Nobody loves the ACA as much as New Jersey

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New Jersey leads the nation in so many important things: rest stops named for historical figures, willingness to wear track suits in public — and now, reconstituting the Affordable Care Act under President Trump.

No state has moved faster or more aggressively to shore up its ACA markets than Jersey.

  • Yesterday, the Trump administration approved the state’s proposal for a new, five-year reinsurance program — essentially a subsidy that helps insurers pay for their most expensive customers, so they don’t have to pass those costs on through higher premiums.
  • That program will be paid for, in part, by New Jersey’s newly enacted individual mandate.
  • New Jersey also bans short-term insurance plans that don’t cover pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration has loosened the rules for those plans, but states are free to enact their own restrictions.

Those three policies — an individual mandate, a reinsurance program and limits on short-term plans — are states’ most muscular options for stabilizing their individual insurance markets, especially if they want to stick to the same core model of the pre-Trump ACA.

  • Right now, Jersey is the only state that has all three.

Meanwhile: The California State Assembly passed a bill yesterday to ban short-term plans.

The big picture: As more states — mostly blue states — restrict short-term plans and win approval for reinsurance programs, expect to see a deepening red-blue divide in state insurance markets and, as a result, in average premiums within the ACA’s exchanges.

Healthcare Is The No. 1 Issue For Voters; A New Poll Reveals Which Healthcare Issue Matters Most

https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertpearl/2018/08/13/midterms/#5b6ac3453667

Depending on which news outlet, politician or pundit you ask, American voters will soon participate in the most important midterm election “in many years,” “in our lifetime” or even “in our country’s history.”

The stakes of the November 2018 elections are high for many reasons, but no issue is more important to voters than healthcare. In fact, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that healthcare was the No. 1 issue in a poll of potential voters.

What’s curious about that survey, however, is that the pollsters didn’t ask the next, most-logical question.

What Healthcare Issue, Specifically, Matters Most To Voters?

To answer this question, I surveyed readers of my monthly newsletter. Will the opioid crisis sway voters at the polls? What about abortion rights? The price of drugs? The cost of insurance?

To understand the significance of these results, look closely at the top four:

  1. Prescription drug pricing (58%)
  2. Universal/single-payer coverage (57%)
  3. Medicare funding (50%)
  4. Medicaid funding (40%)

Notice a pattern here? All of these healthcare issues come down to one thing: money.

Healthcare Affordability: The New American Anxiety

Because the majority of my newsletter readers operate in the field of healthcare, they’re well informed about the industry’s macroeconomics. They understand healthcare consumes 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and that national healthcare spending now exceeds $3.4 trillion annually. The readers also know that Americans aren’t getting what they pay for. The United States has the lowest life expectancy and highest childhood mortality rate among the 11 wealthiest nations, according to the Commonwealth Fund Report. But these macroeconomic issues and global metrics are not what keeps healthcare professionals or their patients up at night.

Eight in 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Most don’t have the savings to cover out-of-pocket expenses should they experience a serious or prolonged illness. In fact, half of U.S. adults say that one large medical bill would force them to borrow money. The reality is that a cancer diagnosis or an expensive, lifelong prescription could spell financial disaster for the majority of Americans. Today, 62% of bankruptcy filings are due to medical bills.

To understand how we’ve arrived at this healthcare affordability crisis, we need to examine the evolution of healthcare financing and accountability over the past decade.

The Recent History Of Healthcare’s Money Problems

Until the 21st century, the only Americans who worried about whether they could afford medical care were classified as poor or uninsured. Today, the middle class and insured are worried, too.

How we got here is a story of evolving policies, poor financial planning and, ultimately, buck passing.

A big part of the problem was the rate of healthcare cost inflation, which has averaged nearly twice the annual rate of GDP growth. But there are other contributing factors, as well.

Take the evolution of Medicare, for example, the federal insurance program for seniors. For most of the program’s history, the government reimbursed doctors and hospitals at (approximately) the same rate as commercial insurers. That started to change after a series of federal budget cuts (19972011) and sequestration (2013) reduced provider payments. Today, Medicare reimburses only 90% of the costs its enrollees incur and commercial insurers are forced to make up the difference. As a result, businesses see their premiums rise each year, not only to offset the growth in their employee’s medical expenses, but also to compensate hospitals and physicians for the unreimbursed portion of the cost of caring for Medicare patients.

Combine two high-cost factors: general health care inflation and price constraints imposed by Medicare and what you get are insurance premiums rising much faster than business revenues.

To compensate, companies are shifting much of the added expense to their employees. The most effective way to do so: Raise deductibles. By increasing the maximum deductible annually, the company reduces the magnitude of its expenses the following year, at least until that limit is reached. A decade ago, only 5% of workers were enrolled in a high-deductible health plan. That number soared to 39.4% by 2016, and jumped again to 43.2% the following year.

High-deductible coverage holds individual patients and their families responsible for a major portion of annual healthcare costs, anywhere from $1,350 to $6,650 per person or $2,700 to $13,3000 per family. This exceeds what the average available savings for most American families and helps to explain the growing financial angst in this country.

And it’s not just employees under the age of 65 who are anxious. Medicare enrollees also fear that the cost of care will drain their savings. As drug prices continue to soar, Medicare enrollees are hitting what has been labeled “the donut hole,” which means that once the cost of their “Part D” prescriptions reaches a certain threshold, patients are on the hook for a significant part of the cost. Now, more and more seniors find themselves having to pay thousands of dollars a year for essential medications.

When it comes to paying for healthcare, the United States is an anxious nation in search of relief. The fear of not being able to afford out-of-pocket requirements is the reason so many voters have made healthcare their No. 1 priority as they head to the polls this November. And it’s why both parties are scrambling to deliver the right campaign message.

On Healthcare, Each Party Is A House Divided

In the last presidential election, the Democratic Party chose a traditional candidate, Hilary Clinton, whose views on healthcare were closer to the center than her leading challenger, Bernie Sanders. Two years later, the party is divided by those who believe that (a) the only way to regain control of Congress is by fronting centrist candidates who support and want to strengthen the Affordable Care Act as the best way to attract undecided and independent voters, and (b) those who will accept nothing less than a government-run single payer system: Medicare for all. The primary election of New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Sanders supporter, over long-time incumbent Joseph Crowley, represents this growing rift within the party.

The Republicans also face two competing ideologies on healthcare. Since his election in 2016, President Donald Trump has sought to dismantle the ACA. In addition, he and his political allies want to shift control of Medicaid (the insurance program for low-income Americans) from the federal government to the states—a move that would lower healthcare spending while eroding coverage protection. There are others in the Republican Party who worry that shrinking Medicaid or undermining the health exchanges will come back to bite them. Most of them live and campaign in states where voters support the ACA.

Do The Parties Agree On Anything?

Regardless of party, everyone, from the president to the most fervent single-payer advocate, understands that voters are angry about the cost of their medications and the associated out-of-pocket expenses. And, not surprisingly, each party blames the other for our current situation. Last week, the president gave the Medicare program greater ability to reign in costs for medications administered in a physician’s office. In addition, Trump has promised a major announcement this week to achieve other reductions in drug costs. Of course, generous campaign contributions may dim the enthusiasm either party has for change once the voting is over.

Playing “What If” With Healthcare’s Future

If both chambers remain Republican controlled, we can expect further erosion of the ACA with more exceptions to coverage mandates and progressively less enforcement of its provisions. For Republicans, a loss of either the Senate (a long-shot) or the House (more likely), would slow this process.

But regardless of what happens in the midterms, no one should expect Congress to solve healthcare’s cost challenge soon. Instead, patient anxiety will continue to escalate for three reasons.

First, none of the espoused legislative options will do much to address the inefficiencies in the current delivery system. Therefore, prices will continue to rise and businesses will have little choice but to shift more of the cost on to their workers.

Second, the Fed will persist in limiting Medicare reimbursement to doctors and hospitals, further aggravating the economic problems of American businesses. whose premium rates will rise faster than overall healthcare inflation.

Finally, compromise will prove even more elusive since so many leading candidates represent the extremes of the political spectrum.

Politics, the economy and healthcare will all be deeply entangled this November and for years to come. I believe the safest path, relative to improving the nation’s health, is toward the center. Amending the more problematic parts of the ACA is better than either of the two extreme positions. If our nation progressively undermines the current coverage provisions, millions of Americans will see their access to care erode. And on the other end, a Medicare-for-all healthcare system will produce large increases in utilization and cost.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in three months. But, whatever the outcome, I can guarantee that two years from now healthcare will remain top-of-mind for voters.

 

 

Short-term health plans: A junk solution to a real problem

https://theconversation.com/short-term-health-plans-a-junk-solution-to-a-real-problem-101447

Serious illnesses like cancer often are not covered by short-term health insurance policies.

 

After failing to overturn most of the Affordable Care Act in a very public fight, President Donald Trump has been steadily working behind the scenes to further destabilize former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement. A major component in this effort has been an activity called rule-making, the administrative implementation of statutes by federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services.

Most recently, citing excessive consumer costs, the Trump administration issued regulations to vastly expand the availability of short-term, limited duration insurance plans.

While the cost of health care is one of the overwhelming problems in the American health care system, short-term health plans do nothing to alter the underlying causes. Indeed, these plans may cause great harm to individual consumers while simultaneously threatening the viability of many states’ insurance markets. Having studied the U.S. health care market for years, here is why I think states can and should take quick action to protect consumers.

Comparing crab apples and oranges

Short-term, limited duration insurance plans, by definition, provide insurance coverage for a short, limited period. Since being regulated by the Health Insurance Portability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), this has meant for less than one year. Sold at least since the 1970s, they were offered as an alternative to major medical insurance intended for individuals with temporary and transitional insurance needs such as recent college graduates or those in between jobs.

However, after passage of the Affordable Care Act further concerns emerged over the misuse and mismarketing of these kinds of plans. As a result, the Obama administration restricted their duration to three months.

In addition to being shorter in duration, these policies’ benefits tend to also be much skimpier than for those plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. For example, plans often do not cover crucial services such as prescription drugs, maternity care, or major emergencies like cancer. Equally problematic, even those benefits covered come with high deductibles, strict limitations, and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

It is important to note that short-term health plans are also not subject to any of the consumer protections established by the Affordable Care Act. This means, for example, that insurers can set premiums, or even refuse to sell to an individual, based on a person’s medical history. Moreover, consumers must update their health status every time they seek to purchase coverage.

Crucially, short-term health plans have shown to be particularly discriminatory against women. For one, women are charged higher premiums. Moreover, they are likely to be disproportionately affected by medical underwriting for pre-existing conditions like domestic and sexual abuse and pre- and postnatal treatment.

Because plans are so limited in benefits, and because insurers are able to deny coverage to sicker individuals, short-term health plans come with much lower premiums than standard insurance plans with their more expansive benefits and vastly superior consumer protections. Indeed on average, premiums amount to only one-fourth of ACA-compliant plans.

Too good to be true

While short-term insurance plans are more affordable in terms of premiums, they come with a slew of problems for consumers.

For one, consumers have a tremendously hard time understanding the American health care system and health insurance. Predatory insurance companies have been known to take advantage of this shortcoming by camouflaging covered benefits, something the Affordable Care Act sought to ameliorate. Mis- and underinformed consumers often find themselves surprised when they actually try to use their insurance.

Even for those who are aware of the limitations, problems may arise. Unable to predict major medical emergencies, consumers may be confronted with tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills if they fall sick or face injury.

Moreover, insurers are also able to rescind policies after major medical expenses have been incurred if consumers failed to fully disclose any underlying health conditions. This even applies to health conditions that consumers had not been aware of prior to getting sick.

While some may argue that this is the fault of the those who purchase short-term insurance, it causes problems for all of us.

For one, these individuals may refuse to seek care. This could result in severe consequence for their and their family’s well-being and ability to earn a living.

At the same time, medical providers will shift the costs of the resulting bad debts to other individuals with insurance or the general taxpayer.

Bad for the individual, worse for all of us

Short-term insurance plans are perhaps even more problematic for the health of the overall insurance market than they are for individual consumers.

With a very short implementation time frame, insurance regulators in the states only have until October to prepare for the potentially significant disruptions to their markets. This leaves little time for analysis and regulatory preparation.

Yet long-term consequences are even more concerning. Healthier and younger consumers are naturally drawn to the low premiums offered by these plans. At the same time, older and sicker individuals will value the comprehensive benefits and protections offered by the Affordable Care Act. The result is the continuing segregation of insurance markets and risk pools into a cheaper, healthier one and a sicker, more expensive one. As premiums rise in the latter, its healthiest individuals will begin to drop their coverage, leading to ever more premium increases and larger coverage losses. If left unchecked, eventually the entire insurance market may collapse in this process.

This could be particularly problematic in states with relatively small insurance markets like Wyoming or West Virginia where even one truly sick individual can drive up premiums tremendously.

States have options

The expansion of short-term health plans is one action by the Trump administration that states can counteract relatively simply. Currently, states serve as the primary regulator of their insurance markets. As such, they have the power to make decisions about what insurance products can be sold within their boundaries.

Action can be taken by insurance regulators and legislature to create relatively simple solutions. While the vast majority of states have failed to create consumer and market protections, a small number of states have done just that.

New York, for example, has banned the sale of these plans.

Others, like Maryland, have strictly limited their sale and renewability.

Treating the symptoms, not the cause

Many Americans struggle to access insurance and services despite the Affordable Care Act. While the Affordable Care Act has unquestionably improved access to insurance for Americans, cost control and affordability are truly its Achilles heels. Indeed, some Americans lost their limited benefits, lower cost plans when the Affordable Care Act did not recognize them as viable coverage.

The Trump administration has rightfully highlighted to high costs of the American health care system. However, offering consumers the opportunity to purchase bare-bones insurance at lower costs does nothing to solve America’s health care cost problems.

If access to insurance is truly a concern for the Trump administration, I believe it should seek to convince the remaining hold-outs to expand their Medicaid programs. Also, I think discontinuing its actions to destabilize insurance markets would also go a long way to reducing premiums.

Yet when it comes to altering the underlying cost calculus, there are no simple solutionsAdministrative costs are too highMedical quality is too lowResources constantly get wasted. Consumers could do more to be healthier.

Ultimately, I see it coming down to one crucial problem: Providers, pharmaceutical companies, device makers and insurers are making too much money. And it is these vested interests that make structural reform of the U.S. health care system a truly herculean endeavor.

But unless Americans and policymakers of both parties are willing to address this root cause, any reform effort amounts to nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

 

2018 Mid-Term Healthcare Issues

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/08/15/the-health-202-senate-democrats-stay-focused-on-health-care-even-during-short-august-recess/5b72f0901b326b4f9e90a72c/?utm_term=.2403975557c2

Senate Democrats used their truncated August recess to talk to their constituents about one key issue: Health care. 

And though they are returning to Washington tonight, they have no plans to stop talking about it. 

That’s a remarkable turnaround for Democrats who have been on the defensive about health care for the better part of a decade. Obamacare played a major role in their loss of control of the House in the first midterm election of President Obama’s presidency in 2010. But now, they’re hoping to take back the House and retain their seats in the Senate largely by running on the merits of the Affordable Care Act.

Over their 10-day mini break, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) held a roundtable discussion with voters about health care, as did Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who held his third roundtable this year focused specifically on pre-existing conditions. And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also met with voters with pre-existing conditions on Tuesday.

“Cutting people off from insurance and making it harder for people to get insurance, we’re all still gonna pay the bill because in America we’re not going to stop people at the door at the emergency room and I’m sorry you don’t have health insurance, we’re gonna let you die,” she said, according to Missourinet.

In Nevada, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is hoping to unseat GOP Sen. Dean Heller, also held a public meeting with voters with pre-existing conditions.  Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) met with health care providers and patients to talk pre-existing conditions, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is vying for the open Senate seat there, also met with constituent groups to discuss health care.

“It doesn’t matter which community you are in, health care is the number-one issue that Arizonans are talking about,” Sinema told the Arizona Daily Star. “It is not just Arizonans who don’t have health-care coverage, many of those who are expressing concerns and fear are Arizonans who do have coverage but cannot afford it.”

As campaign cycles go, it’s still early in this one. And the deluge of ads will really heat up come fall. Republicans still see an opening to talk about rising costs of health care and President Trump continues to declare that the ACA is dead. But unlike years past when the GOP could run on an anti-Obamacare message, this year the party is more likely to focus on other issues like tax cuts and job creation. 

It’s harder for GOP candidates to make their case that health care policy is failing in the first election where they are in control of both houses in Congress and the White House. And recent scuttlebutt that Republicans would consider another repeal effort if they held Congress may not be helpful this cycle.

And so Democrats, if August activity is the precursor to the fall campaign, are going all in on health care. 

Earlier this month, the New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz had a great anecdote from an event with McCaskill. The senator, who may be in the toughest fight of her career, asked voters to stand if they have a pre-existing condition. There were reportedly few people left in their seats.

The Democrats and the groups who support them have homed in specifically on the warning that if the ACA is struck down, people with pre-existing conditions would lose protection. Notably, McCaskill and Manchin, two of the Democrats’ most vulnerable members, are running against state attorneys general who joined a lawsuit arguing the ACA should be deemed unconstitutional. If the law were struck down, it would take with it protections for people with past and current health conditions.

Before the Senate left, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.)  pledged to keep health care front and center this month in Congress, which is in keeping with Democrats’ election strategy this year.  Schumer’s office declined to show its hand, but on the floor he detailed exactly what the Democrats would be pushing for, including votes to protect people with pre-existing conditions and a Medicare buy-in program. They’re unlikely to get those votes, but that’s all part of the game plan to keep the attention on health care.

“The number one thing Americans want is health care, and we Democrats will spend August recess focusing on that issue, and forcing Republicans to cast votes or deny votes on those important issues,” Schumer said. “It’s a great opportunity, not just for Democrats, not just for Republicans, but for America. We are going to do it.”

The first television ad the campaign arm for the Democrats released in 2017 was about health care. It showed a man selling his car and a woman pawning her engagement ring. Then it cuts to them sitting at the hospital bedside of a sick child.

Most of the heavy ad buys are still to come, but an independent analysis of political ads so far this cycle found pro-Democrat ads have been overwhelmingly about health care.  According to Kantar Media/CMAG data by the Wesleyan Media Project, “An astounding 63 percent of pro-Democratic ads for U.S. House discuss healthcare, and 16 percent contain an explicit statement about being in favor of the Affordable Care Act. U.S. Senate contests are less likely to feature health care, but it is still the top issue, appearing in over a quarter (28 percent) of all ad airings.”

Take Rosen, the congresswoman running against Heller. She has a television ad that shows her talking to voters about their anxieties over the ACA being repealed. She says in the ad that ACA has “real problems,” but repealing it isn’t the answer. 

It’s a strategy divergent from previous years when Democrats were defensive of their support for Obamacare. They’d make macro arguments about the millions of people who would lose coverage without it. But now, with the focus on pre-existing conditions, they’ve found a way to make it personal and accessible for voters. 

“What we’re seeing on the trail is that health care remaining the defining issue of the election and voters are aware and concerned that GOP policies will increase their costs and jeopardize their coverage and voters are preparing to hold GOP candidates accountable on this issue,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

When asked, most Republicans will say they support keeping protections for pre-existing conditions. For example, when asked, McCaskill’s opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, said he thinks“insurance companies should be forced to cover pre-existing conditions.”

For his part, Hawley’s first television ad of the campaign was about his work as a clerk on the Supreme Court and accused McCaskill of supporting “liberal activist judges.”

In a press release in response to the ad, McCaskill’s campaign said, “Josh Hawley is suing to strip protections for nearly 2.5 million Missourians with pre-existing conditions.”

 

 

 

Six Things Health Execs Should Know about Association Health Plans

http://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/policy/six-things-health-execs-should-know-about-association-health-plans?rememberme=1&elq_mid=2696&elq_cid=876742

Image result for skinny health plans

Association Health Plans (AHPs) permit small businesses to band together and buy health insurance. “By allowing them to join together in associations, small companies can have the same buying power as a large employer,” says Diane Wolfenden, director, Sales and Client Services, East Region, Priority Health, Michigan’s second largest health plan.

In June, when the final rule governing AHPs was released, the Trump Administration emphasized that AHPs will provide small businesses with more choices, access, and coverage options.

Here are six things MCOs should know about AHPs.

1. Critics say AHPs may undermine ACA plans. The most commonly cited concern with new AHP regulations is that they may undermine the ACA marketplace because association plans aren’t required to comply with all ACA regulations. “The fear is that AHPs will siphon off younger, healthier individuals, and leave those with greater health risks and pre-existing conditions in ACA risk pools,” Wolfenden says. “Critics have stated that allowing AHPs will weaken some of the ACA’s protections for consumers and make coverage on the exchanges and through ACA markets more expensive.”

2. The regulation seeks to prevent the forming of associations solely to provide health benefits. Under the new regulations finalized by the Department of Labor, an association must have a substantial purpose for existing in addition to offering health benefits. “Offering health benefits may be the primary reason for forming an association, but the secondary reason must be substantive enough that even without offering health benefits the association could continue to exist,” Wolfenden says.

Businesses can form AHPs in a specific city, county, state, or multi-state metropolitan area. “Therefore, chambers of commerce, trade groups, or businesses in the same geographic area can form or join an AHP,” says Sally C. Pipes, president, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Healthcare Policy, Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank. “Alternatively, cross-border AHPs can form for businesses or sole proprietors that occupy the same industry.”

The association needs to have an organized structure with a governing body and policies and procedures in place indicating governance, as well as legalization behind it, says Bryan Komornik, director of West Monroe’s healthcare practice, a business technology consulting firm. Like the ACA, individuals can’t be discriminated against if they have pre-existing conditions.

In addition, association members must be able to demonstrate the income they derive from their business is sufficient to cover the cost of their premium or that they work at least 80 hours per month at the business, Wolfenden says.

3. They could expand the number of insured patients. AHPs will not only give small employers more options for their employees, but they could also encourage some individuals to buy insurance when they may have gone without it otherwise. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 4 million current ACA enrollees in the individual and small group markets could shift their coverage to these new policies, Wolfenden says. Further, the CBO stated that about 10% of those 4 million people buying plans in 2023 and beyond would have been uninsured otherwise.

Individuals who join a coalition can obtain health insurance coverage for themselves, their spouse, and their children, or they can opt to only get coverage for themselves, Komornik says. If an individual’s spouse has an employer-sponsored health plan, the individual can still get coverage through the association if they qualify otherwise.

4. They might offer fewer benefits. AHPs are likely to offer lower premiums through skinnier plan design, sacrificing benefits for lower costs. “This means that consumers will need to have a better understanding of what will, and will not, be covered by their AHP policy,” Wolfenden says. Because AHP policies aren’t required to comply with ACA regulations, they may not cover prescription drugs or certain types of surgeries.

5. They could lead to more uncompensated care. Because AHP plans may offer leaner benefits, some patient advocacy groups are concerned that patients will end up with healthcare expenses that their insurance company won’t cover and the patient can’t pay. “These bills may end up going unpaid, leading to an increase in uncompensated care,” Wolfenden says. Uncompensated care has fallen in nearly every state since the ACA’s implementation based on the expanded coverage. “Increases in uncompensated care make it harder for providers to invest in new technologies and equipment and maintain enough capacity to care for patients. Transparency will become even more critical as providers will need to work closely with patients to ensure they understand what their insurance policy covers and what their share of the costs will be upfront.”

6. The new rule will have a staggered implementation schedule. The new rule will be phased in in three stages. It will first take effect for associations with fully-insured AHPs on September 1, 2018. It will become applicable for associations with existing self-insured AHPs on January 1, 2019. Finally, the rule will take effect for new self-insured AHPs on April 1, 2019, Pipes says.

 

Stabilizing and strengthening the individual health insurance market

https://www.brookings.edu/research/stabilizing-and-strengthening-the-individual-health-insurance-market/?utm_campaign=Economic%20Studies&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=64960143

Image result for Stabilizing and strengthening the individual health insurance market

Stability has long been an issue for the individual health insurance market, even before the Affordable Care Act. While reforms adopted under the ACA initially succeeded in addressing some of these market issues, market conditions substantially worsened in 2016.

Insurers exited the individual market, both on and off the subsidized exchanges, leaving many areas with only a single insurer, and threatening to leave some areas (mostly rural) with no insurer on the exchange. Most insurers suffered significant losses in the individual market the first three years under the ACA, leading to very substantial increases in premiums a couple of years in a row.

For a time, it appeared that rate increases in 2016 and 2017 would be sufficient to stabilize the market by returning insurers to profitability, which would bring future increases in line with normal medical cost trends. However, Congress’s decision to repeal the individual mandate and the Trump Administration’s decision to halt “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurers, along with other measures that were seen as destabilizing, created substantial new uncertainty for market conditions in 2018.

This uncertainty continues into 2019, owing both to lack of clarity on the actual effects of last year’s statutory and regulatory changes, and to pending regulatory changes that would expand the availability of “non-compliant” plans sold outside of the ACA-regulated market. These uncertainties further complicate insurers’ decisions about whether to remain in the individual market and how much to increase premiums.

In “Stabilizing and strengthening the individual health insurance market: A view from ten states” (PDF), Mark Hall examines the causes of instability in the individual market and identifies measures to help improve stability based off of interviews with key stakeholders in 10 states.

The condition of the individual market

In the states studied—Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas—opinions about market stability vary widely across states and stakeholders.

While enrollment has remained remarkably strong in the ACA’s subsidized exchanges, enrollment by people not receiving subsidies has dropped sharply.

States that operate their own exchanges have had somewhat stronger enrollment (both on and off the exchanges), and lower premiums, than states using the federal exchange.

A core of insurers remain committed to the individual market because enrollment remains substantial, and most insurers have been able to increase prices enough to become profitable. Some insurers that previously left or stayed out of markets now appear to be (re)entering.

Political uncertainty

Premiums have increased sharply over the past two to three years, initially because insurers had underpriced relative to the actual claims costs that ACA enrollees generated. However, political uncertainty in recent years caused some insurers to leave the market and those who stayed raised their rates.

Insurers were able to cope with the Trump administration’s halt to CSR payments by increasing their rates for 2018 while the dominant view in most states is that the adverse effects of the repeal of the individual mandate will be less than originally thought. Even if the mandate is not essential, many subjects viewed it as helpful to market stability. Thus, there is some interest in replacing the federal mandate with alternative measures.

Because most insurers have become profitable in the individual market, future rate increases are likely to be closer to general medical cost trends (which are in the single digits). But this moderation may not hold if additional adverse regulatory or policy changes are made, and some such changes have been recently announced.

Many subjects viewed reinsurance as potentially helpful to market conditions, but only modestly so because funding levels typically proposed produce just a one-time lessening of rate increases in the range of 10-20 percent. Some subjects thought that a better use of additional funding would be to expand the range of people who are eligible for premium subsidies.Actions to restore stability

Concerns were expressed about coverage options that do not comply with ACA regulations, such as sharing ministries, association health plans, and short-term plans. However, some thought this outweighed harms to the ACA-compliant market; thus, there was some support for allowing separate markets (ACA and non-ACA) to develop, especially in states where unsubsidized prices are already particularly high.

Other federal measures, such as tightening up special enrollment, more flexibility in covered benefits, and lower medical loss ratios, were not seen as having a notable effect on market stability.

Measures that states might consider (in addition to those noted above) include: Medicaid buy-in as a “public option”; assessing non-complying plans to fund expanded ACA subsidies; investing more in marketing and outreach; “auto-enrollment” in “zero premium” Bronze plans; and allowing insurers to make mid-year rate corrections to account for major new regulatory changes.

Conclusion

The ACA’s individual market is in generally the same shape now as it was at the end of 2016. Prices are high and insurer participation is down, but these conditions are not fundamentally worse than they were at the end of the Obama administration. For a variety of reasons, the ACA’s core market has withstood remarkably well the various body blows it absorbed during 2017, including repeal of the individual mandate, and halting payments to insurers for reduced cost sharing by low-income subscribers.

The measures currently available to states are unlikely, however, to improve the individual market to the extent that is needed. Although the ACA market is likely to survive in its basic current form, the future health of the market—especially for unsubsidized people—depends on the willingness and ability of federal lawmakers to muster the political determination to make substantial improvements.

Read the full paper here

 

 

Do States Know the Status of Their Short-Term Health Plan Markets?

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/do-states-know-short-term-health-plan-markets?omnicid=EALERT1447487&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

Short term plans

The Trump administration this week issued a final rule reversing federal limits on short-term health coverage, allowing such plans to become a long-term alternative to individual market coverage. Starting in October, insurers will be allowed to sell short-term plans for just under 12 months, up from the current federal limit of three months. And in a sharp break from prior regulations, insurers can renew short-term plans for up to 36 months. The rule does strengthen a consumer notice required in application materials, but the notice does not need to inform consumers of all limitations and “fine print.” Importantly, the rule does not preempt state regulation that includes shorter limits on coverage.

Short-term plans are not required to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) consumer protections, meaning insurers that sell these policies can deny coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions and are not required to cover essential health benefits. These plans are typically marketed to healthy consumers, for whom coverage with limited benefits and a low premium may appear attractive.

In the past, many state insurance departments have had to warn residents about deceptive marketing practices sometimes undertaken by short-term plan sellers, which can lead consumers to believe they are buying a comprehensive policy when they are not. During the fall open-enrollment seasons for ACA marketplaces, these plans will be competing for consumers’ premium dollars with comprehensive coverage, introducing the possibility of still greater consumer confusion.

We surveyed the Departments of Insurance (DOIs) in the 17 state-based ACA marketplace states to understand how the market for short-term coverage is working on the eve of this policy shift. We found that most states have little information about the status of their current short-term plan markets. Additionally, inconsistencies in how states have collected and reviewed the premium rates and contracts for short-term plans will make it difficult to assess how the market is responding to the new federal rules.

Most States Do Not Have a Complete Picture of the Current Short-Term Market

With the exception of New York, which doesn’t permit short-term plans, 16 states in our survey require insurers to file for approval in order to sell short-term policies. However, once these policies are approved, few states require annual reapproval unless policies undergo significant rate or benefit design changes. Most DOIs acknowledged that insurers with short-term policies that were approved decades ago could potentially market them to consumers this fall without any additional regulatory approval.

As a first step to prepare for the Trump administration’s rulemaking, some states started to identify their approved short-term sellers and which ones are actively marketing. For example, in Maryland, the legislature directed the DOI to contact every approved short-term plan insurer to determine whether they are actively marketing. Similarly, Oregon is now reviewing advertisements for short-term products, and insurers marketing products that are at least five years old have been asked to refile with the state. However, overall, few states are aware of which short-term insurers are actively marketing. A few DOI officials also explained that with the new rule, more short-term plan insurers are likely to market within their state.

Insurers Marketing Short-Term Plans Are Generally Different Than Those Marketing Individual Plans

We compared the list of 2018 marketplace insurers to those who have been approved to sell short-term policies. Four of the 17 states (Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) in our survey have no approved short-term sellers because they require such plans to play by some or all of the same rules as traditional coverage. While the data are limited,1 it appears that 11 of the 17 states have more insurers approved to sell short-term plans than individual plans. There tends to be little overlap among the companies, although there are a few approved to sell in both the individual and short-term markets.

This separation poses a risk to individual market stability, as short-term sellers may target healthy marketplace consumers, undercutting ACA-compliant insurers. In return, ACA-compliant insurers may be incentivized to start selling short-term policies in order to shift and maintain their healthy enrollees in those plans. Indeed, the Trump administration expects that as many as 500,000 individual market enrollees will migrate to short-term plans in 2019. Because they will be relatively healthy, their departure will cause premiums in the individual market to increase by a projected 5 percent. This increase will come on top of other projected increases resulting from the repeal of the ACA’s individual mandate penalty and the expansion of association health plans.

Looking Forward

The final rule allowing short-term policies to be sold for longer durations puts enrollees at financial risk, as they unknowingly enroll in the skimpier policies that do not meet their health needs. In turn, the shift of large numbers of healthy consumers to the short-term market will increase prices for those remaining in the individual market. As a new market of long-term short-term plans emerges, states need to understand their short-term market in order to protect consumers and maintain a stable individual market. This can begin with an assessment of which insurers are actively marketing in the state. States also may want to ensure that any short-term plan sellers seeking to offer coverage that mimics the 12-month duration of ACA-compliant coverage submit plan designs, rates, and marketing materials for review and approval, as Vermont has done recently. Doing so will allow states to have a firmer understanding of the insurance products being sold to their residents, and will better position them to reduce consumer confusion and monitor for potential fraud.