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.

 

California insurance commissioner urges Department of Justice to block CVS Health, Aetna merger

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/california-insurance-commissioner-urges-department-justice-block-cvs-health-aetna-merger?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpNMVltTm1OVGswTlRGbSIsInQiOiJjXC82T2s4Yms2K2RuSXhJYlpoMTd4OFRWSkVnd0pXXC9PN1wvaVBKT1dEdFI2OStpcVhWVkVzaUlPOU9maklhZG5lYlFSOGNSQ2dvTmtSTm1reE56U0JsbFEzdzJ6dmpOXC95V3RySUtmbExTbmhtUENrRDZ6REw4VisybWhwSExMVVwvIn0%3D

The merger would increase market concentration in the PBM space and put other insurers at a competitive disadvantage, Dave Jones says.

The proposed $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna hit a snag on Wednesday when the California insurance commissioner urged the Department of Justice to block the deal.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the proposed merger would have significant anti-competitive impacts on consumers and health insurance markets and would also pose a concern in the Medicare Part D market.

Nationally, Aetna has a 9 percent market share among Part D plans while CVS Health has a 24 percent market share, with even greater overlap in some geographic markets. Economic evidence suggests that increasing the market concentration and reducing competition for Part D plans will likely result in higher premiums, Jones said.

California is the largest insurance market in the U.S., according to Jones. Insurers collect $310 billion annually in premiums from individuals and businesses in the state.

“Mergers which decrease competition are not in the interest of Californians,” Jones said in the August 1 letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.

In 2016, Jones also vetoed the proposed Anthem/Cigna and Aetna/ Humana mergers that were both blocked by federal regulators.

Jones did approve of Centene’s plan to acquire Health Net, a deal that also received federal approval.

Those mergers would have combined competitors in the same industry, while CVS has dominant market power as a supplier.

Post merger, CVS would have less incentive to keep down the cost of prescription drugs for insurers competing with Aetna, Jones said. Insurers would have difficulty using CVS’s pharmacy benefit manager, CVS-Caremark.

CVS currently provides PBM services to 94 million plan beneficiaries nationally, of which 22 million are Aetna subscribers.

The merger would increase market concentration in the PBM market, eliminate Aetna as a potential entrant in that market and put other insurers at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

Many of the largest PBM competitors are also owned by health insurers, such as OptumRx, which is part of UnitedHealthcare, and Cigna, which has initiated a merger with Express Scripts.

“The PBM market’s lack of competition and the merger of CVS-Aetna is likely to put other insurers that do not own a PBM at a disadvantage,” Jones said.

The merger would not benefit consumers and it would also harm independent pharmacies, he said.

The California Department of Insurance does not have direct approval authority over the proposed acquisition because the transaction does not involve a California insurance company. It does involve Aetna subsidiary, Aetna Life Insurance Company, which is licensed by the state.

The proposed merger was announced in December. The deal has been going through the regulatory process.

 

 

Are Limited Networks What We Hope And Think They Are?

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180208.408967/full/

 

 

There has long been an imperative to find ways to reduce health care spending, but the advent of public exchanges pressured the industry to find ways to offer health insurance at a more affordable premium. Health plans hoping to participate in public exchanges responded by creating insurance offerings that gave patient members access to a smaller pool of providers—limited or narrow networks. These smaller networks give payers leverage in negotiations and may eliminate more expensive providers. They have also caught the attention of employers and other health care purchasers and are growing in prevalence in the commercial market.

But what exactly are limited or narrow networks, and are they what we want them to be? We set out to understand how health plans form limited networks, postulating that the criteria to select providers for participation in limited networks across health plans would be fairly consistent. We thought we might be able to conclude, for example, that a limited network is one in which health plans exclude providers whose prices are one standard deviation above the mean or that don’t meet minimum quality thresholds.

In addition, we wanted to learn how health plans determine who among certain provider types is eligible to participate (primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals). Is there a consistent process for selecting providers? Does the health plan, for example, generally start by selecting primary care physicians and then assess the hospitals with which those physicians are affiliated?

An Elusive Concept

Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR) reached out to a dozen health plans, diverse in size and geography, to learn more about how they form narrow networks. We began by querying them about their use of cost and quality thresholds to select providers for their limited network products.

Across health plans, CPR found no consistent formula for selecting providers by type, below a certain price point, or above a specific level of quality. We learned that health plans primarily consider which hospital or provider group will agree to a certain price (based on a premium analysis), whether excluding others is feasible given each provider’s market power or “must have” status, and whether exclusions create access issues. It is notable that among the health plans we spoke to, none used provider quality as the primary selection criterion. Health plans may consider quality while developing a limited network, but it is secondary to other criteria.

Local market characteristics significantly influence how payers define a network. The design of a limited network depends on the number of providers available as well as the level of competition among them. If a health plan develops a limited network with few providers, consumers may have to travel significant distances to receive care. When there are more provider options, competition helps health plans find a provider group willing to offer a better price. The selected provider group assumes it will make up the potential lost revenue with an increase in patient volume. Therefore, health plans perceive the presence of competition among providers as critical to the development of a limited network product. In circumstances in which health plans have greater market power, they may also consider whether providers are willing to take on some financial risk—now or in the future.

CPR’s search also revealed wide variation in the types of providers health plans focus on when they begin narrowing their networks. While most start with the hospital and then select affiliated primary care physicians and specialists, others start with the primary care physicians and look at affiliated hospitals. Some health plans include all primary care physicians in the limited network and then tier the hospitals and specialists based on cost and sometimes quality criteria. The only consistency we found was that there is no consistency! The only commonality among the narrow networks we examined was that they all contained fewer providers than a given health plan’s broadest network.

A Strategy That Is Here To Stay?

Employer and other health care purchasers’ awareness about the variation in quality and payment amounts has steadily grown, as has their need for savings. Purchasers also recognize that threatening to exclude providers from a pool of patients will strengthen their negotiating position as well as that of other payers. The latest survey data suggest that narrow networks are becoming more prevalent—a trend that is likely to continue.

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey, 12 percent of benefit-offering firms with 50–999 workers, 23 percent of firms with 1,000–4,999 workers, and 31 percent of firms with 5,000 or more workers offer a high-performance or tiered network. In addition, 6 percent of firms offering benefits said that they or their insurer eliminated a health system from a network to reduce the plan’s cost during the past year.

Furthermore, the 2017 Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey found that more than half of employers with more than 1,000 employees said that they might add high-performance networks by 2019.

Are Providers Likely To Participate In Them If Selected?

In markets where providers lack competition, they may easily push back on the formation of narrow networks. But in markets where there is competition, providers will likely want to be included instead of risk a loss of patient volume. For providers entering into new delivery models and accepting new forms of payment, they may see narrow networks positively, giving them a greater ability to manage and coordinate patient care as there is less “leakage” of patients to a broad pool of providers. In turn, participating providers may be more willing to take on financial risk for their patients if they know it is easier to control where they seek care, minimizing exposure to particularly high-priced providers.

Are Consumers Likely To Select Them?

The experience with the public exchanges suggest that consumers are willing to make the tradeoff of choice for affordability. By seeking care from a defined group of providers, consumers pay lower out-of-pocket costs and have a straightforward benefit design that clearly distinguishes between in- and out-of-network providers and accompanying cost sharing. Consumers may save further by receiving care from high-value providers who are more likely to provide effective and efficient care the first time.

Some of the employers in CPR’s membership that offer limited or narrow networks, such as an accountable care organization product, find they are meeting or exceeding their enrollment expectations—an indicator that certain consumers will choose price over choice.

Americans are willing to make tradeoffs for now, but they may become skeptical if there isn’t an explicit effort to ensure quality and the perception grows that narrow networks are only about cutting costs. With more experience, Americans may find that physicians with targeted expertise (for example, subspecialists in oncology) or individual members of a care team (for example, anesthesiologists) may not be included in the narrow network, preventing access or resulting in surprise bills for consumers.

Conclusion

Through their use of limited networks, payers may be indicating to health care providers that affordable care will be rewarded with more patients (quality of care could also be a criterion). In markets where providers perceive a higher volume of patients as favorable, the introduction and presence of these networks can send a strong economic signal to providers to improve efficiency and lower prices. It may be too early to identify patterns in how health plans design limited networks; perhaps a standard formula will never materialize. As CPR learned, viable approaches depend on market-specific nuances.