As you can tell, I've become a bit obsessed with tracking the COVID-19 outbreak on the county level within each state, along with the corresponding partisan divide.
Today, I'm looking at North Carolina. The good news is that I was able to acquire daily case & death data going back over a month. The bad news is that it stops a month ago...that is, the earliest day I could find county-level data for was April 4th, which means I'm missing about two weeks worth of numbers from the second half of March (most states I've looked at so far start around March 20th).
Still, even with the first two weeks missing, the trendline is pretty clear: Once again, what started out as a "Democratic area problem" has quickly shifted into an Everyone problem. It looks like things have stabilized at roughly a 50/50 divide, with around the same number of cases appearing in counties which voted for Donald Trump in 2016 as HIllary Clinton:
North Carolina has three individual market carriers in 2019. For 2020, that's increasing to four, as Bright Health Care is expanding into the NC market. The other three carriers (Blue Cross Blue Shield has a near monopoly at the moment) had requested average unsubsidized rate drops of 5.3% previously; in the end the final rates are dropping slightly more, to -5.6%.
Cigna extended its individual healthcare exchange products for the 2020 plan year, the insurer said Sept. 18.
For 2020, individuals can purchase individual health plans in 19 markets across 10 states. The expansions will take place in counties in Kansas, South Florida, Utah, Tennessee and Virginia. The other states include Arizona, Colorado, Illinois and North Carolina.
The plans will be available for purchase on the individual marketplace during the 2020 open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1. Plans will take effect Jan. 1.
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:
NOTE: This post re. North Carolina's 2020 individual market premium rate change is incomplete because it only includes one of the three carriers participating in NC's market (Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC). The rate change requests for Cigna and Centene haven't been released yet.
Normally I'd wait until I had data for the other two as well, but BCBSNC held around 95% of the state's Individual Market share last year, with Cigna holding the other 5% (Centene was a new entry to the market, so they didn't have any of it). I don't know how much the relative share has changed this year, but I'm assuming that BCBSNC still holds the lion's share of the total.
Blue Cross NC is decreasing 2020 Affordable Care Act (ACA) rates by an average of 5.2 percent for plans offered to individuals and an average of 3.3 percent for plans offered to small businesses with one to 50 employees. With this reduction, we take 238 million steps towards more affordable care in North Carolina.
Senate OKs small business health-care bill
By Richard Craver Winston-Salem Journal
The state Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to a Senate bill that would allow small-business employers to offer an association health-insurance plan, or AHP, that could provide lower premium costs.
Senate Bill 86 received a 40-8 vote on second reading, but an objection to a third reading kept it on the Senate calendar until at least today.
The GOP holds a majority in the NC Senate, but only by 29 to 21, so stopping this there was apparently a lost cause. They also hold a 65 to 54 majority in the state House. I'm not sure whether SB 86 has already been voted on there or not. If it passes both, it would be up to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper to veto the bill.
North Carolina has three insurance carriers offering individual market policies next year: Blue Cross Blue Shield, which holds a whopping 96% of the individual market; Cigna, which holds the remaining 4%, and newcomer Ambetter (aka Centene).
BLUE CROSS NC FILES TO LOWER ACA RATES BY AVERAGE OF 4.1 PERCENT
Durham, N.C. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) announced today it requested an overall average rate decrease of 4.1 percent for 2019 Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans offered to individuals. The reduction marks the first rate decrease in the history of Blue Cross NC since entering the current individual market more than 25 years ago.
...Many factors went into the Blue Cross NC’s rate filing:
There are only two insurance carriers participating in the North Carolina individual market this year: Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna. That's expected to change for 2019, as Centene (aka Ambetter) is expected to jump into the NC market, but in terms of premium changes, it's just BCBS and Cigna which can be counted in my 2019 Rate Hike project.
One of the big stories over the past few months has been the Trump Administration's attempts to strip away regulations on non-ACA compliant "Short-Term, Limited Duration" plans (by making them neither short-term nor of limited duration) and "Association Health Plans" (by recategorizing them from state-regulated, Small Group plans to mostly unregulated Large Group plans).
As I noted last week, insurance carriers in North Carolina were supposed to have submitted their preliminary 2019 premium rate change filings as of May 21st. Unfortunately, as I also noted last week, those "deadlines" appear to be more "guidelines" in many states, with North Carolina among them; there's no publicly-available premium change data available yet.
Insurers that wish to offer individual market coverage in North Carolina in 2019 had to file rates and forms by May 21, 2018. The two insurers that offer 2018 coverage in the North Carolina exchange — Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina — have both filed rate for 2019. Although the filings do show up in SERFF, they have very little publically available data at this point.
Way back in May, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina submitted their initial 2018 rate requests to the state insurance department, and noted at the time that they'd normally only be requesting an 8.8% average rate increase...but that due specifically to Donald Trump's threat to cut off CSR reimbursement payments, they were asking for a 23.3% increase instead. I noted that this meant that about 60% of their increase request was caused by Trump's CSR threat.
Blue Cross said May 25 that the 22.9 percent rate increase was based on the subsidies ending, along with claims data from the first quarter of 2017. It projected an 8.8 percent rate increase with the subsidies remaining in place.
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.
In late May, I noted that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which holds a near monopoly on the individual market in NC with around 95% of total enrollment, had submitted an initial rate hike request for 2018 averageing 22.9% overall. What was remarkable at the time is that while most carriers were pussyfooting around using euphamisms about the reasons for their excessive increase requests, BCBSNC was among the first to come right out and state point-blank that it's the Trump Administration's deliberate sabotage of the market--primarily via the threats to cut off CSR payments and to not enforce the individual mandate--that are responsible for over 60% of the increase. This is from their blog, not mine:
For 2017, North Carolina's unsubsidized, weighted average individual market rate hikes came in at around 24.2%. With carriers like Aetna, United Healthcare, Humana and Celtic all dropping out of the NC exchange market, there wasn't much math to do in order to find a weighted average: The only individual market carriers left were Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Cigna and "National Foundation Life Insurance", which is basically a non-entity shell company related to "Freedom Life", the less said about the better. Since Cigna only had around 1,200 indy market enrollees at the time (less than 0.5% of the total market share), that pretty much left BCBSNC as the only game in town, so their 24.3% hike was the whole shebang for the state.