Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

 

5/16/18: IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW.

(sigh) Stop me if you've heard this one before...this is an Op-Ed in the Washington Examiner from a columnist and failed Republican Congressional candidate:

Time and opportunity still exist to replace Obamacare.

...I reported in January that a number of conservative groups, under the leadership of former Sen. Rick Santorum, was working hard to craft a new Obamacare replacement...Behind the scenes, those groups...have continued to meet and tweak their plan, and they seem just a few weeks away from being able to unveil it.

...I listened in on a March 21 conference call among numerous interested parties, and received further updates within the past week from Santorum.

*(To be honest, all of these types of bills--work requirements for Medicaid, drug testing for welfare benefits, photo ID for voting--have at least a tinge of racism to them no matter what, but at least this one isn't blatantly racist anymore).

This just in off the AP newswire...

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The sponsor of proposed Medicaid work requirements said Monday that lawmakers are removing a provision to exempt recipients who live in Michigan counties with high unemployment, saying it would have been too difficult to administer and denying allegations of racism.

Republican Sen. Mike Shirkey of Clarklake also told The Associated Press that the proposed 29-hour-a week workforce engagement requirement for able-bodied adults is being lowered to “very close” to 20 weeks. That is in line with the three states that have enacted Medicaid work laws and with Michigan’s work requirement for food assistance beneficiaries.

Having a doctor holding elected office is kind of hit or miss (former HHS Secretary Tom "Fly Me!" Price was an orthopedic surgeon, for instance, while Rand "Kneel before Aqua Buddha!" Paul is supposedly a "self-certified" opthamologist), but once in awhile it can be a very good thing.

Case in point: Ralph Northam, the new Governor of Virginia, a former Army doctor and pediatric neurologist, who just formally vetoed not one, not two, but four different GOP-passed healthcare bills, each of which would have further weakened and damaged the ACA individual market risk pool:

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today vetoed Senate Bills 844, 934, 935, and 964, which would put Virginians at risk of being underinsured, result in rapidly increasing Marketplace premiums, and undermine key protections in the Affordable Care Act. Governor Northam remains committed to expanding health care for nearly 400,000 uninsured Virginians, return millions to the state budget, and reduce Marketplace premiums. The Governor’s full veto statements are below.

I've written quite a few entries bashing the Short-Term Plan portion of Donald Trump's executive order opening up the floodgates on non-ACA compliant policies. However, I've written far less about the other shoe he's dropping: Association Health Plans, or AHPs. In fact, while I discussed AHPs briefly in Part Two of my Risk Pool video, the only blog post I've written to date which specifically focuses on them just quoted from this Avalere Health article:

Association Health Plans (AHPs) are health insurance arrangements sponsored by an industry, trade, or professional association that provide health coverage to their members—typically small businesses and their employees. Health insurance coverage offered through AHPs aims to make coverage available and affordable for small groups and individual employees. Importantly, these arrangements are currently governed by state and federal requirements and are subject to state oversight, including standards related to premiums and benefit requirements.

Via press release from "Protect Our Care":

Polls in 6 Battleground States Show Voters Blame Republicans for Rate Hikes

Six new Public Policy Polling surveys in battleground states find voters will blame Republicans for the expected health care premium increases this summer by approximately 30 points and voters believe Republicans and President Trump have been actively undermining and sabotaging the Affordable Care Act.

ARIZONA Voters say they will blame Republicans if health care premiums increase this summer. 55% say they will hold Republicans in Washington responsible if rates increase, compared to just 29% who said they would not. A plurality of voters (49%) say they believe Washington Republicans and President Trump have been trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act – and a majority of independent voters (57%) also say they agree with that statement.

OK, this doesn't technically count as an official 2019 Rate Hike analysis since none of it comes from actual carrier rate filings, but Covered California, the largest state-based ACA exchange, just released their proposed 2018-2019 annual budget, and it includes detailed projections regarding expected premium increases and enrollment impact over the next few years due specifically to the GOP's repeal of the ACA's Individual Mandate. Oddly, while they mention short-term plan expansion as another potential threat to enrollment/premiums, they do so passingly, and they don't mention association plans at all:

Since 2014, nearly 5 million people have enrolled in Medi-Cal due to the Affordable Care Act expansion, and more than 3.5 million have been insured for some period of time through Covered California. Together, the gains cut the rate of the uninsured in California from 17 percent in 2013 to a historic low of 6.8 percent as of June 2017.

Last month, after much painstaking research and analysis, I concluded that unsubsidized ACA-compliant individual market enrollees (both on & off the exchanges) are paying an average of around $960 this year (~$80/month) more in healthcare premiums nationally in 2018 than they otherwise would be if not for the various forms of ACA sabotage carried out by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans last year.

Again, it's important to clarify that this is $960 more (around 17% more) in addition to non-sabotage-related factors such as normal medical expense inflation (around 7%), the reinstatement of the ACA carrier tax (about 2%) and other various/sundry factors (around 2%).

Back in mid-April, I crunched a bunch of numbers and concluded that around 6.5 million people enrolled in unsubsidized ACA-compliant individual market policies are, on average, paying an additional $960/year ($80/month) for their policies this year due specifically to last year's sabotage efforts by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans. This is separate from other factors such as medical trend and the reinstatement of the ACA carrier tax. The actual 2018 "Trump Tax" ranges from as little as almost nothing at all in Vermont and North Dakota to as high as $1,500 per enrollee in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

The 2018 sabotage impact was mainly due to 1) CSR reimbursement funding being cut off; 2) uncertainty over individual mandate enforcement; and 3) a mish-mash of Open Enrollment changes including cutting the time window in half, slashing marketing/assistance budgets by 90% and 40% respectively and so forth.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: There may be a critical flaw in my reasoning below, but I'm not in a position to address it just yet. Stay tuned for an explanation soon...

I suspect that even within the healthcare wonk community, this particular bit of information is only going to be of interest to a small number...but I'm one of them, and it's my site, so there you go.

A couple of years ago I got into a rather wonky discussion with L.A. Times reporter Michael Hiltzik and Michael "No one hates Obamacare more than me" Cannon of the CATO Institute about Special Enrollment Periods:

 

The Kaiser Family Foundation just released an important new study which proves everything I've been saying for the past year and a half: After years of turmoil, the ACA-compliant individual market had finally quieted down and reached equilibrium last year...right up until Donald Trump, combined with total GOP control of the federal government, deliberately came in like a wrecking ball and messed everything up again:

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets for 2017, and again last year during the debate over repeal of the health law.

This post was inspired by a Twitter query by "Other Alex". He originally asked about the insanely expensive premiums for ACA policies in Charlottesville, Virginia, which I wrote about the other day. Anyway, after some back & forth between him, myself and Colin Baillio, Alex asked if I knew where the least-expensive ACA plans are.

I haven't looked it up by rating area yet (for instance, Virginia as a whole ranks 18th most expensive this year even though Charlottesville is the most expensive rating area in the country), but on a state-level basis, it appears that the least expensive state for ACA-compliant individual healthcare policies is actually...(drumroll please)...

Massachusetts.

A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump's former HHS Secretary Tom Price openly (and rather casually) admitted at the World Health Care Conference that the GOP's repeal of the ACA's individual mandate will "harm the pool in the exchange markets & drive up costs" when it actually goes into effect in 2019.

Well, today, the other 2018 sabotage shoe dropped as the chief actuary for the HHS Department stated the obvious regarding Trump's #ShortAssPlans scheme:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s plan to expand access to skimpy short-term health insurance policies, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, would affect more people and cost the government more money than the administration estimated, an independent federal study says.

A huge shout-out to Jesse O'Brien for the heads up on this (as well as for posting some of the actual filing data).

Oregon just became the 4th state to submit their preliminary 2019 ACA individual market rate filings, and while the expected increase is smaller than expected on average (in part due to Oregon's strict control of short-term plans), repeal of the individual mandate by Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump are still responsible for the vast majority of the rate increase.

Normally, I don't start posting natoinal projections for my annual Rate Hike Project until I have at least filing data for at least a dozen or so states because the national weighted average jumps around so much early on. A "national average" of, say, 10% based on numbers from, say, Vermont, Wyoming and the District of Columbia (collective population: 1.9 million people) is gonna change radically once you add California or Florida to the mix if they're looking at a 20% hike, for example.

Having said that, seeing how advocacy organization Protect Our Care has decided to launch their own version of my Rate Hike Project, and seeing how I do have preliminary 2019 rate increase projections from at one large state (Virginia) and two mid-sized states (Maryland and Oregon), I've decided to go ahead and start posting the national projections early, with a major caveat that the national average will likely change dramatically until at least 2/3 of the states have been plugged in.

Well. There you have it:

.@SeemaCMS bluntly says the uninsured rate will continue to rise because of rising premiums. "At some point, people can't afford coverage." #PostLive

— Alice Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) May 15, 2018

I think Albert said it best (and it appears to apply to some women as well):

 

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