END OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD (41 states)

Time: D H M S

Oklahoma

A couple of weeks ago, a joint letter was sent to all four Congressional leaders from AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans), the BlueCross BlueShield Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the AMA, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitalsm warning them, in no uncertain terms, of what the consequences of repealing the individual mandate would be:

We join together to urge Congress to maintain the individual mandate. There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need. Let’s work together on solutions that deliver the access, care, and coverage that the American people deserve.

A week or so ago, the American Academy of Actuaries sent a similar letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating pretty muc the same thing, but in more vivid detail:

With 43 states accounted for, Open Enrollment itself looming just 6 days from now and HealthCare.Gov's window shopping tool now open for business anyway, there aren't likely to be too many surprises left for my 2018 Rate Hike project. For that matter, healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health just published their own analysis which confirms my own closely: They have the 2018 on exchange average increase at 29.1%, while I currently have the combined on & off-exchange average (for 43 states) at 29.2%.

Still, I don't like loose ends, and those 8 missing states are bugging me, so I still want to fill them in for completeness' sake. The only big state remaining is Texas, but I'm also missing Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, as the only carrier participating on the ACA exchange in the state, jacked up their premiums by a jaw-dropping 76%. This resulted in the highest statewide average rate hike in the country of 71% overall.

Well, that certainly seems to have done the trick: This year BCBSOK (still the only on-exchange player and holding over 99% of the market anyway) is requesting a (relatively) modest 8.3% average rate increase...and their filing specifically calls out both the CSR and mandate enforcement factors as being major reasons. Assuming the Kaiser Family Foundation's estimates are accurate, that means that if the CSR payments were guaranteed for 2018, BCBSOK should actually be lowering their rates slightly, to the tune of around 2.4%.

Adding in the steep hikes from off-exchange only CommunityCare (which only has 1,400 enrollees) brings the averages in at a 1.9% rate drop if CSRs are paid, and an 8.7% increase if they aren't.

While I've been embroiled in the sturm und drang at the national level, Louise Norris of healthinsurance.org has been reporting on some important stuff happening at the state level:

HAWAII:

Hawaii no longer has a SHOP exchange; Lawmakers consider bill to preserve the ACA and expand Medicaid to 250% FPL

As of 2017, Hawaii no longer has a SHOP exchange for small businesses. The State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has an FAQ page about this.

...Hawaii’s waiver aligns the ACA with the state’s existing Prepaid Health Care Act. Under the Prepaid Healthcare Act, employees who work at least 20 hours a week have to be offered employer-sponsored health insurance, and can’t be asked to pay more than 1.5 percent of their wages for employee-only coverage (as opposed to 9.69 percent under the ACA in 2017). 

As I noted when I crunched the numbers for Texas, it's actually easier to figure out how many people would lose coverage if the ACA is repealed in non-expansion states because you can't rip away healthcare coverage from someone who you never provided it to in the first place.

My standard methodology applies:

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which had originally asked for an already-ugly 51% average rate hike, had bumped that up to a jaw-dropping 76% ask. Well, earlier this week, they got it:

Obamacare premiums will raise a staggering 76 percent on average for Oklahoma residents, and the state's top insurance regulator says the state's insurance exchange set up by the law is on "life support."

Oklahoma's Insurance Department said on Tuesday that increases in individual marketplace plans will range from 58 percent to 96 percent.

"These jaw-dropping increases make it clear that Oklahoma's exchange is on life support," said Insurance Commissioner John Doak, in a statement. "Health insurers are losing massive amounts of money. If they don't raise rates they'll go out of business. This system has been doomed from the beginning."

Lots of stuff happening fast & furious these days as #OE4 approaches. Instead of individual posts, I'm gonna cram 7 state updates into a single one...and am also cheating a bit by cribbing off of excellent work by Louise Norris over at healthinsurance.org (which is fair, since she also gets some of her data from me as well):

ALABAMA: Here's what my requested rate hike table looked like for Alabama on August 1st:

Updates: Norris Confirms that:

Oklahoma's entire individual market (including grandfathered/transitional plans) was around 172,000 people in 2014. Assuming it's grown roughly 25% (in line with the national increase), it should be up to perhaps 215,000 people by today, of which perhaps 195K are ACA-compliant.

This is significant because there appear to be only 3 carriers offering individual policies in Oklahoma next year...one of which is the infamous "Freedom Life Insurance Co." which I wrote about last night. Since Freedom Life has (as usual) only a single enrollee in the state, it's really a nonfactor for calculating the weighted rate hike average.

That leaves Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, which has a whopping 170,000 enrollees...and CommunityCare (which is in turn broken into HMO and PPO divisions)...unfortunately, their rate filing doesn't include their enrollment number; all it says is that it's "too small to be credible" to be used as the basis of their rate hike request. In addition, UnitedHealthcare is dropping out of the OK indy market; I don't know how many enrollees they actually have.

The conventional wisdom when it comes to taxes is that Republicans are always for cutting 'em while Democrats are always for raising 'em. The reality, of course, can be far more complicated--it's not just about cutting or raising taxes, it's also about who's getting the increase/decrease and what the money would/no longer would be used for. Even so, this is an odd-sounding story at first glance.

Just last week, the Big News Shocker out of Oklahoma was the blood-red Republican-controlled state legislature and governor were actually considering a) raising taxes (!!!) and b) expanding Medicaid via the ACA (!!!) in order to dig themselves out of their self-dug financial hole:

So, in what would be the grandest about-face among rightward leaning states, Oklahoma is now moving toward a plan to expand its Medicaid program to bring in billions of federal dollars from Obama's new health care system.

What's more, GOP leaders are considering a tax hike to cover the state's share of the costs.

Amazing, but utterly predictable:

Despite bitter resistance in Oklahoma for years to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, Republican leaders in this conservative state are now confronting something that alarms them even more: a huge $1.3 billion hole in the budget that threatens to do widespread damage to the state's health care system.

So, in what would be the grandest about-face among rightward leaning states, Oklahoma is now moving toward a plan to expand its Medicaid program to bring in billions of federal dollars from Obama's new health care system.

What's more, GOP leaders are considering a tax hike to cover the state's share of the costs.

"We're to the point where the provider rates are going to be cut so much that providers won't be able to survive, particularly the nursing homes," said Republican state Rep. Doug Cox, referring to possible cuts in state funds for indigent care that could cause some hospitals and nursing homes to close.

In a classic case of missing the forest for the trees, I posted two very wonky, detailed entries over the past couple of days about Minnesota and Connecticut's latest enrollment numbers...but completely missed one crucially important data point.

Investor's Business Daily's Jed Graham picked up on some of my work for his post today, including the enrollment data for both Minnesota and Connecticut...but in addition to that extra data point (which I'll come back to in a moment), he also nabbed the latest number out of a third state, Oklahoma, from one of Adam Cancryn's updates on what I'm calling the UnitedHealthcare Disenrollment Odometer:

Over the past week or so, UnitedHealthcare started making good on their threat last fall to drop out of the ACA exchanges in at least some of the 33 states that they offer individual market policies in. On April 8th they said they were pulling up stakes in Arkansas and Georgia (although they're keeping a small presence in Atlanta via their experimental "Harken Health" division). Then, last Friday, they said they were dropping off the Michigan exchange as well...and just today, Adam Cancryn noted that they're pulling the plug on Oklahoma, while Zachary Tracer says they're pulling out of Louisiana. Ugh.

In Michigan, 15,000 children and pregnant women poisoned by lead and other toxic chemicals in their water supply from penny-pinching austerity measures by Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his GOP colleagues in the state legislature are finally being enrolled in Medicaid. So, you know, yay.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, 111,000 dirt-poor adults (mostly women) are being kicked to the curb thanks to...penny-pinching austerity measures by Republican Governor Mary Fallin and her GOP colleagues in the state legislature:

Just how grim the state’s budget situation has become was apparent Wednesday morning as the state House of Representatives discussed and ultimately agreed to a bill that would cut 111,000 Oklahomans, most of them women, from Medicaid.

Oklahoma is an example of how frustrating this rate review stuff can be, even when there's only a handful of companies involved and much of the data is easily accessible.

According to RateReview.Healthcare.Gov, Oklahoma only has a single company asking for rate hikes greater than 10%: Blue Cross Blue Shield of OK.

The main listing gives the requested rate increase as a jaw-dropping 43.95%...but the description below it says that "the range of rate increases by product is 22% to 34%".

Now, there are two additional BCBSOK listings on the Rate Review site which do appear to be included in the first one (all 3 list the total "members affected" as exactly 137,506)...but the other two have 22.64% and 33.83% listed as the "official" requested rate increase, both of which are still well below 44%.

How on earth you can have the individual product rate hikes range from 22-34% but average 43.95%, I have no idea. Obviously I'm missing something here.

At first, this article in the Washington Times doesn't look like anything special...it's basically one of dozens of stories about the potential political and real-world impact of the King v. Burwell decision on a specific state...in this case, Oklahoma:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - While the U.S. Supreme Court considers a key case related to the Affordable Care Act, officials in Oklahoma have taken little action to prepare for a ruling that could threaten the tax subsidies nearly 90,000 residents are using to purchase health insurance.

HOWEVER, it's the next couple of paragraphs which made me do a double-take:

Because Oklahoma opted not to create a state exchange where residents could shop for health insurance, Oklahomans instead purchased their plans through a federal exchange, but opponents who are challenging the law, including Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, argue the law only allowed for the subsidies through state exchanges.

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