California

A week or so ago I reported that Covered California had released their preliminary 2020 ACA individual market premium rate changes, with a record-low 0.8% average increase statewide. They detailed in the report how the combination of reinstating the ACA's individual mandate penalty and using that funding to provide additional financial subsidies to the enrollees lowered the average rate increases from 4.0% to 0.8%, saving unsubsidized enrollees around 3.2 points or $167/year on average.

Today, CoveredCA has posted more details about some of the specifics:

Covered California Releases Regional Data Behind Record-Low 0.8 Percent Rate Change for the Individual Market in 2020

OK, it feels a bit surreal to post about California's 2020 ACA premiums--and especially mentioning the fact that they're reinstating the ACA individual mandate penalty at the state level--on the very same day that the entire ACA itself is on the brink of complete oblivion (again), due specifically TO the fact that Congressional Republicans repealed the federal mandate penalty..

And yet, here we are:

California’s Initiatives Will Lead to Hundreds of Thousands Gaining Health Care Coverage With Lower Premiums and New Financial Help

As I've noted several times, one of the biggest flaws in the Affordable Care Act is a very simple one on paper: The Subsidy Cliff. People who enroll in ACA exchange policies are entitled to financial assistance on a sliding scale...but only if their household incomes fall between 100-400% of the Federal Povery Level. Those below the lower threshold (actually, below 138% FPL) are expected to enroll in Medicaid, but those over the upper threshold of 400% FPL (around $50,000/year for a single person, roughly $103,000/year for a family of four) are completely on their own.

Here's the current federal premium subsidy formula (the precise premium cap percentages change slightly from year to year...and the Trump Administration is even messing with that a bit, so I'm not sure what it'll be in 2020):

Yesterday I noted that both houses of the California state legislature (Assembly and Senate) voted to expand Medi-Cal (the state's Medicaid program) to anywhere between 147,000 - 175,000 undocumented immigrants (young adults age 19 - 25 and seniors over 65), entirely funded using state dollars.

It turns out that this was only part of a marathon voting session yesterday over the past few weeks. Either the state Senate, Assembly or both have also voted to pass three a bunch of other healthcare-related bills (I've included simple descriptions of each):

BREAKING: California Assembly passes our #AB1246(@Limon) to align consumer protections for all Californians, including those in large group coverage. #Care4AllCA

Back in 2016, California passed an important bill which allowed undocumented children to enroll in the state's Medicaid program (called Medi-Cal). The costs are borne entirely by the state, since federal law currently doesn't allow federal taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for Medicaid...although, I should note, this isn't entirely true:

Federal law generally bars illegal immigrants from being covered by Medicaid. But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly comprise illegal immigrants.

The lion’s share goes to reimburse hospitals for delivering babies for women who show up in their emergency rooms, according to interviews with hospital officials and studies.

via Covered California:

Covered California Announces Grants to Community-Based Organizations Across California in Preparation for 2020 and Beyond

  • Community-based organizations and clinics will receive a total of $6.3 million in grant funding to help people enroll in quality health care coverage.
  • The 105 organizations reflect California’s diversity and will target populations that are hard to reach, uninsured and eligible for financial help through Covered California.
  • Approximately 89 percent of Californians live within a 15-minute drive of these community-based organizations.

Covered California announced Friday that it intends to partner with 105 community-based organizations to educate consumers about their health care options, offer in-person enrollment and renewal assistance and provide ongoing support on how to get the best value from their health plan. The Navigator grants announced are part of Covered California’s ongoing commitment to support robust marketing and outreach, including working with trusted organizations throughout the state to help hard-to-reach people understand this new era of health care.

Back in January, I noted that California Governor Gavin Newsom was proposing a stripped-down version of one of the most important ACA 2.0 provisions I've been pushing for years now: Raising the ACA's APTC subsidy income eligibility cap and beefing up the underlying subsidy formula.

At the time, he was

Well, the latest official revision to the proposed CA 2019 - 2020 state budget has been released, and not only are both the mandate reinstatement and the enhanced subsidies included, the subsidies have actually been increased a bit more than Newsom was originally proposing:

EXPANDED SUBSIDIES TO PROMOTE AFFORDABLE COVERAGE

To improve affordability and access to health care, the Governor's Budget proposed subsidies to help more low and middle class Californians afford health coverage through Covered California.

via Covered California:

New Analysis Finds Leading State-Based Marketplaces Have Performed Well, and Highlights the Impact of the Federal Mandate Penalty Removal

  • The report examines the impact that federal and state actions have had on state-based marketplaces and the federally facilitated marketplace (FFM).
  • Cumulative premium increases in California, Massachusetts and Washington are less than half of the increases seen in FFM states, but 2019 premium increases spiked in California and Washington compared to Massachusetts, which continued its state-based penalty.

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new report highlights the benefits of state-based exchanges, particularly in the areas of controlling premium costs and attracting new enrollment. The report, which was produced by Covered California, the Massachusetts Health Connector and the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, found that premiums in these states were less than half of what consumers saw in the 39 states that relied on the federally facilitated marketplace (FFM) between 2014 and 2019.

I don't analyze or write about the ACA's SHOP (Small business Health Options Program) exchange enrollment very much these days. The main reason for this is that SHOP enrollment is extremely difficult to come by. The federal exchange (HealthCare.Gov) has mostly pretended the program doesn't even exist, at least when it comes to enrollment...in fact, to my knowledge, they've only issued a single hard number for HC.gov SHOP enrollment...in 2015:

On November 15th, 2014 we launched the HealthCare.gov portal for 33 states to enroll in SHOP Marketplaces. As of May 2015, approximately 85,000[1] Americans have 2015 coverage through SHOP Marketplaces with about 10,700 small employers participating in SHOP Marketplaces. These totals do not include employers that began coverage in 2014 and have not yet renewed their coverage through HealthCare.gov for 2015.

So, a couple of hours ago, CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted out the following:

.@coveredca blames subpar enrollment on no federal mandate penalty, but NJ kept penalty and saw much, much bigger drop. Forcing Americans to buy insurance they can’t afford isn’t the answer.

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) January 31, 2019

Last fall, I reported that thanks to the one-two punch of a) reinstating the ACA's individual mandate penalty at the state level and b) using the revenue generated from the mandate penalty to help fund a robust reinsurance program, the state of New Jersey had successfully lowered average unsubsidized premiums for 2019 individual market policies by a net swing of nearly 22 percentage points.

This Just In from Covered California...

Covered California Plan Selections Remain Steady at 1.5 Million, but a Significant Drop in New Consumers Signals Need to Restore Penalty

  • Covered California finishes open enrollment with 1.5 million plan selections, which is virtually identical to 2018’s total, despite federal changes.
  • A key reason for the steady enrollment is that more people entered the renewal process for 2019 coverage after a strong enrollment period for 2018.
  • The federal removal of the individual mandate penalty appears to have had a substantial impact, leading to a decrease of 23.7 percent in new enrollment.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Covered California announced that more than 1.5 million consumers selected a health plan for 2019 coverage during the most recent open-enrollment period, a figure in line with last year’s total. There was a 7.5 percent increase in the number of existing consumers renewing their coverage and a 23.7 percent drop in the number of new consumers signing up for 2019.

A pop-up message appeared on the home page of Connect for Health Colorado on Tuesday the 15th:

If you encounter long hold times today and are unable to get through to our Customer Service Center on Jan. 15 to complete your enrollment, please contact our customer service center no later than 6:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18 to complete your enrollment. At that time, you must let the representative know that you were unable to get through on Jan. 15.

Oddly, the message didn't include C4HCO's actual phone number: 855 752-6749

Colorado was already within 0.5% of surpassing last year's enrollment total as of January 3rd (just 712 enrollees shy); I'm certain they've beaten that number already.

Gov. Newsom Urges Uninsured to Get Covered Before Midnight Deadline Tomorrow as Covered California Continues Promoting Enrollment

  • Consumers have through Jan. 15 to sign up and select a plan, through Covered California or directly with health plans, for Feb. 1 coverage.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom promotes enrollment for the estimated 1.1 million uninsured Californians eligible to enroll in Covered California or Medi-Cal.
  • Covered California research shows that 82 percent of uninsured consumers surveyed, who are eligible for financial assistance, do not know that they qualify.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday urged Californians who need health insurance to enroll as Covered California continued promoting coverage statewide before the deadline to enroll on Jan. 15.

“Covered California is in the final two days of open enrollment. That means if you are without health insurance, you need to sign up by Tuesday, Jan. 15, to secure health coverage,” Newsom said.

From Covered California:

Covered California’s Iconic Bus Tour Rolls into San Francisco to Promote Health Insurance Enrollment Ahead of Final Deadline

  •  Covered California’s bus tour promotes enrollment and encourages consumers to see if they are eligible for financial help in obtaining quality health insurance.
  •  The San Francisco visit coincides with the release of Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget which focuses on making health care more affordable through increased financial help and a state individual shared responsibility provision.
  •  Consumers have through Jan. 15 to sign up and select a plan, through Covered California or directly with health plans, for Feb. 1 coverage.
  •  An estimated 1.1 million uninsured Californians are eligible to enroll in Covered California and research shows that 82 percent of uninsured consumers surveyed, who are eligible for financial assistance, do not know that they qualify.

Pages