Wyoming

2019 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

Annnnnnnnd finally, the least-populated state of them all...which also happens to be suffering from the highest average monthly premiums for unsubsidized individual market enrollees: Wyoming.

There's only a single carrier in the Equality State (seriously...that's their motto; who knew?), Blue Cross Blue Shield. They're actually looking to lower rates by just a smidge (0.25% on average).

However, once again, the Urban Institute projected that there'd be roughly an 18.6% increase factor due to the ACA's individual mandate being repeale and short-term & association plans being expanded by the Trump administration.

Assuming just 2/3 of that to play it safe, that still means that unsubsidized enrollees would have been looking at roughly a 12% drop in their 2019 premiums without those measures...a difference of over $120/month, or a whopping $1,400 more apiece next year. Ouch.

It's become a tradition that every spring/summer/fall, I pore over the official SERFF database for every state, furiously searching for the ACA-compliant rate filings for the upcoming year.

The thing is, the SERFF database, in addition to being somewhat confusing and clunky to work with, includes a lot more than just "here's how much we want to raise our rates next year". Even after narrowing it down to just major medical health insurance policies, there are often still dozens of different forms and spreadsheets in the database, covering pretty much any change to any insurance policy for any carrier. If a carrier drops out of a market, there are forms. If they stop offering PPOs, there are forms. If they merge with or buy out another company, there are obviously forms. Even for the rate filings themselves, there are often a dozen or more different PDFs and/or spreadsheets included as supporting documentation.

A couple of weeks ago, a joint letter was sent to all four Congressional leaders from AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans), the BlueCross BlueShield Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the AMA, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitalsm warning them, in no uncertain terms, of what the consequences of repealing the individual mandate would be:

We join together to urge Congress to maintain the individual mandate. There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need. Let’s work together on solutions that deliver the access, care, and coverage that the American people deserve.

A week or so ago, the American Academy of Actuaries sent a similar letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating pretty muc the same thing, but in more vivid detail:

With only 5 days to go before the launch of the 2018 Open Enrollment Period, time is rapidly running out for me to wrap up my 2018 Rate Hike Project. I started this, as I have for 3 years now, back in late early May with the very first requested rate changes out of Virginia, and have been tracking all 50 states as the summer and fall have passed, following every twist and turn of the insane repeal/replace circus in Congress, Trump's bloviating and blathering about "blowing things up" and "letting Obamacare explode", the last-ditch "Graham-Cassidy" sideshow and everything else, right up to and through Trump lowering the boom on cutting off CSR reimbursement payments.

Not the highest-profile ACA/healthcare story in the world, but Wyoming almost never makes the news, and this is especially noteworthy given the state, the Governor and the GOP having total control over the federal government:

As health care debate simmers, Mead laments lack of Medicaid expansion in Wyoming

Gov. Matt Mead lamented the $100 million that Wyoming left on the table by choosing not to expand Medicaid, and he expressed concern for the state’s hospitals while discussing health care with the Star-Tribune recently.

Mead echoed some of the fears that many Wyoming hospital officials have expressed for months: that congressional proposals to overhaul the health care system may have negative effects on facilities here and that the state has suffered because it chose not to allow more people to qualify for Medicaid.

“The idea that we did not accept Medicaid expansion and things are going to be good just hasn’t turned out,” he said.

Alabama, Alaska and Wyoming only have a single insurance carrier participating in each of their individual markets. While this is a bad thing from a competitiveness POV, it cetainly makes things easier for me from a tracking-average-rate-hikes POV.

ALSO IMPORTANT: The HHS Dept. is also starting to upload the rate filings to the official RateReview.Healthcare.Gov database, which should make things easier for me going forward (assuming that the data is uploaded properly and isn't messed with, which is a distinct possibility when it comes to the Trump Administration)

Officially, Alabama has the infamous "Freedom Life" phantom plan which is asking for a whopping 71.6% rate hike...to allegedly cover exactly one (1) person statewide. Un-huh.

Aside from that, however, it's Blue Cross Blue Shield across all three states...and they're asking for the following:

While poking around in the SERFF rate filing database for different states, I occasionally find filings which DON'T apply to ACA-compliant policies or enrollees but which are of interest to healthcare nerds such as myself. I've decided to bundle these into a single post as they pop up, so check this entry once in awhile.


IOWA: Big Kahuna carrier Wellmark submitted a filing for non-ACA compliant small group policies (either grandfathered or transitional) which have effective/renewal dates of July, August or September 2017. The requested rate increase is 7.0% on average, which is pretty typical for small group plans, and it appears that Wellmark had 51,003 people enrolled in such policies as of 12/31/16. Nothing odd there.

What interested me, however, was this sentence:

As I noted when I crunched the numbers for Texas, it's actually easier to figure out how many people would lose coverage if the ACA is repealed in non-expansion states because you can't rip away healthcare coverage from someone who you never provided it to in the first place.

My standard methodology applies:

Last week I noted that with 41 states accounted for and the 2017 Open Enrollment Period quickly bearing down on everyone, it was time to pull the plug on my 2017 Average Rate Hike project and move on. I had come up with an overall national weighted unsubsidized average rate increase of around 25% for ACA-compliant individual market plans.

However, I also noted that I'd make sure to fill in the approved rates for the remaining 10 states as they came in, for completeness sake...and today, thanks to the HHS Dept. cutting the ribbon on 2017 Window Shopping at HealthCare.Gov, I've also been able to fill in the blanks for five of the remaining states all in one shot (the other five remain elusive).

With only 584,000 residents, Wyoming is the smallest state, with a population over 10% smaller than even the District of Columbia or Vermont. Last year there were only 2 insurance carriers offering individual policies on the ACA exchange, Blue Cross and WINhealth. The average rate increase for 2016 was right around 10% even.

Unfortunately, WINhealth, a not-for-profit organization which had been around for 20 years, ended up as one of the few NON-Co-ops to go belly up last fall due specifically to Marco Rubio's Risk Corridor Massacre:

WINhealth sent along this release saying: As of October 8, 2015, WINhealth has chosen not to participate in the individual market, to include the federal exchange, for the 2016 plan year. The decision not to participate stems from a recent announcement from the federal government regarding the risk corridor program .

12 days ago, private Wyoming health insurer WINhealth, in business since 1996, was among the 5 (and counting) victims of the horrific Risk Corridor Massacre, which has already taken the lives of at least 4 ACA-created CO-OP insurers:

WINhealth sent along this release saying: As of October 8, 2015, WINhealth has chosen not to participate in the individual market, to include the federal exchange, for the 2016 plan year. The decision not to participate stems from a recent announcement from the federal government regarding the risk corridor program .

Just hours ago I posted a lengthy screed about the first clear victim of the Great Risk Corridor Debacle of 2015. In that case, both the culprit (the GOP's insistence on cutting off government funding guarantees for the risk corridor program) as well as the victim (the Kentucky Health CO-OP) both originated with the Affordable Care Act itself.

This time around, however, the victim (well, in addition to its current enrollees) is a private company, albeit a not-for-profit one: WINhealth Partners:

We’re a not-for-profit managed care company founded by professionals, and we’re changing the way that healthcare works for you – because we believe your insurance should help you to be at your best in life.

Wyoming's total individual health insurance market in 2014 was just 27,000 people. While the total market likely increased somewhat this year, those gains are likely offset by perhaps 15% being either "grandfathered" or "transitional" policies.

Just over 18,000 were enrolled in effectuated exchange-based policies as of June 30 of this year, leaving perhaps 9,000 more enrolled in off-exchange plans.

According to Louise Norris of HealthInsurance.org, there's only two companies operating on the exchange in Wyoming this year: WINhealth Partners and BCBS of WY. WINhealth is asking for a 13.37% average rate hike; Blue Cross is asking for an uknown increase...except that it's under 10%.

Well, score one for the Koch brothers:

In December, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, got the deal he wanted from the Obama administration: Tennessee would accept more than $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, as allowed for in the Affordable Care Act, but Obama aides would allow Haslam to essentially write staunchly conservative ideas into the program's rules for the state. He dubbed the reformed Medicaid program "Insure Tennessee."

But the state's chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group whose foundation is chaired by controversial billionaire David Koch, argued Haslam was just trying to trick conservatives into implementing Obamacare in their state by giving it a new name. AFP campaigned aggressively Haslam's plans for the next six weeks, even running radio ads blasting GOP state legislators who said they might vote for it.

On Wednesday, Haslam's bill died in a committee of the Tennessee state senate. The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers.

I've posted a few times before about the ACA Medicaid expansion situation in some deep red states; Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming among them:

Two of the most heavily Republican states, Utah and Wyoming, appear to be moving closer to an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Other GOP-dominated states, like Indiana and Tennessee, are also looking more closely at it, despite the hostility of their party’s leaders toward Obamacare.

...Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming, where Republicans hold 78 of 90 seats in the legislature, acknowledged his opposition to Obamacare but said the statehad to be realistic by embracing Medicaid expansion in one form or another. “I don’t think we can say to those people in Wyoming who are working [and] who cannot get insurance that we’re not going to do anything,” he said.

...While the odds for expansion in Wyoming remain uncertain, Utah seems likely to move in the coming months. There, Gov. Gary Herbert made the case on moral grounds — as a duty to help people he described as “our neighbors, our friends and our family members.”

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