START OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD

Time: D H M S

OE5

(I stole "Kasichlooper" from Zachery Tracer)

Right on top of the letter sent by all twelve state-based exchange heads to the Senate HELP Committee comes a similar open letter signed by eight sitting Governors to all four Congressional leaders (McConnell/Ryan & Schumer/Pelosi). It includes 5 Democratic Governors, but also 2 Republicans and one Independent.

The effort was spearheaded by Republican John "Yeah, he's definitely primarying Trump in 2020" Kasich of Ohio and Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado, but also includes Brian Sandoval (GOP, NV); Tom Wolf (Dem, PA); Bill Walker (Indy, AK); Terry McAuliffe (Dem, VA); John Bel Edwards (Dem, LA); and Steve Bullock (Dem, MT).

Here's a partial version of the letter with the meat of the asks:

Immediate federal action to stabilize markets.

via Robert Pear, New York Times:

A Trump administration official said Wednesday that the administration wanted to stabilize health insurance markets, but refused to say if the government would promote enrollment this fall under the Affordable Care Act or pay for the activities of counselors who help people sign up for coverage.

The official also declined to say whether the administration would continue paying subsidies to insurance companies to compensate them for reducing deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. Without the subsidies, insurers say, they would sharply increase premiums.

The administration, the official suggested, will do the minimum necessary to comply with the law, which Mr. Trump has called “an absolute disaster” and threatened to let collapse.

The following letter was just sent to GOP U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Dem U.S. Senator Patty Murray of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions) Senate Committee:

Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray:

Thank you and members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee for your commitment to hold September hearings on actions that Congress should take to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market. The State Health Exchange Leadership Network, an association of state leaders dedicated to the implementation and operation of the state-based health insurance marketplaces, appreciates this opportunity to submit testimony.

File this one under "Be Careful What You Wish For".

Just a couple of days ago I reported that the New York Dept. of Financial Services had issued their approved 2018 rate changes for the 15 insurance carriers participating in the state's individual and small group markets...and, in some welcome news, they whittled down the rate increases by a bit, from 17.7% on average to 14.5% on average in the individual market, and from 11.7% to 9.3% in the small group market.

Then, the very next day, Zach Tracer of Bloomberg News broke this story:

New York State’s biggest hospital system plans to stop selling Obamacare plans, blaming a costly plank of the law and uncertain prospects for a fix amid a wider Washington brawl over health care.

Over at Balloon Juice, David Anderson has whipped up a nifty little graph which attempts to break out just which ACA exchange enrollees would be positively or negatively impacted by the CSR reimbursement brouhaha under different scenarios.

As I noted last month with my "Silver Switcharoo" explainer, for carriers which remain in the ACA exchanges next year, there's three potential scenarios which could happen (well, four, actually, if you include "Congress manages to sneak a full CSR appropriation bill into law just under the wire", although that seems pretty unlikely at this point given the time crunch and the fact that it'd need a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate to avoid being vetoed by Trump anyway):

Quick recap: As of 2013, the pre-ACA individual market consisted of around 10.7 million people. The vast majority of the policies these folks were enrolled in were not ACA-compliant for one reason or another, including not covering one or more of the 10 Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) required by the ACA, having annual/lifetime caps on benefits or any number of other reasons.

Under ACA regulations, non-compliant policies which people were enrolled in prior to March 2010 (when President Obama signed the ACA into law) were grandfathered in...that is, insurance carriers could continue to offer them to existing enrollees for as long as they wanted to, and existing enrollees could stay on them for as long as they wished, but they couldn't be offered to anyone else, and once a current enrollee dropped out of a grandfathered plan they aren't allowed to rejoin it later on. The number of "grandfathered" enrollees has gradually declined since 2013, of course, as people either move to other coverage, die off (hey, it happens) or the carriers decide to discontinue the policies altogether.

As I noted earlier today, there’s a gazillion ways the Trump Administration could sabotage (and in some cases, is already sabotaging) the 2018 Open Enrollment period this fall, doing everything in their power to dampen, obstruct and otherwise minimize the number of people who actually enroll in a healthcare policy via the federal ACA exchanges.

However, as I've noted before (and as the CBO confirmed last week), due to the confusing, inside out way in which the APTC and CSR subsidy formulas happen to work, there's also the potential for one of the most pressing sabotage schemes by Trump and the GOP to backfire completely, leading to the potential for a significant increase in ACA exchange enrollment.

I've noted before that even if the Trump Administration does ensure CSR reimbursement payments and does enforce the individual mandate in 2018, there are literally dozens of other ways that Trump and HHS Secretary Tom Price could sabotage the 2018 Open Enrollment Period. Here's just a few, several of which they've already been caught doing:

  • Minimal or non-existent advertising/outreach/promotional efforts
  • Understaffing of call centers/support staff, leading to absurdly long hold times
  • Deliberately underthrottled server bandwidth, slowing HC.gov down or even taking it offline, especially during peak hours
  • "Accidentally" misentered enrollment instructions or policy specifications
  • Confusing or missing confirmation/status notification messages either on the site, via email or both
  • Incorrect APTC/CSR subsidy formulas giving incorrect tax credit/financial assistance details to enrollees
  • Burying/completely removing the "Window Shopping" tool on the site

Here's another one for you, courtesy of Abby Goodnough of the New York Times:

For all the fuss and bother about how much premiums are expected to go up on a percentage basis next year, using percentages can be misleading, since the lower the premium is to begin with, the more dramatic a percentage increase is going to seem relative to where it started.

With that in mind, I've decided to mush together two recent projects of mine: First, my debunking/correction of the May ASPE report which disingenuously claimed that individual market premiums had "increased by 105% since 2013 due to the ACA"; second, my 2018 Rate Hike Project.

As I noted when I debunked/corrected the ASPE report, not only did it turn out to be somewhat lower when all 50 states were included (84%, not 105%), but the ASPE report completely ignores both the financial assistance provided to roughly half the market and, just as importantly, blows off the apples to oranges mismatch between the numbers, because only a handful of states had guaranteed issue laws in 2013, and only one (NY) had a community rating law. Having said that, as long as you keep those caveats in mind, the (corrected) ASPE report does provide a good baseline for figuring out what the 2018 premiums are likely to be.

By merging the spreadsheets for these projects together, I've come up with a rough idea of what I expect to see in terms of unsubsidized, full-price premiums for individual ACA policies this November. I'm using a median instead of a weighted average this time around because I expect high variables in terms of the number of people who enroll in each state compared to 2017 (unfortunately, I still don't have 2018 data for several states, and I don't have the 2017 dollar average for DC to compare against).

I've ordered the states from lowest to highest based on the assumption that CSR reimbursements aren't made next year ("full sabotage effect"). The blue sections are my best estimates for each state assuming CSRs are paid; the yellow sections represent how much of the average premiums are due to "CSR padding" by the carriers.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, even if CSR payments aren't made next year, there are five different paths a given insurance carrier can take for 2018:

  • 1. Drop out of the on-exchange market so you're not at risk of having any CSR enrollees; stick around the off-exchange market.
  • 2. Drop out of the entire individual market, both on and off exchange.
  • 3. Preemptively cover your anticipated 2018 CSR losses by spreading them out across all plans on and off exchange.
  • 4. Preemptively cover your anticipated 2018 CSR losses by loading them onto Silver plans only both on and off exchange.
  • 5. Preemptively cover your anticipated 2018 CSR losses by loading them onto on-exchange Silver plans only.

Some carriers, tragically, have already thrown their hands up in the air and decided to wash their hands of the whole thing by choosing either #1 or 2 above. This includes Humana, Aetna, Wellmark and, most recently, Anthem, which is drastically scaling back their 2018 individual market participation levels.

June 13, 2017: CMS releases the following propaganda press release:

County by County Analysis of Current Projected Insurer Participation in Health Insurance Exchanges

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is releasing a county-level map of 2018 projected Health Insurance Exchanges participation based on the known issuer participation public announcements through June 9, 2017. This map shows that insurance options on the Exchanges continue to disappear. Plan options are down from last year and, in some areas, Americans will have no coverage options on the Exchanges, based on the current data.

 

Hey, remember this?

Cases upon cases of beer just rolled into the Capitol on a cart covered in a sheet. Spotted Bud Light peeking out from the sheet

— Alexandra Jaffe (@ajjaffe) May 4, 2017

Yeah, well, about that...

via Billy House of Bloomberg News:

House May Be Forced to Vote Again on GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill

House Republicans barely managed to pass their Obamacare repeal bill earlier this month, and they now face the possibility of having to vote again on their controversial health measure.

A few days ago, CMS announced that they're retooling the ACA's SHOP program (at least on the federal exchange) so that instead of small businesses using HealthCare.Gov for eligibility verification, enrollment and payments, going forward it will only be used for verification, with the businesses then being kicked over to the actual insurance carrier website in order to actually enroll in the policies and make payments.

Although the Trump Administration and HHS Secretary Tom Price are hell bent on killing off the ACA altogether, this move didn't bother me for several reasons. For one thing, the SHOP program has always been kind of a dud anyway, with only around 230,000 people being enrolled in it nationally. For another, a business signing up their employees for coverage is a very different animal from an individual signing their family up for a policy. Finally, for several reasons, SHOP enrollment across the dozen or so state-based exchanges is actually higher than it is across the 3 dozen states covered by HC.gov, and the state-based exchanges aren't impacted by this policy anyway.

While poking around in the SERFF rate filing database for different states, I occasionally find filings which DON'T apply to ACA-compliant policies or enrollees but which are of interest to healthcare nerds such as myself. I've decided to bundle these into a single post as they pop up, so check this entry once in awhile.


IOWA: Big Kahuna carrier Wellmark submitted a filing for non-ACA compliant small group policies (either grandfathered or transitional) which have effective/renewal dates of July, August or September 2017. The requested rate increase is 7.0% on average, which is pretty typical for small group plans, and it appears that Wellmark had 51,003 people enrolled in such policies as of 12/31/16. Nothing odd there.

What interested me, however, was this sentence:

I'm not sure what the original source for this is, but the following initial filing deadlines were provided by Stephen Holland via Twitter. I've already posted analyses of the Virginia, Maryland and Connecticut filings. The California and Oregon filings are supposed to have been submitted already but don't appear to be publicly available yet. In addition, it's my understanding that in many states the rates can still be adjusted/resubmitted until as late as August 16th, so I'm not really sure how useful these dates are anyway, but it's at least a guideline.

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