2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

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Charles Gaba's blog

Last fall, when the insurance carriers were jacking up their rates on the individual market by an (unsubsidized) national weighted average of around 25%, aside from the understandable grumbling about such a dramatic all-at-once increase, the big question was whether that would be enough to stabilize the market going forward, or whether this was just the beginning of an inevitable Death Spiral, etc etc.

Back in December, Standard & Poor's issued an analysis in which they concluded that:

An analysis out Thursday says that health insurers are expected in 2016 "to start reversing" financial losses on their Obamacare business after "hitting bottom" in 2015.

And 2017 "will likely see continued improvement" for those insurers selling individual health plans, "with more insurers getting close to breakeven or better," according to the report by Standard and Poor's Global Ratings.

The report also says big price increases for Obamacare plans in 2017 were likely a "one-time pricing correction."

Ever since I started this venture, one of the most difficult types of data for me to hunt down have been the ever-elusive off-exchange individual market enrollment numbers.

Off exchange data is extremely difficult to come by for several reasons. First, because unlike enrollments via the ACA exchanges, off-exchange enrollment data is a purely private transaction between individuals and private corporation. Yes, publicly traded companies have to provide some level of data in their quarterly & annual reports, but that data usually focuses on the financial side. Yes, they generally do give some info about how many enrollees they have, but they don't always break out the individual market specifically...and when they do, they often don't distinguish between the on and off-exchange numbers. Finally, even when they do break it out into that much detail, you'll be hard pressed to find a carrier who breaks the numbers out by state (unless they only operate in one or two states to begin with).

OK, I was about to go with the more obvious saying: "Sh*t or get off the pot", but I'm trying to avoid blatant profanity in the headlines, at least.

Here's a tweetstorm from fomer director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, Andy Slavitt, from yesterday/continuing through today. He confirms everything I've been sounding the alarm about, especially regarding the CSR payment crisis:

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is why don't more health plans speak up about what a disaster AHCA would be. 1

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

A related question I get asked a lot is why don't health plans speak up more loudly about the impact of govt reneging on CSR payments. 2

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

By tomorrow, I will have asked 10 CEOs that question & will tweet back what they say. 3

— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) April 5, 2017

Hot off the presses:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that the average premium for a benchmark silver plan in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces would need to increase by an estimated 19 percent for insurers to compensate for lost funding if they don’t receive federal payment for ACA cost-sharing subsidies.

Not exactly a surprise: The stampede appears to be starting.

The efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act have caused worry for insurers, who aren’t sure about the law’s future or what would replace it. On Thursday, Aetna Inc. said it would pull out of Iowa’s Obamacare market, becoming the second major health plan to do so this week after Wellmark Inc. said it was quitting the state as well.

“Aetna will not participate in the Iowa individual public exchange for 2018 as a result of financial risk and an uncertain outlook for the marketplace,spokesman T.J. Crawford said in an email Thursday. “We are still evaluating Aetna’s 2018 individual product presence in our remaining states.”

 

In our last episode of As the Stomach Churns, you may recall that after getting tired of having thousands of old white people screaming at them during town halls, the House GOP attempted to get them to shut up by demanding that the Senate throw $85 billion at them to make them go away.

The Congressional Budget Office determined that, nope, around 24 million people would still be kicked off their healthcare coverage due to how crappy the rest of the plan was. They would've just been pissing away another $85 billion for literally no reason.

The CEO of Molina Healthcare made it about as clear as he possibly could today:

Molina Healthcare CEO: GOP's 'piecemeal approach' to health-care reform will lead to a 'health-care disaster'

With the GOP's failure to repeal Obamacare last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to give a time line for a new bill.

...But many health-care providers are wary of the fast pace the GOP seems to be taking with repealing Obamacare.

...Molina is particularly worried about the potentially higher premiums and misleading packages insurance companies can price and sell.

December 9, 2016:

...Many Republicans would prefer to argue the Obamacare markets were already in their death throes before they took charge — the question is whether they can get away with it.

“The first question I think they’re trying to figure out is, do we actually own it for 2018?” said one health care lobbyist, speaking on background. “If premiums spike and plans exit, can we still blame it on Obama and get away with it? That’s one of the threshold questions that I don’t think they’ve answered.”

March 24, 2017:

 

April 25, 2016 (less than 1 year ago):

there's some positive news for Iowa, at least; as noted by Cynthia Cox and reported on by Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register, Wellmark is joining the Iowa exchange next year:

Iowa’s dominant health insurer has agreed to start selling policies a year from now that qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield has not participated in the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace, which launched in the fall of 2013. The main effect of the company’s decision was that moderate-income Iowans could not choose Wellmark insurance if they wanted to purchase policies that qualified for new federal subsidies to help pay premiums.

 

Immediately after the "death" of the AHCA (Trumpcare) bill, I posted the clip above (from the underrated suspense thriller "Dead Again"), noting that as much of a victory as it was, there was little time to pat ourselves on the back, because Trump and the GOP would no doubt be back for Round 2 at any moment.

At the time, I assumed that they would likely abandon the "official" attempt at repeal/replace for the time being, and focus instead "only" on sabotage efforts of the ACA itself by doing whatever they can to scare off the carriers...and for the most part, that's exactly what Trump has done ("It's gonna explode!" and so forth).

You may have noticed that among my 16 recommendations for repairing/improving the ACA, I foolishly failed to include one of the most important/obvious ones: Reinsurance. I didn't include it for two reasons: Partly because, quite frankly, I simply forgot about it and feel bad about myself now.

So far, two states (Alaska and Minnesota) have already established their own state-based reinsurance programs; in both cases, it was done as an act of sheer desperation...and, in both cases were put through in a bipartisan fashion (both states have GOP-held legislatures, but Minnesota's Governor is Democratic while Alaska's is Independent):

Alaska: Approved *unsubsidized* 2017 indy mkt rate hikes: 7.3%

There was a time, just a few months ago, when it looked like Alaska, which had already suffered from massive rate hikes the past 2 years due to their unique healthcare situation, might have a complete catastrophe on their hands with a third year of massive individual market rate hikes.

This morning, I posted the following:

...the assumption is that as long as insurance carriers either a) know they'll make a profit in a given market or b) think they'll make a profit at some point in the near future, they'll participate in that market, right?

However, that's not necessarily the case. As we saw last year in the case of Aetna, profitability itself doesn't necessarily guarantee participation. Aetna pulled out of 11 states, and while they were losing money on the indy market in most of them, there were at least 2 states (Pennsylvania and Florida) where they were making a profit, yet bailed anyway. In fact, in Florida, the only reason they were making a profit in the indy market was because of their exchange business (they were losing money off-exchange).

I see that I've been thrown into the crossfire of a wonk debate between John Cochrane (who I've never actually heard of before today) and Brad DeLong/Paul Krugman (both of whom I very much have heard of!) regarding the question of whether the individual healthcare market is or isn't in a Death Spiral and/or whether it will/won't enter one next year.

Back in January, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that, overall, they didn't see any death spiral forming if the ACA is kept mostly intact...but also concluded that growth of the exchange population has likely plateaued; around 13 million appears to be the enrollment ceiling barring any significant changes to the law. Interestingly, however, a couple of weeks ago they concluded that there would also be no death spiral if the GOP's AHCA "replacement" plan were to become law either.

Meanwhile, over at the Brookings Institute, Matthew Fiedler ran his own analysis of the exchange risk pool and concluded "No Death Spiral!" there either:

According to the official CMS report for the 2017 Open Enrollment Period, 53,024 New Hampshire residents "selected a Qualified Health Plan" from the ACA exchange as of January 31st.

Of course, as I (and others on both sides of the political spectrum) have written about many, many times, not everyone who selects a QHP (either on or off the exchanges) actually pays their first premium, and therefore is never actually enrolled in an active, effectuated policy. This amounted to roughly 12-13% of all QHP selections in 2014, but has improved over the past 3 years as people got used to how the system works and technical improvements were made. I've been using a 10% non-payment rate as a general rule of thumb for some time now.

Of the 31 states which have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, only a handful issue regular monthly or weekly enrollment reports.

Back on February 28th I noted that ACA Medicaid expansion enrollment across three states (Michigan, Louisiana and Pennsylvania) had grown by about 35,000 people since mid-January, to 667K, 406K and 716K people respectively.

Today, a month later, I decided to take another look at all three states, along with Minnesota (which I forgot to check last month). Sure enough, enrollment has continued to grow in all four, albeit at a slower pace:

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