Individual Mandate

Just a few minutes ago I noted that the state of Oregon is once again strongly considering taking a second crack at establishing their own, fully state-based ACA exchange after spending the past five years piggybacking on top of HealthCare.Gov.

Well, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group just published an extensive report in which they urge the state to do just that...along with several other key changes which I also strongly agree with:

Steps like a mandate for Oregon residents to buy health insurance and relief for exchange customers who earn too much to receive tax credits under the Affordable Care Act could help reverse premium hikes that have shot up amid attempts by the Trump administration to roll back the law, OSPIRG, the Oregon State Public Interest Group, argued in a report released Wednesday.

Lost amidst all the other overwhelming ACA-related news this week is one other important nugget: The Affordable Care Act's "individual mandate penalty", which was lowered to $0 in December 2017, was still the law of the land until December 31, 2018. It may have been changed at the time, but that change didn't become effective until January 1, 2019.

Here's the exact text:

PART VIII--INDIVIDUAL MANDATE SEC. 11081.

ELIMINATION OF SHARED RESPONSIBILITY PAYMENT FOR INDIVIDUALS FAILING TO MAINTAIN MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE.

(a) In General.--Section 5000A(c) <<NOTE: 26 USC 5000A.>> is amended--
(1) in paragraph (2)(B)(iii), by striking ``2.5 percent'' and inserting ``Zero percent'', and
(2) in paragraph (3)--

(A) by striking ``$695'' in subparagraph (A) and inserting ``$0'', and
(B) by striking subparagraph (D).

(b) <<NOTE: 26 USC 5000A note.>> Effective Date.--
The amendments made by this section shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2018.

Shoutout to James Medlock for digging up this relic from the 2008 Presidential primariy race: A lit piece from then-Senator Barack Obama's campaign slamming then-Senator Hillary Clinton over her insistence on her proposed healthcare policy bill including an Individual Mandate Penalty. How many Republican talking points can you spot below?

There's a lot going on here. For starters, the couple on the first page are basically 2008 versions of "Harry & Louise"...it's a white, middle-age, middle-class suburban couple poring over their finances. Considering that the 1993 "Hillarycare" proposal was destroyed in large part due to the health insurance lobby's successful series of Harry & Louise "there's got to be a better way" ads, Obama using this same tactic had to sting.

Back in early December, I noted that while I applauded both New Jersey and the District of Columbia for creating their own individual healthcare coverage responsibility requirements (aka, The Individual Mandate) in response to Congressional Republicans repealing the ACA's federal penalty, doing so also required making sure that residents of NJ/DC *knew* they had done so:

There's only one problem with this: The impact of the mandate penalty is completely psychological in nature. It only works (to the extent that it does at all) if people know that they'll be penalized financially for not complying with the mandate.

Last night, in response to CMS Administrator Seema Verma taking shots at both Covered California (for blaming their drop in new enrollment on the federal mandate being repealed) and New Jersey (for seeing a 7.1% exchange enrollment drop in spite of reinstating the mandate), I wrote a long analysis which noted that:

  • Verma may have a valid point, but...
  • There's not nearly enough data available to know one way or the other (especially the missing off-exchange data for this year), and...
  • Even if she turns out to be correct about NJ's total enrollment drop, NJ reinstating the mandate still resulted in a substantial premium drop for well over 100,000 residents.

Today, I was able to fill in some of that missing data...although some of it is still frustratingly absent.

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.

As part of her proposed 2020 annual budget, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has included an item of particular interest to those following the ACA:

Health Care Access and Affordability

State government plays a critical role in today’s health care system. Every policy decision we make has an impact on the individuals, children and families who need care. The Governor’s FY20 budget proposal builds on this momentum, preserving vital ACA protections that promote market stability and help to keep uninsured rates low. There are no eligibility cuts or broad-based benefit impacts proposed.

...Market Stability and Reinsurance Initiative

Last week I acquired the DC Health Link enrollment data for the first two weeks of 2019 Open Enrollment. It showed that DC, unlike most of the other state-based exchanges, was lagging behind last year for the first two weeks (although not as much as most of the HC.gov states).

Well, I just received updated data out of DC and the enrollment situation over the following four weeks didn't improve (if anything they dropped off slightly more):

  • Nov. 1 - Dec. 11, 2017: 19,252 QHP selections
  • Nov. 1 - Dec. 11, 2018: 17,825 QHP selections

That's a drop of around 7.4% year over year so far.

As with most other state-based exchanges, the numbers for both years include auto-renewals, which means the vast bulk of 2019 enrollments are likely already baked in. Last year's final tally was 19,289; DC has already reached 92% of that as of 12/11. Keep in mind that DC's Open Enrollment Period does not end on Saturday the 15th; it continues for another 47 days after that, through January 31st.

The numbers are several weeks out of date, but it's better than nothing: Here's the DC Health Link's official 2019 ACA Open Enrollment report through November 13.

Things weren't looking great as of two weeks in: Total enrollments were down 6.8% (1,202 people) year over year as of the same date. We'll have to see whether things have picked up since then.

As with most other state-based exchanges, the numbers for both years include auto-renewals, which means the vast bulk of 2019 enrollments are likely already baked in. Last year's final tally was 19,289; DC had already reached 85% of that as of 11/13.

DC's report also includes all sorts of wonky demographic breakout data, and even closes with currently effectuated numbers for both the individual and small business (SHOP) markets. Remember, DC's SHOP market is unusually high (especially compared to the individual market) because the ACA requires all members of Congress and their staff to enroll using it if they want their 72% FEHB subsidy.

I just received another official update from the MA Health Connector...

On enrollment, as of today, we have 261,619 enrolled members for January. We have an additional 14,368 plan selections made (but unpaid) for a total of 275,994 under the CMS definitions. New enrollments for 2019 continue to trend slightly ahead of last year.

A week or so ago I noted that Massachusetts had enrolled just over 264,000 people (10,000 of whom hadn't actually paid their January premium yet...MA's exchange is one of the only states which is able to actually track payment data live, since they handle it themselves). They were up 10K over the same date in 2017, or up around 4% year over year.

I don't have a hard "thru 12/05" number for 2017 this week, but they did confirm the 276K number is still "slightly ahead", which is good.

"But the whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

--Dr. Strangelove, 1964

No one applauded the New Jersey legislature and Governor Phil Murphy louder than I did when they swiftly passed several laws this past spring which cancelled out much of the Trump Administration's sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. As a reminder, the laws and waivers they put into effect included:

"But the whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, eh?

--Dr. Strangelove, 1964

No one applauded the New Jersey legislature and Governor Phil Murphy louder than I did when they swiftly passed several laws this past spring which cancelled out much of the Trump Administration's sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. As a reminder, the laws and waivers they put into effect included:

Last spring, both New Jersey and Maryland were among the states which were the most pro-active about passing lesiglation to cancel out Donald Trump's attempts to deliberately sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Both states passed laws cracking down on non-ACA compliant short-term and association health plans (NJ actually already didn't allow short-term plans before the ACA anyway), both states established robust reinsurance programs, and both states tried to pass bills reinstating the ACA's Individual Mandate Penalty which Congressional Republicans repealed last winter in different ways.

New Jersey was successful: They kept their mandate penalty restoration bill pretty much identical to the version repealed at the federal level and plan on using the revenue from it to help pay for the reinsurance program. The combined impact of all of their anti-sabotage efforts led to roughly a $1,500 annual premium savings for every unsubsidized individual market enrollee in the state.

As I just noted earlier this afternoon, Massachusetts is NOT expecting the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to impact their 2019 individual market enrollment or premiums for a simple reason: The Bay State never formally repealed their own, pre-ACA mandate penalty. They basically mothballed it once the ACA's version went into effect, and are simply dusting it off for 2019 and beyond now that the federal mandate has been formally repealed.

However, the two mandate penalties don't work quite the same way. For the federal mandate, unless you qualify for an exemption (and there's a whole bunch of those), the penalty for not having ACA-compliant healthcare coverage is (or has been up until now) as follows:

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