MLR Rebates

(SIGH) OK, apparently the Kaiser Family Foundation has been working on the same project as I have for the past couple of weeks, so most of this is no longer "exclusive". HOWEVER, I have additional details including individual carrier breakouts and projections for potential 2019 rebates, so there's that...

In late August 2019, I posted a lengthy, in-the-weeds explainer about how the ACA's Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provision works. The short version is that ever since the ACA went into effect in 2011 (3 years before newly-sold policies had to be ACA compliant), to help reduce price gouging, insurance carriers have been required to spend a minimum of 80% of their premium revenue (85% for the large group market) on actual medical claims.

Put another way, their gross margins are limited to no more than 20% (or 15% in the large group market). Remember, that's their gross margin, not net; all operational expenses must come out of that 20% (15%). The idea is that they should be spending as much of your premium dollars as possible on actual healthcare, as opposed to junkets to Tahiti or marble staircases in the corporate offices, etc. Anything over that 20% (15%) gross margin has to be rebated to the policyholder.

As I noted in my explainer, in practice it gets quite a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, like everything else in health insurance, there's three different markets: Large Group (companies with more than 100 employees); Small Group (companies with 2-100 employees) and Individual (people without employer-sponsored coverage who buy policies for themselves and their families).

Secondly, the MLR percentage is calculated based on a 3-year rolling average, which means that one awful year for a carrier can cancel out two pretty good years.

There's also some additional adjustments and caveats which tweak the formula up or down based on various factors (risk adjustment, taxes, etc), and in some cases how many enrollees the carrier actually has. For instance, if a carrier has fewer than 1,000 total enrollees over the 3-year period, they're exempt from the MLR rule; if they have between 1,000 - 75,000 total enrollees over that period, there's an upward adjustment to smooth out the formula.

Even with all of this, since 2011, nearly $4 billion in excessive premiums has been returned to policyholders thanks specifically to the ACA's MLR rule, averaging around $560 million per year.

As I also noted, the amount of the rebate can vary widely from year to year, from carrier to carrier, and between the three markets. Some carriers don't end up having to pay anything back to anyone; others may have to shell out a ton of money. The number of recipients also varies widely depending on carrier, year and market, which in turn means a wide variance in the average amount each policyholder actually receives. It could be nothing, a few bucks or several hundred dollars.

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

  • First, I've assumed that total enrollment for each carrier remains exactly the same year over year.
  • Second, I've assumed that the average 2019 rate changes I recorded for each carrier last fall are accurate.
  • Third, I'm assuming that 2019 is seeing a 5% medical trendline on average...that is, that total 2019 claims per enrollee will be 5% higher than 2018's.

All three of these are very questionable, of course, but they at least provide a baseline.

The links below take you to my Medical Loss Ratio Rebate analyses for each state for the 2018 calendar year (the payments were sent out in late August/early September 2019):

One of the biggest non-COVID19 related healthcare policy stories in the news this week was the Monday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court stating that yes, the federal government does, in fact, have to keep its contractual obligation to make $12 billion in payments legally owed to a bunch of health insurance carriers.

As I've explained many times over the years, the idea behind the ACA's Risk Corridor program was that the launch of the major ACA regulations starting in 2014 involved such a radical reworking of requirements for private health insurance policies (especially on the individual market) that it was unreasonable to expect insurance companies to be able to accurately predict how well or poorly they would fare under the new rules. While the "free market" is supposed to be a "sink or swim" environment, it was agreed that this was so dramatic a change that the carriers should be given "training wheels" of sorts to smooth out the bumpy ride for the first three years.

NOTE: BEFORE reading below, read my explainer from last November on the Risk Corridor Massacre lawsuit and potential Medical Loss Ratio implications.

OK, got all that? Good.

Well, sure enough, this morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued their ruling, and it wasn't even close:

A big Obamacare decision from SCOTUS this morning: The court rules 8–1 that insurers who lost money under the Risk Corridors program have a right to payment from the government AND damages for unpaid amounts. https://t.co/PjODO35oKe

— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) April 27, 2020

This was an easy case. Only Justice Alito dissented, complaining that the court mandates "a massive bailout for insurance companies that took a calculated risk and lost." Dude really hates the ACA! https://t.co/PjODO35oKe

Last summer, as part of my ambitious Medical Loss Ratio project, I not only broke out the exact dollar amounts and number of enrollees receiving rebates for every insurance carrier in every state in the country before the data was made publicly available, but I even took a crack at projecting just how much I expected individual market MLR rebates to be for every state in 2020 as well.

Historically, the ACA's MLR provision paid out between $100 - $400 million per year from 2012 - 2018 in rebates to individual market enrollees, averaging around $186 million per year...until last year. Here's what I originally projected 2019 payments (paid out in 2020) would likely look like last August:

If you use Anderson's 7% and assume the final, national weighted average for 2020 comes in at around 0.5%, that means roughly 6.5% of that $93.2 billion could end up having to be rebated to enrollees....or potentially 1/3 of up to $6 billion.

Like Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, I can't seem to quit playing around with the jaw-dropping possibilities which could impact future Medical Loss Ratio rebate payments in response to the ghosts of Open Enrollment Periods past.

Back in June, I reported that the Supreme Court of the United States had agreed to take up the long-simmering (4 years!) Risk Corridor Massacre class action lawsuit:

On Monday, along with posting their decisions on several important federal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that, much to the surprise of many healthcare wonks, they will take up the long-gestating (and presumed dead) Risk Corridor Massacre lawsuit:

Big news: SCOTUS is taking up the ACA risk corridors case. GOP's decision to stymie that program arguably did the most damage to the ACA marketplaces. https://t.co/VeMRcd5MYn

OK, I know, I know, I'm obsessing over this and I promise to stop soon.

Yesterday I noted that due to a surreal, Rube Goldberg-esque series of events dating back to a different lawsuit filed back in 2014 by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (!), it's looking very likely that the federal government will have to shell out at least $1.6 billion in Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments to over 100 health insurance carriers even though those carriers have already made up most of their losses elsewhere in the form of increased premium rates.

OK, bear with me.

First, I want you to click this link and read this long, wonky post from back in February about the ongoing CSR class action lawsuit saga and the potential consequences. I'll wait right here.

OK, done reading it?

For those of you too impatient to read the backstory, here's the VERY short version:

I honestly thought I was done with my 2018 MLR Rebate project, which ate up most of my time in early September, but there's one more post to write about it.

As you may recall, I managed to acquire all 2,700 MLR template filing spreadsheets from the CMS website a solid month before the data was made available to the public. After spending countless hours digging through them and compiling the data on a state-by-state basis, I concluded that the final breakout was as follows:

  • Individual Market: $769 million in rebates being paid back to 3.34 million ACA enrollees
  • Small Group Market: $312 million in rebates being paid back to 2.96 million enrollees
  • Large Group Market: $290 million in rebates being paid back to 2.31 million enrollees
  • TOTAL: $1.37 billion in rebates being paid back to 8.61 million enrollees nationally

Well, a few days ago CMS actually published the official 2018 MLR rebate report.

I decided to run a side-by side comparison to see how I fared. On the Small and Large Group markets, I was pretty damned close:

OK, OK, I know I said I was sick of writing about MLR rebates, but there's one more important point I need to mention...and while I'm at it, I also said "to hell with it" and recompiled the rebate tables for all 50 states into a single massive table listing every carrier offering rebates in every state.

While I applaud the ACA's Medical Loss Ratio Rebate provision overall, there's one important flaw in how it works. I've made allusions to this before, and last week David Anderson wrote a blog post specifically about it, but it bears repeating here: Due to an oversight in the wording of the section of the ACA devoted to laying out MLR rebates, some subsidized individual market enrollees are actually PROFITING off the program.

The reason why is pretty simple: The individual market MLR rebate payments are sent, in full, to the policyholder regardless of whether or not their premiums are being subsidized by the federal government or not.

If you've been reading the site recently, you know that I've been obsessed for the past 2-3 weeks with nothing but the 2018 Medical Loss Ratio rebate payments.

Now that I've completed posting my analyses of all 50 states (+DC), I'm wrapping it up with a table summarizing the the totals for the entire country, how it compares with the Kaiser Family Foundation's similar report posted a few days ago, and some additional thoughts and observations which have come to mind in doing this project.

First of all, as noted, the Kaiser Family Foundation published their own report analyzinng the 2018 MLR rebates when I was about halfway done posting my own state-by-state analyses. They made sure to give me a nice shout-out, anyway:

We at KFF put out an analysis today of how much insurers will be paying in rebates to consumers and employers later this month. @charles_gaba also has very good information on this, and we all benefit from his tireless tracking. https://t.co/uPX2SPklcY

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

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