A new set of proposals provide some of the strongest evidence yet that Obamacare -- once on the verge of collapse in Tennessee -- has stabilized.
The state’s largest insurance company, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, plans to reenter the Affordable Care Act marketplace in Nashville, Memphis and surrounding counties next year, providing another option for residents on Obamacare. Additionally, two other insurance companies that already offer Obamacare in these cities, Cigna and Oscar Health, are planning to significantly reduce the cost of their coverage plans.
Although the proposals are not final, it appears Tennesseans will have more options and competitive prices in the coming year, said Kevin Walters, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Insurance.
The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, mimicking laws in other states that have been struck down by the courts and drawing the criticism of both advocates and opponents of abortion rights.
The measure, House Bill 77, would tightly restrict the window of time within which a woman could seek an abortion, because a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That is before many women even realize they are pregnant.
When I last posted about 2019 ACA-compliant individual market premium changes in Tennessee back in August, I noted that premiums statewide had gone from dropping 5.7% to dropping 10.8% on average after the Trump Administration first stated that they were going to unnecessarily "freeze" the ACA's Risk Adjustment fund transfers in response to a lawsuit ruling only to reverse themselves a week or so later and state that they were going to go ahead and process RA fund transfers after all.
In other words, the Trump Administration once again deliberately caused a panic across the industry only to "save" the industry from the very threat which they had posed in the first place.
In any event, here's what I thought the Tennessee's premium situation looked like when the dust settled:
The good news was that average unsubsidized 2019 ACA individual market premiums were expected to drop by about 5.7% after years of double-digit rate hikes.
The bad news was that due specifically to various types of deliberate sabotage by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans (primarily repeal of the individual mandate and expansion of #ShortAssPlans), that 5.7% drop was still a good 12 points or so higher than it otherwise would have been.
The ugly news was that due specifically to the Trump Administration's utterly unnecessary decision to freeze Risk Adjustment fund transfers in response to a lawsuit out of New Mexico, 2019 premiums would be hundreds of dollars higher still than they should have been for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee's 113,000 enrollees:
“Our rate reduction would have been larger, but we had to account for added uncertainty in our rates due to indefinite suspension (the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) placed on risk adjustment transfers between insurers,” said , said Mary Danielson, a BCBST spokeswoman. “Again, we were planning a larger reduction – around 18 percent – but needed to factor in the prospect of greater costs for 2019.”
Holy guacamole. I've noted repeatedly that unlike last fall, when average rate increases of 20-30% or more were commonplace for ACA individual market policies (due mainly to Trump cutting off CSR reimbursement payments), the preliminary rate requests for 2019 are actually averageing quite a bit lower than originally expected; of the 20 or so states I've crunched the numbers for so far, the weighted average for unsubsidized premium hikes is hovering around the 10% mark.
At first glance, it may sound like Democrats have been overplaying their hand when it comes to the "individual mandate repeal/short-term plan expansion is causing massive hikes!" attack. However, the rate increases from deliberate sabotage are happening...they're just being partly cancelled out by other factors, including:
Insurance Commissioner approves rates insurers filed for 2018; Cost to cover CSRs has been added to silver plan premiums
On September 20, the Tennessee Department of Insurance and Commerce (TDIC) announced that the state had approved the rates that insurers had filed for 2018. However, the announcement indicated that Cigna’s approved average rate increase was 42.1 percent, which was based on the filing Cigna submitted in June 2017. An updated filing, with an average rate increase of 36.5 percent, was submitted in August, and TDIC confirmed by phone on September 21 that the updated filing was approved. The slightly smaller rate increase is due to Cigna’s decision to terminate some existing plans and replace them with new plans).
The following average rate increases were approved for 2018 individual market coverage:
This year, to the best of my estimates, Tennessee's total individual market consists of roughly 300,000 people, around 2/3 of whom are enrolled via the federal ACA exchange. Humana is dropping out of the state next year, meaning roughly 79,000 enrollees will have to shop around.
To my knowledge, there are actually 6 individual market carriers in Tennessee this year: Aetna, TRH (Tennessee Rural Health), Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana and "Freedom Life" (which, again, is basically a phantom carrier with no enrollees). Aetna and Humana are out, so that leaves TRH, BCBSTN and Cigna. TRH doesn't appear to have submitted an official 2018 rate filing as of yet, but they only had 3,500 enrollees this time last year anyway, so likely won't have much impact on the overall weighted average rate hikes.
Julie McPeak is the Tennessee Insurance Commissioner. She was appointed by a Republican Governor, Bill Haslam, and while the position itself appears to be nonpartisan, I've found several links indicating that yes, she's a Republican herself. This is hardly surprising in Tennessee, of course, and there's nothing wrong with it...but it's noteworthy given that Tennessee is among the 19 states which has been fairly hostile towards the ACA in general over the years (no state exchange, no Medicaid expansion, total GOP control and so forth).