OK. Here we go. First, just as a refresher: Here's what the Individual Market was supposed to look like under the Affordable Care Act:
Here's what it actually looks like for a variety of reasons, including both legitimate glitches in the ACA itself as well as a whole lot of flat-out sabotage by the GOP over the past 7 years. While there are plenty of other issues which need to be addressed, the most obvious ones are that the tax credits need to be beefed up and applied to enrollees over the 400% FPL threshold, and the mandate penalty should really be increased. In short, two legs of the stool need to be lengthened...to continue the metaphor, we need a couple of shims. Around $12 billion per year or so should do the trick on the tax credit side. As it happens, one of the few useful parts of most of the GOP plans is that they do include a good $120 billion or so in "reinsurance/stabilization" funding over 10 years...which, in practice, would amount to about the same thing. The key is that this funding would have to be added to the existing ACA funding, not replacing it, which is what these plans do instead:
As regular readers know, I've spent the past few months speaking at various political/activist club meetings giving a lengthy presentation which gives a basic overview of the healthcare coverage situation in America, how the ACA was supposed to work, which parts of it are/aren't working, how I think the parts which aren't working should be fixed/improved, and of course what the Republican Party's plan of the day is to screw up everything which works while making the existing problems far, far worse.
By popular demand, I've embarked on a project to bring a version of this presentation to the web, by way of a series of short, simple videos (narrated slideshows, really) which give the basics. The first one can be viewed above.
As I note at the outset: I realize how incredibly basic and crude this is. I actually have some experience in video editing from my wannabe film producer days (long story, don't ask) in the 1990's, but I'm more than a little rusty at it...and frankly, given that the Senate vote is coming up in just a few days, I don't exactly have a lot of time for fancy effects and the like.
NOTE: The original focus of this diary was on the deliberate sabotage by the Trump Administration/HHS Dept. under Tom Price of the individual insurance market in general and HealthCare.Gov in particular, but the screen shot mentioned in passing in the diary below is actually far more important and disturbing the more I think about it than I had originally thought.
As noted below, it's an anonymous note sent to me on Thursday. Since it was sent I’ve confirmed the identity of the sender. This doesn’t prove that their specific claim is true, but there’s absolutely no reason I can think of for this person to risk their job and reputation by lying about this issue, and it matches everything else in the diary.
Several professional journalists have since contacted me and I’ve gotten them in touch with the sender. Stay tuned, this could be a big deal.
(sigh) I'm not really sure what the point of even writing about this is since it doesn't include the Cruz-Lee amendment which is supposedly the only thing keeping the ultra-conservative wing of the GOP Senate on board with BCRAP in the first place, but whatever:
CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) have prepared an estimate of the direct spending and revenue effects of the version of H.R. 1628, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, posted today on the Senate Budget Committee’s website.
By the agencies’ estimates, this legislation would lower the federal budget deficit by reducing spending for Medicaid and subsidies for nongroup health insurance. Those effects would be partially offset by the effects of provisions not directly related to health insurance coverage (mainly reductions in taxes), the repeal of penalties on employers that do not offer insurance and on people who do not purchase insurance, and spending to reduce premiums and for other purposes.
“The idea that you can repeal the Affordable Care Act with a two- or three-year transition period and not create market chaos is a total fantasy,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University. “Insurers need to know the rules of the road in order to develop plans and set premiums.”
But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty’s figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.
Thanks to Emily Gee and the Center for American Progress for this:
This isn't a full/official New Jersey rate hike update, as it only refers to one carrier, and rounds things off a bit, but in the video above, if you watch from around 37:30 to 41:00, you'll hear New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone talk about the negative impact that the CSR reimbursement threat/uncertainty/sabotage effect is having on Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield...and since Horizon BCBS happens to hold something like 70% of the New Jersey individual market share (which is confirmed by Pallone in the video), the statewide weighted average rate hike will end up being largely determined by theirs.
The most relevant part:
"So Horizon, which is something like 70% of our market in New Jersey, filed like a 24% increase. And I asked the president (of Horizon) "why are you filing with a 24% increase?" I can't imagine that health insurance costs have gone up that much. And he said "Oh, they haven't, Congressman." I said, "well, what is this?"
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Sunday made a bold and questionable prediction about the Senate GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare: He argued that the legislation could actually provide health insurance to more individuals than the Affordable Care Act, a claim undermined by the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill.
Price made the comment while discussing how the Senate bill closes a gap that existed in certain states that chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. In those states, there is a section of the population that does not qualify for traditional Medicaid, but makes too little to qualify for subsidies on the exchanges since Obamacare intended to cover it through Medicaid expansion. The Senate bill closes this gap, and Price used that provision to argue that more people would be covered under the new legislation.
Hey Michigan Residents! Do you live in Michigan's 8th or11th Congressional District? Are you sick of Mike Bishop (MI-08) and Dave Trott (MI-11) refusing to even talk to you about their "replacement" healthcare bill, which would tear away healthcare coverage for millions of Americans and hurt the coverage of countless millions more?
If so, come on out to either Plymouth (MI-11) or Orion Township (MI-08) TOMORROW, Sunday, July 16th, and join me, MI-05 Congressman Dan Kildee and State Representatives Christine Greig / Brian Elder as we explain just WTF is going on with the GOP's healthcare debacle (click links below to RSVP):
Right on top of the American Academy of Actuaries' open letter explaining the extreme danger of the GOP passing their BCRAP bill (particularly the Godawful Cruz-Lee amendment) comes this joint letter sent to GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (well...and Chuck Schumer, since he is the Senate Minority Leader) from both America's Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (h/t to Sahil Kapur and Topher Spiro...not sure who posted it on Twitter first):
The American Academy of Actuaries has chimed in on the GOP Senate's #BCRAP Obamacare replacement bill, and I have to imagine that they had to bite their tongues clean through while composing this primer explaining the most rudimentary concepts behind "insurance", "risk pools" and "adverse selection" to Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Mitch McConnell:
Risk Pooling: How Health Insurance in the Individual Market Works
Division of Insurance releases preliminary 2018 health insurance information
Final approval expected in late September / early October
DENVER (July 14, 2017) – The Colorado Division of Insurance, part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), today released the preliminary information for proposed health plans and premiums for 2018 for individuals and small groups. From this point until August 4, Colorado consumers can comment on these plans.
All counties in Colorado
As the Division of Insurance noted in its June 21 news release, based on the plans filed, there is at least one insurance carrier planning to offer individual, on-exchange plans in every Colorado county. However, the insurance companies have indicated to the Division that they may be forced to reevaluate their participation in the marketplace if the lack of clarity at the federal level continues.
I've been writing for months now about the impact of the Trump/GOP Sabotage Effect on 2018 rate hikes. Generally speaking, premium increases will be due to four things:
Medical Inflation: That is, the actual increases in charges by hospitals, doctors, medical equipment, prescription medication, administrative overhead and so on. In a perfect world, this would be the only reason rates ever go up.
Reinstatement of the Health Insurance Providers Fee: One of the ACA's funding sources is a broad-based fee placed on health insurance companies themselves. Basically, a small portion of all premiums for all enrollees (including the total nongroup (on & off-exchange), small group and large group markets) is paid as a tax to the federal government which in turn uses it to partially fund the ACA's tax credits, CSR payments and Medicaid expansion provisions. The carrier tax was waived for 2016-2017, but is scheduled to be reinstated next year, so premiums wiill go up a bit accordingly. It's supposed to total around $14 billion next year.
Both of these are unfortunate, but make total sense in an ACA world: Healthcare costs do rise year to year (though at a slower pace since the ACA passed), while the carrier tax helps cover a chunk of the subsidies and Medicaid expansion funding.
Still cuts off tax credits at 350% FPL instead of the ACA's 400% FPL. Pass.
Still bases tax credits on a 58% AV Bronze plan instead of the ACA's 70% AV Silver plan. Pass.
Throws another $70 billion onto the "state stabilization fund" pile for a total of $132 billion
Throws another $70 billion on to "offset costs for high-risk patients" (I presume this means reinsurance?)
Yes, it includes the Cruz/Lee "Separate but Unequal" amendment; carriers could indeed go back to offering unregulated plans: No guaranteed issue, no community rating, no essential benefits, as long as they also offer a fully ACA-compliant plan
Tax credits couldn't be used for the unregulated plans, nor would they be attached to the risk adjustment program. In other words: Segregated risk pools
Catastrophic plans would be "counted" the same as other plans (ie, tax credits could be used for them), but they'd amount to the same as Bronze plans now anyway
It includes a #BakedAlaska giveaway to win over Lisa Murkowski...1% of funds have to go to "any state where premiums are 75% higher than average" (i.e., Alaska)
The database at the link above doesn't include the enrollee market share numbers; for that I had to dig up the actual filings at the SERFF database. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Presbyterian seem to be assuming no significant TrumpTax next year (which makes sense, since both will be off-exchange only, thus not subject to CSR payment concerns). Molina's filing is kind of odd--they seem to assume that CSR payments will be made...but that the individual mandate won't be enforced, which seems rather backwards to me (most TrumpTax filings assume neither will be enforced, or that the mandate will but CSR payments won't).
A small group of Democratic legislators will do something unusual Wednesday morning: hold a press conference to talk about the parts of Obamacare that are broken.
Ten House Democrats will unveil a new plan to fix Obamacare, highlighting the parts of the law that have struggled to work and offering modest steps to improve them. The proposal includes more funding to help insurance plans cover the sickest patients, along with possibly changing the timing of the open enrollment season in hopes of attracting more Americans to sign up for insurance.
These Democrats are agitating for a new strategy, one where they speak openly about the health law’s weak spots — particularly the individual market — and how to shore them up. The party has so far been reticent to highlight Obamacare’s problems at a moment when Democrats are fighting against Republican efforts to repeal parts of the law.
A shout-out to Jeremy Johnson for the heads up: The Montana Commissioner of Securities & Insurance has released their preliminary 2018 rate requests for the individual and small group markets...and it's pretty darned straightforward. As a nice bonus, they even saved me the trouble of digging up the effected enrollee numbers. In fact, the only critical data missing are the "Part II Justification" files, which hopefully clarify how the CSR payment/mandate enforcement situation plays into these requests.
Judging by the requests, it looks like at least 2 of the 3 on the individual market are assuming that CSR payments will continue and the mandate penalty will be enforced. As for the third (BCBSMT), they're asking for a 23.1% rate hike, so I honestly don't know whether that includes the TrumpTax or not. For the moment I'll assume it doesn't, but will change this later if I'm wrong about that.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Tuesday that he is canceling half of Congress’ annual month-long August recess, keeping lawmakers in town to finish their drawn-out and so far unsuccessful effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and tackle other pressing matters.
“Once the Senate completes its work on health care reform, we will turn to other important issues including the National Defense Authorization Act and the backlog of critical nominations,” he wrote.
Tensions are rising between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team and his party’s ideological factions, with a renewed sense of pessimism creeping into the Senate GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Fewer issuers apply to participate in Health Insurance Exchanges for 2018
Fewer issuers apply to participate in Health Insurance Exchanges for 2018
Less choice for consumers as issuer health plan applications drop 38 percent from last year
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced 141 individual market qualified health plan (QHP) issuers submitted initial applications to offer coverage using the Federally-facilitated Exchange eligibility and enrollment platform in 2018. At the initial filing deadline last year, 227 issuers submitted an application compared to 141 this year, a 38 percent drop in filings.
For months now, I've been noting that multiple analyses by the CBO, S&P and others kept agreeing that as ugly as 2017's average unsubsidized rate hikes were (around 25% overall nationally, ranging from just 1.3% in Rhode Island and North Dakota to a whopping 76% in Oklahoma), they did appear to do the trick in terms of finally bringing individual market premiums in line with actual medical expense claims, thus stabilizing the overall risk pool. Yes, there are still many areas of the country where this isn't the case yet, but overall it looked like the dust had finally started to settle, allowing a clear picture of what needs to be done next to improve the situation.
Rhode Island just released their 2018 Individual and Small Group market rate hike requests, and they're pretty straightforward. For the small group market, I don't have the weighted market share for each carrier, but overall it ranges from 5.8 - 12.8%, with an unweighted average of 8.8%.
On the individual market, as with 2017, there's only two carriers participating in 2018: BCBS of RI and Neighborhood Health Plan. They're asking for a 13.8% and 5.0% increase respectively, with a weighted average of 10.5%.
BCBS gave their enrollment as around 27,000; for Neighborhood, I estimated theirs based on dividing their projected total member months by 12 to get 16,345. RI's on-exchange enrolment was 29,456 during Open Enrollment this year, so that would leave roughly 12,800 off-exhange enrollees, for roughly a 2:1 on/off-exchange ratio, which sounds about right.
Including Georgia, I've now compiled initial 2018 unsubsidized individual market rate hike requests for 17 states...and Georgia's carriers are asking for by far the highest overall average increase, even assuming no Trump/GOP sabotage tax.
There appear to be four carriers which have filed to sell individual market plans in Georgia next year: Alliant, Ambetter (aka Celtic, aka Centene...for God's sake, pick one name, guys, willya??), Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser Health Plan.
New data have been released contradicting Republican propaganda about the “failing” Affordable Care Act. What may be more embarrassing to the hardliners pushing repeal is that it comes from the government, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under Secretary Tom Price, the department has been a fount of anti-ACA rhetoric. But in an annual report about the ACA’s risk-management provisions issued Friday, Health and Human Services established that the key programs are “working as intended,” protecting insurers from unexpectedly large risks and moderating premiums for consumers.
Not only that, the data “would seem to refute the commonly held belief that the marketplace population is becoming sicker,” observes health economist Timothy Jost, writing in Health Affairs. In fact, according to the figures from 2016 in the latest report, the customer base is getting healthier and the risk pools have been stabilizing.
His proposal, which he’s circulating to his colleagues on typed handouts, wouldn’t explicitly create and fund the special insurance markets, as the House bill did. Instead, insurance experts said, it would create a sort of de facto high risk pool, by encouraging customers with health problems to buy insurance in one market and those without illnesses to buy it in another.
...There is no public legislative language yet, but here’s how Mr. Cruz’s plan appears to work, based on his handout and statements: Any company that wanted to sell health insurance would be required to offer one plan that adhered to all the Obamacare rules, including its requirement that every customer be charged the same price. People would be eligible for government subsidies to help buy such plans, up to a certain level of income. But the companies would also be free to offer any other type of insurance they wanted, freed from Obamacare’s rules.
At the top of the website I have a button linking to an article I wrote for Cracked.com back in May in which I explored about a half-dozen reasons why making major changes to healthcare policy in the U.S. is such a royal pain in the ass. I'm a Single Payer advocate at heart, so it was mostly written from that perspective, but really, most of the points I made would apply to any major policy change.
One thing you may notice in reading the piece is that at no point do I address the cost/payment side of moving the entire U.S. over to a universal, federally-funded Single Payer system; I stick mostly to the logistical side of things (What to do with 2-3 million industry workers? What about the Hyde Amendment? Etc, etc). These are all reasons why I'm convinced that achieving such a system would have to be done in stages. That doesn't mean tiny stages, mind you; "incremental" simply means "more than one step", so it could be, say, 4-5 stages phased in over 20 years or whatever...just not all in one shot.
As longtime readers know, I've often separated the problems with the ACA into several categories:
Some were inherent in the original bill as signed into law.
Yes, many of these only exist because of futile attempts to win over support from Republicans (or a handful of blue dog Dems), but the Democrats are still responsible for them. This includes things like the APTC tax credits being too skimpy, the "family glitch", the "skinny ESI glitch" and so forth. In these cases, the GOP can certainly be criticized for refusing to help resolve those issues, but that's a matter of "passive" obstruction as opposed to overtly doing so.
Several regular commenters here at ACA Signups have been wondering why the Congressional Budget Office keeps using March 2016 as the "baseline" for projecting the net impact on healthcare coverage numbers under the GOP's Trumpcare bills (the House's AHCA and the Senate's BCRAP), as opposed to the more recent January 2017 baseline. After all, according to the March 2016 baseline, the CBO was projecting that under the ACA, the total individual market would have 25 million people as of 2026 (18 million on the exchanges plus another 7 million off-exchange), whereas under the January 2017 baseline, their projections are for the individual market to only be 20 million as of 2027 (13 million on the exchanges plus 7 million off-exchange). Taken at face value, this would seem to suggest a 5 million enrollee discrepancy. This drumbeat has been taken up more recently by GOP Senators, particularly Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
Their initial requests ended up boiling down to a weighted average of around 17.2% on the individual market and 8.2% for the small group market. At the time, however, I was still figuring out how to sort out the Trump Tax Factor: That is, the portion of the requested rate hikes which can be blamed specifically on 2 major factors: The GOP's refusal to pass a 64-word bill formally appropriating CSR reimbursement payments unless it's tied to the rest of their #BCRAP bill (and Trump's constant, public threats to cut off CSR payments altogether unless the #BCRAP bill passes); and Trump/Tom Price's ongoing threats/overt suggestions that they're not going to bother enforcing the individual mandate penalty at all.
This year, to the best of my estimates, Tennessee's total individual market consists of roughly 300,000 people, around 2/3 of whom are enrolled via the federal ACA exchange. Humana is dropping out of the state next year, meaning roughly 79,000 enrollees will have to shop around.
To my knowledge, there are actually 6 individual market carriers in Tennessee this year: Aetna, TRH (Tennessee Rural Health), Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana and "Freedom Life" (which, again, is basically a phantom carrier with no enrollees). Aetna and Humana are out, so that leaves TRH, BCBSTN and Cigna. TRH doesn't appear to have submitted an official 2018 rate filing as of yet, but they only had 3,500 enrollees this time last year anyway, so likely won't have much impact on the overall weighted average rate hikes.