Charles Gaba's blog

For as much as I write about healthcare policy, I actually don't write about Medicare itself all that often...at least not Medicare as it's defined today.

However, given all the excitement and confusion about what Medicare is and isn't, here's a handy reminder. Just moments ago the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid published information about 2019 Meciare Parts A & B premiums and deductibles:

CMS announces 2019 Medicare Parts A & B premiums and deductibles

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the 2019 premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts for Medicare Parts A and B.

On October 11th, 2013, I posted the following in a blog entry over at Daily Kos, where I'd been a regular contributor since 2003:

"Seriously, though, HHS should really start releasing the official (accurate) numbers of actual signups for all 50 states (or at the very least, the 36 states that they're responsible for) on a daily--or at least, weekly--basis. I don't care if it's a pitifully small number. 100,000? 10,000? 100? 10? Even if it's in single digits, release the damned numbers. Be upfront about it. Everyone knows by now how f***** up the website is, so be honest and just give out the accurate numbers as they come in."

Two days later, on October 13th, I registered "ObamacareSignups.net" (which soon changed to ACASignups.net, not because I had a problem with "Obamacare" but because it was easier to type) and posted an announcement over at dKos, asking for some crowdsourcing assistance.

Wisconsin has an interesting situation. On the one hand, the state has what should be a robust, highly-competitive individual insurance market,with over a dozen carriers offering policies throughout the state. Granted, some of them are likely limited to only a handful of counties, but in theory they should be doing pretty well compared to rural states like Oklahoma or Wyoming, which only have a single carrier on the exchange.

On the other hand, last year Wisconsin ahd among the highest average premium rate increases in the country. Rates were projected to increase by an already-awful 36%, but when the dust settled the average unsubsidized ACA enrollee in Wisconsin was paying a whopping 44% more than they did in 2017 (it was around 45.8% higher as of the end of Open Enrollment but later dropped a bit as the year has passed and net attrition has tweaked the enrollment base).

Less than 4 weeks away from the midterms, after a year and a half of doing everything possible to tear it down, the Trump Administration is suddenly thrilled with Obamacare. From HHS Secretary Alex Azar's chutzpah-filled Op-Ed in the Washington Post a few weeks back to Donald Trump's 870 word pile of steaming bullshit in USA Today this week, the Trumpsters are now gaslighting to a breathtaking degree.

The latest volley in their attempt to gaslight the country on healthcare is this morning's press release from CMS about 2019 ACA premiums. Let's take a look:

I ran the numbers for Illinois' requested 2019 ACA individual market rate changes back in August. At the time, the weighted year-over-year average was a mere 0.7% increase, with Cigna and Health Alliance's 10% and 7.5% being mostly cancelled out by Celtic's 1.1% and especially Blue Cross Blue Shield's slight drop of 0.9%. Since BCBSIL holds something like 3/4 of the state's individual market share, that alone mostly wiped out the other increases.

Unfortunately, I don't have access to the hard enrollment numbers, so this was a rough estimate based on 2017's breakout. Here's what it looked like at the time:

Yesterday, the Illinois Department of Insurance issued a press release with the final/approved 2019 ACA premium changes, but it's a bit vague about the hard numbers:

The Arizona insurance department posted their final, approved 2019 premium rate changes last week. There's only slight changes to the preliminary/requested rate changes from back in August, which averaged around a 5.3% rate reduction overall.

The final unsubsidized rates are down about one point more, down 6.3% from 2018 rates. However, as all three current carriers clearly noted in August, the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate and expansion of short-term and association health plans (aka #ShortAssPlans) still caused a significant premium increase, which means without those factors, 2019 rates would likely be down significantly more...likely nearly 20% instead of 6.3%:

With the 2019 Open Enrollment Period quickly approaching, I'm spending a lot of time swapping out the requested carrier rate changes from earlier this summer with the approved rate changes from state regulators.

Hawaii only has two carriers participating in the ACA-compliant individual market: HMSA and Kaiser, which requested rate increases of 2.72% and 28.6% respectively back in August. With a roughly 57/42 market share split, this resulted in a weighted average rate increase of 13.8%, which would likely have been closer to 3.8% if the ACA's individual mandate penalty hadn't been repealed.

Today, however, Louise Norris gave me a heads up to this bulletin from Hawaii's Commerce Department, in which they state that state regulators have chopped those rate hikes down significantly for 2019:

HAWAII 2019 AFFORDABLE CARE ACT INDIVIDUAL RATES

With just 3 weeks to go before the 2019 Open Enrollment Period begins, the dust has mostly settled on my 2019 Rate Hike Project. Over half the states have provided their final, approved individual market premium changes, and while I haven't found the final rates for the other half yet, their preliminary rates are all on record, so I don't anticipate the needle moving too much at this point.

New Hampshire is among the states which I haven't found final rate changes for yet. The three carriers in the state have requested average price reductions of around 13.5% on average, which is well below the 3.2% increase which is the average nationally, but I still don't know what the state regulators are going to approve.

This makes the following press release rather surprising:

NH Insurance Department to Hold Oct. 30 Annual Public Hearing on Health Insurance Premiums

 

I first wrote about this back in March, when Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) introduced a new bill:

U.S. SENATOR TAMMY BALDWIN AIMS TO BLOCK PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PLAN TO ALLOW INSURERS TO SELL JUNK PLANS WITH LEGISLATION TO GUARANTEE PROTECTIONS FOR PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

“The Fair Care Act is an opportunity for lawmakers to keep their word on guaranteed protections for pre-existing conditions.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the Trump Administration’s recent proposed rule allowing insurance companies to once again sell ‘junk’ health care plans, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today announced new legislation to block the rule and guarantee protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

*(OK, that's hyperbole...unsubsidized enrollees are still left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in unnecessary premium payments for at least another year or so, and there's still no guarantee of the final ruling...see below...)

Almost exactly a year ago, Donald Trump, after 9 months of bluster about doing so so, finally pulled the trigger on his threat to cut off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to insurance carriers for the deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses which they agree to cover every month for around 7 million low-income ACA exchange policy enrollees.

Trumps stated goal in doing so was, of course, to "blow up" the ACA, to cause it to "implode" (which is actually the opposite of blowing something up, but that's a different discussion) and ultimately fail in the process.

When I last posted about 2019 ACA-compliant individual market premium changes in Tennessee back in August, I noted that premiums statewide had gone from dropping 5.7% to dropping 10.8% on average after the Trump Administration first stated that they were going to unnecessarily "freeze" the ACA's Risk Adjustment fund transfers in response to a lawsuit ruling only to reverse themselves a week or so later and state that they were going to go ahead and process RA fund transfers after all.

In other words, the Trump Administration once again deliberately caused a panic across the industry only to "save" the industry from the very threat which they had posed in the first place.

In any event, here's what I thought the Tennessee's premium situation looked like when the dust settled:

Back in August, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, the only carrier offering policies on SC's individual insurance market, asked for a 9.2% average premium rate increase for 2019 statewide. This consisted of 9.3% for their most popular plans (which cover over 200,000 South Carolinans) and 6.9% for 6,800 BlueChoice plan enrollees (BlueChoice is only available off-exchange).

Today the South Carolina Insurance Department posted the approved rate changes for 2019, and in addition to shaving several points off of each BCBSSC division, they also announced a new entrant to the SC market (although only in Charleston County):

2019 PRELIMINARY HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS RATE CHANGES FOR INDIVIDUAL MARKET COVERAGE

The SCDOI has approved the rates and forms for health insurance issuers that are planning to offer ACAcompliant products in the individual market in 2019.

This Just In from Connect for Health Colorado:

Most Connect for Health Colorado® Customers Will See Decrease in Premiums for 2019 as Marketplace Stabilizes

DENVER — With rate increases lower than the state has seen in years, Connect for Health Colorado® customers who qualify for financial help are looking at an average decrease in their net (after tax credit) premium of 24 percent next year.

The Colorado Division of Insurance today issued final approval for individual health insurance plans that will increase by an average of 5.6% in 2019. The relatively small increase in monthly premiums and the return of all seven health insurance companies to the Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health insurance Marketplace, are signs of a stabilizing market for Coloradans who buy their own health insurance coverage.

The Reinsurance Train keeps chugging along.

In 2017, three states established their own ACA market reinsurance program utilizing the ACA's Section 1332 State Innovation Waiver provision to keep unsubsidized premiums from spiraling out of control in 2018 and beyond: Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon.

I just received the following press release from the Iowa Insurance Division...

2019 Health Insurance Enrollment Deadline Approaches

Des Moines – Open enrollment begins November 1 and ends December 15 for Iowans purchasing or changing their Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual health coverage to become effective January 1, 2019.

“As the open enrollment season begins, Iowans should thoroughly research all coverage options. The ACA-compliant insurance market is available to Iowans, however, most Iowans have been priced out of that market if they are not currently receiving federal subsidies to help pay premiums and, in some instances, deductibles. I would encourage consumers to meet with a licensed insurance agent to determine the best plan for themselves and their families,” Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said. “Changes made at the Iowa state legislature and by the federal government have provided a few more options in addition to ACA-compliant coverage for Iowans to review as they plan out their health needs for 2019.”

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