END OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT (MASSACHUSETTS)

Time: D H M S

OE5

Considering how absolutely obsessed the Trump Administration is about repealing the ACA, this new official report from Trump's Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) seems like a strange way of showing it.

The very first bullet starts off ripping on the 37% average rate hike on benchmark Silver plans...

Benchmark Premiums: The average monthly premium for the second-lowest cost silver plan (SLCSP), also called the benchmark plan, for a 27-year-old increased by 37% from plan year 2017 (PY17) ($300) to PY18 ($411).

Premium Growth: For the first time, annual growth in the average monthly premium available to a 27- year-old for the SLCSP, at 37%, outpaced that of the lowest-cost plan (LCP), at 17%.

Of course, there's pretty obvious reason for that: Trump's cut-off of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments. The ASPE report does go into this, but not until Page 6. Meanwhile, it's immediately undermined anyway (at least regarding subsidized enrollees) in the very next bullet:

With the 2018 Open Enrollment Period coming up just 5 days from now, it's time to put this to bed: After 6 months of painstaking research and analysis, I've compiled a comprehensive analysis of the weighted average rate changes for unsubsidized ACA-compliant individual market policies in 2018, including both the on- and off-exchange markets. It's already been confirmed by a different analysis by healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health, which used a completely different methodology to arrive at the exact same conclusion: The national average increase is between 29-30%, ranging from as low as a 22% average premium drop in Alaska (thanks to their successful reinsurance program) to as high as a painful 58% increase in Virginia.

As noted earlier today, I've now managed to plug 48 states (plus DC) into my 2018 Rate Hike Project spreadsheet. This leaves just two states missing: New Hampshire and Texas. I'm still waiting to clarify some things for each, so this analysis could still change, but I really want to wrap this up, so here's what I have for New Hampshire right now:

When I first ran the numbers for New Hampshire's requested 2018 rate increases, it seemed pretty straightforward: 3 carriers on the individual market. 2 listed rate changes assuming CSRs would be paid; one assumed they wouldn't. This gave the following:

Cut 'n dry, right? Guess again: An August press release from the NH Dept. of Insurance stated:

With 43 states accounted for, Open Enrollment itself looming just 6 days from now and HealthCare.Gov's window shopping tool now open for business anyway, there aren't likely to be too many surprises left for my 2018 Rate Hike project. For that matter, healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health just published their own analysis which confirms my own closely: They have the 2018 on exchange average increase at 29.1%, while I currently have the combined on & off-exchange average (for 43 states) at 29.2%.

Still, I don't like loose ends, and those 8 missing states are bugging me, so I still want to fill them in for completeness' sake. The only big state remaining is Texas, but I'm also missing Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

As regular readers know, I've spent the third consecutive summer/fall painstakingly analyzing both the requested and approved unsubsidized (full-price) rate increases on the individual market for 2018. My track record the prior two years has been pretty good:

Let's suppose that you and your spouse were 39 years old last fall, and you have two young children. None of you smoke, and you live in Oakland County, Michigan. Let us further suppose that you decided to enroll your family in a standard Silver policy via the federal ACA exchange, HealthCare.Gov. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is the biggest carrier in the state, and Blue Care Network is their HMO division, so you decide to go with them.

How much of a tax credit will they receive, and how much would they end up paying for 2017 at different income levels after applying tax credits?

In 2017, the Federal Poverty Line in the 48 contiguous states for a family of four $24,300. Let's plug in some different incomes and see where they fall on the FPL scale:

 

Several of the states operating their own ACA exchanges have already had their 2018 Window Shopping tools up and running for several weeks now, including Covered California, Your Health Idaho and the Maryland Health Connection, so this really shouldn't be that big of a deal, but given the insanity and uncertainty surrounding this years' Open Enrollment Period and especially the fact that HealthCare.Gov is responsible for 39 states (while being operated by the federal government under the thumb of an openly-hostile Trump Administration), it's pretty important news regardless.

In any event, HealthCare.Gov's 2018 Open Enrollment Period Window Shopping tool is now live.

 

On November 10, 2016, at 4:30 in the morning, I was still in a bit of a dazed state trying to absorb the reality that a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic con-artist sexual predator moron was about to become the next President of the United States. We were 9 days into the 2017 Open Enrollment Period, and I realized that there was absolutely no way of knowing what sort of impact the election results might end up having on how many people would sign up for coverage.

My original, pre-OE4 projection was that it would come in anywhere between 13.5 - 14.0 million people, but I quickly realized that I'd have to drastically alter my thinking. How drastically? Well, I actually posted the following to give an idea of how deep into the unknown we were:

A week or so ago, David Anderson, Louise Norris, Andrew Sprung and I co-wrote an article explaining how different states were planning on handling 2018 individual market pricing given the massive uncertainty surrounding ongoing Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments.

Our timing couldn't have been more fortuitous: Less than 48 hours after we posted the piece, Donald Trump announced that, sure enough, he's finally following through on his threat to pull the plug on CSR payments, effective immediately.

Press release from the North Dakota Insurance Dept,, September 28, 2017:

Medica Leaving North Dakota Individual Health Insurance Exchange in 2018
Post date: Sep 28, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread today confirmed that the Insurance Department was informed late Wednesday, Sept. 27, that Medica does not intend to sign an agreement with the federal government to offer coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange for their individual health insurance in North Dakota for 2018.

“We have had numerous conversations with Medica over the course of the past few months, and given the uncertainty that currently exists around cost sharing reductions, they are unable to move forward in the Federal Exchange,” Godfread said.

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.

Pennsylvania is the first state which has released their approved 2018 rate hikes since Donald Trump officially pulled the plug on CSR reimbursement payments last Friday. It's also one of just 16 states which had yet to do by then. Most of the remaining states are small or mid-sized, so plugging Pennsylvania into the 2018 Rate Hike Project leaves just Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey as missing states with more than 8 million residents.

Back in June, the PA Insurance Commissioner was pretty up front and clear about what the major causes of 2018 rate increases on the individual market would be:

Insurance Commissioner Announces Single-Digit Aggregate 2018 Individual and Small Group Market Rate Requests, Confirming Move Toward Stability Unless Congress or the Trump Administration Act to Disrupt Individual Market

IMPORTANT: I need to stress that I am not in any way supportive of having CSR reimbursement payments cut off. I've written dozens of blog posts for the past year and a half about the danger this poses and I've repeatedly explained why this is a reckless, dangerous move by Donald Trump, I've even repeatedly noted how incredibly easy it would be to resolve the issue with a simple, one paragraph bill. Having said that, assuming the payments do stop being made, this is an explainer of how to turn it into a "lemonade out of lemons" situation for as many people as possible. Make no mistake, however: Millions of people will still be hurt by this...just not the people Trump thinks he's hurting.

UPDATE 10/13/17: Welp. Trump officially lowered the boom on cutting off CSR reimbursement payments last night, so CSR sabotage is no longer a threat, it's a reality (unless there's a court injunction or the GOP-held Congress actually gets off their asses and formally appropriates the payments with a simple, 87-word bill).

    Covered California (CA's ACA exchange) just issued the following press release:

    Covered California Keeps Premiums Stable by Adding Cost-Sharing Reduction Surcharge Only to Silver Plans to Limit Consumer Impact

    • In the absence of a federal commitment to continue funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) reimbursements through the upcoming year, Covered California health insurance companies will add a surcharge to Silver-tier products in 2018.
    • However, because the surcharge will only be applied to Silver-tier plans, nearly four out of five consumers will see their premiums stay the same or decrease, since the amount of financial help they receive will also rise. Those who do not get financial help will not have to pay a surcharge.
    • Financial help means that in 2018, nearly 60 percent of subsidy-eligible enrollees will have access to Silver coverage for less than $100 per month — the same as it was in 2017 — and 74 percent can purchase Bronze coverage for less than $10 per month.
    • California and individual markets across the nation still need a clear commitment that the federal government will continue to make CSR payments to promote lower premiums, save taxpayer money and ensure health insurance companies participate.

    Pages