Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

It's not about healthcare. It's not about "freedom". It's not about "tyrrany". It's not about "choice". It's about a tiny cadre of absurdly wealthy plutocrats being upset about a tiny fraction of their hoard being used to help out the least-fortunate among us. Via the Congressional Budget Office (graph via Axios):

Huh. This is kind of odd.

Minnesota's 2018 Open Enrollment Period was a month longer than the official half-length period pushed by HealthCare.Gov, but was still over 2 weeks shorter than it had been in prior years, ending on January 14th, 2018. Even so, they reported a slight increase in year-over-year policy enrollees, ending OE5 with 116,358 QHP selections.

Typically, you'd see the official QHP selection number drop off noticeably by the end of the first quarter...usually by around 13% or so. Roughly 10% of those who select policies don't ever actually pay for their first monthly premium, and another 2-3% generally drop off after only paying for the first couple of months.

I'm not sure how I of all people managed to miss this, but Connect for Health Colorado released their official 2018 Open Enrollment Period report over a week ago:

We released our End of Open Enrollment report this week, our most detailed look at the impact we are having across Colorado. This year, you will see that more of our customers are receiving help through the Advance Premium Tax Credit – 69 percent, compared to 61 percent last year – and the average level of monthly tax credit help climbed to $505 from $369 last year.

Not surprising...the 34% average rate increases (about 6 points of which is due specifically to CSR reimbursement payments being cut off...much lower than most states) meant that a lot more people qualified for tax credits in the first place, and of course the amount of credits went up accordingly...a bit more, actually (37% on average).

Press Release: NY State of Health Releases 2018 Enrollment by Insurer
Mar 14, 2018

Consumer Choice Continues to be a Hallmark of the Marketplace

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 14, 2018) -- NY State of Health, the state’s official health plan Marketplace, today released data showing 2018 health plan enrollment by insurer. Statewide, 12 health insurers offer Qualified Health Plans (QHP) to individuals and 15 health insurers offer coverage to Essential Plan (EP) enrollees through the Marketplace. Ten health insurers participate in all individual market programs offered through NY State of Health allowing consumers a smooth transition if their program eligibility changes. Throughout the 2018 Open Enrollment Period, most consumers had a choice of at least four health insurer options in every county of the State. 

Feast your eyes on the fallout...

The Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2018 (BHCSA) would make several changes to health care laws. It would:

  • Change the state innovation waiver process established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA),
  • Appropriate a total of $30.5 billion for reinsurance programs or invisible high-risk pools in the nongroup insurance market,
  • Appropriate funds for the direct payment for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) through 2021,
  • Allow any enrollee in the nongroup market to purchase a catastrophic plan, and
  • Require some existing funding for operations in the health insurance marketplaces to be used specifically for outreach and enrollment activities in 2019 and 2020.

OK, this is just kind of...odd.

As regular readers will recall, after three years of full 3 month Open Enrollment Periods across every state, last year the Trump Administration slashed the official Open Enrollment Period in half, down to just 6 weeks, from November 1 - January 31 down to November 1 - December 15th.

In response, most of the state-based exchanges announced that they were sticking with a longer period anyway, ranging anywhere from a 7th week all the way out to the full 3 month period, in the case of California, New York and the District of Columbia...each of which kept things going all the way through January 31st as had become the norm.

California even went one step further, passing a state law specifically mandating a 3-month Open Enrollment Period for 2018 and beyond.

Until today, I've been operating on the assumption that they'd be sticking with the November/December/January schedule which had become the default.

Apparently not, however. According to Louise Norris:

via Sam Baker at Axios:

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins have now formally introduced their proposal to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets. The details are about what we anticipated: three years of funding for the law’s cost-sharing payments; three years of funding for a new reinsurance program; and a smattering of new regulatory flexibilities.

What’s next: Alexander and Collins are hoping to get this proposal included in the omnibus spending bill Congress needs to pass this week. We should find out soon whether it's in or out.

I have a lot on my plate today; thankfully, David Anderson is doing a "live-tweet" of the highlights/lowlights. Instead of posting his tweets verbatim, I'm converting them into standard language:

I just did a light analysis of how many people would be helped or hurt by CSR funding in 2019 in Rhode Island, and concluded that at least 28% of exchange enrollees would see their premiums increase if CSR funding was restored, while only perhaps 2-3% would see their premiums drop.

It turns out that over the weekend, my colleague Xpostfactoid did a much deeper analysis of the same situation in Maryland:

So there you have the enrollment results of full-bore on-exchange silver-loading of CSR costs in one state. In all, 49,993 on-exchange enrollees with incomes up to 400% FPL chose plans other than silver. About 48,000 of them were subsidized. That's 31.2% of all enrollees, within striking distance of Aron-Dine's upper bound of 36% for all marketplace enrollees.

HealthSource RI, Rhode Island's ACA exchange, released preliminary 2018 Open Enrollment data awhile ago, but this morning they released their final, official demographic data breakout, and there's a lot going on here:

HealthSource RI sees 5% enrollment increase and nation leading lowest benchmark plan cost
State-based marketplace sees rise in enrollment of “young invincibles”

This is exactly what Dave Anderson, Colin Ballio and I have been talking about for awhile now:

Under the Guise of “Health Insurance Stabilization,” Congress Should Not Axe Financial Help for Low-Wage Families

In negotiations over stabilizing the individual health insurance market, lawmakers are considering slashing federal health care assistance for low- and moderate-income consumers by more than $27 billion a year. In dollars terms, this would be a greater blow than completely eliminating, in one stroke, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the Community Development Block Grant, and federal grant programs for community-based mental health services and substance abuse prevention and treatment.

OK, first take a few minutes to read all of this.

I'll wait.

OK, done? Good. Now read this (via Stephanie Armour of the Wall St. Journal):

Health insurers and the Trump administration face a court decision shortly that will determine whether the government must pay insurers billions of dollars despite Republican efforts to block payments they view as an industry bailout.

Insurers have filed roughly two-dozen lawsuits claiming the federal government reneged on promises it made to pay them under the Affordable Care Act.

...It could also shape the outcome of other insurer lawsuits that would leave the government potentially owing as much as roughly $20 billion in past and future payments. Those cases, legal experts say, amount to the largest civil lawsuits ever.

Yesterday I noted that the GOP is attempting to tack on additional "abortion restriction" language into the proposed ACA stabilization portion of the "must-pass" Omnibus Spending Bill set to be voted on next week. However, the actual wording of the "abortion language" was left a bit vague:

Between the lines: This doesn't solve the partisan dispute over abortion language, as it'd bar plans that offer abortion coverage from receiving federal subsidies. But it hints that there's Republican support behind a set of policy changes that could substantially lower premiums ahead of the 2018 elections.

I wrote an extensive piece about the way abortion coverage is currently handled for ACA exchange policies back in October 2017:

 

Yesterday I came out against the pending ACA stability package because one of the 5 proposed provisions should be a flat-out dealbreaker for Democrats (the abortion ban), while another one is would hurt more people than it helps (CSR funding).

Today, I need to explain the problem with CSR funding in a bit more detail but to also note a new twist which makes it even more complicated...as well as taking note of a sixth provision being thrown into the mix by the GOP which, again, should be a dealbreaker for Democrats.

First up: CSR funding.

I'm on the record as being strongly in favor of a bill recently proposed by House Democrats Frank Pallone, Jr., Richard Neal and Bobby Scott which would repair, strengthen and expand the ACA in a half-dozen ways while also preventing or reversing another half-dozen types of sabotage of the ACA by the Trump Administration. Here's the full list of what would be included in what I've shorthanded "ACA 2.0":

As long as I'm snarking on Washington's exchange for getting so excited over what appear to be pretty minor tweaks (to the average Joe, anyway), I might as well also give a shout-out to Connect for Health Colorado as well, which just posted this tidbit:

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

We took an important step forward this week with our board’s decision to move ahead on building a new eligibility system. With our own system, we will be able to provide customers a better application and enrollment experience and at the same gain more control and predictability for IT expenses.

A simplified path for enrolling with financial help can be expected to help us grow enrollment while getting more Coloradans the Advance Premium Tax Credit and Cost Share Reduction benefits that they are eligible to receive. We will continue to support Health First Colorado (Medicaid) enrollments and ensure that customers are routed to the right program, whether they begin at our site or with the PEAK application.

 

via Caitlin Owens of Axios...

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins have proposed a market stabilization package that would include funding for the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing reduction subsidies for three years, three years of federal reinsurance at $10 billion a year, additional ACA waiver flexibility for states, and expanded eligibility for "copper" plans.

Alexander presented the plan yesterday to America's Health Insurance Plan's board of directors, adding that if Democratic leadership supports the bill, “it’ll be law by the end of next week." Alexander has long said the package should be included on the omnibus spending bill.

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