2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

With the 2019 Open Enrollment Period rapidly approaching, I figured this might be a good time to remind everyone that while it starts on November 1st for most of the country, the largest state, California, is kicking things off 2 weeks early (17 days early, actually). Covered California is launching their 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period on Monday, October 15th, 2018:

Open enrollment for 2019 coverage will begin October 15, 2018 in California, and continue until January 15, 2019

Nationwide, open enrollment for 2019 coverage is scheduled to run from November 1, 2018 to December 15, 2018 — the same schedule that was followed in late 2017 for 2018 coverage. But Covered California was one of only three state-run exchanges that opted in 2017 to keep open enrollment at three months in duration for 2018 coverage (the others were New York and DC).

And the state enacted legislation (A.B.156) in late 2017 that codifies a three-month open enrollment period going forward — California will not be switching to the November 1 – December 15 open enrollment window that other states will be using.

This is a pretty minor update, but I'm trying to lock in all of the approved 2019 rate changes as they come in. Last month, South Dakota's two carriers, Avera and Sanford, posted requested rate increases which I thought were 2.6% and 10.0% at the time. I also estimated their relative enrollment at around 27,000 and 4,000 enrollees apiece for market share calculations, which gave a statewide average increase of around 3.5%.

I checked the South Dakota Insurance Division website again today, and it certainly looks like the filings have been approved by the state insurance regulators...however, when I double-checked the filings themselves, it looks like they were actually slightly lower than I thought: 2.5% and 9.7% respectively.

In addition, I was able to find the hard enrollment numbers for each...the total is pretty close to what I had it at (29,180 vs. 31,000), but the splut is quite different. Insetad of Avera still having an 87% market share, it looks ike the split is more like 63/37 this year. Since Sanford is requesting a significantly higher increase than Avera, that means the weighted statewide average is higher as well...around 5.2% instead of 3.5%.

I posted Montana's preliminary/requested 2019 ACA indiividual market rate change requests back in late June. At the time, they were seeking average rate increases of 6.0% statewide, and I estimated that the GOP's repeal of the ACA's individual mandate penalty, combined with the Trump Administration's expansion of #ShortAssPlans, accounted for about 9.9 percentage points of that.

More recently, the state insurance commissioner's website published approved 2019 rate changes. The average increases have been sliced down slightly (from 6.0% to 5.7% on average), and I've lowered my estimate of #ACASabotage impact from 9.9% to 6% based on the lack of either factor being prominently mentioned in the actual carrier rate filings. If accurate that means rates would have been flat year over year on average in 2019 if not for those factors.

Unsubsidized Montana enrollees are paying an average of $637/month this year, so that's roughly a $38/month difference, or around $460 for the full year.

When Maryland insurance carriers originally submitted their proposed 2019 premium changes back in May, it looked pretty grim...they were expected to average around 29.5% statewide for the ACA-compliant individual market., increasing from around $631/month on average to roughly $817/month for unsubsidized enrollees.

Thanks to swift, bipartisan action on the part of the Democratically-controlled Maryland state legislature and the Republican Governor, Maryland was able to pass several bills which partially negated or cancelled out Trump/Congressional Republican sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. In particular, they passed laws which locked in current restrictions on both short-term plans and association health plans (the types of "junk policies" which Trump is pushing hard to expand upon)...along with an extremely robust reinsurance program.

 

Just in case anyone thinks state insurance regulatory boards can't be hard-core badasses, consider the Optima Health situation in Virginia which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:

By early September, it was clear that Trump would indeed be cutting off CSR funding. With just a few weeks left before the final deadline to sign 2018 ACA exchange contracts, Optima suddenly announced that they were not only jacking up rates a whopping 81%, they were also pulling out of a large chunk of the state, leaving large areas at risk of "going bare" without any ACA carriers whatsoever.

...Then, on September 14, with just days to spare and thanks to what I assume were some pretty intense backroom deals being made, Anthem suddenly announced that they were back in the game after all!

Back in July, I wrote about a lawsuit filed by twelve state Attorneys General against the Trump Administration over their attempt to vastly expand "Association Health Plans" as an alternative to ACA-compliant healthcare policies:

A group of 11 states and Washington, D.C., are suing the Trump administration in an attempt to roll back a regulation that allowed for the expansion of certain health plans that skirt ObamaCare regulations.

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), alleges that the Department of Labor violated the Administrative Procedures Act when it wrote a rule expanding access to association health plans.

Association health plans allow small businesses and other groups to band together to buy health insurance. The rule allows more groups to join together to form associations.

The move is part of a broader Trump administration effort to open up skimpier, cheaper plans as an alternative to ObamaCare plans.

 

via Nicholas Bagley of The Incidental Economist:

Maryland files suit to protect health reform from Texas.

... the Maryland attorney general today filed a separate lawsuit in a Maryland district court. Among other things, he’s seeking an injunction requiring the continued enforcement of the law. Depending on how quickly the Maryland case moves, it’s possible we could see dueling injunctions—one ordering the Trump administration to stop enforcing the law, the other ordering it to keep enforcing.

That’s an unholy mess just waiting to happen. Now, it may not come to that. My best guess is that the Texas lawsuit will fizzle: any injunction will likely be stayed pending appeal, either by the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court, and the case is going nowhere on the merits. The Maryland lawsuit will likely prove unnecessary.

I don't have much to add to this other than to note how much this case underscores just how much power and importance state attorneys general have.

As I just noted earlier this afternoon, Massachusetts is NOT expecting the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to impact their 2019 individual market enrollment or premiums for a simple reason: The Bay State never formally repealed their own, pre-ACA mandate penalty. They basically mothballed it once the ACA's version went into effect, and are simply dusting it off for 2019 and beyond now that the federal mandate has been formally repealed.

However, the two mandate penalties don't work quite the same way. For the federal mandate, unless you qualify for an exemption (and there's a whole bunch of those), the penalty for not having ACA-compliant healthcare coverage is (or has been up until now) as follows:

This Just In...

Ready for Open Enrollment, Health Connector sets 2019 plans with lower premium increases, selects community organizations to provide in-person support to residents

Boston – September 13, 2018 – The Massachusetts Health Connector Board of Directors today approved 57 Qualified Health Plans from nine carriers for individuals and families, with new plan designs that create better value for members and premium increases that average under 5 percent from 2018.

Unfortunately, the press release doesn't specify what "under 5%" means, nor does it break that out by carrier/market share. I've put in a request for those details and will update this as soon as I hear back from them. They sent me the following chart, but this only includes enrollees earning between 300-400% of the Federal Poverty Level, which means the marketshare across the entire individual market is likely somewhat different. I'm assuming the 4.4% overall average applies to the entire market but could be wrong about that as well:

For months now, I've been trying to get people to understand that when it comes to sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, especially in terms of individual market premium increases, you have to include the impact of actions taken by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans in BOTH 2017 and 2018, not just 2018 alone.

In 2017, the single largest factor in the ~28% average national unsubsidized premium increase for ACA plans was Donald Trump's cutting off of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments to carriers. This alone accounted for fully half of the 2018 increase. However, there were other, smaller actions taken which added up to another 3% or so: Slashing the Open Enrollment Period in half, CMS slashing the marketing budget for the federal exchange down 90%, slashing the outreach/navigator budget down 40% and so on.

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Yesterday CMS Administrator Seema Verma posted this on Twitter...

I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we thoroughly evaluate the results of their innovative reforms. #TransformingMedicaid

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) September 13, 2018

Way back on January 20, 2017, the very day Donald Trump was inaugurated, he issued an Executive Order which started the process of undermining the Affordable Care Act. As David Anderson of Balloon Juice succinctly put it:

yes individual mandate exemptions will be passed out like pacifiers at a rave

— David Anderson (@bjdickmayhew) January 21, 2017

section 2 is the meat. Defangs individual mandate by passing out hardship exemptions like candy on Halloween

— David Anderson (@bjdickmayhew) January 21, 2017

Iowa has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market policies this year. Next year they'll have two, as Wellmark has decided to Hokey Pokey their way back onto the exchange again in 2019...but since they weren't around this year, there's no current policy premiums to measure any increase (or decrease) against.

That leaves Medica. Here's what they had to say about their 2019 rates back in June:

Medica, the sole carrier now selling individual health insurance policies in Iowa, plans to raise its 2019 premiums by less than a tenth as much as it did for 2018.

Medica raised its Iowa health insurance premiums by a staggering average of 57 percent for 2018. It was the steepest such health insurance increase in Iowa history. Company leaders said last summer they needed the higher premiums to stay in the market. But this time around, the Minnesota-based carrier is planning to raise Iowa premiums by an average of less than 5.6 percent, state regulators disclosed Wednesday.

 Back in June, Washington State delivered the bad news: They were expecting 2019 ACA-compliant premiums to increase by another 19.1% (due primarily to this year's sabotage of the law by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans) on top of this year's 36% increase (10 points of which was due specifically to Trump's CSR reimbursement cut-off).

Today, Washington insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler announced the approved 2019 premium changes, and while the news certainly isn't great, it's not quite as bad as expected earlier this summer:

Reed O'Conner, the hard-right wing judge presiding over the idiotic #TexasFoldEm lawsuit which could potentially wipe out the Affordable Care Act as soon as January 1st, has been radio silent for the past week since he heard oral arguments over the case from the dueling bands of state Attorneys General.

However, if Tim Jost's description of how that hearing went is anything to go by, it's looking pretty ominous:

To enter the Fort Worth Courtroom of Judge Reed O’Connor on September 5, 2018, was to leave the real world.  The Affordable Care Act was once again on trial.  At stake was access to health care for the 20 million Americans who have gained coverage through the ACA, affordable coverage for 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, and preventive services coverage for 44 million Medicare beneficiaries.

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