In its Q3 earnings call, Oscar Health CEO Mario Schlosser revealed that the “insurtech” has pulled out of the MA market in Texas and New York, leaving it with only one Florida-based plan. Oscar entered the MA business with high hopes in 2020, but counted fewer than 5K MA members in Q3 2022.
Although its Affordable Care Act exchange enrollment has nearly doubled since last year, now covering more than 1M lives, Oscar is still struggling with high medical loss ratios, which have kept it from turning a profit. The company’s stock price is at an all-time low, having declined over 90 percent from its peak, shortly after its 2021 IPO.
The Gist: Like Bright HealthCare before them, Oscar pulling out of MA is another sign that the chance of meaningful disruption from “insurtechs” has nearly vanished. While still privately held, Oscar achieved fame in the early 2010s through catchy marketing that targeted a young, tech-savvy client base, and its move into MA before the pandemic signaled broader ambitions.
Oscar’s travails illustrate just how hard it is to start an insurance company from scratch, even with an intriguing and comprehensive technology platform. The company proved unable to overcome its lack of market power in negotiations with providers, and faced difficulty managing a small, unstable risk pool.
Now that more traditional insurers are improving their mobile tech interfaces and telehealth offerings, the differentiated value Oscar offers to its members has clearly diminished.
Obamacare enrollment at a record-high 14.5 million
Congress may not fund premium subsidies in 2023
The Affordable Care Act marks its 12th anniversary Wednesday, and despite a record 14.5 million enrollees, the Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that millions could lose coverage next year.
The $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package (Public Law 117-2), signed March 2021, reduced Obamacare premiums to no more than 8.5% of income for eligible households and expanded premium subsidies to households earning more than 400% of the federal poverty level. The rescue plan also provided additional subsidies to help with out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. As a result, 2.8 million more consumers are receiving tax credits in 2022 compared to 2021.
But without congressional action, the subsidies—and the marketplace enrollment spikes they ushered in—could be lost in 2023. A new HHS report released Wednesday, shows an estimated 3.4 million Americans would lose marketplace coverage and become uninsured if the premium tax credits aren’t extended beyond 2022.
In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said her agency is “confident that Congress will really understand how important the subsidies were” to enrolling more people this year. The CMS would “pivot quickly,” however, to implement new policies and outreach plans if the subsidies aren’t extended as open enrollment for 2023 begins in November.
“That said, today and tomorrow we are celebrating the Affordable Care Act,” Brooks-LaSure added. “As part of that process, we’ve been reminding ourselves that sometimes it takes some time to pass legislation. And just like the Affordable Care Act took time, we’re confident that Congress is going to address these critical needs for the American people.”
After years of legal and political brawls that turned the landmark legislation into a political football, Obamacare “is at its strongest point ever,” Brooks-LaSure said. The 14.5 million total enrollees—those who extended coverage and those who signed up for the first time—is a 21% increase from last year. The number of new consumers during the 2022 open enrollment period increased by 20% to 3.1 million from 2.5 million in 2021.
This week, the Department of Health and Human Services will highlight the impact of the ACA and the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen the law. The CMS recently announced a new special enrollment period opportunity for people with household incomes under 150% of the federal poverty level who are eligible for premium tax credits. The new special enrollment period will make it easier for low-income people to enroll in coverage throughout the year.
Troubled times could be around the corner, however, as millions of people with Medicaid coverage could become uninsured after the public health emergency ends. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law 116-127), signed March 2020, states must maintain existing Medicaid enrollment until the end of the month that the public health emergency is lifted. Once the continuous enrollment mandate ends, states will resume Medicaid redeterminations and disenrollments for people who no longer meet the program’s requirements.
Dan Tsai, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services at CMS, said the agency is working with states to make sure people who lose Medicaid coverage can be transferred into low- and no-cost Obamacare coverage.
“A substantial portion of individuals who will no longer be eligible for Medicaid will be eligible for other forms of coverage,” including marketplace coverage, Tsai told reporters Tuesday.
In a statement, President Joe Biden acknowledged the law’s great impact. “This law is the reason we have protections for pre-existing conditions in America. It is why women can no longer be charged more simply because they are women. It reduced prescription drug costs for nearly 12 million seniors. It allows millions of Americans to get free preventive screenings, so they can catch cancer or heart disease early—saving countless lives. And it is the reason why parents can keep children on their insurance plans until they turn 26.”
And there are currently no existential legal threats to the law working their way through federal courts.
In some ways, this rosy report feels unremarkable. Why expect otherwise with the law now in place for more than a decade and baked into every part of the health care system?
But this outcome was far from inevitable.
Just five years ago, Congress tried to repeal as much of the law as possible. When those broader efforts failed, Congress eliminated the much-maligned individual mandate penalty. We appeared to have reached a stalemate: Democrats could not improve the law while Republicans could not repeal it.
Could this be the moment we moved on from ACA politics?!
Enter the courts. In early 2018, Republican attorneys general sued to invalidate the mandate and, with it, the rest of the law. That lawsuit—California v. Texas—was ultimately heard by a new Supreme Court one week after the 2020 election, and the ACA was upheld just last summer.
This marked the third time that the Supreme Court largely rebuffed what could have been a crippling legal challenge to the law. It feels like ancient history now, but it is worth remembering that we were still playing “will they or won’t they?” with the Supreme Court and ACA only one year ago.
In the meantime, the Trump administration tried to undermine access to coverage under the law—except when it didn’t. I won’t list all the relevant Trump-era policies, but they had an impact: the uninsured rate rose, and marketplace enrollment declined until the 2021 plan year.
Ironically, one policy meant to destabilize the market had the opposite effect: so-called “silver loading” led to more generous marketplace subsidies and likely helped stave off even greater coverage losses.
This is the recent history that is top of mind as I reflect on the year ahead—and the work left to do to achieve universal coverage. Here are just some of the major issues facing policymakers:
• The clock is ticking toextend the American Rescue Plan Act subsidies. If Congress fails to do so, millions will face premium hikes next year and marketplace enrollment will likely drop.
• More than 2 million low-income peopleremain stuck in the Medicaid coverage gap in the 12 states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid program.
• Up to 15 million people, including nearly 6 million children, could lose Medicaid coverage at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
• There is increasingly an affordability and underinsurance crisis, including for those with job-based coverage: an estimated 87 million peoplewere underinsured in 2018.
Congress and the White House are working to address these challenges, but much uncertainty remains.
“It feels like ancient history now, but it is worth remembering that we were still playing ‘will they or won’t they?’ with the Supreme Court and Affordable Care Act only one year ago.” – Katie Keith
Looking beyond Congress, 2022 will be an important year for regulatory changes. The Biden administration has proposed, but has not yet finalized, major marketplace changes. Other already-identified priorities include fixing the family glitch, limiting short-term limited duration insurance, and enhancing nondiscrimination protections. We could see movement on at least some of these rules soon.
While the Biden administration may be waiting out Congress before initiating some rulemaking, time is of the essence. New rules take many months to adopt and then take effect—followed by more time to deal with the legal challenges that typically follow.
Follow along as I dive deep on these issues and more in a new Health Affairs’ Health Reform newsletter.
We’ll highlight the latest health policy developments—from legislation to litigation—and explain what these changes mean for patients, payers, providers, and other key health care stakeholders.
The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is no longer scheduling appointments for patients in most Medicare Advantage plans, and has been gradually notifying patients throughout the year, in a move that could have consequences for insurers operating plans in the area, according to a Mayo Clinic spokesperson.
Some insurers, such as UnitedHealthcare, have been negotiating with the Mayo Clinic to bring them in-network for Medicare Advantage, in some cases asking them to outline their requested terms, but Mayo to date has yet to send out proposals.
Mayo has long been out of network for most Medicare Advantage plans, but has historically treated out-of-network MA patients and accepted their benefits, according to Mayo Clinic spokesperson Karl Oestreich.
According to the Star Tribune, the change occurred because Mayo saw a significant increase in patients covered by “non-contract” MA insurers. That increase, officials said, threatens to crowd out patients covered by in-network insurers.
Non-contract MA plans are those in which insurance companies have not negotiated payment rates for services with Mayo.
UnitedHealthcare, which has been out of network, is negotiating to bring Mayo in-network for MA members, according to Dustin Clark, vice president for communications at UHC.
“We have asked Mayo Clinic to outline requested terms to join our network for Medicare Advantage and haven’t received a proposal,” he told Healthcare Finance News. “We are committed to reaching an agreement at an affordable cost for the people we serve. We stand at the ready to work with Mayo to end this disruption.”
For UHC, it’s especially important that MA patients who traditionally received care at Mayo can continue to do so in the future.
“Although Mayo Clinic does not participate in our network for Medicare Advantage, many of our members have received treatment from its physicians as part of their out-of-network benefits,” said Clark. “We understand how difficult this situation is for some of our members, which is why we are working with Mayo to ensure our Medicare Advantage members who are currently undergoing treatment or have an established relationship with the clinic can continue to see their physician.”
Mayo Clinic spokesperson Karl Oestreich said that medical need is the primary criteria for obtaining an appointment.
“In situations where medical need does not apply and to ensure appointments remain available for our Mayo Clinic patients, we no longer schedule routine visits for those whose coverage does not include Mayo Clinic,” he said. “Continuity of care and relationships with existing local and regional patients won’t be compromised.”
The primary issue, said Oestreich, is capacity, not reimbursement. He said Mayo doesn’t have the capacity to serve an ever-increasing number of patients, and needs to remain a good steward with its contracted plans.
“There was not a policy change, but a shift in enforcement to ensure Mayo has access for our contracted plans (not just Medicare) and those who truly need Mayo’s medical expertise,” he said. “This long-standing policy applies to all payers, not just Medicare Advantage.”
“The impact is to non-contract Medicare Advantage plans,” said Oestrich. “Mayo does not have contracts with these plans. Mayo is open to entering new contracts, but also must keep in mind the impact on capacity to ensure that we can continue to see those patients (regardless of payer) who are in the greatest need of the care Mayo provides.
“We understand that affected patients may be disappointed and frustrated. Patients should always ask their brokers and insurers whether their plans specifically have in-network coverage at Mayo Clinic.”
THE LARGER TREND
UnitedHealthcare, which already has significant market control with its MA plans, said it will strengthen its foothold in the space by expanding its MA plans in 2022, adding a potential 3.1 million members and reaching 94% of Medicare-eligible consumers in the U.S.
While UnitedHealthcare has a massive foothold in the Medicare Advantage space, it underwent scrutiny from the federal government earlier this month, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services blocked four Medicare Advantage plans from enrolling new members in 2022 because they didn’t spend the minimum threshold on medical benefits. Three UnitedHealthcare plans and one Anthem plan failed to hit the required 85% mark three years in a row.
Medicare Advantage plans are required to spend a minimum of 85% of premium dollars on medical expenses. Failure to do so for three consecutive years triggers the sanctions.
For UHC, the penalties apply to its MA plans in Arkansas, New Mexico and the Midwest, which encompasses Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. UHC plans cover about 83,000 members, and the Anthem plan covers about 1,200 members. They cannot offer select plans to members until 2023, assuming they hit the 85% threshold next year – what’s called the medical loss ratio. If they fail to hit the threshold for five years in a row, the government will terminate the contracts.
UHC representatives told Bloomberg that it missed the 85% benchmark in certain markets in part because of patients deferring medical care due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oak Street Health, a value-based primary care network for adults on Medicare, is facing a Department of Justice inquiry into its relationships with third-party marketing agents and its provision of free transportation for members.
The DOJ is investigating whether Oak Street violated the False Claims Act, per a regulatory filing published Monday. On a call with investors Tuesday, management declined to provide additional information into the government’s request, saying it was too early to know for sure what exactly the agency is investigating but that they’re working to comply.
Otherwise, the provider had a generally solid third quarter with better-than-expected revenue and well-controlled medical costs, analysts said. Oak Street increased its full-year 2021 guidance following the results, which beat Wall Street expectations with topline revenue of $389 million, up 78% year over year and a quarterly record for the company.
The federal government is increasingly cracking down on alleged fraud, especially in the Medicare Advantage program. In privately run MA plans, CMS pays companies on a per-member basis, then adjusts payments based on the acuity or severity of their member’s health status, as supported by provider data like diagnostic codes. Generally, the sicker the member, the higher the plan’s reimbursement.
That’s led to allegations of plans hiking risk scores to overinflate members’ health needs, resulting in higher payments from CMS. Watchdogs have been finding higher incidence of fraud and abuse as the MA program becomes more popular, growing to cover more than 40% of all Medicare beneficiaries.
Oak Street isn’t a traditional plan itself, but enters into full-risk contracts with Medicare Advantage plans, and via CMS’ direct contracting program, in which it assumes full responsibility for patients’ medical expenses in exchange for a fixed per-member, per-month payment. The Chicago-based company is the latest target of a federal inquiry into whether it violated the False Claims Act.
According to the primary care company, the DOJ sent a civil investigative demand on Nov. 1 asking for information about Oak Street’s relationships with third-party marketers and transportation partners.
Oak Street does provide patients transportation to appointments when they need it and has various ways for finding new patients, including community partnerships, but it’s unclear what the DOJ is specifically investigating, CEO Mike Pykosz told investors.
“We have had no meaningful conversations with the government,” Pykosz said. “I’m not really sure what the link is.”
The CEO noted it’s not unusual for such inquiries to take months to resolve, particularly in the hyper-regulated healthcare industry, but said he wouldn’t speculate further.
A civil investigative demand is a form of administrative subpoena, and doesn’t denote any regulatory or legal action itself. However, it is used by the government to kick off investigating potential False Claims violations, and determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to warrant filing an action, according to the National Law Review.
Penalties for violating the act could range from $11,655 to $23,331 per violation, plus triple damages. Total penalties have resulted recently in some significant payouts from MA participants. Notably, in late August, integrated health system Sutter Health agreed to pay $90 million to settle whistleblower allegations of risk adjustment fraud, in the largest False Claims Act settlement against a hospital system in the MA program.
Analysts noted the inquiry, while in early stages, is a point of concern for Oak Street’s future stock performance.
“This creates a new potential risk factor that we are unlikely to get clarity on for some time,” SVB Leerink analyst Whit Mayo wrote in a note.
Oak Street, which also provides services to patients with a range of insurance options, had an otherwise solid quarter, eclipsing $1 billion of year-to-date revenue for the first time in the company’s history.
The highly infectious delta variant did contribute to higher expenses, as it has with other providers.
Oak Street reported $15 million in costs from COVID-19 admissions in the first half of the year, and another $10 million in the third quarter. COVID-19-related expenses surged in the latter half of August and continued into September, but tailed off early into the fourth quarter, CFO Tim Cook said.
The majority of Oak Street’s patients are in northern U.S. markets, however, which experienced coronavirus surges last year during the winter as more people stayed indoors.
“We will see what happens in November and December,” Cook said. “While COVID costs are going to be lower in Q4, unfortunately we’re not in a world where they’re going to be zero.”
In the quarter, the primary care provider’s medical claims expense doubled year over year to almost $310 million. Oak Street’s medical loss ratio of 82.2% was lower than analysts expected, though management said they expected it to be higher in the fourth quarter.
Pykosz and Cook called out medical costs from new patients brought in during 2021 as a system-wide stressor.
Because diagnoses from 2020 claims are used to determine 2021 risk scores, fewer claims last year could mean lower risk scores and lower payments for plans this year. Oak Street’s patients, especially older adults in low-income communities, used fewer services last year during COVID-19, which resulted in lower revenues this year even as costs expanded.
Management said they expected to get back on track in 2022 as patients new to Oak Street this year will contribute to higher reimbursement next year, closing the current medical-cost gap between tenured and new patients.
“This is certainly an outlier year from every other year we’ve had results,” Pykosz said.
Oak Street, which was founded in 2012 and went public in August 2020 at a $9 billion valuation, reported a net loss of almost $110 million in the quarter, compared to a loss of $59 million at the same time last year.
Oak Street continued expanding its membership and network in the quarter, reporting 69% at-risk patient growth and opening 15 new centers in seven new markets.
“At this point we don’t feel there’s a lot of pressure or competitive dynamics pressuring our performance,” Pykosz said.
In the third quarter, Oak Street served 100,500 risk-based patients, representing 76% of its total patient base. The company expects at-risk patient volume to grow to between 111,500 and 113,500 patients this year.
Health economists study the economic determinants of health. They also analyze how health care resources are utilized and allocated, and how health care policies and quality of care can be improved. In this episode, we discuss what exactly a healthcare system would look like if these professionals were calling all the shots.
Ruling by a decisive 7-2 margin, in what dissenting Justice Samuel Alito described as the third in “our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy”, the Supreme Court rejected the latest—and likely the last—effort to overturn the 2010 health reform law. Holding that the states and individuals that brought the latest challenge to the law did not have “standing”—the legal right to sue—the high court effectively closed the book on a decade-long series of challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Those efforts have included two previous Supreme Court cases, numerous promises to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and the neutering of the law’s “individual mandate” to buy health insurance, which led to this latest case, Texas v. California.
At issue in the case was whether, by zeroing out the penalty for not purchasing insurance, Congress effectively removed the ACA’s status as a taxation measure, which the Court had previously held as central to the constitutionality of the law. In Alito’s dissenting opinion, the full implications of the issue are laid out: in his view, by invalidating the mandate, Congress rendered the entire law unconstitutional, meaning that it should be overturned. But a majority of seven Justices, including Kavanaugh and Barrett (both appointed by President Trump) disagreed, joining Justice Breyer in his opinion thatno harm had been done to the states that brought the suit, and ordering that the case be returned to the lower court for dismissal.
More than ten years after the passage of the ACA, it now (finally) seems as though the law is here to stay. Bolstering its central provisions—subsidized individual insurance coverage, expanded Medicaid benefits, protections for those who purchase insurance—is a centerpiece of the Biden administration’s policy program, featured first in the American Rescue Plan Act, and now in the recovery legislation currently being debated. Republicans, who had long opposed the ACA, barely mentioned it during the last presidential campaign, instead turning their focus to thwarting Democrats’ plans to expand coverage by lowering the Medicare eligibility age or implementing a government-run “public option”.
Given the evenly split makeup of the Senate, however, we continue to believe the greatest hurdle such proposals will face is not Republican opposition, but reluctance on the part of conservative Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), whose votes will be needed for any legislation to pass.
With the Supreme Court calling a third strike against challenges to the ACA, and the new administration eager to advance its other priorities (infrastructure, childcare, jobs), for the first time in over a decade, we might just be in for a period of relative calm on the healthcare policy front.
In what has become something of a Washington tradition, the Supreme Court again upheld the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, in the third major case from Republican challengers to reach the high court.
The margin this time was larger, 7-2, as the High Court appears less and less interested in revisiting the health care law through the judiciary.
Democrats hailed the ruling as a boost to their signature law, and Republicans were left to figure out a path forward on health care amid another defeat.
Here are five takeaways:
This could be the last gasp of repeal efforts
It is impossible to ever fully rule out another lawsuit challenging the health law or another repeal push if Republicans win back Congress.
But after more than 10 years of fighting the Affordable Care Act, GOP efforts at fighting the law are seriously deflated, as many Republicans themselves acknowledge.
“It’s been my public view for some time that the Affordable Care Act is largely baked into the health care system in a way that it’s unlikely to change or be eliminated,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership.
Asked if he still wanted to repeal and replace the law, which was the GOP rallying cry for years, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said instead, “I think I want to make sure it works,” before attacking former President Obama’s promises about the law’s benefits.
Even Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who helped bring the lawsuit against the health law as attorney general of Missouri, said Thursday that the Supreme Court had made clear “they’re not going to entertain a constitutional challenge to the ACA.”
Supporters of the law said it is now even more entrenched, despite years of GOP attacks.
“The war appears to be over and the Affordable Care Act has won,” said Stan Dorn, senior fellow at the health care advocacy group Families USA.
Still, not all Republicans are throwing in the towel on at least verbally attacking the law.
“The ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare failed to meet its promises and is hurting hard-working American families,” said House GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Steve Scalise (La.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).
And there is at least one ACA-related lawsuit still working its way through the lower courts. Kelley v. Becerra challenges provisions of the health law around insurance plans covering preventive care including birth control.
Through the three major Supreme Court cases on ObamaCare, the margin of victory has risen from 5-4 to 6-3 to 7-2.
“There’s a real message there about the Supreme Court’s willingness to tolerate these kinds of lawsuits,” Andy Pincus, a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, said of the growing margin of victory.
The case was decided on fairly technical grounds. The Court ruled that the challengers did not have standing to sue, given that the penalty for not having health insurance at the center of the case had been reduced to zero, so it was not causing any actual harm that could be the basis for a lawsuit.
Republicans did get some vindication in that Democrats had fiercely attacked Barrett during her confirmation hearings for being a vote to overturn the health law, when in fact she ended up voting to maintain the law.
The ACA is stabilizing
The early years of the Affordable Care Act were marked with the turbulence of a website that failed at launch, premium increases, and major insurers dropping out of the markets given financial losses.
Now, though, the markets are far more stable. For example, 78 percent of ACA enrollees now have the choice of three or more insurers, up from 57 percent in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Democrats, now in control of the House, Senate and White House, were able to pass earlier this year expansions of the law’s financial assistance to help further bring down premium costs.
The Biden administration announced earlier this month that a record 31 million people were covered under the ACA, including both the private insurance marketplaces and the expansion of Medicaid.
“We are no longer in the Affordable Care Act, ‘How’s it going to go? Is it going to survive?’ mode,” said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA. “We really are in a whole new phase. It really is: ‘How do we improve it?’”
Republicans face questions on their health care message
The Republican health care message for years was summed up with the simple slogan “repeal and replace.”
But now those efforts have failed in Congress, in 2017, and have failed for a third time in the courts.
That leaves uncertainty about what the Republican health care message is. The party has famously struggled to unite around an alternative to the ACA, so there is no consensus alternative for the party to turn to.
The statement from McCarthy, Scalise, and Stefanik calling the ACA “failed,” shows that party leaders are not fully ready to accept the law.
The leaders added that “House Republicans are committed to actually lowering health care costs,” which has been a possible area for the party to focus that is not simply about repealing the ACA.
But any discussion of health care costs is fraught with complications. Republicans, for example, overwhelmingly oppose House Democrats’ legislation to allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices, arguing it would harm innovation from the pharmaceutical industry.
Grassley reached a bipartisan deal on somewhat less sweeping drug pricing legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in 2019, but that bill went too far for many Republicans as well.
Democrats want to go farther, but face an uphill climb
With the ACA further entrenched, and control of the House, Senate and White House, Democrats are looking at ways to build on the health law.
The main health care proposal from the presidential campaign, a government-run “public option” for health insurance, has faded from the conversation and is not expected to be a part of a major legislative package on infrastructure and other priorities Democrats are pushing for this year.
While the health care industry has largely made its peace with the ACA, pushing for a public option or lowering health care costs means taking on a fight with powerful industry groups.
Progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have instead poured their energy into expanding Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and lowering the eligibility age to 60.
Allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices also could make it into the package.
“Now, we’re going to try to make it bigger and better — establish, once and for all, affordable health care as a basic right of every American citizen,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.). “What a day.”