Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

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.

5/25/18: SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW.

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):

 

For three years now, I've been painstakingly tracking the annual average rate increases for ACA-compliant individual market policies across all 50 states (+DC) and nationally, including both the on & off-exchange markets in as much detail as possible, and at the risk of tooting my own horn too much, my track record on this has been pretty damned accurate:

99% of what I write is posted either exclusively here at ACASignups.net or, at most, is cross-posted over at Daily Kos. Once in blue moon I've written a freelance piece for healthinsurance.org, and I even wrote one piece for Cracked.com last year. Today I'm proud to announce that an article which I co-wrote with three other healthcare wonks (David Anderson, Louise Norris and Andrew Sprung) has been published by HealthAffairs:

Implications Of CMS Mandating A Broad Load Of CSR Costs

In October 2017, the Trump administration eliminated federal funding to reimburse insurers for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies, which they are obligated to provide to qualifying enrollees in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. President Donald Trump had threatened to eliminate CSR funding throughout 2017, so insurers and insurance regulators in many states had anticipated the move by adding the cost of CSRs to premiums for 2018.

Given how progressive Vermont is, you'd think that they'd be doing as much as possible to batten down the hatches in order to avoid or mitigate the latest wave of sabotage efforts from the Trump Administration and the GOP...and you'd mostly be correct.

Some of the work on that front has already been done. For one thing, Vermont (along with Massachusetts and the District of Columbia) merges their individual and small group market risk pools together, which helps smooth out premium increases and overall morbidity across a larger risk pool. For another, Vermont has fully embraced ACA provisions such as Medicaid expansion and operating their own full exchange, of course. Vermont, along with a few other states, also has pretty strict rules in place limiting both short-term and association healthcare plans, so that portion of Trump's sabotage attack is neatly cancelled out already.

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