Health Insurance Coverage Eight Years After the ACA

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2019/feb/health-insurance-coverage-eight-years-after-aca

Fewer Uninsured Americans and Shorter Coverage Gaps, But More Underinsured

What does health insurance coverage look like for Americans today, more than eight years after the Affordable Care Act’s passage? In this brief, we present findings from the Commonwealth Fund’s latest Biennial Health Insurance Survey to assess the extent and quality of coverage for U.S. working-age adults. Conducted since 2001, the survey uses three measures to gauge the adequacy of people’s coverage:

  • whether or not they have insurance
  • if they have insurance, whether they have experienced a gap in their coverage in the prior year
  • whether high out-of-pocket health care costs and deductibles are causing them to be underinsured, despite having continuous coverage throughout the year.

As the findings highlighted below show, the greatest deterioration in the quality and comprehensiveness of coverage has occurred among people in employer plans. More than half of Americans under age 65 — about 158 million people — get their health insurance through an employer, while about one-quarter either have a plan purchased through the individual insurance market or are enrolled in Medicaid.1Although the ACA has expanded and improved coverage options for people without access to a job-based health plan, the law largely left the employer market alone.2

Survey Highlights

  • Today, 45 percent of U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 are inadequately insured — nearly the same as in 2010 — though important shifts have taken place.
  • Compared to 2010, many fewer adults are uninsured today, and the duration of coverage gaps people experience has shortened significantly.
  • Despite actions by the Trump administration and Congress to weaken the ACA, the adult uninsured rate was 12.4 percent in 2018 in this survey, statistically unchanged from the last time we fielded the survey in 2016.
  • More people who have coverage are underinsured now than in 2010, with the greatest increase occurring among those in employer plans.
  • People who are underinsured or spend any time uninsured report cost-related problems getting care and difficulty paying medical bills at at higher rates than those with continuous, adequate coverage.
  • Federal and state governments could enact policies to extend the ACA’s health coverage gains and improve the cost protection provided by individual-market and employer plans.

The 2018 Commonwealth Fund Biennial Heath Insurance Survey included a nationally representative sample of 4,225 adults ages 19 to 64. SSRS conducted the telephone survey between June 27 and November 11, 2018.3 (See “How We Conducted This Study” for more detail.)

WHO IS UNDERINSURED?

In this analysis, we use a measure of underinsurance that accounts for an insured adult’s reported out-of-pocket costs over the course of a year, not including insurance premiums, as well as his or her plan deductible. (The measure was first used in the Commonwealth Fund’s 2003 Biennial Health Insurance Survey.*) These actual expenditures and the potential risk of expenditures, as represented by the deductible, are then compared with household income. Specifically, we consider people who are insured all year to be underinsured if:

  • their out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, over the prior 12 months are equal to 10 percent or more of household income; or
  • their out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, over the prior 12 months are equal to 5 percent or more of household income for individuals living under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,120 for an individual or $49,200 for a family of four); or
  • their deductible constitutes 5 percent or more of household income.

The out-of-pocket cost component of the measure is only triggered if a person uses his or her plan to obtain health care. The deductible component provides an indicator of the financial protection the plan offers and the risk of incurring costs before someone gets health care. The definition does not include other dimensions of someone’s health plan that might leave them potentially exposed to costs, such as copayments or uncovered services. It therefore provides a conservative measure of underinsurance in the United States.

Compared to 2010, when the ACA became law, fewer people today are uninsured, but more people are underinsured. Of the 194 million U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 in 2018, an estimated 87 million, or 45 percent, were inadequately insured (see Tables 1 and 2).

Despite actions by the Trump administration and Congress to weaken the ACA, our survey found no statistically significant change in the adult uninsured rate by late 2018 compared to 2016 (Table 3). This finding is consistent with recent federal surveys, but other private surveys (including other Commonwealth Fund surveys) have found small increases in uninsured rates since 2016 (see “Changes in U.S. Uninsured Rates Since 2013”).

While there has been no change since 2010, statistically speaking, in the proportion of people who are insured now but have experienced a recent time without coverage, these reported gaps are of much shorter duration on average than they were before the ACA. In 2018, 61 percent of people who reported a coverage gap said it has lasted for six months or less, compared to 31 percent who said they had been uninsured for a year or longer. This is nearly a reverse of what it was like in 2012, two years before the ACA’s major coverage expansions. In that year, 57 percent of adults with a coverage gap reported it was for a year or longer, while one-third said it was a shorter gap.

There also has been some improvement in long-term uninsured rates. Among adults who were uninsured at the time of the survey, 54 percent reported they had been without coverage for more than two years, down from 72 percent before the ACA coverage expansions went into effect. The share of those who had been uninsured for six months or less climbed to 20 percent, nearly double the rate prior to the coverage expansions.

Of people who were insured continuously throughout 2018, an estimated 44 million were underinsured because of high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles (Table 1). This is up from an estimated 29 million in 2010 (data not shown). The most likely to be underinsured are people who buy plans on their own through the individual market including the marketplaces. However, the greatest growth in the number of underinsured adults is occurring among those in employer health plans.

WHY ARE INSURED AMERICANS SPENDING SO MUCH OF THEIR INCOME ON HEALTH CARE COSTS?

Several factors may be contributing to high underinsured rates among adults in individual market plans and rising rates in employer plans:

  1. Although the Affordable Care Act’s reforms to the individual market have provided consumers with greater protection against health care costs, many moderate-income Americans have not seen gains. The ACA’s essential health benefits package, cost-sharing reductions for lower- income families, and out-of-pocket cost limits have helped make health care more affordable for millions of Americans. But while the cost-sharing reductions have been particularly important in lowering deductibles and copayments for people with incomes under 250 percent of the poverty level (about $62,000 for a family of four), about half of people who purchase marketplace plans, and all of those buying plans directly from insurance companies, do not have them.4
  2. The bans against insurers excluding people from coverage because of a preexisting condition and rating based on health status have meant that individuals with greater health needs, and thus higher costs, are now able to get health insurance in the individual market. Not surprisingly, the survey data show that people with individual market coverage are somewhat more likely to have health problems than they were in 2010, which means they also have higher costs.
  3. While plans in the employer market historically have provided greater cost protection than plans in the individual market, businesses have tried to hold down premium growth by asking workers to shoulder an increasing share of health costs, particularly in the form of higher deductibles.5 While the ACA’s employer mandate imposed a minimum coverage requirement on large companies, the requirement amounts to just 60 percent of typical person’s overall costs. This leaves the potential for high plan deductibles and copayments.
  4. Growth in Americans’ incomes has not kept pace with growth in health care costs. Even when health costs rise more slowly, they can take an increasingly larger bite out of incomes.

It is well documented that people who gained coverage under the ACA’s expansions have better access to health care as a result.6 This has led to overall improvement in health care access, as indicated by multiple surveys.7 In 2014, the year the ACA’s major coverage expansions went into effect, the share of adults in our survey who said that cost prevented them from getting health care that they needed, such as prescription medication, dropped significantly (Table 4). But there has been no significant improvement since then.

The lack of continued improvement in overall access to care nationally reflects the fact that coverage gains have plateaued, and underinsured rates have climbed. People who experience any time uninsured are more likely than any other group to delay getting care because of cost (Table 5). And among people with coverage all year, those who were underinsured reported cost-related delays in getting care at nearly double the rate of those who were not underinsured.

There was modest but significant improvement following the ACA’s coverage expansions in the proportion of all U.S. adults who reported having difficulty paying their medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time (Table 4). Federal surveys have found similar improvements.8 However, those gains have stalled.

Inadequate insurance coverage leaves people exposed to high health care costs, and these expenses can quickly turn into medical debt. More than half of uninsured adults and insured adults who have had a coverage gap reported that they had had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt over time (Table 6). Among people who had continuous insurance coverage, the rate of medical bill and debt problems is nearly twice as high for the underinsured as it is for people who are not underinsured.

Having continuous coverage makes a significant difference in whether people have a regular source of care, get timely preventive care, or receive recommended cancer screenings. Adults with coverage gaps or those who were uninsured when they responded to the survey were the least likely to have gotten preventive care and cancer screenings in the recommended time frame.

Being underinsured, however, does not seem to reduce the likelihood of having a usual source of care or receiving timely preventive care or cancer screens — provided a person has continuous coverage. This is likely because the ACA requires insurers and employers to cover recommended preventive care and cancer screens without cost-sharing. Even prior to the ACA, a majority of employer plans provided predeductible coverage of preventive services.9

Conclusion and Policy Implications

U.S. working-age adults are significantly more likely to have health insurance since the ACA became law in 2010. But the improvement in uninsured rates has stalled. In addition, more people have health plans that fail to adequately protect them from health care costs, with the fastest deterioration in cost protection occurring in the employer market. The ACA made only minor changes to employer plans, and the erosion in cost protection has taken a bite out of the progress made in Americans’ health coverage since the law’s enactment.

Both the federal government and the states, however, have the ability to extend the law’s coverage gains and improve the cost protection of both individual-market and employer plans. Here is a short list of policy options:

  • Expand Medicaid without restrictions. The 2018 midterm elections moved as many as five states closer to joining the 32 states that, along with the District of Columbia, have expanded eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA.10 As many as 300,000 people may ultimately gain coverage as a result.11 But, encouraged by the Trump administration, several states are imposing work requirements on people eligible for Medicaid — a move that could reverse these coverage gains. So far, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has approved similar work-requirement waivers in seven states and is considering applications from at least seven more. Arkansas imposed a work requirement last June, and, to date, more than 18,000 adults have lost their insurance coverage as a result.
  • Ban or place limits on short-term health plans and other insurance that doesn’t comply with the ACA. The Trump administration loosened regulations on short-term plans that don’t comply with the ACA, potentially leaving people who enroll in them exposed to high costs and insurance fraud. These plans also will draw healthier people out of the marketplaces, increasing premiums for those who remain and federal costs of premium subsidies. Twenty-three states have banned or placed limits on short-term insurance policies. Some lawmakers have proposed a federal ban.
  • Reinsurance, either state or federal. The ACA’s reinsurance program was effective in lowering marketplace premiums. After it expired in 2017, several states implemented their own reinsurance programs.12  Alaska’s program reduced premiums by 20 percent in 2018. These lower costs particularly help people whose incomes are too high to qualify for ACA premium tax credits. More states are seeking federal approval to run programs in their states. Several congressional bills have proposed a federal reinsurance program.
  • Reinstate outreach and navigator funding for the 2020 open-enrollment period. The administration has nearly eliminated funding for advertising and assistance to help people enroll in marketplace plans.13 Research has found that both activities are effective in increasing enrollment.14 Some lawmakers have proposed reinstatingthis funding.
  • Lift the 400-percent-of-poverty cap on eligibility for marketplace tax credits. This action would help people with income exceeding $100,000 (for a family of four) better afford marketplace plans. The tax credits work by capping the amount people pay toward their premiums at 9.86 percent. Lifting the cap has a built in phase out: as income rises, fewer people qualify, since premiums consume an increasingly smaller share of incomes. RAND researchers estimate that this policy change would increase enrollment by 2 million and lower marketplace premiums by as much as 4 percent as healthier people enroll. It would cost the federal government an estimated $10 billion annually.15 Legislation has been introduced to lift the cap.
  • Make premium contributions for individual market plans fully tax deductible. People who are self-employed are already allowed to do this.16
  • Fix the so-called family coverage glitch. People with employer premium expenses that exceed 9.86 percent of their income are eligible for marketplace subsidies, which trigger a federal tax penalty for their employers. There’s a catch: this provision applies only to single-person policies, leaving many middle-income families caught in the “family coverage glitch.” Congress could lower many families’ premiums by pegging unaffordable coverage in employer plans to family policies instead of single policies.17

REDUCE COVERAGE GAPS

  • Inform the public about their options. People who lose coverage during the year are eligible for special enrollment periods for ACA marketplace coverage. Those eligible for Medicaid can sign up at any time. But research indicates that many people who lose employer coverage do not use these options.18 The federal government, the states, and employers could increase awareness of insurance options outside the open-enrollment periods through advertising and education.
  • Reduce churn in Medicaid. Research shows that over a two-year period, one-quarter of Medicaid beneficiaries leave the program and become uninsured.19 Many do so because of administrative barriers.20 By imposing work requirements, as some states are doing, this involuntary disenrollment is likely to get worse. To help people stay continuously covered, the federal government and the states could consider simplifying and streamlining the enrollment and reenrollment processes.
  • Extend the marketplace open-enrollment period. The current open-enrollment period lasts just 45 days. Six states that run their own marketplaces have longer periods, some by as much as an additional 45 days. Other states, as well as the federal marketplace, could extend their enrollment periods as well.

IMPROVE INDIVIDUAL-MARKET PLANS’ COST PROTECTIONS

  • Fund and extend the cost-sharing reduction subsidies. The Trump administration eliminated payments to insurers for offering plans with lower deductibles and copayments. Insurers, which by law must still offer reduced-cost plans, are making up the lost revenue by raising premiums. But this fix, while benefiting enrollees who are eligible for premium tax credits, has distorted both insurer pricing and consumer choice.21 In addition, it is unknown whether the administration’s support for the fix will continue in the future, creating uncertainty for insurers.22 Congress could reinstate the payments to insurers and consider making the plans available to people with higher earnings.
  • Increase the number of services excluded from the deductible.Most plans sold in the individual market exclude certain services from the deductible, such as primary care visits and certain prescriptions.23As the survey data suggest, these types of exclusions appear to be important in ensuring access to preventive care among people who have coverage but are underinsured. In 2016, HHS provided a standardized plan option for insurers that excluded eight health services — including mental health and substance-use disorder outpatient visits and most prescription drugs — from the deductible at the silver and gold level.24 The Trump administration eliminated the option in 2018. Congress could make these exceptions mandatory for all plans.

IMPROVE EMPLOYER PLANS’ COST PROTECTIONS

  • Increase the ACA’s minimum level of coverage. Under the ACA, people in employer plans may become eligible for marketplace tax credits if the actuarial value of their plan is less than 60 percent, meaning that under 60 percent of health care costs, on average, are covered. Congress could increase this to the 70 percent standard of silver-level marketplace plans, or even higher.
  • Require deductible exclusions. Congress could require employers to increase the number of services that are covered before someone meets their deductible. Most employer plans exclude at least some services from their deductibles.25 Congress could specify a minimum set of exclusions for employer plans that might resemble the standardized-choice options that once existed for ACA plans.
  • Refundable tax credits for high out-of-pocket costs. Congress could make refundable tax credits available to help insured Americans pay for qualifying out-of-pocket costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income.26
  • Protect consumers from surprise medical bills. Several states have passed laws that protect patients and their families from unexpected medical bills, generally from out-of-network providers.27A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has proposed federal legislation to protect consumers, including people enrolled in employer and individual-market plans.

Health care costs are primarily what’s driving growth in premiums across all health insurance markets. Employers and insurers have kept premiums down by increasing consumers’ deductibles and other cost-sharing, which in turn is making more people underinsured. This means that policy options like the ones we’ve highlighted above will need to be paired with efforts to slow medical spending. These could include changing how health care is organized and providers are paid to achieve greater value for health care dollars and better health outcomes.28 The government also could tackle rising prescription drug costs29 and use antitrust laws to combat the growing concentration of insurer and provider markets.30

 

 

The Curious Case of Reinsurance

https://www.thinkrevivehealth.com/blog/curious-case-reinsurance

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Although much of the Affordable Care Act has been contentious, one provision that has bipartisan support as well as proven efficacy is reinsurance. Simply put, reinsurance is insurance for health insurance companies. It essentially provides individual and small-group insurers “coverage” purchased from the federal government to protect against risk of high cost enrollees. Importantly, reinsurance is a market stabilization mechanism. It protects against risk, keeps premiums increases at bay, and encourages market competition in the individual insurance market.

Unfortunately, it’s also a temporary solution. In the ACA, the “innovation” waiver was only designed to be active for three years, 2014 through 2016. In March 2017, former Secretary Price issued a letter to states reiterating the law’s key requirements for “innovation” waivers and offered states assistance in the development and implementation of innovation programs. It’s still up in the air how the waiver will be interpreted, but for now states should take the waiver on its face and consider ways in which the waiver can make improvements to their healthcare markets.

It’s no secret that the individual market is not thriving. Although few states have signaled an interest in using reinsurance programs, recent exits from the individual insurance market like Aetna and Humana may encourage more states to consider waivers to stabilize these markets.

Below are a few states that decided to enact reinsurance programs:

Alaska was the first state to try on the program. With a small population and massive size, it’s no surprise the state has the highest premiums in the country. Adopting the reinsurance program kept premium hikes at bay, a 7% increase versus the expected 42%. In 2018, the federal government will fund $48M in reinsurance and the state will pay $11M.

Minnesota also approved a reinsurance program of $600M through shifting funds that would otherwise come from its MinnesotaCare program for low-income residents. The hope is the program will have an immediate effect on premium affordability for consumers in 2018, but it has been widely hailed as a semi-bipartisan solution.

Iowa is seeking to alter multiple ACA requirements, with the threat of having no insurers participate in the marketplace in 2018. Despite a large and dominant Blue Cross plan, Iowa is proposing several changes to the insurance marketplace. Their Iowa PSM plan would cost around $304M, $220M of tax credits and the remaining to pay for reinsurance.

Other states are considering the possibility but their buy-in will likely depend on how health reform policy changes shake out. And the latest news out of Washington, D.C. indicates a quick resolution or a clean solution isn’t likely.

So, what does all of this mean? A few things:

  1. The rising cost of health insurance premiums directly affects the ability of small businesses and self-employed workers to provide or obtain healthcare coverage.
  2. State-sponsored reinsurance programs that target health insurance markets for small groups and individuals make insurance more affordable and accessible.
  3. If reinsurance continues to expand to other states, new (or returning entrants) to the individual and small-group market can be expected to expand as well.

Whether you’re a health system, a health plan, or a health services organization, the opportunity for reinsurance to drive down premium costs and increase market competition directly impact your business. The revitalization of the individual market has direct impact on managed care, hospital operations, and access to care for patients. Keep an ear to the ground and watch this trend closely, especially as the open enrollment period approaches.

 

 

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

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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

 

 

Healthcare Triage News: Ending Risk Adjustment Payments Will Further Undermine Obamacare

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/healthcare-triage-ending-risk-adjustment-payments-will-further-undermine-obamacare/

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How Policy, Business Decisions in Iowa Led to Higher Premiums

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/policy-decisions-iowa?omnicid=EALERT%%jobid%%&mid=%%emailaddr%%

Map of Iowa where premiums are higher due to policy decisions

This year, Iowa’s legislature took the extraordinary step of abdicating the state’s authority to regulate health insurance products. The bill, enacted in April, exempts health plans offered by the state’s Farm Bureau from state and federal insurance regulation, including Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions designed to protect people with preexisting conditions and provide a minimum standard of benefits.

Proponents argue that such a law is needed to provide individual market consumers with cheaper health plan options than available under the ACA. Critics point out that younger, healthier consumers are most likely to benefit from these plans. And while details haven’t been provided yet, the Farm Bureau plans are expected to be medically underwritten, and not cover the ACA’s minimum set of benefits. As a result, older Iowans, those with preexisting conditions, and those who need comprehensive coverage are unlikely to find these plans affordable or attractive. And many could be denied enrollment outright. As enrollment in the ACA-compliant individual market becomes older and sicker, marketplace consumers who do not qualify for the ACA’s income-related premium subsidies will face increasingly higher premiums.

Iowa’s Farm Bureau statute is making a bad situation worse for the state’s individual market. Thanks to a number of decisions by state policymakers and the dominant insurance company – Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield – premiums in the state’s individual market are already among the highest in the country, with an average annual marketplace plan premium in excess of $10,000 in 2018.

A Study of Market Failure: Iowa’s Individual Health Insurance Market

The current dismal state of the ACA individual market in Iowa was not a foregone conclusion. In 2014, when the marketplaces launched, Iowa had four insurers competing in the ACA’s marketplace. In 2018, only one insurer is selling ACA-compliant health plans; it agreed to do so only after implementing an average 50 percent increase to unsubsidized premiums.

Iowa’s marketplace enrollment has also lagged that of other states. As of 2016, only 20 percent of eligible Iowans had enrolled (by comparison, that number was 40 percent in Illinois, 43 percent in Missouri, and 57 percent in Maine). Iowa is an outlier for a critical reason. Wellmark BlueCross BlueShield declined to participate in the marketplace for the first three years, entered only briefly in 2017 and then declined to participate in 2018, but is returning to the market in 2019. The insurer also maintained a large block of pre-ACA grandfathered and transitional, or “grandmothered,” health plans (see table).

Because the enrollees in these plans must pass a health screen before being allowed to enroll, they are relatively healthy. Because Wellmark was able to hang on to these healthy enrollees, the pool of people available for the ACA-compliant market was much smaller and sicker than it otherwise would have been.

Affordable Care Act Grandfathered and Grandmothered Health Plans
Grandfathered health plans Policies in effect before the March 2010  enactment of the ACA;  not subject to ACA standards and protections. Although these policies can be renewed indefinitely as long as they do not undergo substantial changes, they can’t be newly issued.
Grandmothered (transitional) health plans Policies issued after the ACA’s 2010 enactment but before 2014. Policies are not required to meet critical ACA protections.

Grandfathered and Grandmothered Policies: Policy and Business Choices with Long-Term Consequences

Due to the transitional nature of the individual market and the high administrative costs of maintaining grandfathered health plans, many insurers — other than Wellmark — discontinued these products over time. And unlike several states that prohibited these policies in order to ensure a healthier, more stable individual market, Iowa’s leadership embraced the Obama administration’s decision to allow the renewal of grandmothered health plans. Iowa stands out even among states that did not ban such plans:  an estimated 38,000 people remained in grandmothered policies as late as 2018. Indeed, approximately 60 percent of Iowans buying insurance on their own stayed with pre-ACA grandfathered or grandmothered health plans.

Left with a smaller and sicker pool of enrollees than they had projected, it is therefore not surprising that the insurers remaining in the market needed significant premium increases. The premium hike implemented in 2018 likely drove as many as 26,000 Iowans to drop their coverage this year.

Enrollment and Premiums Had Iowa Taken a Different Path

What if Iowa had taken a different path? If Wellmark had, like many other insurers, discontinued its grandfathered policies, and if the state had prohibited grandmothered plans, the individual market would be a lot healthier than it is today. In fact, doing so would have added up to 85,000 people to Iowa’s ACA-compliant market, according to a new estimate by Wakely Consulting Group. Those added enrollees, because they are relatively healthy, would have reduced average premiums for ACA-compliant plans by up to 18 percent (see table).1

Enrollment and Premiums in ACA-Compliant Market Due to Improved Risk Pool
  Without Grandfathered Plans Without Grandmothered Plans Without Grandfathered or Grandmothered Plans
Total change in ACA-compliant enrollment +25,000 to 40,000 +30,000 to 45,000 +55,000 to 85,000
Change in premiums -5% to -12% -5% to -12% -8% to -18%

Analysis by Wakely Consulting Group. Numbers have been rounded.

Looking Ahead

Iowa’s experience offers important lessons. The more the individual market is segmented between healthy and the less-healthy consumers, the more likely unsubsidized enrollees are to face unaffordable premiums. Federal proposals such as those to expand the availability of short-term and association health plans, to the extent they are not limited by state policies, could result in more state individual markets resembling Iowa’s. The primary losers in such a scenario are the working middle-class consumers: entrepreneurs who run their own businesses, freelancers and consultants, farmers and ranchers, and early retirees who earn too much to qualify for the ACA’s premium subsidies.

State leaders can protect these families by adopting policies that will expand the risk pool and maintain a balance between healthy and less-healthy enrollees. A number of states have already done so, through state-level reinsurance programs, expanded annual enrollment opportunities, and limits on short-term and association health plans. It’s not too late for other states to follow their lead.

 

 

States Take the Lead on Reinsurance to Stabilize the ACA Marketplaces

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2018/may/reinsurance-to-stabilize-marketplaces?omnicid=EALERT1408707&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

 

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Recent actions by Congress and the Trump administration are likely to disrupt Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces in 2019, leading to higher premiums for individuals and families. These actions include Congress’ termination of financial penalties for failing to obtain health insurance and the administration’s resistance to paying cost-sharing reductions for low-income purchasers of marketplace coverage, its encouragement of the sale of short-term policies and association health plans, and its defunding of advertising and outreach in federally facilitated marketplaces. Recent estimates suggest that there have already been small but significant declines in coverage.

A total collapse of ACA marketplaces is unlikely because of continuing federal subsidies for the purchase of insurance by individuals with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. But those not eligible for subsidies may face higher premiums in some states, and some may be forced to forgo coverage. Those who remain in the market may be sicker than average, leading to a higher-risk pool and fueling premium increases.

A key way to mitigate the adverse effects of these recent policies is by offering reinsurance, a policy that is garnering bipartisan support at the federal and state levels.

What Is Reinsurance?

Reinsurance was a critical feature of ACA marketplaces in their first three years. The marketplaces were new, and insurers faced considerable uncertainty about the health status of enrollees. The law thus offered insurers some protection against unexpectedly high claims through a reinsurance program. Reinsurance protects insurers by limiting their exposure to very high, unpredictable medical expenses incurred by their members by covering some of those expenses when they exceed a certain threshold. For example, the ACA stipulated that insurers with claims costs that exceeded a threshold amount for a particular individual — $45,000 in 2014 — qualified for reinsurance payments for 100 percent of the excess up to $250,000. The program was financed by fees on both individual and employer plans, including self-insured employers, and was thus deficit neutral. It is estimated that reinsurance reduced average premiums in the marketplaces by as much as 14 percent.

The ACA legislation phased down the reinsurance program over 2014–2016 since it was assumed that as insurers gained more familiarity with enrollees, they could price their products with greater certainty. After the program ended in 2016, premiums rose in 2017 more sharply than they had in prior years, an increase that was partly attributed to the loss of reinsurance.

Industry stakeholders and health policy experts have suggested that reinsurance could stabilize the individual market. Researchers Chrissy Eibner and Jody Liu of RAND estimated that reinstating the reinsurance program could reduce premiums in the marketplaces by 3.9 percent to 19.3 percent in 2020, depending on the generosity of the program. Because lower premiums also reduce what the federal government spends on tax credits, the researchers projected federal deficit savings of $2.9 billion to $13.1 billion. However, the researchers also assume that some of those fees ultimately would be passed on to people enrolled in private plans.

Federal reinsurance programs have appeared in a number of recent Congressional bills. Last year, ACA repeal-and-replace bills included reinsurance programs for the individual market that would be financed directly by the federal government. Senators Susan Collins (R–Maine) and Bill Nelson (D–Fla.) introduced a bill with a similarly structured reinsurance program at the end of 2017. And a recently introduced bill from Senators Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.) and Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) proposing that a Medicare plan be offered through the marketplaces and by employers also includes a reinsurance program.

Some of these proposals would fund reinsurance through upfront federal expenditures, rather than charging fees to insurers. Deficit reductions could be lower under this scenario, but may still be possible because the federal expenditures on reinsurance would be offset by savings on lower tax credit expenditures as premiums fall. However, the RAND researchers find that the cost to taxpayers would be about the same under both approaches, since insurers would likely pass on fees to their customers in the form of higher premiums.

States Take the Lead

In the absence of consensus in Congress on how to strengthen the marketplaces, several states have secured, or are seeking, approval from the federal government to establish state-based reinsurance programs through the ACA’s innovation waiver program. Under the waiver program, states can make changes to their marketplaces as long as they cover at least the same number of people and maintain the same levels of affordability. Reinsurance has been the most common innovation pursued by states.

Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon have received federal approval to establish reinsurance programs. There are notable differences in their approaches:

  • In Alaska, medical claims for individuals with at least one of 33 high-cost conditions are covered by the Alaska Reinsurance Program. The program was responsible for preventing the state’s last remaining insurer from leaving the individual market in 2017.
  • In Minnesota, the reinsurance program covers 80 percent of claims for individuals up to $250,000 once a $50,000 threshold is passed. For the 2018 plan year, insurers submitted two sets of premiums, one assuming reinsurance and one without it. The rates accounting for reinsurance were approximately 20 percent lower.
  • Oregon’s waiver application sought approval for a program that would reimburse 50 percent of claims between a yet-to-be-established threshold up to $1 million. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved the proposal in October 2017.

Six more states have passed legislation or submitted applications to establish reinsurance programs.

  • On May 9, Maine became the latest state to submit a waiver application to the federal government seeking funding for a state-based reinsurance program. Earlier this year on April 18, Wisconsin also submitted a waiver application for a reinsurance program.
  • New Hampshire and Louisiana are developing similar applications, and New Jersey and Maryland passed legislation in April to establish state-operated reinsurance programs.

Experience with reinsurance programs clearly demonstrates their efficacy in reducing health insurance premiums in the private individual market. Implemented at the federal level, such programs also reduce federal spending and deficits. Though enterprising states are moving forward with these initiatives, a more comprehensive national effort to help private insurers manage unpredictable risks in individual health insurance markets has enduring appeal.

 

 

What’s Next for the ACA and the People It Covers?

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2017/mar/whats-next-for-the-aca-and-the-people-it-covers?omnicid=EALERT1187962&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

If Republicans are unable to revive last week’s failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the nation will need to turn back to ensuring the long-term success of the law. Decisions made by the Trump administration and Congress as well as state policymakers over the next few years will help determine how many people the ACA covers, how affordable the coverage is, and its cost to federal and state governments. Such decisions include whether and how the administration will use its executive authority to sustain, or undermine, the law’s key provisions, and how Congress might ensure the stability of individual health insurance markets nationwide.

Policymakers will need to keep in mind what’s at stake: the health and well-being of real people with real health care problems. The ACA has enabled more than 30 million Americans to get health insurance or to purchase more valuable coverage. Provisions of the law aimed at improving the delivery system have reduced the number of people treated in hospitals who have to be readmitted for more care, and have contributed to a slowdown in the rate of growth in health care costs. As elected and executive branch officials contemplate their choices, they should consider these human benefits—and the consequences of jeopardizing them.