OUTLOOK ‘STABLE’ FOR HEALTH INSURERS IN 2019 DESPITE ACA UNCERTAINTY

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/outlook-stable-health-insurers-2019-despite-aca-uncertainty

A robust job market bolstering employer-sponsored plans, Baby Boomers transitioning to Medicare Advantage, and ACA exchanges attracting new payers are good signs for health plans in the coming year.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Consolidations among larger payers makes it harder for smaller players to enter the market or sustain a presence.

Payment reforms around the ACA will continue to drive more cross-sector collaboration among payers and providers.

Despite the uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. health insurance sector remains stable heading into 2019, according to a new analysis by S&P Global Ratings.

“A combination of still-favorable business conditions, financial factors, and diminished near-term legislative uncertainty balances our concerns relating to merger and acquisition activity, elevated policy risk, and re-emergent legal overhang,” said S&P analyst Joseph Marinucci.

Strong job growth is bolstering commercial markets, aging Baby Boomers are driving Medicare Advantage growth, states are shifting their high acuity populations into managed Medicaid, and the ACA exchanges are stabilizing and attracting new competitors, S&P said.

“We assess capital and liquidity as strong or better for most of our rated U.S. health insurers, which supports balance-sheet strength,” Marinucci said. “U.S. health insurers’ operating performance reflects sustained earnings strength and improved earnings quality.”

However, Marinucci said that profitability could moderate somewhat this year.

M&As remain a key rating factor, especially with larger transaction sizes, raising concerns about financial leverage, integration, and cultural compatibility. Consolidations, joint ventures, and partnering among larger insurers are defragmenting the sector, allowing the big insurers to build scale, “and create more touch points as the trend toward consumerism gains traction.”

This is making it harder for newer and smaller players to enter the market or sustain their presence,” S&P said. “As a result, we continue to see larger health insurers taking a bigger share of the marketplace, and smaller players being displaced or struggling to achieve profitable growth as the competitive gap widens.”

“Although the mid-term elections removed a good deal of legislative uncertainty for the industry, policy risk remains elevated given the administration’s preference for ACA alternatives,” S&P said.

In addition, S&P says that payment and delivery reforms mandated in the ACA around value-based care will continue to drive greater cross-sector collaboration among payers and providers.

“A COMBINATION OF STILL-FAVORABLE BUSINESS CONDITIONS, FINANCIAL FACTORS, AND DIMINISHED NEAR-TERM LEGISLATIVE UNCERTAINTY BALANCES OUR CONCERNS RELATING TO MERGER AND ACQUISITION ACTIVITY, ELEVATED POLICY RISK, AND RE-EMERGENT LEGAL OVERHANG.”

 

 

 

Health Insurance Premiums Are Stabilizing

http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/08/16/health-insurance-premiums-are-stabilizing-despite-gop-attacks

Stateline Aug16

 

Despite Republican efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, insurance premiums will go up only slightly in most states where carriers have submitted proposed prices for next year. And insurance carriers are entering markets rather than fleeing them.

The improvements stem from less political uncertainty over health policy, steeper than necessary increases this year, better understanding of the markets, improvements in care and a host of actions taken by individual states.

Average proposed premiums for all levels of plans in California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania will increase less than 9 percent in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

By contrast, this year’s mid-priced plans increased an average of 37 percent nationally compared to 2017.

In some states, 2019 premiums are projected to decrease. Prices also are expected to drop for people in a number of metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New York and Washington, D.C.

And unless the Trump administration launches new attacks on the Affordable Care Act in the coming months, analysts believe the average increase across the United States will hold to the single digits.

To be sure, not all areas will fare as well. Some can still expect to see big increases next year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. For instance, proposed premium increases in Maryland average 30 percent for 2019.

(In some states, carriers have not yet had to file their rate proposals for 2019, but will in the coming weeks.)

But after a couple years in which carriers fled many markets around the country, insurers are planning to enter exchanges in many states, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin. In some states, existing insurers are pushing into new areas.

“That they are entering markets is a sign that the insurers are pretty confident about those markets,” said Rabah Kamal, who analyzes health reform and health insurance for Kaiser.

“After several years of big losses, insurers are actually turning a profit,” said Kamal. “They’re doing well, so overall, there’s no justification for big increases.”

To a large extent, premiums in 2019 appear to be moderating because carriers raised rates higher than necessary in 2018 in reaction to the uncertainty over how Congress and the Trump administration might undermine the ACA. “It boils down to the fact that last year’s rates were too high,” said Emily Curran, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute.

Carriers also understand the marketplace much better than they did in 2014 when the exchanges were launched across the country, Curran and others say. Carriers have a better sense of who they are covering and how to predict their health risks, Curran said. Insurers and medical providers also have better coordinated care to reduce duplication.

State Roles

States also have had a major hand in stabilizing their markets, seeking to limit the damage the federal government is doing to the ACA.

Massachusetts had its own individual mandate before the ACA, and now New Jersey does as well. Three states, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, have passed outright bans on issuing short-term health insurance policies, while 12 others have adopted standards more restrictive than federal policy. Some states, including Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon, have also created state-funded reinsurance pools, which protect carriers from financially crippling individual medical claims.

Finally, a number of states have done their own outreach to publicize their exchanges and promote enrollment in the absence of federal efforts.

Pennsylvania is one of those states. The insurance market has stabilized there, said Jessica Altman, the state’s insurance commissioner. She projects the average state premium increase in 2019 will amount to 0.7 percent, compared to 30.6 percent this year. She said in 31 of 67 Pennsylvania counties, there will be more carriers selling policies next year compared to 2018. And, she said, many carriers are pushing into new territories.

Her agency estimates that the increase this year would have been only 7.6 percent absent the federal government’s elimination of cost-sharing reductions, which were federal payments to insurance carriers to cushion them from exorbitant individual medical claims.

“We had pretty significant increases last year, and we shouldn’t have,” Altman said.

Julie Mix McPeak, commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance in Tennessee, where premiums are expected to fall and more carriers are intending to operate, said the ACA brought more than 200,000 Tennesseans into health plans — many of whom previously had not sought routine health care — which meant higher claims in the first years.

“We had a pretty negative health score in terms of dollars spent on claims because so many people coming into primary care had health issues that needed to be addressed. Now that they’ve been in care for several years now, we aren’t seeing those claims rising any more. They are leveling off.”

Whether the stability that appears to be settling the markets in 2019 will continue beyond that largely depends on what Washington does. “No one,” said Curran, “wants to see more uncertainty.”

Undermining the ACA

A Brookings Institution study released this month estimated that insurers on the health insurance market this year will enjoy an underwriting profit margin of 10.5 percent, up from 1.2 percent last year.

The study estimated that, absent federal policies disrupting the marketplaces, premiums would have dropped 4.3 percent nationwide in 2019.

Many health care analysts agree. “In cases where we are seeing modest increases, we might have seen decreases,” said Myra Simon, executive director of individual market policy for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying arm of the health insurance industry.

Steps taken by Republicans in Washington to undermine the exchanges include Congress’ repeal starting next year of the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to obtain health insurance, and the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama-era cost-sharing reduction payments.

The administration also eliminated most funds for outreach to encourage enrollment in the markets and shortened the periods during which people could sign up for plans. In addition, the administration has moved forward with plans to loosen regulation on association and short-term health plans that don’t have to be as comprehensive as plans sold under the Affordable Care Act.

Health insurance analysts of all stripes had said those actions would draw people away from the insurance exchanges, particularly the young and healthy. Their departure, analysts said, could drive up premiums for all those remaining and set the markets on a “death spiral” that would ultimately drive all carriers from the exchanges.

The president has been clear about his intentions. “Essentially, we are getting rid of Obamacare,” he said in April.

But as carriers file their plans with state insurance offices for next year, it appears that warnings of imminent catastrophe were, at the least, premature.

“The administration has done almost everything on its list to destabilize the market or, in their words, ‘create more choice,’” said Chris Sloan, a director at Avalere Health, a Washington-based health policy research and consulting firm. “They’ve done it all and the market is still standing.”

 

 

 

ACA Marketplace Premiums Grew More Rapidly In Areas With Monopoly Insurers Than In Areas With More Competition

https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2018.0054?utm_term=Jessica+Van+Parys+of+Hunter+College%2C+City+University+of+New+York&utm_campaign=Health+Affairs%5Cu2019+August+issue%3A++Medicaid%2C+Markets+%2526+More&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email&cm_mmc=Act-On+Software-_-email-_-Health+Affairs%5Cu2019+August+issue%3A++Medicaid%2C+Markets+%2526+More-_-Jessica+Van+Parys+of+Hunter+College%2C+City+University+of+New+York

Related image

 It pays to have an insurance monopoly
Also from Health Affairs: The level of competition among insurance companies has affected Affordable Care Act premiums more than any other factor.

By the numbers: Premiums are 50% higher this year in areas with just one insurer than in areas with two insurers.

  • “The presence of a monopolist insurer was the strongest, and most precise, predictor of 2018 premiums,” the study says.
  • Other factors commonly associated with higher premiums — like hospital concentration and the health of the people who live there — showed significantly smaller effects.

How it works: Jessica Van Parys, the Hunter College economics professor who conducted the study, suggests that insurers underpriced their ACA offerings in the first few years to capture market share, then raised their prices over the years.

  • Costs and regulatory uncertainty largely kept new competitors from entering those monopolized markets.

 

66% of Americans are stressed about health insurance costs: 3 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/payer-issues/66-of-americans-are-stressed-about-health-insurance-costs-3-things-to-know.html

Image result for stress over health insurance

Across all income levels, two-thirds of U.S. adults cite health insurance costs as a stressor, according to a report from the American Psychological Association.

APA’s report, “Stress in America: Uncertainty About Health Care,” examines responses from 3,440 adults who completed an online survey by The Harris Poll from Aug. 2 to Aug. 31, 2017.

Here are three things to know from the report.

1. Sixty-three percent of adults said uncertainty about their future health and the health of others is a stressor.

2. Personal health concerns or health problems affecting family members reflect a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress for 60 percent of respondents.

3. On a 10-point scale, where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” uninsured respondents reported average stress levels of 5.6. This is compared to insured adults, who reported average stress levels of 4.7.

Health Care Price Growth Plummets To Lowest Rate In Almost Two Years

https://altarum.org/about/news-and-events/health-care-price-growth-plummets-to-lowest-rate-in-almost-two-years

Image result for Health Care Price Growth Plummets To Lowest Rate In Almost Two Years

Fueled by health policy uncertainty and structural health sector changes, health care price growth in August rose by only 1.2% compared to a year earlier. This is the lowest health price growth rate recorded in almost 2 years, and just slightly above the all-time low, according to Altarum’s latest Health Sector Economic Indicators Briefs. Contributing to overall slow price growth is a historically low Medical Consumer Price Index growth rate, a possible signal of relief for health care consumers with substantial out-of-pocket expenditures.

Despite an upward revision to recent estimates, health spending growth in August 2017 was only a modest 4.3% higher than a year earlier. Per Charles Roehrig, founding director of Altarum’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending, this moderation in spending growth is in response to a leveling-off in insurance coverage.

Health care job growth also remained modest, with 22,500 new jobs added in September 2017, slightly less than the 2017 average of 25,000. “Slower growth in health care utilization is reflected in slower growth in health jobs, particularly in the hospital sector,” said Roehrig. “This relatively good news should be tempered by a serious look at whether even this moderate growth is sustainable in the longer term.”

Health Care Spending

In August, the health share of gross domestic project (GDP) fell to 18.0%, but spending at an annual rate was 4.3% higher than August 2016, exceeding $3.5 trillion. Spending growth in August 2017 increased in all major categories, led by home health care at 6.5%. Hospital spending continues to grow slowly, at a 2.3% rate.

Health Care Employment

Hospitals added 4,500 jobs and ambulatory care settings added an above-average 24,700 jobs in August, but these gains were offset by the loss of 6,700 jobs in nursing and residential care. Slow hospital job growth in 2017 is a primary force behind the health sector growing at about three-quarters the pace of 2015 and 2016.

Health Care Prices

The 12-month moving average of the Health Care Price Index (HCPI) fell to 1.8% growth after being at 1.9% for 6 straight months, dousing any expectations of a return to a 2.0% growth rate range in the near term. Year-over-year hospital price growth fell to from 1.5% to 1.3%, and physician and clinical services price growth fell one-tenth to 0.5%. Annual drug price growth fell to a 2.7% rate, its lowest reading since growing by 2.4% in December 2015.