Wyoming

March 2, 2021:

The ACA's language didn't account for the possibility that some states might not expand Medicaid, which is why the lower-end range of exchange plan subsidy eligibility starts off at 100% FPL...

Unfortunately, those earning less than 100% FPL are still stuck without any viable options besides either "going bare" and praying they don't get sick or injured or possibly buying a junk plan of some sort. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there's around 2.2 million Americans still caught in the "Medicaid Gap", where they don't qualify for Medicaid but don't earn enough to be eligible for subsidized ACA exchange policies (Kaiser estimates another 1.8 million uninsured adults in these states in the 100 - 138% "overlap" cateogory, plus around 356,000 who are eligible for Medicaid but still haven't enrolled for one reason or another).

NOTE: This is an updated version of a post from a couple of months ago. Since then, there's been a MASSIVELY important development: The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which includes a dramatic upgrade in ACA subsidies for not only the millions of people already receiving them, but for millions more who didn't previously qualify for financial assistance.

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.

Last week I reported that the GOP-controlled Missouri legislature decided to wipe their asses with their own state constitution by refusing to fund Medicaid expansion in the state despite the voters demanding they do so via a statewide ballot proposal last August:

Republican lawmakers blocked Medicaid expansion funding from reaching the Missouri House floor on Wednesday, posing a setback for the voter-approved plan to increase eligibility for the state health care program.

The House Budget Committee voted along party lines not to pass a bill allowing Missouri to spend $130 million of state funds and $1.6 billion in federal money to pay for the program’s expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government picks up 90% of the tab on expanding Medicaid.

The expanded eligibility would allow estimated 230,000 additional low-income Missourians to be covered. It is set to go into effect in July after voters approved a ballot question last August with a 53% majority.

The American Rescue Plan does plenty to make private ACA-compliant health insurance dramatically more affordable for everyone earning more than 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. For those below 100% FPL, however, it takes an indirect approach. As I wrote a few weeks ago:

One possible "solution" would have been to simply remove the lower-bound income cut-off point for ACA exchange subsidy eligibility (that is, to lower the threshold from 100% FPL to 0%)...However, this would create two new problems: First, Medicaid is far more comprehensive than nearly all ACA plans...Secondly, if the lower-end subsidy cut-off were removed, it's almost certain that quite a few states which have already expanded the program would reverse themselves and allow Medicaid expansion to expire, in order to save the 10% portion of the cost that they have to pay.

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.

Not much to this one: Wyoming has just a single carrier selling ACA-compliant individual market policies to their 577,000 residents, Blue Cross Blue Shield...which, after raising rates 1.6% for 2020 is now reducing them by a solid 10% on average for 2021. The ~25,000 enrollment figure is an estimate.

For the small group market there are two carriers: BCBSWY and UnitedHealthcare, asking for an unweighted average rate reduction of 0.2% (I don't have a clue how many enrollees either one has).

 

Louisiana's 2020 Presidential primary was scheduled for April 4th, but the other day Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin agreed to reschedule it for June 20th...which is actually later than the last previously-scheduled primary in the U.S. Virgin Islands on June 6th:

The presidential primary elections in Louisiana slated for April will be delayed by two months, the latest in a series of dramatic steps government leaders have taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Republican, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, both said Friday they would use a provision of state law that allows them to move any election in an emergency situation to delay the primary.

The presidential primary elections, initially scheduled for April 4th, will now be held June 20th. Ardoin said in a press conference he does not know of any other states that have moved elections because of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Not much to this one: Wyoming has just a single carrier selling ACA-compliant individual market policies to their 577,000 residents, Blue Cross Blue Shield...which is raising rates 1.6% on average for 2020. No change from their requested increase a few months earlier.

I don't write about Wyoming very often, but this is an interesting tidbit which a reader brought to my attention:

Former Wyoming Blackjewel LLC coal miners who have been out of work since July 1 and without health insurance since their group health plan was canceled Aug. 31 can sign up for the federal health insurance marketplace retroactively to Sept. 1.

The Wyoming Department of Insurance has successfully lobbied the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make an “exceptional circumstances” special enrollment period through Oct. 30, said Denise Burke, an attorney with the state Department of Insurance.

The exception allows former Blackjewel coal miners an option to buy health insurance off the marketplace and made it retroactively effective to Sept. 1, which means workers and family members with ongoing health issues can continue treatment as if they never lost insurance.

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%.

Amidst all the depressing news about various GOP states moving backwards on healthcare policy by gunking up Medicaid programs to add draconian work requirements, lowering the eligibility thresholds, stripping benefits and so forth, there were two positive developments in deep red territory last week, both relating to Medicaid work requirements:

First, in West Virginia:

A bill that sought to place work or other requirements on Medicaid recipients in West Virginia has died in the House of Delegates.

A House committee put the bill on its inactive calendar Wednesday, Feb. 27, the final day that legislation could be passed in their chamber of origin. The full House earlier Wednesday debated the bill but stopped short of voting on it, and did not take up the bill during a late evening session before adjourning.

The bill would have required able-bodied adults to work, participate in workforce training or community service, or attend a drug treatment or recovery program for at least 20 hours per week.

Annnnnnnnd finally, the least-populated state of them all...which also happens to be suffering from the highest average monthly premiums for unsubsidized individual market enrollees: Wyoming.

There's only a single carrier in the Equality State (seriously...that's their motto; who knew?), Blue Cross Blue Shield. They're actually looking to lower rates by just a smidge (0.25% on average).

However, once again, the Urban Institute projected that there'd be roughly an 18.6% increase factor due to the ACA's individual mandate being repeale and short-term & association plans being expanded by the Trump administration.

Assuming just 2/3 of that to play it safe, that still means that unsubsidized enrollees would have been looking at roughly a 12% drop in their 2019 premiums without those measures...a difference of over $120/month, or a whopping $1,400 more apiece next year. Ouch.

It's become a tradition that every spring/summer/fall, I pore over the official SERFF database for every state, furiously searching for the ACA-compliant rate filings for the upcoming year.

The thing is, the SERFF database, in addition to being somewhat confusing and clunky to work with, includes a lot more than just "here's how much we want to raise our rates next year". Even after narrowing it down to just major medical health insurance policies, there are often still dozens of different forms and spreadsheets in the database, covering pretty much any change to any insurance policy for any carrier. If a carrier drops out of a market, there are forms. If they stop offering PPOs, there are forms. If they merge with or buy out another company, there are obviously forms. Even for the rate filings themselves, there are often a dozen or more different PDFs and/or spreadsheets included as supporting documentation.

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:

With only 5 days to go before the launch of the 2018 Open Enrollment Period, time is rapidly running out for me to wrap up my 2018 Rate Hike Project. I started this, as I have for 3 years now, back in late early May with the very first requested rate changes out of Virginia, and have been tracking all 50 states as the summer and fall have passed, following every twist and turn of the insane repeal/replace circus in Congress, Trump's bloviating and blathering about "blowing things up" and "letting Obamacare explode", the last-ditch "Graham-Cassidy" sideshow and everything else, right up to and through Trump lowering the boom on cutting off CSR reimbursement payments.

Not the highest-profile ACA/healthcare story in the world, but Wyoming almost never makes the news, and this is especially noteworthy given the state, the Governor and the GOP having total control over the federal government:

As health care debate simmers, Mead laments lack of Medicaid expansion in Wyoming

Gov. Matt Mead lamented the $100 million that Wyoming left on the table by choosing not to expand Medicaid, and he expressed concern for the state’s hospitals while discussing health care with the Star-Tribune recently.

Mead echoed some of the fears that many Wyoming hospital officials have expressed for months: that congressional proposals to overhaul the health care system may have negative effects on facilities here and that the state has suffered because it chose not to allow more people to qualify for Medicaid.

“The idea that we did not accept Medicaid expansion and things are going to be good just hasn’t turned out,” he said.

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:

While poking around in the SERFF rate filing database for different states, I occasionally find filings which DON'T apply to ACA-compliant policies or enrollees but which are of interest to healthcare nerds such as myself. I've decided to bundle these into a single post as they pop up, so check this entry once in awhile.


IOWA: Big Kahuna carrier Wellmark submitted a filing for non-ACA compliant small group policies (either grandfathered or transitional) which have effective/renewal dates of July, August or September 2017. The requested rate increase is 7.0% on average, which is pretty typical for small group plans, and it appears that Wellmark had 51,003 people enrolled in such policies as of 12/31/16. Nothing odd there.

What interested me, however, was this sentence:

As I noted when I crunched the numbers for Texas, it's actually easier to figure out how many people would lose coverage if the ACA is repealed in non-expansion states because you can't rip away healthcare coverage from someone who you never provided it to in the first place.

My standard methodology applies:

Last week I noted that with 41 states accounted for and the 2017 Open Enrollment Period quickly bearing down on everyone, it was time to pull the plug on my 2017 Average Rate Hike project and move on. I had come up with an overall national weighted unsubsidized average rate increase of around 25% for ACA-compliant individual market plans.

However, I also noted that I'd make sure to fill in the approved rates for the remaining 10 states as they came in, for completeness sake...and today, thanks to the HHS Dept. cutting the ribbon on 2017 Window Shopping at HealthCare.Gov, I've also been able to fill in the blanks for five of the remaining states all in one shot (the other five remain elusive).

With only 584,000 residents, Wyoming is the smallest state, with a population over 10% smaller than even the District of Columbia or Vermont. Last year there were only 2 insurance carriers offering individual policies on the ACA exchange, Blue Cross and WINhealth. The average rate increase for 2016 was right around 10% even.

Unfortunately, WINhealth, a not-for-profit organization which had been around for 20 years, ended up as one of the few NON-Co-ops to go belly up last fall due specifically to Marco Rubio's Risk Corridor Massacre:

WINhealth sent along this release saying: As of October 8, 2015, WINhealth has chosen not to participate in the individual market, to include the federal exchange, for the 2016 plan year. The decision not to participate stems from a recent announcement from the federal government regarding the risk corridor program .

12 days ago, private Wyoming health insurer WINhealth, in business since 1996, was among the 5 (and counting) victims of the horrific Risk Corridor Massacre, which has already taken the lives of at least 4 ACA-created CO-OP insurers:

WINhealth sent along this release saying: As of October 8, 2015, WINhealth has chosen not to participate in the individual market, to include the federal exchange, for the 2016 plan year. The decision not to participate stems from a recent announcement from the federal government regarding the risk corridor program .

Just hours ago I posted a lengthy screed about the first clear victim of the Great Risk Corridor Debacle of 2015. In that case, both the culprit (the GOP's insistence on cutting off government funding guarantees for the risk corridor program) as well as the victim (the Kentucky Health CO-OP) both originated with the Affordable Care Act itself.

This time around, however, the victim (well, in addition to its current enrollees) is a private company, albeit a not-for-profit one: WINhealth Partners:

We’re a not-for-profit managed care company founded by professionals, and we’re changing the way that healthcare works for you – because we believe your insurance should help you to be at your best in life.

Wyoming's total individual health insurance market in 2014 was just 27,000 people. While the total market likely increased somewhat this year, those gains are likely offset by perhaps 15% being either "grandfathered" or "transitional" policies.

Just over 18,000 were enrolled in effectuated exchange-based policies as of June 30 of this year, leaving perhaps 9,000 more enrolled in off-exchange plans.

According to Louise Norris of HealthInsurance.org, there's only two companies operating on the exchange in Wyoming this year: WINhealth Partners and BCBS of WY. WINhealth is asking for a 13.37% average rate hike; Blue Cross is asking for an uknown increase...except that it's under 10%.

Well, score one for the Koch brothers:

In December, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, got the deal he wanted from the Obama administration: Tennessee would accept more than $1 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid, as allowed for in the Affordable Care Act, but Obama aides would allow Haslam to essentially write staunchly conservative ideas into the program's rules for the state. He dubbed the reformed Medicaid program "Insure Tennessee."

But the state's chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative group whose foundation is chaired by controversial billionaire David Koch, argued Haslam was just trying to trick conservatives into implementing Obamacare in their state by giving it a new name. AFP campaigned aggressively Haslam's plans for the next six weeks, even running radio ads blasting GOP state legislators who said they might vote for it.

On Wednesday, Haslam's bill died in a committee of the Tennessee state senate. The vote was one of the clearest illustrations of the increasing power of AFP and other conservative groups funded in part by the Koch brothers.

I've posted a few times before about the ACA Medicaid expansion situation in some deep red states; Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming among them:

Two of the most heavily Republican states, Utah and Wyoming, appear to be moving closer to an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Other GOP-dominated states, like Indiana and Tennessee, are also looking more closely at it, despite the hostility of their party’s leaders toward Obamacare.

...Gov. Matt Mead of Wyoming, where Republicans hold 78 of 90 seats in the legislature, acknowledged his opposition to Obamacare but said the statehad to be realistic by embracing Medicaid expansion in one form or another. “I don’t think we can say to those people in Wyoming who are working [and] who cannot get insurance that we’re not going to do anything,” he said.

...While the odds for expansion in Wyoming remain uncertain, Utah seems likely to move in the coming months. There, Gov. Gary Herbert made the case on moral grounds — as a duty to help people he described as “our neighbors, our friends and our family members.”

Alaska:

On the campaign trail, Bill Walker made expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act one of his top priorities. He said he could make the decision without input from the state legislature:

“It’s up to the Governor to accept that.”

But when Walker takes office next month, will it really be so easy to expand a program that has been a tough sell in other conservative states?

Medicaid expansion would allow around 40,000 low income Alaskans– mostly childless adults, to receive health benefits. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the program until the end of 2016. After that, the state’s share will slowly increase to 10 percent by 2020. Walker has said the decision is a no-brainer, at least while the federal government is providing full funding.

Wyoming:

With a plan released Wednesday by the administration of Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, Wyoming has become the latest state seeking to expand Medicaid.

A few days ago, news broke that Pennsylvania's Governor Tom Corbett, whose re-election numbers are in the toilet and who is desperate to get Pennsylvanians to like him, has finally agreed to the Medicaid expansion provision in the Affordable Care Act.

While "doing a single decent, human thing after a couple of years of being a jerk about it" shouldn't really count as being praiseworthy, I suppose he deserves at least a small golf clap, just as Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Ohio Gov. John Kasich did.

Anyway, next up to bat would appear to be Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam:

In a move that could mean health coverage for thousands of Tennesseans, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that the state may soon submit a proposal to Washington to expand Tennessee's Medicaid program but did not release any new details on how it might work.

Wyoming's QHP enrollments didn't add up to much (understandable given that the entire state only has 576,000 people), but the state insurance commissioner states that around 92% of those who did enroll have paid up so far:

Nearly 12,000 people in Wyoming have enrolled in a plan on the federal marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, according to the latest data announced Monday at a legislative committee meeting.

About 11,000 of them have begun paying their premiums, Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig told members of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee at Casper College.

“I’m surprised, frankly, that there’s this many,” Hirsig said. “I was thinking 7,000 or 8,000.”

The actual number of exchange QHPs in Wyoming is 11,970, so yep, 11K would be about 92% of that.

(To clarify the last statement: Contributor Esther F. also gives a link to another story which clarifies that the "7-8K" quote refers to how many people he thought would enroll, not how many he figured would pay):

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