Short-Term Plans Could Bring Long-Term Risks to California’s Individual Market

https://www.chcf.org/publication/short-term-plans-long-term-risk-california/

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The Trump administration is considering changes to federal rules regulating short-term, limited-duration insurance (“short-term plans”) that could result in the expansion of these plans in California.

This report, written by Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, provides an overview of short-term plans and the current market for these plans in California. It explains how changes to federal policy around short-term plans might affect California’s individual health insurance market and describes policies that various states are pursuing in response to these changes.

Key points include:

  • Short-term plans are exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections. Insurers can deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, not cover certain services, and limit what they will pay for services. For example, many short-term plans currently available in California do not cover maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use services, and outpatient prescription drugs. They also limit the total amount that plans will pay per day in the hospital and for particular services, such as surgeon fees, in addition to imposing a maximum the plan will spend toward claims covered by the policy.
  • Short-term plans are rare right now in California, but that could change. There is only one insurer currently selling approved short-term plans in California, and fewer than 10,000 policies in effect across the state. But if the Trump administration changes federal rules, and there is no change in California law, enrollment in short-term plans is likely to grow. Under these conditions, the Urban Institute projects that over 600,000 Californians would enroll in short-term plans in 2019.
  • Enrollment in short-term plans could contribute to destabilizing Covered California and increasing premiums. Short-term plans are likely to siphon off healthier and younger consumers from Covered California, which would increase premiums for those remaining in the ACA-compliant market.
  • States are taking action. Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have taken steps to ensure that short-term plans don’t destabilize their individual health insurance markets. A bill is currently pending in the California legislature banning short-term plans altogether.

The full report is available under Related Materials below.

 

Health Care’s New ‘Skinny Plans’: Winners and Losers

https://www.wsj.com/articles/health-cares-new-skinny-plans-winners-and-losers-1524654000

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Trump’s ‘skinny plans’ offer a cheaper alternative to the Affordable Care Act, but may have far less coverage.

 

New, more-limited health plans may draw consumers away from Affordable Care Act coverage and drive up prices on insurance sold in the health law’s marketplaces. These “skinny” plans offer lower premiums, making them an attractive alternative for young, healthy buyers.

New, more-limited health plans may draw consumers away from Affordable Care Act coverage and drive up prices on insurance sold in the health law’s marketplaces.

These “skinny” plans offer lower premiums, making them an attractive alternative for young, healthy buyers.

‘What The Health?’ It’s Nerd Week

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ It’s Nerd Week

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The Trump administration this week issued the rules governing next year’s Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, and they make some potentially large changes that could result in higher premiums and fewer benefits.

Meanwhile, states are going different ways in addressing the health insurance markets in their states in response to the federal activity. And House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement — leaving an intellectual void among House Republicans when it comes to health care.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are:

  • Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News
  • Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal
  • Sarah Kliff of Vox.com
  • Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The federal rules for the ACA’s marketplaces could dramatically alter how state regulators determine what plan benefits must be covered.
  • Those rules also change some conditions allowing people to qualify for exemptions to the requirement to have coverage — and they make those exemptions retroactive to 2017. So, some people who opted not to buy insurance and paid a penalty for 2017 may be able to file for refunds from the government.
  • Insurance companies are concerned about a number of the new provisions, including those that might drive healthy consumers away from the marketplaces and alter how insurers are compensated for having unusually high numbers of expensive customers.
  • An announcement from the White House this week said the administration is hoping to extend the work requirements that some states are seeking for Medicaid to other safety-net programs.
  • California and Maryland are among the states looking at ways to shore up their individual insurance markets in light of the changes being made at the federal level.

 

The politics of ACA rate hikes will be 2016 in reverse

https://www.axios.com/politics-aca-rate-hikes-2016-in-reverse-63e401ef-03b7-4c11-a2b3-7410e1322c63.html

Protester holds sign saying "ACA Saves Lives"

We are about to see a replay of the 2016 election fight over premium increases, but this time in reverse. Last time, it was the Republicans hammering Democrats for the rate hikes. This time, it will be Democrats accusing Republicans of driving up premiums by sabotaging the Affordable Care Act.

What to watch: It’s going to be a balancing act for the Democrats. They can (and will) score political points by blaming Republicans for the coming premium increases, but another campaign debate about rising premiums could also undermine the ACA by focusing on its continuing problems.

In 2016, fear of rising premiums jumped the individual market, and a majority of Americans came to believe that rising premiums were somehow affecting them when only a small share of the public was impacted. That undermined the ACA and may have affected the election.

This time, Democrats will be on the offensive, buttressed by polling that shows the public sees Republicans and President Trump owning the ACA’s problems. Democrats are sure to call out Republicans and the administration for steps they have taken to undermine the law.

These include:

  • Eliminating the penalty for not buying insurance.
  • Failing to pass stabilization legislation.
  • Developing regulations to allow the sale of short-term policies and the wider sale of association health plans.

Taken together, these actions provide more options for the healthy, but will drive up rates overall.

Reality check: Last year, far more Americans came to believe they were affected by premiums increases than the relatively small number of unsubsidized people in the non-group market who were actually affected.

Our August 2017 tracking poll showed that fully 60% of the American people believed they were negatively affected by the premium increases, when in reality, just a sliver of the public — the unsubsidized people in the individual health insurance market — were actually affected.

The numbers that matter, per Kaiser Family Foundation estimates:

  • Affected: 6.7 million
  • Unaffected: 319 million

No doubt the broader public’s fears about rising premiums fueled cynicism about the ACA. Some political scientists say it contributed to the Republican victory in 2016.  In fact, premiums for most Americans with private coverage have been growing at a 3% clip, a historically moderate level.

The bottom line: As the midterms approach, Republicans’ first impulse may be to attack the law to rev up their base as they have done before. The tradeoff they face is that they now own the ACA in the eyes of the public, including the problem of rising premiums which they will have helped to create.

And Democrats now have a chance to score political points on the ACA for the first time — but the risk is a disproportionate public reaction, much like in 2016, that undermines the law they worked so hard to pass.

 

 

Five Worrisome Trends in Healthcare

https://www.medpagetoday.com/publichealthpolicy/healthpolicy/72001?xid=fb_o_

healthcare; insurance; drugs; drug companies; Government-run Insurance Program Sure to Backfire | iHaveNet.com

A reckoning is coming, outgoing BlueCross executive says.

A reckoning is coming to American healthcare, said Chester Burrell, outgoing CEO of the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health plan, here at the annual meeting of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Burrell, speaking on Friday, told the audience there are five things physicians should worry about, “because they worry me”:

1. The effects of the recently passed tax bill. “If the full effect of this tax cut is experienced, then the federal debt will go above 100% of GDP [gross domestic product] and will become the highest it’s been since World War II,” said Burrell. That may be OK while the economy is strong, “but we’ve got a huge problem if it ever turns and goes back into recession mode,” he said. “This will stimulate higher interest rates, and higher interest rates will crowd out funding in the federal government for initiatives that are needed,” including those in healthcare.

Burrell noted that 74 million people are currently covered by Medicaid, 60 million by Medicare, and 10 million by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while another 10 million people are getting federally subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance exchanges. “What happens when interest’s demand on federal revenue starts to crowd out future investment in these government programs that provide healthcare for tens of millions of Americans?”

2. The increasing obesity problem. “Thirty percent of the U.S. population is obese; 70% of the total population are either obese or overweight,” said Burrell. “There is an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and coronary artery disease coming from those demographics, and Baby Boomers will see these things in full flower in the next 10 years as they move fully into Medicare.”

3. The “congealing” of the U.S. healthcare system. This is occurring in two ways, Burrell said. First, “you’ll see large integrated delivery systems [being] built around academic medical centers — very good quality care [but] 50%-100% more expensive than the community average.”

To see how this affects patients, take a family of four — a 40-year-old dad, 33-year-old mom, and two teenage kids — who are buying a health insurance policy from CareFirst via the ACA exchange, with no subsidy. “The cost for their premium and deductibles, copays, and coinsurance [would be] $33,000,” he said. But if all of the care were provided by academic medical centers? “$60,000,” he said. “What these big systems are doing is consolidating community hospitals and independent physician groups, and creating oligopolies.”

Another way the system is “congealing” is the emergence of specialty practices that are backed by private equity companies, said Burrell. “The largest urology group in our area was bought by a private equity firm. How do they make money? They increase fees. There is not an issue on quality but there is a profound issue on costs.”

4. The undermining of the private healthcare market. “Just recently, we have gotten rid of the individual mandate, and the [cost-sharing reduction] subsidies that were [expected to be] in the omnibus bill … were taken out of the bill,” he said. And state governments are now developing alternatives to the ACA such as short-term duration insurance policies — originally designed to last only 3 months but now being pushed up to a year, with the possibility of renewal — that don’t have to adhere to ACA coverage requirements, said Burrell.

5. The lackluster performance of new payment models. “Despite the innovation fostering under [Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation] programs — the whole idea was to create a series of initiatives that might show the wave of the future — ACOs [accountable care organizations] and the like don’t show the promise intended for them, and there is no new model one could say is demonstrably more successful,” he said.

“So beware — there’s a reckoning coming,” Burrell said. “Maybe change occurs only when there is a rip-roaring crisis; we’re coming to it.” Part of the issue is cost: “As carbon dioxide is to global warming, cost is to healthcare. We deal with it every day … We face a future where cutbacks in funding could dramatically affect accessibility of care.”

“Does that mean we move to move single-payer, some major repositioning?” he said. “I don’t know, but in 35 years in this field, I’ve never experienced a time quite like this … Be vigilant, be involved, be committed to serving these populations.”

What The Health? VA Secretary Out, Privatization In?

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ VA Secretary Out, Privatization In?

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David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, was fired Wednesday night by President Donald Trump. To replace him, Trump will nominate his White House physician, naval Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson. Shulkin, however, is not going quietly. He took to The New York Times op-ed page to claim he was pushed out by those who want to privatize VA health services for profit.

Meanwhile, two more states, Iowa and Utah, passed legislation that would sidestep some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Iowa wants to allow the sale of health plans that cover fewer benefits — or restrict coverage for people with preexisting health conditions. Utah wants to expand Medicaid to those higher up the income scale — but not as high as prescribed by the ACA.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Anna Edney of Bloomberg News, Sarah Kliff of Vox.com and Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • If Shulkin is right that the administration is keen on privatizing the VA, would it move to something akin to the Medicaid managed-care systems that many states have set up?
  • Veterans groups haven’t yet shown their cards on whether they think Jackson is a suitable choice to replace Shulkin.
  • Iowa is poised to allow farmers groups to offer health plans that could sidestep some of the consumer protections in the federal Affordable Care Act, such as requiring that preexisting conditions be covered. Tennessee has a program similar to what Iowa is implementing, and some consumer groups have complained it pulls healthy individuals out of the ACA marketplace and drives up premiums for those who remain.
  • Utah’s request for a federal waiver so that it can offer a Medicaid expansion program to people earning up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level — and not the 138 percent included in the ACA — will show whether the Trump administration has a different standard than the Obama administration. Obama officials rejected partial Medicaid expansion requests.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that offers provisions to help middle-income customers buying insurance on the ACA marketplace. But it suggests Democrats are still not sure what is the best health care strategy heading into the midterm elections.

 

State Regulation of Coverage Options Outside of the Affordable Care Act: Limiting the Risk to the Individual Market

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2018/mar/state-regulation-coverage-options-outside-aca?omnicid=EALERT1377329&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

Abstract

  • Issue: Certain forms of individual health coverage are not required to comply with the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These “alternative coverage arrangements” — including transitional policies, short-term plans, health care sharing ministries, and association health plans — tend to have lower upfront costs and offer far fewer benefits than ACA-compliant insurance. While appealing to some healthy individuals, they are often unattractive, or unavailable, to people in less-than-perfect health. By leveraging their regulatory advantages to enroll healthy individuals, these alternatives to marketplace coverage may contribute to a smaller, sicker, and less stable ACA-compliant market. The Trump administration recently has acted to reduce federal barriers to these arrangements.
  • Goal: To understand how states regulate coverage arrangements that do not comply with the ACA’s individual health insurance market reforms.
  • Methods: Analysis of the applicable laws, regulations, and guidance of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Findings and Conclusions: No state’s regulatory framework fully protects the individual market from adverse selection by the alternative coverage arrangements studied. However, states have the authority to ensure a level playing field among coverage options to promote market stability.

Background

Recent federal actions have created the potential for instability in the individual health insurance market, through which approximately 18 million Americans currently purchase their health insurance coverage.1 In October 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to encourage the sale of health insurance products that do not comply with the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).2 In December, Congress repealed, effective in 2019, the tax penalty for individuals who can afford to maintain health insurance coverage but decline to do so (the individual mandate penalty).3

Prior to health reform, insurers in the individual market had wide latitude to deny coverage, charge an unaffordable premium, or limit benefits based on a person’s medical history. As a consequence, individual market health insurance routinely proved inadequate for consumers’ health and financial needs and was often inaccessible to those with even minor health problems.4 The ACA established numerous consumer protections designed to make it easier for consumers in the individual market to access affordable, adequate health insurance. The law requires insurers that sell individual health insurance to offer coverage to all individuals regardless of health status, requires coverage of preexisting conditions, and prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums based on a person’s medical history or gender. It also includes limits on cost-sharing and requires insurers to cover a minimum set of essential health benefits, including coverage for mental and behavioral health care, prescription drugs, and maternity services.

For these consumer protections to work as intended and to keep premiums affordable, they need to be paired with policies that encourage a broad and balanced risk pool. To promote continuous enrollment by the sick and healthy alike, the ACA imposes an individual mandate and provides financial assistance to make coverage more affordable for those with lower and moderate incomes. Importantly, the ACA also defines what types of coverage were sufficiently protective for purposes of satisfying the individual mandate. To prevent cherry-picking of individuals who are low health risks, it also requires all individual market insurers to play by the same rules.

In many ways, the ACA’s regulatory approach to the individual market has proven successful. During the most recent open enrollment period, approximately 11.7 million Americans signed up for coverage through the ACA marketplaces (also called exchanges), most of whom are eligible for subsidies to help with the cost of coverage.5 In turn, improved access to comprehensive individual health insurance under the ACA, along with the expansion of Medicaid, has helped to reduce the uninsured rate by a third, as of 2018, and lower consumers’ average out-of-pocket costs.6 And, despite insurers’ continued uncertainty over the possible repeal of the health law and the Trump administration’s approach to implementing the ACA, analysis showed that, on average, states’ individual markets were stabilizing, with some insurers reaching profitability.7

However, challenges remain. In the past two years, the individual market in most states has seen significant increases in premiums, coupled with decreases in the number of participating insurers.8 While the ACA’s premium subsidies insulate many consumers from these price hikes, many millions of consumers are not eligible for subsidies, and those individuals identify the cost of coverage as a significant barrier to care.9 And though marketplace sign-ups remain stable despite federal policy uncertainty and Trump administration actions seen as undermining the ACA, enrollment remains well below early expectations.10

These challenges are interrelated and can be attributed to many factors. Still, the availability of coverage options that are not compliant with the ACA’s rules, as well as confusion over them, likely has played an important contributing role.

Policy Implications

Although states’ approaches to implementing the ACA can sharply differ, the law’s consumer protections operate nationwide, and nearly all states have taken responsibility for enforcing these reforms in their jurisdictions. The insurance exchanges in most states have proven resilient in the face of significant change and uncertainty, with millions of Americans now able to depend on individual health insurance to protect them both medically and financially.

However, maintaining a stable individual market will become more challenging, thanks to an environment in which healthy consumers are not required to maintain insurance and federal regulations are loosened to promote coverage arrangements likely to weaken insurance risk pools and raise premiums. These developments may incline healthy individuals to look increasingly outside the compliant market for coverage, leaving those who remain to face higher costs and fewer plan choices.68

Based on our review of state laws and standards, it appears that no state maintains a regulatory environment that fully protects its individual health insurance market from being undermined by the alternative coverage options we have identified. However, states continue to be the primary regulators of private health insurance. Although the ACA set a federal floor of consumer protections for insurers that operate in the individual market, it did not curtail states’ power to regulate above these minimum standards and to exercise full authority over coverage arrangements that fall outside the scope of federal insurance law.

How We Conducted This Study

This analysis is based on a review of applicable laws, regulations, and guidance enacted or promulgated prior to February 1, 2018, by each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This review was supplemented by correspondence with state regulators in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

A number of states have taken steps to limit the availability of non-ACA-compliant products and protect against adverse selection. Massachusetts and New York promptly discontinued transitional coverage and effectively prohibit underwritten short-term policies, while several other states tightly restrict the duration of such plans. Significantly, Massachusetts also has its own individual mandate, requiring state residents to maintain coverage that meets minimum standards.69 Other states have begun to explore enactment of similar policies in anticipation of the federal mandate’s 2019 repeal.

On many fronts, states face a federal regulatory approach to the individual market that is significantly different from what was originally envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. In light of these changed circumstances, there may be value for states in considering regulatory options for protecting their individual insurance markets and their insured beneficiaries from the detrimental effects of non-ACA-compliant policies. The decisions states make will likely have a significant impact on their residents’ access to adequate and affordable coverage and on the stability of their individual health insurance markets.