Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Rhode Island is the 5th state (to my knowledge) to officially post their preliminary 2019 individual market rate change requests.

As shown below, things are pretty cut & dry in Rhode Island; they only have 2 carriers participating in the individual market (Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan). BCBSRI is asking for a 10.7% average increase, while Neighborhood is requesting 8.7% overall.

The estimated market share ratios are based on this press release from HealthSourceRI, the state ACA exchange. That doesn't include the final numbers or the off-exchange enrollment, but it should be pretty close, as there are only 2 carriers and their requested increases are so close to begin with it wouldn't make much difference. The weighted average is 9.3%.

Last night I made a big fuss about New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signing a restoration of the ACA's individual mandate penalty into law.

It turns out that the Governor of Vermont also signed the ACA mandate restoration bill I wrote about back in March into law a few days ago as well...but it's not as noteworthy, for several reasons. As Louise Norris reports over at healthinsurance.org:

Vermont governor signs legislation to implement an individual mandate starting in 2020; working group will sort out enforcement details

Last week I noted that the New Jersey state legislature, along with new Governor Phil Murphy, has moved quickly to pass and sign into law a number of critical ACA protection bills, to:

  • Reinstate the ACA's individual mandate penalty,
  • Establish a robust reinsurance program to significantly lower insurance premiums for individual market enrollees,
  • Protect people from out-of-network "balance billing", and
  • Cancel out Trump's expansion of "Association Health Plans"

In addition, New Jersey already outlawed "Short-Term Plans" (and "Surprise Billing") before the ACA was passed anyway.

Well, until today, there was some lingering doubt about the first two bills (which are connected...the reinsurance program would be partly funded by the revenue from the state-level mandate penalty), as Gov. Murphy was reportedly kind of iffy about signing them. As I understand it, he's been supportive of both ideas but is concerned about the potential budget hit in case the mandate penalty revenue doesn't raise enough to cover its share of the reinsurance program.

Apparently it still has to be kicked back to the state Assembly for a final vote, but it appears to be a done deal at last:

The Virginia Senate just passed Medicaid expansion, which three Republicans joining all 19 Democrats voting in favor. The House, which already passed expansion, has to vote again. We'll have more later, but here's the backstory. https://t.co/ldFEb5vYyt

— Jeffrey Young (@JeffYoung) May 30, 2018

There's one downer, of course:

Elections have consequences: To get enough GOP votes, this Medicaid expansion includes a work requirement and premiums above the poverty line, which will cut into coverage gains. Virginia must continue the fight.

— Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) May 30, 2018

*(OK, it's possible that "no one" actually means "everyone except for me.")

Last summer, both houses of the Nevada state legislature quickly and surprisingly passed a full-blown Medicaid Public Option bill:

I wrote about this back in April, but even I didn't think much of it at the time--I assumed it was more of a symbolic proposal than anything, or that it would die in committee at most. The details are important, of course, but assuming they make sense, this is exactly the sort of approach I would recommend in trying to gradually transition to some type of universal single-payer like system. The biggest questions I'd want answered are 1) What type of coverage does Medicaid actually have in Nevada? It varies widely from state to state, so if NV's is pretty comprehensive, awesome, but if it's skimpy, that's not very helpful; 2) What sort of premiums/deductibles/co-pays would buy-in enrollees be looking at?; 3) What sort of impact would this have on the state budget?; and most significantly, 4) How many Nevada doctors/hospitals would accept these enrollees? Remember, the reason a significant chunk of healthcare providers don't accept Medicaid patients is because it only reimburses them around 50¢ on the dollar compared to private insurance.

*(OK, 95%+, anyway)

It isn't often that virtually everyone across the entire healthcare field agrees on anything, and yet here we are. Via Noam Levey of the L.A. Times:

Trump's new insurance rules are panned by nearly every healthcare group that submitted formal comments

More than 95% of healthcare groups that have commented on President Trump’s effort to weaken Obama-era health insurance rules criticized or outright opposed the proposals, according to a Times review of thousands of official comment letters filed with federal agencies.

The extraordinary one-sided outpouring came from more than 300 patient and consumer advocates, physician and nurse organizations and trade groups representing hospitals, clinics and health insurers across the country, the review found.

This post actually has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the Affordable Care Act itself.

Every year I dig through hundreds (thousands?) of insurance premium rate filings for carriers in every state. For the most part I ignore everything except for my core focus area, the Individual Market, although on occasion I also try to run analysis of the Small Group market filings as well. I don't really pay much attention to the Large Group market filings.

However, there's a bunch of other types of health/medical insurance as well, and one which I've written next to nothing about since I started the ACA Signups project is also one which is becoming increasingly important as the Baby Boomer generation retires: Long-Term Care insurance.

To illustrate my point, here are a few recent premium rate increase filings from carriers in Connecticut:

Long-Term Care Rate Filing - Connecticut Life & Health Guaranty Association (Individual)

Rate request: 69 percent increase
Decision: Approved January 9, 2018

UPDATE: Thanks to Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California, for clarifying a few things on some of these bills.

A couple of months ago Louise Norris of healthinsurance.org gave me a heads up about a half-dozen or so healthcare bills, mostly ACA-related, pending in the California state legislature. Some were in the state Senate, some in the state Assembly; some were more along the lines of protecting the ACA from sabotage efforts while others were about expanding upon the law.

Well, today a whole bunch of those bills (as well as a few I didn't even know about earlier) made it a major step further along the line to becoming law. Courtesy of the Health Access CA Twitter feed:

I know this is like the third "It's on the ballot!" post I've written regarding Medicaid expansion in Idaho, but this time it appears to be for real...almost:

BOISE — A Medicaid expansion proposal has passed the signature threshold, officials confirmed on Thursday, but said further review is needed before it gets on the November ballot.

Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane says county clerks across the state have verified roughly 58,000 signatures that organizers submitted earlier this month.

The effort needed at least 56,192 signatures to qualify. However, those signatures must also come from 6 percent of the registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

McGrane says it’ll be up to the state to determine if the signatures meet the legislative district requirements.

Reclaim Idaho, the group that organized the Medicaid expansion effort, did not immediately return a request for comment.

So far, only 4 states have released their preliminary 2019 ACA-compliant individual market premium rate filings: Maryland, Virginia, Vermont and Oregon.

So what's the deal with the other 46 states (+DC)? Well, Louise Norris has sent me the link for this handy 2019 Submission Deadline table from SERFF (the System for Electronic Rates & Forms Filing, a database maintained by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners).

However, it's a bit overly cumbersome for my purposes: It stretches out over 6 full pages, and includes columns for Standalone Dental Plans as well as a bunch of info regarding the Small Group Market. I did used to try tracking Small Group rates as well, but that got to be too difficult to keep up with, and I haven't really done much analysis of standalone dental plans at all. Let's face it: About 90% of the drama, controversy and confusion regarding ACA premiums is all about the individual market.

About a month and a half ago, state legislators in California introduced a bold new "All-Payer" healthcare bill which, had it become law, would have regulated the actual price of various types of medical procedures. As Sarah Kliff explained in Vox at the time:

California is exploring a bold and controversial new plan to rein in health care spending by letting the state government set medical prices.

...Still, California’s new proposal is worth examining as one that steps closer to single-payer — but doesn’t go quite all the way. It’s one plausible step a state could take without any assistance from the Trump administration, as we see more blue states looking for ways to shape the future of their own health care systems.

”I think we have appreciated how much we’ve been able to do with transparency and data, and how much we’ve been able to collect, but we reached the point where we felt like we had to tackle the issue of prices head on,” says Sara Flocks, policy coordinator for the California Labor Federation, which is backing the proposal.

I had actually already written about Vermont doing this back in March, but seeing how it was one of only 2 states (+DC) which didn't allow Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) costs to be loaded onto premiums at all this year, I figured I should mention it here as well. Once again:

  • 20 states went the full #SilverSwitcharoo route (the best option, since it maximizes tax credits for those eligible for them while minimizing the number of unsubsidized enrollees who get hit with the extra CSR load);
  • 16 states went with partial #SilverLoading (the second best option: Subsidized enrollees get bonus assistance, though not as much as in Switch states; more unsubsidized enrollees take the hit, but they aren't hit quite as hard);
  • 6 states went with "Broad Loading", the worst option because everyone gets hit with at least part of the CSR load except for subsidized Silver enrollees;
  • 6 states took a "Mixed" strategy...which is to say, no particular strategy whatsover. The state insurance dept. left it up to each carrier to decide how to handle the CSR issue, and ended up with a hodge podge of the other three
  • 3 states (well, 2 states + DC, anyway) didn't allow CSR costs to be loaded at all. Their carriers have to eat the loss, which makes little sense, but what're ya gonna do?

For a couple of months now, I've been attempting to track a slew of state-based "ACA 2.0" bills slowly winding their way through various state legislatures. However, this is really a bit of a misnomer, since some of these bills aren't so much about expanding the ACA as they are about protecting it from various types of undermining or sabotage from the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans.

In fact, as far as I'm concerned, they really fall into three categories, which line up nicely with my color-coded "3-Legged Stool" metaphor: Blue, Green and Red Leg bills.

Once again: The "Blue Leg" of the Stool covers everything which ACA-compliant individual health insurance carriers are required to include: Guaranteed Issue, Community Rating, 10 Essential Health Benefits, a Minimum 60% Actuarial Value rating, no Annual or Lifetime Caps on coverage, and a long list of mandatory Preventative Services at no out-of-pocket cost when done in-network.

Covered California Launches New Campaign Focused on College Graduates to Make Sure They Get Health Coverage

  • Commencement speakers will remind thousands of new graduates that “life can change in an instant” – making it important for them to have health coverage, so they can get the health care they need as they set out in life.
  • A new video distributed on social platforms will remind graduates who may be losing their health coverage to check out Covered California for affordable options.
  • Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee congratulates graduates and reminds them to protect their futures by getting health insurance.
  • Covered California provided more than 70 campus health centers with materials to educate graduating students about new health insurance options available through Covered California
  • The “special enrollment” campaign for graduates is launching amid new data showing California’s uninsured rate is at an all-time low.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Graduation season is in full bloom and Covered California is joining with commencement speakers throughout the state to remind the over 400,000 graduates and their families not to forget about the importance of health insurance during this busy time of year.

This just in from the Washington State Insurance Commissioner's office...

Eleven health insurers file for 2019 individual market: No bare counties

May 25, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Eleven health insurers filed 88 health plans for Washington state’s individual market yesterday, and all 39 counties will be covered in 2019.

The proposed rate changes are not public until 10 days after the OIC has determined the filings are complete. Release of the proposed rate changes is targeted for June 4. 

“We can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing consumers in every county who need coverage will have access to a health plan in 2019,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “Obviously, how much premiums may change and any increases to out-of-pocket costs are still key concerns, but I’m grateful that we can assure people that coverage is available, regardless of where they live.” 

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