Much has been written by myself and others (especially the Kaiser Family Foundation) about the fact that millions of uninsured Americans are eligible for ZERO PREMIUM Bronze ACA healthcare policies.
I say "Zero Premium" instead of "Free" because there's still deductibles and co-pays involved, although all ACA plans also include a long list of free preventative services from physicals and blood screenings to mammograms and immunizations with no deductible or co-pay involved.
If you have a fairly healthy year, you really could go the entire year without paying a dime in healthcare costs while still taking advantage of many of these free services, and also having the peace of mind that in a worst-case scenario, at least you wouldn't go bankrupt. Not perfect, but a lot better than going bare especially since you wouldn't pay a dime in premiums.
Normally by early October I have the preliminary rate filings analyzed & posted for nearly every state and the approved rate changes for at least half of them. This year I'm lagging way behind for several reasons, some personal, some professional.
Having said that, I'm trying to play catch-up this week. Case in point, today I'm posting Iowa's preliminary individual and small group market filings for 2021.
Wellmark is dropping their premiums by a jaw-dropping 42% next year, which would normally be a huge story except that they only have around 3,000 Iowans enrolled to begin with (which may explain the massive rate drop, of course). Oscar Insurance appears to be expanding into the Iowa individual market, while Medica continues to hold nearly 95% of the market and is only raising premiums by around 2.5%. Overall, 2021 rates are essentially flat on averae.
The small group market is much the same...there's a bunch of carriers which only have a few dozen enrollees statewide, and four which hold over 90% of the market share (realistically more like 2-3 carriers depending on how you define UnitedHealthcare and Wellmark subsidiaries).
When I ran the numbers for Iowa's preliminary avg. 2020 unsubsidized individual market rate changes, I had to use an unweighted average reduction of around 3.3%. However, knowing the relative market share of each carrier can make a big difference.
Case in point: It turns out that Medica holds something like 97% of Iowa's ACA-compliant market...whcih means the 11.3% rate drop by Medica heavily weighs the overall average. Wellmark is raising their rates by about 4.7%, but that only nudges the statewide weighted average to a 10.8% reduction overall.
(sigh) As is common this year, the rate filings for Iowa's Individual and Small Group market are heavily redacted, making it impossible to calculate a weighted average premium rate change. On the Indy market, Medica is reducing their unsubsidized 2020 premiums by 11.3%, while Wellmark is raising theirs by around 4.8%.
Seeing how Wellmark only re-entered the ACA-compliant individual market this year, I'm assuming Medica has the lion's share of enrollees...but who knows? Also, Wellmark is offering two different types of policies; I'm assuming that at most the two combine to be similar to Medica's total. If so, that should mean an average premium reduction of around 3.3%.
For the small group market, I just ran an unweighted average of the 12 different companies offering policies, coming up woth an average 5.4% increase.
There is one interesting tidbit in the Wellmark filing, however: They expect 100% of their 2020 enrollees to do so on-exchange, which basically means that their unsubsidized premiums have gone up so much that they don't expect anyone to be willing to pay full price (off-exchange) for them.
I've included the transcript below, but words can't accurately describe the tone of voice or the body language of Grassley in the actual video, so I'll just urge everyone to watch it.
WOMAN: "What is your plan to keep millions of Americans like myself covered? Those of us with pre-existing conditions, people who are on their parents insurance, and again, people like myself who need life-guaranteeing medication? We could lose our insurance and I'd probably be dead in 2 months."
GRASSLEY: "Well, there's a...there's a lot of, uh...and she's asking only because the courts may declare [the ACA] unconstitutional. Now, I don't think that the courts are going to declare it unconstitutional..."
WOMAN: "You voted seven times to repeal it."
GRASSLEY: (pause) "Yes."
WOMAN: "Why? What are you going to do for people on the ACA?"
Combined, the Medicaid and CHIP programs have around 72.5 million Americans enrolled in them as of December 2018. However, the vast majority--over 80% of them--are actually enrolled in privately managed Medicaid programs. Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) are private health insurance companies which states contract with to handle the administration and management. In some cases this works out reasonably well. In others...not so much:
CMS gives thumbs-up to Medicaid work requirements in Ohio
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has approved a waiver request for work requirements in Ohio’s Medicaid program.
...CMS rolled out guidance on these waivers in January 2018, and since then eight states, including Ohio, have had requests approved. Several additional states have submitted waivers that the agency has yet to weigh in on.
...Arkansas is the only state where such work requirements have formally been launched, and in the last several months of 2018, more than 18,000 people lost Medicaid coverage as a result of the work requirement. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that most of these losses were a result of the administrative requirements associated with reporting work hours.
Last week I noted that New Mexico had capped off a flurry of positive healthcare policy legislation by passing a bill (in dramatic fashion) which would lock in ACA-level protections for those with pre-existing conditions in the event the ACA itself is ever repealed or weakened.
Once this bill is signed by the Governor (which is almost certain to happen), New Mexico will join four other states (Massachusetts, New York, Colorado and Virginia) in fully protecting all three types of "blue leg" protections: Guaranteed Issue, Community Rating and Essential Health Benefits. The New Mexico bill also locks in a fourth ACA protection: The prohibition on annual or lifetime coverage limits.
As I noted a few weeks ago, I haven't written a whole lot about the idiotic (but terrifyingly so) TexasFoldEm lawsuit in awhile. Part of this is because I was out of the country over the holidays; part is because there hasn't been a whole lot of movement on the case since right-wing federal Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that the ACA was unconstitutional using a legal argument so thin it hula hoops with a Cheerio.
I just received the following press release from the Iowa Insurance Division...
2019 Health Insurance Enrollment Deadline Approaches
Des Moines – Open enrollment begins November 1 and ends December 15 for Iowans purchasing or changing their Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual health coverage to become effective January 1, 2019.
“As the open enrollment season begins, Iowans should thoroughly research all coverage options. The ACA-compliant insurance market is available to Iowans, however, most Iowans have been priced out of that market if they are not currently receiving federal subsidies to help pay premiums and, in some instances, deductibles. I would encourage consumers to meet with a licensed insurance agent to determine the best plan for themselves and their families,” Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said. “Changes made at the Iowa state legislature and by the federal government have provided a few more options in addition to ACA-compliant coverage for Iowans to review as they plan out their health needs for 2019.”
Iowa has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market policies this year. Next year they'll have two, as Wellmark has decided to Hokey Pokey their way back onto the exchange again in 2019...but since they weren't around this year, there's no current policy premiums to measure any increase (or decrease) against.
Medica, the sole carrier now selling individual health insurance policies in Iowa, plans to raise its 2019 premiums by less than a tenth as much as it did for 2018.
Medica raised its Iowa health insurance premiums by a staggering average of 57 percent for 2018. It was the steepest such health insurance increase in Iowa history. Company leaders said last summer they needed the higher premiums to stay in the market. But this time around, the Minnesota-based carrier is planning to raise Iowa premiums by an average of less than 5.6 percent, state regulators disclosed Wednesday.