START OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD

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Alaska

Back in August, I reported that thanks to their just-approved federal reinsurance program, Alaska (which has only a single individual market carrier with the most expensive premiums in the country) is looking at an impressive 22% average decrease in their indy market premiums next year. However, that was based on the assumption that CSR reimbursement payments would not be made (or at least not guaranteed).

Last week the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported that the final, approved 2018 rates have been released, and Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield will instead be lowering rates even further:

Alaskans buying health insurance on the individual market will see a decrease of 26.5 percent in rates next year, the sole insurer in the state announced Tuesday.

Alaskans had been paying some of the highest premiums in the nation.

Haley Byrd of The Independent Journal Review has the skinny about the latest attempt to bribe Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski into voting for the Graham-Cassidy bill:

  • Alaska (along with Hawaii) will continue to receive Obamacare’s premium tax credits while they are repealed for all other states. It appears this exemption will not affect Alaska receiving its state allotment under the new block grant in addition to the premium tax credits.
  • Delays implementation of the Medicaid per capita caps for Alaska and Hawaii for years in which the policy would reduce their funding below what they would have received in 2020 plus CPI-M [Consumer Price Index for Medical Care].
  • Provides for an increased federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) for both Alaska and Hawaii."

Well, now.

Bird doesn't have the actual legislative text, but they threw Hawaii in there as well (not to win their votes...Dems Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono are solid NOs no matter what). That means that the wording is probably along the lines of:

Alabama, Alaska and Wyoming only have a single insurance carrier participating in each of their individual markets. While this is a bad thing from a competitiveness POV, it cetainly makes things easier for me from a tracking-average-rate-hikes POV.

ALSO IMPORTANT: The HHS Dept. is also starting to upload the rate filings to the official RateReview.Healthcare.Gov database, which should make things easier for me going forward (assuming that the data is uploaded properly and isn't messed with, which is a distinct possibility when it comes to the Trump Administration)

Officially, Alabama has the infamous "Freedom Life" phantom plan which is asking for a whopping 71.6% rate hike...to allegedly cover exactly one (1) person statewide. Un-huh.

Aside from that, however, it's Blue Cross Blue Shield across all three states...and they're asking for the following:

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

I noted in February that enrollment in the ACA's Medicaid expansion program had increased by around 35,000 people across just 4 states (LA, MI, MN & PA).

It's early June now, so I checked in once more, and the numbers have continued to grow. I have the direct links for 5 states now (including New Hampshire)...

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.

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.

Fortunately (and to their credit), the GOP state legislature worked with the Independent governor to pass a new law which created a state-based reinsurance program to stave off the ugly hikes. In July, it looked as though this would result in not-fantastic-but-not-awful 10% average increase:

A major health insurer is seeking an average rate increase of about 10 percent on individual health insurance policies in Alaska, far less than what it received the last two years. Thisfollows recent steps by the state to shore up Alaska's insurance marketplace.

Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is expected to be the only company offering individual health policies in Alaska in 2017, with Moda Health planning to leave that market. Premera received average rate increases of nearly 40 percent for 2015 and 2016.

(Originally Posted 6/09/16)

Every year, Republicans insist that the ACA is guaranteed to cause a rate hike "death spiral" as increasing premiums cause healthier people to drop out of the individual exchange market, causing higher medical expenses, causing even higher premiums, causing more healthy people to drop out and so forth...and every year, for three years in a row so far, this has failed to be the case nationally. While premiums have obviously continued to increase for many people, the individual insurance market has grown each year, from around 11 million in 2013 to 15.6 million in 2014, around 17 million last year and up to 19-20 million or so today.

Back in January I noted that Moda Health Plans, which had plenty of self-inflicted wounds in addition to being kneecapped by the Risk Corridor Massacre, was dropping out of the Oregon exchange and likely the Alaska exchange as well, so today's news isn't a big surprise.

Even so, this is definitely a major problem for the Alaska individual market, which was already extremely expensive prior to the ACA and which now only has a single insurance carrier participating (h/t to Louise Norris):

The individual market in Alaska has just two carriers in 2016: Moda and Premera. Both have struggled with significant losses under the ACA, and Moda nearly exited the Alaska market altogether in late January (more details below).

Hey, remember the Risk Corridor Massacre?

Remember how the Risk Corridor program was put in place specifically to help guide insurance carriers through the rocky, turbulent, confusing waters of the early years of the ACA exchanges by mitigating massive premium rate miscalculations the first few by having carriers which did better than expected chip into a kitty to be passed out to those which missed the target for the first 3 years?

Remember how the carriers which lost money the first year were really, really counting on those Risk Corridor funds to be there to help cushion the blow?

Remember how, just over a year ago, Sen. Marco Rubio came up with the brilliant idea of cutting off the Risk Corridor program at it's knees, then cramming that idea into the "must-pass" CRomnibus bill?

Remember how as a result, when it came time to start doling out the RC funds to the carriers which had a crappy first year, there were only 12 cents on the dollar sitting in the cupboard?

Until this year, most of the ACA exchanges, including HealthCare.Gov, would simply report how many people selected QHPs through the exchange, whether paid up or not. There's nothing wrong with this as long as it's made clear at some point how many people actually paid their premiums and had their policies effectuated; the argument over this issue was the entire basis of the infamous "But how many have PAID???" fuss back in 2014. It was such a Big Deal that the Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee even published the results on a laughably garbage-filled "survey" they had sent out to a portion of the insurance carriers.

(Note In the end, it turned out to be roughly 85-90% depending on the state/carrier in 2014; for 2015 the payment rate nudged up to around 90% overall, which is where it will likely stand going forward).

One other small Medicaid expansion entry: Alaska, which just formally launched the expansion program on September 1st, has enrolled about 7,700 residents to date. While that's a pretty tiny number, Alaska only has about 740,000 residents total, of which only 42,000 are even eligible for ACA expansion anyway:

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — About 7,700 people have enrolled in Medicaid since the state expanded the program on Sept. 1 to cover more lower-income Alaskans, a state health department official said.

The agency appears on track with projections that a total of about 20,100 newly eligible people would enroll in Medicaid during the first year of expansion, Chris Ashenbrenner, Medicaid program coordinator for the health department, said Tuesday.

A study commissioned by the department estimated that about 42,000 people would be eligible for Medicaid under expansion but only about 20,100 would enroll the first year.

 

Feast your eyes, FOX News, Daily Caller, Breitbart, etc!!

Of course, there are a few caveats, which I'm sure you guys will be certain to include when you report on this:

Twenty-seven Alaskans were approved for benefits under Medicaid expansion Tuesday, the first day of the broadened health care program, the state Department of Health and Social Services announced Wednesday.

According to state officials, about 40,000 people are potentially eligible for the expansion program, although as Xpostfactoid pointed out a month or so ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation has a much lower estimate (more like 11,000).

Either way, the actual number enrolled or in the process is quite a bit higher than just 27...

As noted a few days ago, now that a judge has put the kibosh on a legal hold, Alaska Governor Bill Walker's executive order to expand Medicaid statewide via the ACA expansion provision officially starts today, bringing healthcare coverage to up to 40,000 low-income Alaskans:

Beginning today, low-income uninsured Alaskans can apply for health coverage because of Governor Bill Walker’s decision to expand Medicaid as part of health reform.  This makes Alaska the 29th state (plus the District of Columbia) to implement the expansion (see map).

Across the country, Medicaid expansion has produced state budget savings, and the historic gains in health coverage since health reform took effect have been greatest in expansion states.  Now Alaska is poised to reap immediate and positive benefits of expansion: the state projects expansion will make 40,000 people eligible for coverage and could save the state budget up to $6 million this fiscal year, with greater savings in future years.  

After yesterday's ugly news about Alaska's private policy rate hikes, this is welcome relief:

Judge says Alaska Medicaid expansion can go ahead Tuesday

An Anchorage trial court judge Friday said that Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s administration can expand the Medicaid health care program starting next week, dismissing a request by the state Legislature to temporarily block enrollment while attorneys fully argue lawmakers’ legal challenge.

In a 45-minute opinion delivered from the bench, Pfiffner rejected a series of arguments by the Legislature that starting expanded Medicaid enrollment Tuesday was so problematic that it should be put on hold while the Legislature’s lawsuit proceeds.

The actual lawsuit will still proceed, but this is still great news for up to 40,000 Alaskans.

Not such great news in Nevada, however:

Nevada Health Co-Op to close, leaving thousands to find new insurance

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