Credit where due. Last time around McCain made everyone hold their breath in suspense (then again, in his defense, he had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to schlep all the way back from Arizona to DC for the vote a day or so earlier).
This time around he’s being more clear and up front about it: He says he likes the idea of the bill in general, and would be influenced by AZ Gov. Ducey’s support of it, but the process has stunk and continues to stink from top to bottom:
Seriously, good for him. He’s being quite clear about not just his decisions but his reasons...and while it would be nice if he opposed the bill on the merits (it stinks), his actual reasons make perfect sense as well.
It's time to once again dust off the Three-Legged Stool visual aid to help explain just what the Graham-Cassidy bill would do to the individual insurance market. It's important to note that none of this has anything to do with Medicaid (expansion or traditional), the group market, Medicare and so forth; just the individual market.
Once again, here's what the "3-Legged Stool" was supposed to look like under the Affordable Care Act:
Here's what it actually looks like today, with some rather obvious gaps in the red (enrollee responsibility) and green (government responsibility) legs:
As the final deadline for final 2018 individual market rates to be locked in and the contracts signed, more states are coming into focus, and the pattern continues to be remarkably consistent.
In Mississippi, I originally pegged the requested rate hikes across the two individual market carriers (technically three, but "Freedom Life" is a phantom carrier with only 2 alleged enrollees) at 16.1% if CSR payments are made and 39.6% if they aren't. It turns out I was off by a bit, however, because I didn't realize that BCBS of Mississippi was only selling policies off-exchange next year. That means the CSR issue won't impact them either way, since none of their enrollees would receive the assistance anyway.
Alaska (along with Hawaii) will continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states. It appears this exemption will not affect Alaska receiving its state allotment under the new block grant in addition to the premium tax credits.
Delays implementation of the Medicaid per capita caps for Alaska and Hawaii for years in which the policy would reduce their funding below what they would have received in 2020 plus CPI-M [Consumer Price Index for Medical Care].
Provides for an increased federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) for both Alaska and Hawaii."
Bird doesn't have the actual legislative text, but they threw Hawaii in there as well (not to win their votes...Dems Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono are solid NOs no matter what). That means that the wording is probably along the lines of:
The Congressional Budget Office stated that they won't be able to provide a full score of the projected 10-year impact of the Graham-Cassidy bill for "at least several weeks". Instead, they expect to provide a partial score, focusing purely on the budget-related stuff necessary to "count" towards Senate reconciliation voting rules "early next week".
What won't be included are some pretty damned important details, like:
Impact on the federal deficit
Impact on insurance premiums, and of course...
Impact on the number of people with health insurance coverage
Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are insisting on squeezing the vote on Graham-Cassidy through within the next 10 days, before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30th, since that's the only way they have a chance at passing it using 50 votes (after the 30th, they would require 60 votes, which of course they have no chance at getting).
Jeff Stein: Senator, I wanted to ask you for a policy-based explanation for why you’re moving forward with the Graham-Cassidy proposal. What problems will this solve in the health care system?
Pat Roberts: That — that is the last stage out of Dodge City...I’m from Dodge City. So it’s the last stage out to do anything. Restoring decision-making back to the states is always a good idea, but this is not the best possible bill — this is the best bill possible under the circumstances.
If we do nothing, I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.
Jeff Stein: But why does this bill make things better for Americans? How does it help?
The fact that the Graham-Cassidy bill, like all of the prior Republican "replacement" healthcare bills, screws over people on both Medicaid and the individual market starting in 2020 is hardly news. A few provisions of the ACA are stripped out and/or bastardized immediately (and some, like the individual mandate penalty, are even repealed retroactively), but for the most part the pain doesn't start for another 2 years, well after the midterms are over.
However, JP Massar called something to my attention this morning:
Regular readers know that one of the issues I've spent the better part of the past year yammering on about endlessly is the importance of Congress formally appropriating Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to the insurance carriers on the individual market exchanges.
Thanks to the ongoing/pending ruling in the federal House vs. Burwell Price lawsuit, Donald Trump has the ability to pull the plug on CSR payments pretty much whenever he wants to (and he's threatened to cut them off every month since around March or April so far). CSR payments hang like a Sword of Damocles over the heads of every exchange-based insurance carrier each month, with them never knowing whether they'll get reimbursed or not.
CBO aims to provide preliminary assessment of Graham-Cassidy bill by early next week
CBO is aiming to provide a preliminary assessment of the Graham-Cassidy bill by early next week. That assessment, which is being prepared with the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, will include whether the legislation would reduce on-budget deficits by at least as much as was estimated for H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act, as passed by the House on May 4, 2017; whether Titles I and II in the legislation would each save at least $1 billion; and whether the bill would increase on-budget deficits in the long term. CBO will provide as much qualitative information as possible about the effects of the legislation, however CBO will not be able to provide point estimates of the effects on the deficit, health insurance coverage, or premiums for at least several weeks.
OK, Indivisible is all over the Graham-Cassidy disaster, so rather than try and cobble together my own action list, I'm cribbing from their email missive. I'll also be posting the latest Graham-Cassidy developments throughout the day.
STOP THE RETURN OF TRUMPCARE. TrumpCare is back and Republicans are as close as they’ve ever been to passing it. There are 12 days left for the Senate to ram healthcare through reconciliation with just 50 votes. This is TrumpCare’s last stand. Call your senators ASAP and tell them to vote no on “Graham-Cassidy” using all the latest resources at TrumpCareTen.org.
TrumpCare is back. REPEAT: TrumpCare is back. We really hoped we’d never have to say that, but you should know by now that this is the bill that just won’t die. Because of the rules of reconciliation, the special process Republicans are using to jam TrumpCare through the Senate, they have until September 30 to finish the job of repealing the Affordable Care Act. That gives them 12 more days to make good on their seven-year promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And nothing motivates Congress like a deadline.
Anthem said Friday afternoon it planned to scale back statewide individual coverage in Virginia on the public exchange under the Affordable Care Act amid inaction by the Donald Trump White House on cost-sharing reduction subsidies.
Anthem, which operates under the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan in 14 states, has already scaled back its Obamacare offerings in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin amid an unstable individual market for plans operating under the ACA.
“Today, planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating Individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including cost sharing reduction subsidies and the restoration of taxes on fully insured coverage,” Anthem said in a statement Friday afternoon. “As a result, the continued uncertainty makes it difficult for us to offer Individual health plans statewide in Virginia.”
Just a few days ago I noted that Michigan's Dept. of Insurance issued the semi-final 2018 individual market rate changes for the 10 carriers offering indy policies in the state (9 of which are on the ACA exchange; one of them is only offering plans off-exchange). At the time, the breakout was roughly 16.8% average increases assuming CSR payments are made next year or 26.8% assuming they aren't made.
A major health insurer is leaving Michigan’s individual marketplace, ending its policies offered here under the Affordable Care Act as the federal government slashes funding for enrollment and outreach groups.
Hey Michigan Residents! Do you live in the SAGINAW area?
If so, come on out to Saginaw on Saturday, September 16th, and join former State Senator (and current gubernatorial candidate) Gretchen Whitmer, State Representatives Vanessa Guerra & Adam Zemke, Chief Public Health Advisor for Flint Dr. Pam Pugh and myselfas we explain what the latest craziness is regarding the ACA, the GOP attempts to repeal and/or sabotage it and healthcare policy in general from 10:00am - 12:00pm at IBEW Local 557 at 7303 Gratiot Road.
For the next two weeks, ALL HEALTHCARE-RELATED ATTENTION needs to be on the following three issues:
FIRST:September 27th is the final deadline for ACA exchange insurance carriers to actually sign the contracts to participate in the 2018 Open Enrollment Period. Yes, the deadline to submit their rate filings already passed a week or so ago, and most of them are fairly settled in for next year, but until they actually sign the contract, they can still bail from the individual and/or small business exchanges...and given the massive uncertainty over Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursements and other sabotage efforts of Trump and Tom Price as well as the ongoing repeal/replace saga by the Congressional GOP, many (most?) of the carriers are deliberately waiting until the last possible minute to do so.
Well this was unexpected, although I suppose I should have expected it given all the insanity surrounding the impending deadlines for insurance carriers to sign contracts (Sept. 27th, I believe); the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30th (which is also the last chance for the GOP to try and squeeze through the hideous Cassidy-Graham Hail Mary repeal/replace bill); and the start of Open Enrollment on November 1st.
The CBO has issued a 17-page report with their latest projections for the types of healthcare coverage and federal spending on healthcare programs including Medicaid, CHIP, ACA tax credits and so forth over the next decade. here's what they foresee:
The federal government subsidizes health insurance for most Americans through a variety of programs and tax provisions. In 2017, net subsidies for people under age 65 will total $705 billion, CBO and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate.
Louisiana was one of the last states I ran rate hike analysis on just a month ago: Three carriers on the exchange (plus the "Freedom Life" phantom carrier), averaging around 21.4% rate increases on the assumption that CSR payments won't be made. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, loading CSRs onto Silver plans only would bump them up by an additional 20 points; this translates into roughly 14.2 points if spread across all metal levels on & off the exchange. Based on that, I estimated LA's rate increases at 21.4% without CSRs but only 7.2% if they actually are paid.
I ran an updated analysis of the requested average rate hikes for Connecticut last month. At the time, the only two carriers operating on the CT exchange next year (Anthem and ConnectiCare) were still noncommittal about actually committing to doing so. Statewide, it looked like the carriers were asking for rate increases averaging around 23.8% if CSR payments were guaranteed or 33.5% if they weren't.
As reported by Louise Norris today, the Connecticut insurance dept. reported that both carriers have now committed to sticking around next year, and the approved average rate increases now assume that CSR payments won't be made after all. In the end, the statewide average looks like roughly 28.4% (Norris pegs it at 29.3%, but that's because she generally only includes individual market carriers participating on the ACA exchanges, while I also include carriers and plans offered off-exchange as well).
I've written not one, not two, but three different blog entries in the past 24 hours about Bernie Sanders' just-announced "Medicare for All" proposal...but the reality is, I shouldn't have. Frankly, while it's a discussion/debate that we do need to have, making a big thing about it right this moment is, the more I think about it, terrible timing, because the Affordable Care Act is still in being attacked and at risk in several ways:
FIRST: The CSR issue still hasn't been resolved, although at this point it's extremely unlikely that Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander are going to pull a CSR/reinsurance rabbit out of their hats after all. Last week things looked somewhat promising, but this week it appears to have gone off the rails again...and with just 17 days left in the fiscal year (and, I believe, only 14 days before the contracts have to be signed by carriers for 2018 exchange participation), there's almost no time left to get even a minor stabilization bill pushed through.
SECOND: On a related note, Bill "so much for the Jimmy Kimmel test!" Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are still trying to cram through their pile-of-garbage Hal Mary Trumpcare bill, which is at least as bad as the GOP's failed AHCA/BCRAP bills were earlier this year and even worse in some ways. Again, there's only 17 days left to pull it off, but remember what happened with AHCA last spring...anything's possible. Here's a summary of the impact of the Cassidy-Graham bill via Andy Slavitt and the Centers for Budget & Policy:
OK, here it is. I've linked to a PDF with the full legislative text at the bottom of this blog entry; here's the summary version, with some notes:
TITLE I—ESTABLISHMENT OF THE UNIVERSAL MEDICARE PROGRAM
Establishes a Universal Medicare Program for every resident of the United States, including the District of Columbia and the territories. Guarantees patients the freedom to choose their health care provider. Provides for the issuance of Universal Medicare cards that all residents may use to get the health care they need upon enrollment. Prohibits discrimination against anyone seeking benefits under this act.
OK, so it apparently would cover undocumented immigrants, and every doctor/hospital/clinic/etc. would be required to participate, with anyone in the country being covered by any healthcare provider nationally.
The official announcement is scheduled for Wednesday, presumably with much hoopla accompanying it (and a dozen or so Democratic Senators co-sponsoring it, many of whom are considered likely 2020 POTUS candidate prospects). Over at the Washington Post, Dave Weigel has a sneak peak. I'll wait until I've had a chance to read through the actual text of the bill itself to write up a full response/analysis, so I'll just post a few key excerpts from Weigel's piece for now:
Sanders’s bill, the Medicare for All Act of 2017, has no chance of passage in a Republican-run Congress. But after months of behind-the-scenes meetings and a public pressure campaign, the bill is already backed by most of the senators seen as likely 2020 Democratic candidates — if not by most senators facing tough reelection battles in 2018.
For the past year and a half, of all the proxy battles between "Team Hillary" and "Team Bernie" on the left side of the aisle, no issue has been more repsentative of both how passionate people are or how much each "side" misunderstands the other than the future of the American healthcare system.
"Team Bernie", in essence, consisted of progressives (and Democrats) who believe that while the ACA may have improved things to some degree in some ways, it not only isn't enough long-term, it isn't nearly enough short-term either; the next step (and for many, the only acceptable next step) must be moving the entire U.S. population over to a universal Medicare-style Single Payer system, with everyone in the country being covered through a single, comprehensive healthcare program funded entirely (or nearly entirely) by taxes.
It appears that a formal letter was sent to HHS Secretary Tom Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma from the Energy & Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives...it's 6 pages long, and unfortunately the text isn't selectable, so I had to embed the pages as images. I'm happy to report that I contributed to their inquiry.
...and believe me, it wasn't on purpose; I've simply been swamped the past couple of weeks with other stuff, and somehow I just never got around to writing anything up about it.
I should have, though. Everyone thinks the existential threat to the ACA was over back on July 28th, and now it's simply a matter of "stabilizing the market" and "stopping Trump from sabotaging Open Enrollment". For the most part this is true, but for whatever reason, Louisiana GOP Senator Bill Cassidy and South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham simply won't let it go already, and are insisting on trying one final, desperate Hail Mary play to squeeze through an ACA repeal/Trumpcare bill as the final seconds run out on the 2017 Fiscal Year (which ends September 30th).
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.
Michiganders purchasing health insurance through the federal marketplace will see an average rate increase of 27.6 percent in 2018, the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services announced Friday.
One reason for the big increase: Uncertainty over whether President Trump will continue to fund Cost-Sharing Reduction payments, which subsidize plans for low- and moderate-income households.
Idaho is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to the ACA. On the one hand, they're the only state completely controlled by Republicans to set up their own ACA exchange (Kentucky's much-lauded "kynect" exchange was created by Democratic Governor Steve Beshear by executive order...and was then promptly scrapped the moment that incoming GOP Governor Matt Bevin took office). On the other hand, they're also the only state with their own exchange not to expand Medicaid. (As an aside, ID is also the only state to start out on the federal exchange the first year before breaking out onto their own exchange website).
We Can Talk About is a fun, informative, engaging weekly podcast dedicating to taking back the narrative in American politics. For too long we've let the other side set the terms of the conversation and it's about time we promote our own nurturant values.
Virginia was the very first state whose 2018 rate filings I analyzed, way back in early May. At the time, the initial filings amounted to 9 carriers on the individual market with an average rate increase request of around 30%. At the time I hadn't started distinguishing between "with CSR payments" or "without CSR payments", so I don't really know which scenario that 30% reflected; it was probably a mix of both depending on the carrier. 61,000 Aetna enrollees would have to shop around for a new carrier since they had previously announced they were pulling out of the individual market.
Back in January, I was pleasantly surprised to be included (sort of) in an actual comic book (OK, a "graphic novel") drawn/written by a skilled artist named Michael Goodwin. He did an excellent job of explaining the basics of how the ACA was supposed to work, some of the problems it's had, what the GOP was trying to push as a replacement, why that replacement sucked so badly and so forth. I was honored to learn that he had utilized some of my own data in putting together the project.
Well, Goodwin is back with a follow-up. This one isn't as long, and it focuses mainly on the sabotage efforts being attempted by Donald Trump and the GOP to undermine the ACA as much as possible. Once again, he's included some of my info/analysis as part of the comic, which I'm greatly flattered by. Here's a sample; click through for the whole thing:
Up at the top of the site is a big yellow button leading directly to the ongoing 2018 Rate Hike project. Let's face it, though: It's an awful lot of updates to scroll through. In addition, now that we're past the (extended) rate filing deadline, I've been able to make a lot of updates over the past few days (shoutout to Louise Norris, who did much of the grunt work on these).
As of today (September 6th), I now have average requested 2018 rate changes for the individual market across all 50 states + DC, and have made updates/corrections to several of these.
More importantly, I also now have approved 2018 rate changes for 6 states. They only represent around 9% of the population, though, so I wouldn't focus very much on the "national average" for the approved states yet; that will jump around a lot as more states are added to the mix, and likely won't start to settle in until at least half the states are included.
Having said that, here's what things look like as of today:
(sigh) Colorado's state insurance division just released their approved 2018 rate increases (busy day!), and the situation appears to be similar to Maine: The average requested rates which I thought already assumed no CSR reimbursements appear to have assumed CSRs would be paid after all:
Division of Insurance approves health insurance premiums for 2018
Commissioner: Measures to stablize market for 2018 must happen by Sept. 30
DENVER (Sept. 6, 2017) – The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), has approved the individual and small group health insurance plans for 2018. Average premium changes within each market - individual and small group - as well as the average change for each insurance company are listed below.
The state of Maine's insurance regulatory agency has announced the approved 2018 individual market rate hikes for the three carriers operating in the state. Louise Norris beat me to the punch:
Regulators in Maine published rate proposals for the three Maine exchange insurers in June, and finalized the rates in early September. Insurers proposed two sets of rates: one that assumes cost-sharing reduction (CSR) funding will continue, and another that assumes the federal government will not fund CSRs in 2018.
The Maine Bureau of Insurance initially rejected all three insurers’ rate proposals on August 10, and asked them to submit new rates. The revised rate filings were then approved on September 1. These average approved rate increases all assume that CSR funding will continue in 2018:
Vermont was one of the first states I analyzed back in the late spring; obvoiusly a lot has changed since then, so I updated/revised my analysis of their requested rate hikes for 2018 a couple of weeks ago, with requested average increases of 11.9% if CSR payments are made or 21.6% if they aren't.
Yesterday, Louise Norris gave me a heads up that the Vermont regulators have issued their approved rate increases for the two carriers operating on the individual and small group markets in the tiny state. This makes Vermont the 4th state to announce their approved rates for next year, joining Oregon, Maryland and New York.
Nevada is the final state to post their requested rate hikes for 2018 (or at least they're the last one I tracked down, anyway). I've now done at least a rough analysis of all 50 states + DC, and while some of the data is a bit outdated (remember, I started doing this back in late April/early May), most of it should still be fairly close to the present situation...at least in terms of requested rate hikes.
In Nevada, after much concern that a bunch of rural counties wouldn't have any exchange carriers at all, Centene stepped in to cover them. They aren't listed in the table below, but since I believe they're new to the state, that shouldn't matter in terms of rate increases since there's no base rates to compare against anyway.
Thanks to Louise Norris of healthinsurance.org for saving me the trouble of tracking all of the state exchange deadlines down. It's possible that a few more state-based exchanges (CT, ID, MD, NY & VT) could also extend their open enrollment deadlines beyond the official one on the federal exchange, but here's where things stand as of today (I'll update the graphic as necessary). Feel free to share widely.
Update 9/7/17: Two more state-based exchanges have chimed in: Vermont has clarified that they're sticking with December 15th, 2017; New York issued a press release that they're joining California & DC in extending Open Enrollment all the way through January 31st, 2018. The graphic below has been updated to include the New York extension.
Did CMS execute a last-minute reversal on navigator program? That's what independent blogger Charles Gaba is reporting, posting what appear to be internal CMS documents that show the agency was poised to essentially renew last year's funding for this year's ACA open enrollment.
One document posted by Gaba indicates that Randy Pate — tapped by the Trump administration to run Medicare's Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight — signed off on $60 million in program funding on Aug. 24. More. However, CMS ultimately funded the program at less than $37 million for the upcoming enrollment, a 41 percent cut from last year.
Utah has also finally released their requested 2018 individual market rate increases. There are six carriers offering individual policies next year, but only 2 of them are participating on the ACA exchange (and the 4 off-exchange carriers hold less than 4% of the total market combined). In fact, two of the off-exchange-only carriers are barely participating at all: BridgeSpan has only 8 enrollees, while "National Foundation" (a "phantom carrier" which also goes by "Freedom Life" in other states) once again supposedly only has a single "enrollee". Molina has a few hundred off-exchange enrollees, but the bulk of their 70,000-person membership are in exchange-based policies, and they're dropping off the exchange next year, so those 70K will have to choose from one of the two remaining exchange carriers: SelectHealth and the University of Utah.
As I noted back in June, there are 3 carrers on the KS individual market this year: Medica, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City. Any confusion between the BCBS names was made moot, however, as BCBS of KC announced they were dropping out of the indy market anyway.
That leaves Medica and BCBSKS, both of whom filed plans to stay on the market...but only Medica appears to have actually submitted rate requests, for a mere 7,600 enrollees:
ACA Signups isn't normally known for "big scoop" stories. Yes, I'm often the first one to openly post analysis and/or debunking of information/data/claims which have already been made public, but I'm not usually the first one to actually make the underlying data itself public in the first place.
My 2018 Rate Hike project petered out a few weeks back with the requested rate increases posted for 46 out of 50 states (along with DC). Unfortunately, the last 4 states (Kansas, Missouri, Nevada and Utah) decided to keep their cards close to their chest, delaying any public viewing of even the requested rate increases for awhile longer.