011 - 2017 calendar years at the state level, including the average gross profit margin per member per month as well as the share of premiums paid out as claims in every state (except, frustratingly, California).

*(technically Vermont was the third to do so, but theirs doesn't kick into effect until 2020, and they haven't even crystalized exactly what form it would take anyway.)
**(yeah, I know very well that DC isn't actually a state, but it's pretty awkward to put "state and/or territory" in the headline.)

I realize that 110% of the news/media/political attention is on the bombshell announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring at the end of July, but there are other things going on as well, so I'll do my best to soldier on...

More big health care action at the state level: yesterday the DC Council passed what would be the nation's third state-level individual mandate, after Mass. and NJ.https://t.co/BmtnDAQvVp

— Jason A. Levitis (@jasonlevitis) June 27, 2018

 

Note: This is a follow-up to a post I wrote back in early May which was itself based on an earlier analysis by the folks at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For weeks now, I've been painstakingly analyzing and plugging in the preliminary 2019 rate change data for ACA-compliant individual market as each state submits their filings. As of today, I've compiled data for 18 states (+DC), comprising perhaps 40% of the total ACA individual market, give or take. The table below shows where things stand at the moment.

Those yellow and manilla cells at the bottom are not a typo: To the best of my estimates so far, the insurance carriers across these 19 markets are asking for average 2019 unsubsidized premium rate increases of around 10-11%...however, as far as I can tell, they would be keeping rates FLAT year over year (on average), for the first time since the ACA launched, if not for three sabotage efforts by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans: Repeal of the ACA's individual mandate, and Trump's removal of restrictions on non-ACA compliant "Short-Term, Limited Duration" and "Association" plans, which I've shorthanded as simply #ShortAssPlans....and in fact would actually be dropping in quite a few states (or, in the case of Minnesota, dropping more than they already are set to with those factors):

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