Montana

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

via the Montana Insurance Commissioner's office:

REINSURANCE LOWERS HEALTH INSURANCE RATES FOR 2020

  • New Program Championed by Rosendale Leads to Double-Digit Rate Decreases in the Individual Market

HELENA, Mont. – State Auditor Matt Rosendale announced today that every health insurance plan sold on the individual market in Montana will have lower rates next year, largely due a new program that he’s championed for the past two years.

This Just In from the Montana Insurance Commissioner's office:

2020 Rate Filings and Rate Review

Insurance companies offering individual and small group health insurance plans are required to file proposed rates with the Montana State Auditor’s Department of Insurance for review and before plans can be sold to consumers.

What is rate review?

The rate review process, established by the Montana Legislature in 2013, does not give the Commissioner the authority to disapprove rates or prevent them from taking affect. It does give the commissioner the chance to review the factors insurance companies use in setting rates.

If the commissioner finds a rate increase to be excessive or unjustified, the insurer can voluntarily lower the rate increase. If the insurer decides to use the rate anyway, the commissioner will issue a public finding announcing that the rate is unjustified.

What does the department consider?

A few days ago I noted that North Dakota had jumped onto the ACA reinsurance train; now it looks like Montana is onboard as well:

Governor Signs Bill Meant to Lower Some Insurance Premiums

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock has signed legislation meant to lower premiums for Montana customers who receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace.

Bullock signed the bill Tuesday creating a reinsurance program to help reimburse insurers for high-cost claims so those costs aren’t included in determining individual marketplace premiums for the following year.

U.S. health officials also must approve the plan, which is estimated to offset 2020 premium increases by 10% to 20%.

Montana didn't expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act until January 2016, and when they did so, the legislation was written with an automatic sunset date of June 30, 2019 unless it's expanded beyond that. Unfortunately, the ballot proposal to make Medicaid expansion permanent failed last November, which put the issue back in the hands of state lawmakers.

The good news is that the Montana state legislature did indeed finally vote to extend the program, which covers around 96,000 people, this week. The bad news is...well:

The bill to continue Medicaid expansion in Montana passed out of the state Senate Tuesday after teetering on the edge of a deadline for end of session negations.

I just realized that while I've written quite a bit about the potential loss of Medicaid coverage for thousands of residents of Michigan, Kentucky and Arkansas over the past few months due to the new work requirement laws in those states, It's been far too long since I've given a shout-out to the four states which are hoping to add Medicaid expansion (or at least continue it, in one case) exactly one week from today.

Bloomberg News has a pretty good overview:

For years, elected leaders in conservative states have resisted expanding Medicaid, the government health program for low-income Americans. Now voters in four of those states will decide the question directly.

*(OK, that's hyperbole...unsubsidized enrollees are still left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in unnecessary premium payments for at least another year or so, and there's still no guarantee of the final ruling...see below...)

Almost exactly a year ago, Donald Trump, after 9 months of bluster about doing so so, finally pulled the trigger on his threat to cut off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to insurance carriers for the deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses which they agree to cover every month for around 7 million low-income ACA exchange policy enrollees.

Trumps stated goal in doing so was, of course, to "blow up" the ACA, to cause it to "implode" (which is actually the opposite of blowing something up, but that's a different discussion) and ultimately fail in the process.

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.

I posted Montana's preliminary/requested 2019 ACA indiividual market rate change requests back in late June. At the time, they were seeking average rate increases of 6.0% statewide, and I estimated that the GOP's repeal of the ACA's individual mandate penalty, combined with the Trump Administration's expansion of #ShortAssPlans, accounted for about 9.9 percentage points of that.

More recently, the state insurance commissioner's website published approved 2019 rate changes. The average increases have been sliced down slightly (from 6.0% to 5.7% on average), and I've lowered my estimate of #ACASabotage impact from 9.9% to 6% based on the lack of either factor being prominently mentioned in the actual carrier rate filings. If accurate that means rates would have been flat year over year on average in 2019 if not for those factors.

Unsubsidized Montana enrollees are paying an average of $637/month this year, so that's roughly a $38/month difference, or around $460 for the full year.

I received a tip about this early this morning...which, unfortunately, I was unable to scoop anyone with due to being bogged down/caught up with the #TexasFoldEm drama.

As a result, it looks like Shelby Livingston of Modern Healthcare was first to post about it:

Montana insurer wins lawsuit against feds over unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments

Several health insurers have sued the U.S. government over its failure to make cost-sharing reduction payments that help lower healthcare costs for certain consumers. One just scored the first victory. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of Montana Health Co-op, which sued the federal government for $5.3 million in unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments, finding that the government violated its obligation under the Affordable Care Act when it stopped paying the CSRs in October 2017."

The rest of the article is behind a paywall, but the gist of it is as follows:

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.

As long as I'm focusing on Medicaid expansion news (and since I write about Montana pretty rarely), here's a mildly interesting tidbit:

Last June I noted that ACA Medicaid expansion in Montana had increased dramatically in a year and a half, from 47,000 in early 2016 to over 77,000 enrollees as of May 2017.

According to this article, they're now up to 91,000:

HELENA — There are 91,563 Montanans participating in the Medicaid expansion HELP act as of Jan. 15, generating nearly $40 million in savings in Medicaid benefits, a state panel was told Thursday.

Members of the Legislature’s Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee reviewed a report on Medicaid expansion. The committee took no immediate action after hearing the report.

Me, just under a month ago:

Things were looking pretty dicey for two of Montana's three insurance carriers participating on the individual market the past few days. One of the three, Blue Cross Blue Shield, saw the writing on the wall regarding Cost Sharing Reductions (CSR) likely being cut off and filed a hefty 23% rate hike request with the state insurance department. The other two, however (PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op, one of a handful of ACA-created cooperatives stll around), assumed that the CSR payments would still be around next year and only filed single-digit rate increases.

I'm not going to speculate as to the reasons why they both did so when it was patently obvious that having the CSRs cut off was a distinct possibility, although I seem to recall the CEO of the Montana Co-Op said something about their hands being tied since CSR reimbursement payments are legally required, after all. Basically, it sounds like he was genuinely trying to avoid passing on any more additional costs to their enrollees than they had to.

Things were looking pretty dicey for two of Montana's three insurance carriers participating on the individual market the past few days. One of the three, Blue Cross Blue Shield, saw the writing on the wall regarding Cost Sharing Reductions (CSR) likely being cut off and filed a hefty 23% rate hike request with the state insurance department. The other two, however (PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op, one of a handful of ACA-created cooperatives stll around, assumed that the CSR payments would still be around next year and only filed single-digit rate increases.

I'm not going to speculate as to the reasons why they both did so when it was patently obvious that having the CSRs cut off was a distinct possibility, although I seem to recall the CEO of the Montana Co-Op said something about their hands being tied since CSR reimbursement payments are legally required, after all. Basically, it sounds like he was genuinely trying to avoid passing on any more additional costs to their enrollees than they had to.

Once upon a time there were 23 health insurance cooperatives created via ACA provisions, spread across a similar number of states (a few operated in more than one, while some states had more than one co-op operating within it).

The first one to fall was CoOportunity, which operated in Iowa and Nebraska. Their enrollments were halted in the middle of the 2nd Open Enrollment period, and they were liquidated before OE2 even finished.

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