2019 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

Iowa has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market policies this year. Next year they'll have two, as Wellmark has decided to Hokey Pokey their way back onto the exchange again in 2019...but since they weren't around this year, there's no current policy premiums to measure any increase (or decrease) against.

That leaves Medica. Here's what they had to say about their 2019 rates back in June:

Medica, the sole carrier now selling individual health insurance policies in Iowa, plans to raise its 2019 premiums by less than a tenth as much as it did for 2018.

Medica raised its Iowa health insurance premiums by a staggering average of 57 percent for 2018. It was the steepest such health insurance increase in Iowa history. Company leaders said last summer they needed the higher premiums to stay in the market. But this time around, the Minnesota-based carrier is planning to raise Iowa premiums by an average of less than 5.6 percent, state regulators disclosed Wednesday.

 Back in June, Washington State delivered the bad news: They were expecting 2019 ACA-compliant premiums to increase by another 19.1% (due primarily to this year's sabotage of the law by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans) on top of this year's 36% increase (10 points of which was due specifically to Trump's CSR reimbursement cut-off).

Today, Washington insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler announced the approved 2019 premium changes, and while the news certainly isn't great, it's not quite as bad as expected earlier this summer:

Reed O'Conner, the hard-right wing judge presiding over the idiotic #TexasFoldEm lawsuit which could potentially wipe out the Affordable Care Act as soon as January 1st, has been radio silent for the past week since he heard oral arguments over the case from the dueling bands of state Attorneys General.

However, if Tim Jost's description of how that hearing went is anything to go by, it's looking pretty ominous:

To enter the Fort Worth Courtroom of Judge Reed O’Connor on September 5, 2018, was to leave the real world.  The Affordable Care Act was once again on trial.  At stake was access to health care for the 20 million Americans who have gained coverage through the ACA, affordable coverage for 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, and preventive services coverage for 44 million Medicare beneficiaries.

 

Last Friday I went on a bit of a rant, irritated about the "EXCLUSIVE!" label slapped on a story from the AP in which they "broke" the news that I've been reporting on here at ACASignups.net for several months: That ACA-compliant individual market healthcare policy premiums are only going up around 3-4% on average next year. I found it even more noteworthy that the AP's analysis (which was actually done for them by the Avalere Health consulting firm) matched up with my own analysis almost perfectly:

Hmmm...OK, this is rather curious.

New Mexico was one of the earlier states to post their initial, requested 2019 ACA individual market premium hikes back in June. At the time, the five carriers asked for rate increases ranging from a slight drop (-0.4% for Molina) to as high as an 18.5% increase for Presbyterian Health, which is currently only offering off-exchange policies this year. Based on their preliminary filings, New Mexico was looking at a weighted average increase of around 10.0% next year, which would have been more like 4% if not for this years sabotage efforts by Trump and the GOP (mandate repeal & expansion of #ShortAssPlans):

AP headline this morning:

AP Exclusive: Modest premium hikes as 'Obamacare' stabilizes

Millions of people covered under the Affordable Care Act will see only modest premium increases next year, and some will get price cuts. That's the conclusion from an exclusive analysis of the besieged but resilient program, which still sparks deep divisions heading into this year's midterm elections.

The Associated Press and the consulting firm Avalere Health crunched available state data and found that "Obamacare's" health insurance marketplaces seem to be stabilizing after two years of sharp premium hikes. And the exodus of insurers from the program has halted, even reversed somewhat, with more consumer choices for 2019.

Normally at this point in the year I only do full rate hike write-ups for states when their approved rate changes are made public by insurance regulators. I'm making an exception for Texas, however, because my preliminary analysis of the statewide average premium changes back in June was missing a huge portion of the market--I only had around half the ACA individual market accounted for, and I repeatedly warned that the missing enrollment and rate change data could easily skew the statewide average higher or lower.

Well, it's early September now, and not only do I have access to pretty much all of the missing data now, some of the rate filings have changed significantly as well. At the time, I estimated Texas carriers as requesting average rate increases of just 1.5% overall, with them dropping around 10.6% if not for the ACA's individual mandate being repealed and Trump's expansion of #ShortAssPlans.

I received a tip about this early this morning...which, unfortunately, I was unable to scoop anyone with due to being bogged down/caught up with the #TexasFoldEm drama.

As a result, it looks like Shelby Livingston of Modern Healthcare was first to post about it:

Montana insurer wins lawsuit against feds over unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments

Several health insurers have sued the U.S. government over its failure to make cost-sharing reduction payments that help lower healthcare costs for certain consumers. One just scored the first victory. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of Montana Health Co-op, which sued the federal government for $5.3 million in unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments, finding that the government violated its obligation under the Affordable Care Act when it stopped paying the CSRs in October 2017."

The rest of the article is behind a paywall, but the gist of it is as follows:

 

Welp. This doesn't look good. As I noted earlier this afternoon, the insane #TexasFoldEm lawsuit held their oral arguments today, and as expected, the Republican-appointed judge in the case, Reed O'Connor, isn't exactly a fan of the ACA. Paul Demko lays out the bottom line in Politico:

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, vigorously questioned attorneys during the three-hour hearing but gave no indication when he would rule.

Lawyers for the Trump administration partially agreed with the red states' argument, concluding that the removal of Obamacare's individual mandate requires striking down the law's insurance provisions, including protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.

But the administration disagreed on the need for immediate action, arguing that any remedies should not be applied until next year.

I noted this back in June, and the numbers are virtually identical today:

In June 2018, President Trump’s administration announced – as part of a lawsuit known as Texas v. United States, brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general – it will no longer defend the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Yes, this is the #TexasFoldEm case which has oral arguments happening even as I'm typing this.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) recently introduced a new bill which, while it has zero chance of actually passing (or even being voted on) neatly tackles not one but two different types of Republican sabotage of the Affordable Care Act: The expansion of short-term plans being pushed hard by Donald Trump and the elimination of pre-existing condition protections being pushed hard by 20 GOP Attorneys General in the idiotic #TexasFoldEm case. Per Dylan Scott in Vox last week:

Senate Democrats are preparing a long-shot procedural maneuver to reverse new Trump administration regulations that they say would sabotage the Affordable Care Act by expanding “junk” insurance that isn’t obligated to cover preexisting conditions.

Rhode Island is kind of an interesting state this year. The smallest state geographically and one of the smallest population-wise, they only have two carriers offering individual market coverage: Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan. Way back in May both carriers submitted their preliminary 2019 ACA policy rate increase requests, averaging around 9.7% overall. What's most noteworthy is that unlike most other states, both carriers are mostly blowing off 2018 ACA sabotage factors like mandate repeal and #ShortAssPlans. Blue Cross isn't adding anything to account for the negative risk pool impact, while Neighborhood (which holds slightly more than half of the market share) is only tacking on about 2% in response.

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