Arkansas

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Yesterday CMS Administrator Seema Verma posted this on Twitter...

I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we thoroughly evaluate the results of their innovative reforms. #TransformingMedicaid

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) September 13, 2018

With the deadline for submitting 2019 rate filings having passed a week or so ago, the approved rates from the various state insurance regulators have been popping up left and right. Today I took a look at the Arkansas Insurance Dept. website and sure enough, they've posted the approved filings for all 4 carriers on the individual market (as well as the small group market).

On the one hand, the statewide average rate increase hasn't changed much from the preliminary average; it dropped 0.4 points from 4.5% to 4.1%...and some of that change is simply because I had misestimated the actual enrollment/market share for a couple of the carriers.

On the other hand, in Arkansas, at least, it appears that the carriers don't think the repeal of the individual mandate and/or the Trump Administration's expansion of short-term and association health plans will have nearly as big of an adverse selection impact as other estimates/projections have...including my own.

Arkansas has three carriers offering ACA individual market policies, but one of them is kind of/sort of split into two separate entities (QualChoice and QCA). Unfortunately, most of the key actuarial memo content has been redacted, so I'm missing data on market share for three of the four entries--Ambetter/Celtic is the only one which states outright their current enrollment number. For the other three I had to estimate based on last years data. For QCA and USAble (which is actually Blue Cross Blue Shield, for some reason), I had to sort of split the difference between the different entries to get the overall requested rate increases.

In terms of #MandateRepeal & #ShortAssPlans, the Urban Institute projected an 18.8 percentage point impact. 2/3 of that is 12.5%, so I'm estimating that without those factors, average unsubsidized Arkansas rates would be dropping by around 8% next year.

I had actually already written about Vermont doing this back in March, but seeing how it was one of only 2 states (+DC) which didn't allow Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) costs to be loaded onto premiums at all this year, I figured I should mention it here as well. Once again:

  • 20 states went the full #SilverSwitcharoo route (the best option, since it maximizes tax credits for those eligible for them while minimizing the number of unsubsidized enrollees who get hit with the extra CSR load);
  • 16 states went with partial #SilverLoading (the second best option: Subsidized enrollees get bonus assistance, though not as much as in Switch states; more unsubsidized enrollees take the hit, but they aren't hit quite as hard);
  • 6 states went with "Broad Loading", the worst option because everyone gets hit with at least part of the CSR load except for subsidized Silver enrollees;
  • 6 states took a "Mixed" strategy...which is to say, no particular strategy whatsover. The state insurance dept. left it up to each carrier to decide how to handle the CSR issue, and ended up with a hodge podge of the other three
  • 3 states (well, 2 states + DC, anyway) didn't allow CSR costs to be loaded at all. Their carriers have to eat the loss, which makes little sense, but what're ya gonna do?

Nearly three years ago, there was a big report about a bunch of Republican Governors of states which hadn't expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act who claimed that they were willing to do so, but only if a work requirement was part of the deal:

In nearly a dozen Republican-dominated states, either the governor or conservative legislators are seeking to add work requirements to Obamacare Medicaid expansion, much like an earlier generation pushed for welfare to work.

The move presents a politically acceptable way for conservative states to accept the billions of federal dollars available under Obamacare, bringing health care coverage to millions of low-income people. But to the Obama administration, a work requirement is a non-starter, an unacceptable ideological shift in the 50-year-old Medicaid program and a break with the Affordable Care Act’s mission of expanding health care coverage to all Americans. The Health and Human Services Department has rejected all requests by states to tie Medicaid to work.

Now that we've passed the 9/27 contract signing deadline for 2018 carrier participation on the ACA exchanges, the state insurance departments are posting their approved final rates pretty quickly. Arkansas has done a fantastic job of clearly laying out not just what the rate changes will be, but is explicitly stating how much of those increases are due to the GOP's refusal to formally appropriate CSR reimbursement payments next year:

Insurance companies offering individual and small group health insurance plans are required to file proposed rates with the Arkansas Insurance Department for review and approval before plans can be sold to consumers.  The Department reviews rates to ensure that the plans are priced appropriately.  Under Arkansas Law (Ark. Code Ann. § 23-79-110),  the Commissioner shall disapprove a rate filing if he/she finds that the rate is not actuarially sound, is excessive, is inadequate, or is unfairly discriminatory.  The Department relies on outside actuarial analysis by a member of the American Academy of Actuaries to help determine whether a rate filing is sound.

A week ago, Vox's Sarah Kliff reported that the Trump Administration was slashing the 2018 Open Enrollment Period advertising budget by 90% and the navigator/outreach grant budget by nearly 40%. As I noted at the time, the potential negative impact of these moves on enrollment numbers this fall--coming on top of the period being slashed in half, the CSR reimbursement and mandate enforcement sabotage efforts of the Trump/Price HHS Dept. and the general confusion and uncertainty being felt by the GOP spending the past 7 months desperately attempting to repeal the ACA altogether could be significant. In states utilizing the federal exchange (HealthCare.Gov), 2017 enrollment was running neck & neck with 2016 right up until the critical final week...which played out under the Trump Administration, which killed off the final ad/marketing blitz.

Result? A 5.3% total enrollment drop (or 4.7% if you don't include Louisiana, which expanded Medicaid halfway through the year) via HC.gov, while the 12 state-based exchanges--which run their own marketing/advertising budgets--saw a 1.8% increase in total enrollment year over year.

The states filings are piling up quickly...Arkansas is pretty straightforward. Interestingly, four of the five carriers seem to be assuming that CSR payments will be made, and have submitted their rate filings accordingly; the fifth (and largest), USAble Mutual (aka Blue Cross Blue Shield of AR) is the only one to break it out specifically. In order to estimate the CSR factor for the other 4 carriers, I'm assuming 2/3 of Kaiser's 15% Silver plan bump estimate, or around 10 percentage points. That brings things in at around 10% even without CSR sabotage or nearly 18% with the CSR factor.

One other important thing to keep in mind regarding Arkansas: Their total individual market, including grandfathered and transitional plans, is something like 430,000 but they only have around 70,000 officially enrolled in ACA exchange policies. The main reason for this is that they have another 320,000 people enrolled in exchange policies via their "Private Medicaid Option"...which is Arkansas' version of ACA Medicaid expansion. For some reason, those folks aren't counted as ACA exchange enrollees even though it's my understanding that the only distinction between them and the 70K official enrollees is where the payments/subsidies come from.

Of the 31 states which have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, only a handful issue regular monthly or weekly enrollment reports.

I noted in February that enrollment in the ACA's Medicaid expansion program had increased by around 35,000 people across just 4 states (LA, MI, MN & PA).

It's early June now, so I checked in once more, and the numbers have continued to grow. I have the direct links for 5 states now (including New Hampshire)...

(sigh) Over at the Arkansas Times, healthcare reporter extraordinaire David Ramsey has the skinny on the latest mucking around with ACA Medicaid expansion being attempted by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the state Republican leadership:

The feds would have to approve the state's waiver proposal in order to enact the governor's plan, but the feds will only move forward if legislation is already in place. That's the reason for the special session: The governor will ask the legislature to pass laws granting him the authority to seek the waiver and his plan will be spelled out, in broad terms, in legislative language in these laws. Most expect that the governor will be able to get legislative approval relatively easily (he needs a simple majority). Note that some of the fine print will still have to wait for the state's actual waiver proposal and the terms and conditions if the Trump administration grants the waiver.

Here are some of the changes that Hutchinson will be pushing in the special session:

 

Tom Cotton at townhall: still supports repealing ACA but commits to protecting coverage for 300k Arkansans dependent on Medicaid expansion.

— David Ramsey (@ArkDavey) April 17, 2017

(says this is key reason he opposed AHCA, which would have eliminated the Medicaid expansion altogether)

— David Ramsey (@ArkDavey) April 17, 2017

Just so we're clear here:

In Arkansas70,404 people enroll in private exchange policies as of the end of January. I estimate around 50,000 of them would be forced off of their private policy upon an immediate-effect full ACA repeal, plus another 331,000 enrolled in Arkansas' "Private Option" ACA Medicaid expansion program for a total of 380,000 residents kicked to the curb.

As for the individual market, my standard methodology applies:

  • Plug in the 2/01/16 QHP selections by county (hard numbers via CMS)
  • Adjust for 1/31/17 QHP selections based on hard CMS data.
  • Knock 10% off those numbers to account for those who never end up paying their premiums
  • Multiply the projected effectuated enrollees as of March by the percent expected to receive APTC subsidies
  • Then knock another 10% off of that number to account for those only receiving nominal subsidies
  • Whatever's left after that are the number of people in each county who wouldn't be able to afford their policy without tax credits.

The Medicaid expansion data comes directly from state data.

This is a minor update, but with all the bad rate hike news this year, I'll take any good news I can get. A couple of weeks ago, the Arkansas Insurance Dept. approved rate hikes for the 4 carriers participating in the ACA exchange next year, including significant reductions for all of them:

Now it looks like the final rate increases have been chopped down still more:

In mid-August, all of the carriers that offer plans in the Arkansas exchange proposed new rate increases for 2017, all of which were lower than their initially filed rates. Rate increases were then reduced even further for QualChoice and QCA:

Lots of stuff happening fast & furious these days as #OE4 approaches. Instead of individual posts, I'm gonna cram 7 state updates into a single one...and am also cheating a bit by cribbing off of excellent work by Louise Norris over at healthinsurance.org (which is fair, since she also gets some of her data from me as well):

ALABAMA: Here's what my requested rate hike table looked like for Alabama on August 1st:

Updates: Norris Confirms that:

There are a few states which have technically expanded Medicaid under the ACA, but have done so using an approved waiver which allows them to actually enroll expansion-eligible residents in private Qualified Health Policies (QHPs)...using public Medicaid funding to do so. To be honest, this has always struck me as being essentially no different than someone simply receiving 99.9% APTC/CSR subsidies for enrolling in an exchange policy anyway; it's just a question of which pool of federal funds the subsidies come from. The two states which I know for a fact do it this way are Arkansas and New Hampshire, with Arkansas calling their "Private Medicaid Option" program the "Health Care Independence Program".

In any event, AR "Private Option" enrollees may be categorized as "Medicaid expansion" in the official reports, but for purposes of estimating the risk pool, they're included in with every other ACA-compliant private individual policies, whether on or off the ACA exchange.

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