2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

5/25/18: SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW.

I suspect that even within the healthcare wonk community, this particular bit of information is only going to be of interest to a small number...but I'm one of them, and it's my site, so there you go.

A couple of years ago I got into a rather wonky discussion with L.A. Times reporter Michael Hiltzik and Michael "No one hates Obamacare more than me" Cannon of the CATO Institute about Special Enrollment Periods:

 

The Kaiser Family Foundation just released an important new study which proves everything I've been saying for the past year and a half: After years of turmoil, the ACA-compliant individual market had finally quieted down and reached equilibrium last year...right up until Donald Trump, combined with total GOP control of the federal government, deliberately came in like a wrecking ball and messed everything up again:

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets for 2017, and again last year during the debate over repeal of the health law.

This post was inspired by a Twitter query by "Other Alex". He originally asked about the insanely expensive premiums for ACA policies in Charlottesville, Virginia, which I wrote about the other day. Anyway, after some back & forth between him, myself and Colin Baillio, Alex asked if I knew where the least-expensive ACA plans are.

I haven't looked it up by rating area yet (for instance, Virginia as a whole ranks 18th most expensive this year even though Charlottesville is the most expensive rating area in the country), but on a state-level basis, it appears that the least expensive state for ACA-compliant individual healthcare policies is actually...(drumroll please)...

Massachusetts.

A couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump's former HHS Secretary Tom Price openly (and rather casually) admitted at the World Health Care Conference that the GOP's repeal of the ACA's individual mandate will "harm the pool in the exchange markets & drive up costs" when it actually goes into effect in 2019.

Well, today, the other 2018 sabotage shoe dropped as the chief actuary for the HHS Department stated the obvious regarding Trump's #ShortAssPlans scheme:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s plan to expand access to skimpy short-term health insurance policies, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, would affect more people and cost the government more money than the administration estimated, an independent federal study says.

A huge shout-out to Jesse O'Brien for the heads up on this (as well as for posting some of the actual filing data).

Oregon just became the 4th state to submit their preliminary 2019 ACA individual market rate filings, and while the expected increase is smaller than expected on average (in part due to Oregon's strict control of short-term plans), repeal of the individual mandate by Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump are still responsible for the vast majority of the rate increase.

Normally, I don't start posting natoinal projections for my annual Rate Hike Project until I have at least filing data for at least a dozen or so states because the national weighted average jumps around so much early on. A "national average" of, say, 10% based on numbers from, say, Vermont, Wyoming and the District of Columbia (collective population: 1.9 million people) is gonna change radically once you add California or Florida to the mix if they're looking at a 20% hike, for example.

Having said that, seeing how advocacy organization Protect Our Care has decided to launch their own version of my Rate Hike Project, and seeing how I do have preliminary 2019 rate increase projections from at one large state (Virginia) and two mid-sized states (Maryland and Oregon), I've decided to go ahead and start posting the national projections early, with a major caveat that the national average will likely change dramatically until at least 2/3 of the states have been plugged in.

Well. There you have it:

.@SeemaCMS bluntly says the uninsured rate will continue to rise because of rising premiums. "At some point, people can't afford coverage." #PostLive

— Alice Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) May 15, 2018

I think Albert said it best (and it appears to apply to some women as well):

 

For three years now, I've been painstakingly tracking the annual average rate increases for ACA-compliant individual market policies across all 50 states (+DC) and nationally, including both the on & off-exchange markets in as much detail as possible, and at the risk of tooting my own horn too much, my track record on this has been pretty damned accurate:

99% of what I write is posted either exclusively here at ACASignups.net or, at most, is cross-posted over at Daily Kos. Once in blue moon I've written a freelance piece for healthinsurance.org, and I even wrote one piece for Cracked.com last year. Today I'm proud to announce that an article which I co-wrote with three other healthcare wonks (David Anderson, Louise Norris and Andrew Sprung) has been published by HealthAffairs:

Implications Of CMS Mandating A Broad Load Of CSR Costs

In October 2017, the Trump administration eliminated federal funding to reimburse insurers for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies, which they are obligated to provide to qualifying enrollees in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. President Donald Trump had threatened to eliminate CSR funding throughout 2017, so insurers and insurance regulators in many states had anticipated the move by adding the cost of CSRs to premiums for 2018.

Given how progressive Vermont is, you'd think that they'd be doing as much as possible to batten down the hatches in order to avoid or mitigate the latest wave of sabotage efforts from the Trump Administration and the GOP...and you'd mostly be correct.

Some of the work on that front has already been done. For one thing, Vermont (along with Massachusetts and the District of Columbia) merges their individual and small group market risk pools together, which helps smooth out premium increases and overall morbidity across a larger risk pool. For another, Vermont has fully embraced ACA provisions such as Medicaid expansion and operating their own full exchange, of course. Vermont, along with a few other states, also has pretty strict rules in place limiting both short-term and association healthcare plans, so that portion of Trump's sabotage attack is neatly cancelled out already.

It's very clear that the name of the game for healthcare policy this year seems to be "What comes after the ACA?"

For over a year now, I've been strongly urging the passage of some sort of "ACA 2.0" upgrade package, primarily based on my own wish list entitled "If I Ran the Zoo", a collection of about 20 assorted ACA fixes. The reality is that a couple of the items on my list start to move away from an "upgraded ACA" and drift over into what I've mentally compartmentalized as the next phase in achieving Universal Healthcare Coverage.

Since I first posted my wish list just over a year ago, several new proposals have been released by various Democratic politicians and 3rd-party organizations such as the Center for American Progress, some of which are revised versions of other long-proposed systems. These include:

A week or so ago, I noted that Republicans in my home state of Michigan have come up with a clever way of having their (chocolate) cake and eating the (vanilla) cake too. As first noted by Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press:

Although HB 897 threatens to end Medicaid benefits for hundreds of thousands living elsewhere in the state, it includes exemptions for people who live in counties with an unemployment rate of more than 8.5%, like the ones Schmidt represents.

Live in Detroit? You're out of luck.

The city's unemployment rate is higher than 8.5%, but the unemployment rate in surrounding Wayne County is just 5.5% — meaning Detroiters living in poverty, with a dysfunctional transit system that makes it harder to reach good-paying jobs, won't qualify for that exemption. The same is true in Flint and the state's other struggling cities.

As of today, there are 12 states which operate their own full ACA exchanges, including their own board of directors, marketing budget, bylaws and tech platform for their enrollment website. 34 states have offloaded just about all of that to the federal exchange, HealthCare.Gov. And then there are five states which are in between: They have their own state-based exchange...but their tech platform is basically piggybacked onto the federal exchange: Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon.

Arkansas and New Mexico always planned on moving off of HC.gov onto their own full exchange platform but never got around to doing so. Kentucky's ("kynect") was working perfectly well from day one, and only made the move to the federal platform after three years because new GOP Governor Matt Bevin decided he didn't like it for whatever reason. New Mexico and Oregon, meanwhile, had such major technical problems at launch that they scrapped their sites after the first year and moved to the Mothership. (As an aside, Hawaii also scrapped their exchange site after the second or third year, but they shut down their entire state-based exchange and moved everything to HC.gov).

Holy smokes. A huge shout-out to Esther F. for the heads up on this. I have no idea how this story slipped under my radar the past few months:

Northam signs healthcare bill to provide relief to Virginia entrepreneurs
Published Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2018, 12:42 pm

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new healthcare bill into law that will provide relief to many small business owners currently struggling with the Central Virginia insurance premium crisis.

Members of local advocacy group Charlottesville For Reasonable Health Insurance had provided testimony at the Virginia General Assembly and organized an email campaign, helping to ensure passage of the bill through the legislative session. Introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds and effective July 1 2018, SB672 will allow self-employed people to take advantage of the much more affordable health plans in the small group business marketplace, without having to hire employees.

 

The Basic Health Program is one of the more obscure provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Very few people outside of the healthcare wonk community know anything about it...unless they live in Minnesota or New York State.

The short version is that it's an optional low-income healthcare program designed for people at the income tier just above Medicaid expansion...138% - 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, or between around $16,600 - $24,100/year for a single adult. In most states people in that income range would be expected to enroll in heavily-subsidized ACA exchange policies. In New York and Minnesota, however, they've instead set up Basic Health Programs (BHPs) for this population instead.

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