2020 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

Alaska

When I ran the preliminary 2020 rate changes for unsubsidized ACA policies in Alaska back in August, it was pretty easy to do...there's only a single carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market policies for 2019, which means no weighting is required. Furthermore, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is basically keeping their rates flat for 2020 anyway.

Moda is re-entering the market for 2020, but there's no "rate change" for them since there's no base premiums to measure against year over year.

Anyway, CMS just posted the final, approved rate changes, and Premera's number is ever so slightly higher than it was: They went from a 0.05% reduction to...a 0.03% reduction.

MLR rebate payments for 2018 are being sent out to enrollees even as I type this. The data for 2018 MLR rebates won't be officially posted for another month or so, but I've managed to acquire it early, and after a lot of number-crunching the data, I've recompiled it into an easy-to-read format.

But that's not all! In addition to the actual 2018 MLR rebates, I've gone one step further and have taken an early crack at trying to figure out what 2019 MLR rebates might end up looking like next year (for the Individual Market only). In order to do this, I had to make several very large assumptions:

The floodgates are now officially open for preliminary (not final) 2020 ACA rate filings for both the Individual and Small Group markets. There are several states which only have a single insurance carrier offering policies on the Individual Market, which makes it very easy to calculate the weighted average rate changes...seeing how a single carrier holds 100% of the market.

Among these states are Alaska, Nebraska and Wyoming, where the sole Indy Market carriers are once again Premera BCBS (AK), Medica (NE) and BCBS of Wyoming. Unfortunately, the rate filing forms for all three are partly redacted, making it impossible for me to determine how many total enrollees they have, although I have a pretty good estimate of the on-exchange number as of the end of March for each.

In Alaska, Premera's 2020 rates are virtually unchanged year over year. In Nebraska, Medica expects to reduce rates an average of 5.3%. And in Wyoming, BCBS is only looking to bump up average unsubsidized premiums by 1.6%.

So, it's over, right? Well...not quite. The 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period officially ended last night...but only in 43 states. In the remaining seven (+DC), Open Enrollment hasn't ended yet2019 ACA Open Enrollment is still ongoing for nearly 10% of the population!

  • In Massachusetts, open enrollment runs through Jan. 23rd, 2019 for coverage starting February 1st

ALSO...

OK, I'm not sure how I missed this, but apparently in addition to the 7 states (+DC) which have extended deadlinesthe 2019 Open Enrollment period also isn't over for some residents of Alaska:

Alaskans living in Southcentral affected by the Nov. 30 earthquake have until Jan. 29, 2019 to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. 

In a release from United Way of Anchorage, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday that Alaskans living in the Municipality of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs at the time of the quake are eligible for the extension past the original Dec. 15 deadline.

Lori Wing-Heier, director of Alaska's Division of Insurance, explained for the extension to kick in, "The caller has to call in to [healthcare.gov] and would have to attest that they could not enroll because of the earthquake."

Alaska has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market plans, so it should be a piece of cake to calculate their average premium change, since I don't have to calculate the relative market share.

Unfortunately, some carriers submit multiple filings for different lines of business even if they both use the same "Actuarial Memorandum" to justify the incresae...and often times the memo itself is redacted, with the critical data (covered lives, percent increases, dollar amounts, etc.) blocked out, making it kind of useless for my purposes. Such is the case with Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, the sole ACA market carrier in Alaska. Thanks in large part to the state's successful reinsurance program, they're dropping rates by 7% on most of their policies, and by 10.3% on the rest...but I don't know the relative portion of each, so I can't be sure what the weighted average of the two is. The second listing is for Health Savings Account plans only, so I'm assuming the bulk of their enrollees have the first types of policies, which suggests roughly an 8% overall premium drop.

(see update below)

This year, thanks to their reinsurance program, ACA individual market premiums dropped by around 23.6% on average, from a whopping $1,040/month to "only" $795/month per enrollee.

HOWEVER, they would have dropped about 4.5 percentage points more if not for Trump cutting off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments, or roughly $560/year per enrollee. AK averaged around 16,000 effectuated ACA-compliant individual market enrollees per month in 2017, so that amounts to right around $8.9 million total. 6,930 enrollees qualify for CSR assistance this year, so that averages around $1,280 apiece in CSR help, which sounds about right to me.

I should note up front that despite the snarky headline, this is actually good news on the whole, and Premera does deserve some credit for it since part of the $250 million they refer to below is voluntary on their part.

Premera Blue Cross, the sole carrier offering ACA exchange individual market policies throughout the entire state of Alaska, and one of the major carriers on the indy market in Washington State, posted this press release today:

Premera Announces $250 Million Investment In Customers and Community

Mountlake Terrace, Wash. — (March 12, 2018) — Premera Blue Cross, a leading health plan in the Pacific Northwest, today announced $250 million in investments over five years across Washington and Alaska to help stabilize the individual market, improve access to care in rural areas and support local communities in their efforts to address the behavioral health issues impacting their residents.

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:

 

(h/t to nmbrmnstr via Twitter for the heads up)

As part of their Godawful "tax reform" bill, Congressional Republicans have decided to toss repealing of the ACA's individual mandate penalty into the mix, partly because they've always hated it but mainly because doing so would allegedly save the federal government $338 billion over the next decade...which in theory would be enough to keep the total increase in the federal deficit bythe tax bill below the $1.5 TRILLION mark (yes, you read that correctly: $1.5 TRILLION, with a "T").

It's my understanding that if they can't keep it below that threshold, the bill won't go through for some obscure Senate rule reason or another (although apparently White House budget director Mick Mulvaney also stated that they really don't give a crap whether the mandate is repealed or not as long as the larger bill gets passed, so perhaps I'm mistaken about this? Need clarification on this point...)

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.

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