Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

 

Over at the Brookings Institute, there's a big wonky forum this morning called (De)stabilizing the ACA’s individual market: A view from the states. The panelists include several of my own healthcare heroes: Louise Norris, Brad Wright, Lynn Blewett, Cynthia Cox, Sabrina Corlette and Matt Fiedler:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), through the individual health insurance markets, provided coverage for millions of Americans who could not get health insurance coverage through their employer or public programs. However, recent actions taken by the federal government, including Congress’s repeal of the individual mandate penalty, have led to uncertainty about market conditions for 2019. Market stabilization is currently the most critical regulatory issue that public policy officials are facing under the private insurance component of the ACA.

Holy guacamole. I've noted repeatedly that unlike last fall, when average rate increases of 20-30% or more were commonplace for ACA individual market policies (due mainly to Trump cutting off CSR reimbursement payments), the preliminary rate requests for 2019 are actually averageing quite a bit lower than originally expected; of the 20 or so states I've crunched the numbers for so far, the weighted average for unsubsidized premium hikes is hovering around the 10% mark.

At first glance, it may sound like Democrats have been overplaying their hand when it comes to the "individual mandate repeal/short-term plan expansion is causing massive hikes!" attack. However, the rate increases from deliberate sabotage are happening...they're just being partly cancelled out by other factors, including:

If you've followed this site for awhile, you may recall that about a year ago, I called out the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) for trying to pull a fast one regarding the 2017 Open Enrollment Period data.

The short version is that they tried to make it look as though only 10.3 million of the 12.2 million people who selected Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) from the ACA exchanges actually paid their first month's premium and were actually enrolled (i.e., "effectuated"), or around 84%. They then tried using this "fact" as evidence of how the ACA was failing, etc etc, because this was supposedly down from 2016 levels.

The difference, as I noted at the time, is that the 2016 effectuation numbers were as of March, while the 2017 effectuation numbers were as of February. This made a big difference, because around 500,000 people who enrolled during 2017 Open Enrollment couldn't have been effectuated for February...because about half a million people enrolled between Jan. 16th - Jan. 31st, which meant their policies weren't even scheduled to begin until March.

When the ACA exchanges first launched for the 2014 Open Enrollment Period, the law included three individual market stabilization programs. One of the programs was called reinsurance, and as far as I know it worked pretty well. Unfortunately, the federal ACA reinsurance program sunsetted after only three years, at the end of 2016, which is part of why rates spiked so much in 2017 (they shot up in most states in 2018 as well, but for very different reasons).

In response, several states (Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon) have enacted their own, state-level reinsurance programs, and several more are on the way (New Jersey, Maryland and Wisconsin). It's a fairly cut & dried way of keeping premiums down (or even lowering them in some cases) which requires no additional federal spending and much less state spending than you would think.

Here's an example of how it works:

I never thought I'd be quoting or linking to anything published by the ultra-conservative American Action Forum, and yet here we are:

How A Trade War With China Will Impact U.S. Health Care Costs
Jacqueline Varas, Tara O'Neill Hayes

...This report examines the overall effect of these tariffs specifically on U.S. health care. On the most recent lists are an array of medical equipment, including items such as MRI machines, X-ray machines, and surgical instruments. AAF identified 55 products on the tariff lists that can be classified as medical equipment.

Last week I noted that after slashing the marketing budget for HealthCare.Gov, by a whopping 90% (from $100 million to just $10 million) and cutting the Open Enrollment Period itself in half (from 3 months to just 6 weeks) and cutting the navigator/outreach budget by 41% (from $59 million down to $36 million), Trump's CMS Dept. was "considering" slashing the navigator budget for 2019 down further yet:

The Trump administration is considering cutting funding for ObamaCare outreach groups that help people enroll in coverage, sources say.

An initial proposal by the administration would have cut the funding for the groups, known as "navigators," from $36 million last year to $10 million this year. Sources say that proposal now could be walked back, and it is possible funding could remain the same as last year, but it is unclear where the final number will end up.

 

Last month I posted a lengthy, deep-in-the-weeds analysis of Michigan Gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed's state-based Single Payer healthcare proposal, dubbed "Michicare" (later changed to simply "MichCare").

Later I noted that his primary opponent, former State Senator and County Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer, has far thinner responses posted on her website when it comes to healthcare policy. I also noted that there are some good reasons for this which likely have nothing to do with being "a tool of the insurance lobby", a "neoliberal sellout" bla bla bla and so forth.

However, for the record, yes, Ms. Whitmer does indeed support universal healthcare coverage, as shown in the Q&A video clip above from one of her town hall appearances (thanks to Mary Bernadette Minnick Weatherly for the clip and the OK to repost it).

Below is a verbatim transcript of the whole exchange:

The big story in the 2017 Risk Adjustment report from CMS over the weekend is, of course, the fact that CMS has decided to freeze $10.4 billion in revenue transfers (or $5.2 billion, depending on your POV) in response to a judgicial ruling in a New Mexico lawsuit.

However, before the actual table breaking out all the carriers by state and how much each owes/is owed, the report includes some other interesting wonky data stuff about 2017 enrollment. Most of it wasn't of much interest to me, but one bar graph caught my eye:

I've obviously gotten a bit behind with my "ACA 2.0 spreadsheet" project...

New law preserves Affordable Care Act measures for Hawaii residents

Gov. David Ige signed a new law on Thursday that ensures certain benefits under the Affordable Care Act will be preserved under Hawaii law.

Senate Bill 2340 retains several of the measures introduced in the Obama-era legislation, also known as Obamacare, including a clause that allows Hawaii adults up to 26 years-old to continue receiving health insurance under their parents.

The law also prohibits health insurance organizations from excluding coverage to those with preexisting conditions, or using an individual's gender to determine premiums or contributions to health insurance plans.

According to Louise Norris of healthinsurance.org, here's a more clear look at what SB 2340 does:

I admit to not knowing a whole lot about how Maryland's "All-Payer" system works aside from every payer (Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance) having to pay the same amount for the same services at a given hospital. Here's a general summary from Wikipedia:

All-payer rate setting is a price setting mechanism in which all third parties pay the same price for services at a given hospital. The system does not imply that charges are the same for every hospital. It can be used to increase the market power of payers (such as private and/or public insurance companies) to mitigate inflation in health care costs. All-payer characteristics are found in the health systems of France, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands. Maryland also uses such a model.

This morning, CMS released the 2017 Risk Adjustment Summary Report for the Individual, Catastrophic and Small Group markets. As I noted at the time, the total amount of money we're talking about being shifted around here is around $10.4 billion, with around $7.5 billion in the individual market, $2.9 billion in the small group market and just $42 million in the catastrophic market.

However...this isn't actually a matter of insurance carriers being owed $10.4 billion. Because of how Risk Adjustment (RA) works, it's actually half as much as that--around $5.2 billion is owed by some carriers to other carriers.

OK, this is very helpful! via the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

A year ago, rate filings caused widespread anxiety, as multiple carriers announced withdrawals from the ACA market, and state officials struggled to fill bare counties. Many of those remaining filed enormous rate increases. In 2018, marketplace enrollment was stable, while unsubsidized enrollment continued its multi-year decline. So far, this year’s rate filing season has been sprinkled with news of entry and expansion, and proposed rate hikes that are generally more moderate. With no announced market exits thus far, it seems likely that in 2019 there will be net entry into the ACA marketplace.

...Our public web tool tracks participation for 2019 at the county level. It can be used to monitor changes in the number of carriers by counties, and also provides information at the carrier level. Data can also be downloaded.

Over the weekend, CMS dropped a big bombshell on everyone: In response to a federal judge siding with a small insurance carrier in New Mexico in a lawsuit over the formula for the ACA's Risk Adjustment (RA) formula, the Trump Administration has decided not to transfer any RA funds for the 2017 calendar year to anyone until...well, I'm not sure exactly, but for the foreseeable future.

Pretty much expert on how the RA program (and the law) has indicated that this is completely unnecessary; there's several responses at CMS's disposal which wouldn't require throwing the entire industry into a panic (yet again). Regardless, this is where we're at.

OK, I wasn't expecting this at 10:40pm on a Friday night, but here you go...via Stephanie Armour and Anna Wilde Mathews of the Wall St. Journal:

Trump Administration Expected to Suspend ACA Program Related to Insurer Payments

The Trump administration is expected to suspend an Affordable Care Act program that plays a key role in the health law’s insurance markets, a move that could deal a financial blow to many insurers that expect payments.

The suspension of some payouts under the program, known as risk adjustment, could come in the wake of a recent decision by a federal judge in New Mexico, who ruled that part of its implementation was flawed and hadn’t been adequately justified by federal regulators, people familiar with the plans said.

A few days ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid released three important new reports on the 2018 Open Enrollment Period and trends in the individual market. There's a lot of data to go over, so I'm breaking my analysis into several smaller posts for easier readability.

OverviewPart OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four

Now we move onto the second report released by CMS this week: The "Subsidized/Unsubsidized Enrollment Trend Report". If you set aside the anti-ACA digs from the Trump Administration, there's some fascinating data to be found, including what they claim to be one of the Holy Grails of the ACA individual market: Supposedly accurate data on the number of off-exchange ACA-compliant enrollees across the first four years of the ACA exchanges! Yes, I know, it's exciting, heady stuff.

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