2019 Rate Hikes

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma is difficult to get a read on. On the one hand, she glories in trashing the ACA every chance she gets while happily endorsing nearly every effort to undermine or sabotage it, including repeal of the individual mandate, slashing the marketing and outreach budgets and so forth. Last year she was even busted trying to (effectively) blackmail the insurance carriers at large by offering to push through CSR reimbursement payment in return for them supporting the GOP's Obamacare repeal bill.

At the same time, she--like Trump's first HHS Secretary, Tom Price--also seems to have a soft spot for one particular type of ACA improvement program: Reinsurance.

When I first analyzed Vermont's 2019 ACA policy rate filings back in May, the state's two ACA carriers, Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP Healthcare, were requesting average premium increases of 7.5% and 10.9% respectively.

Vermont's situation is unusual compared to most other states for a couple of reasons. First of all, VT is one of only two states (Massachusetts is the other one) which has merged their Individual and Small Group market risk pools into one to help stabilize both markets. This is something I wish every state would do, frankly, although it's probably a lot easier to do in deep blue states (and Vermont having such a small population probably made it easier as well).

A few weeks ago, I posted about New Jersey's preliminary 2019 ACA-compliant individual market rate filings. At the time, the official New Jersey Dept. of Banking & Insurance specifically stated that:

  • Because Congressional Republicans repealed the ACA's Individual Mandate Penalty, carriers were planning on increasing 2019 premiums by 12.6% on average, in part to account for the adverse selection which was expected to happen next year.
  • However, thanks to the Democratically-controlled New Jersey state legislature and Governor swiftly reinstating the ACA individual mandate, actual 2019 rate filings are only expected to increase rates an average of 5.8%, saving the average unsubsidized indy market enrollee around $470 apiece next year.
  • Finally, the NJ legislature also passed, and Governor Murphy signed into law, a robust reinsurance bill which, if approved by CMS, is expected to lower unsubsidized 2019 premiums by an additional 15 percentage points, for a final 2019 average premium reduction of around 9.2%.
  • It's also important to understand that New Jersey's portion of the funding for the proposed reinsurance program will be coming from the revenue generated by the reinstated mandate penalty itself.

In my Tennessee 2019 rate filing analysis last month, I noted the good, the bad and the ugly:

  • The good news was that average unsubsidized 2019 ACA individual market premiums were expected to drop by about 5.7% after years of double-digit rate hikes.
  • The bad news was that due specifically to various types of deliberate sabotage by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans (primarily repeal of the individual mandate and expansion of #ShortAssPlans), that 5.7% drop was still a good 12 points or so higher than it otherwise would have been.
  • The ugly news was that due specifically to the Trump Administration's utterly unnecessary decision to freeze Risk Adjustment fund transfers in response to a lawsuit out of New Mexico, 2019 premiums would be hundreds of dollars higher still than they should have been for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee's 113,000 enrollees:

UPDATE: As noted in the comments below, it looks like Anthem won't be expanding to cover the entire state after all. Even so, this is a major improvement in the situation.

Every year, Virginia is the first state out of the gate with their preliminary healthcare premium rate changes for the following year, posting the initial rate requests in early May. For 2019, it originally looked like the carriers were asking for a statewide average increase of 15.2%, but I later corrected this to 13.4%.

However, these were just preliminary numbers. The requests still have to go through the rate review process, and the carriers often make other changes as well before the final deadlines pass.

HERE WE GO AGAIN...

As regular readers know, each year I analyze hundreds of insurance carrier rate filings for the following year, then crunch the numbers to get an estimate of how much average premiums will increase (or in a few cases, decrease!) statewide.

As they also know, last year and again this year I've expanded on this by breaking out the portion of the annual rate increase which can be tied directly to sabotage efforts by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans. For 2018, this boiled down to roughly 17 points of the total nationwide increase being sabotage-related. It varied greatly by state, carrier and plan, but nationally, I estimated that without last year's ACA sabotage efforts, average premiums would have gone up around 11% instead of around 28%.

Annnnnnnnd finally, the least-populated state of them all...which also happens to be suffering from the highest average monthly premiums for unsubsidized individual market enrollees: Wyoming.

There's only a single carrier in the Equality State (seriously...that's their motto; who knew?), Blue Cross Blue Shield. They're actually looking to lower rates by just a smidge (0.25% on average).

However, once again, the Urban Institute projected that there'd be roughly an 18.6% increase factor due to the ACA's individual mandate being repeale and short-term & association plans being expanded by the Trump administration.

Assuming just 2/3 of that to play it safe, that still means that unsubsidized enrollees would have been looking at roughly a 12% drop in their 2019 premiums without those measures...a difference of over $120/month, or a whopping $1,400 more apiece next year. Ouch.

The most noteworthy thing about West Virginia's 2019 filings that I can see is that CareSource is expanding their state coverage from 10 counties to 35 counties, and the confirmation that West Virginia will remain one of the few states sticking with a Broad Load CSR strategy for reasons unknown next year (the state insurance commissioner might change their tune, however, now that CMS has done a complete 180 degree turn and has officially come out in favor of Silver Switching).

In any event, the statewide average premium hike appears to be around 14.9%...but once again, much of this is due to the ACA's individual mandate being repealed and Trump opening the floodgates on #ShortAssPlans.

At $843/month, West Virginia has one of the highest average monthly premiums in the country...and instead of only going up nominally next year, thanks to #ACASabotage, unsubsidized enrollees will likely have to pay a whopping $1,300 more apiece next year.

Utah has four carriers offering ACA-compliant individual market plans. Two of them (BridgeSpan and Regence BCBS) only offered their policies off-exchange this year; I'm not sure what the status is for either one in 2019. I can only find hard enrollment data for one of the four (Regence), so I'm estimating the other three based on a combination of last year's numbers and the total estimated individual market size in Utah from 2017. Because of this, consider the Utah estimates to be even rougher than some other states.

Having said that, there's one interesting extra sabotage factor to consider for the University of Utah rate filing: They note that they've added an extra 10.3% to their 2019 rates specifically tied to last year's Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) cut-off. I presume they chose not to bake the CSR load into their rates this year, but I don't think Utah went the "mixed load" route so who knows?

In any event, as far as I can tell, this means around a 14-point #ACASabotage factor, between CSR load, mandate repeal and #ShortAssPlans.

South Dakota has two ACA indy market carriers, Avera and Sanford. The relative enrollment market shares are based on last year's numbers. The 14.4% #ACASabotage impact assumes 2/3 of the Urban Institute's projections to err on the side of caution.

THe average unsubsidized SD indy market enrollee pays $624/month this year; instead of that dropping by around $68/month, it's expected to increase by $22...for a total monthly difference of $90.

Assuming that's accurate, this means unsubsidized SD residents will be paying over $1,000 more apiece next year than they'd otherwise have to.

The only confusing thing about South Carolina's 2019 rate filings is that I'm not sure whether the "BlueChoice Health Plan" should be rolled in with the main Blue Cross Blue Shield of SC population. Carriers often have multiple listings in the same state for different policy lines, but they're generally listed under the same official corporate name. In this case, "BlueChoice" (which is clearly still part of BCBS) has a completely seaparate listing.

The BCBS filing clearly states the number of enrollees as around 203,000 people. The BlueChoice listing doesn't give a membership number, but appears to be roughly 6,800 people based on the full premium dollars they received in all of 2017 ($53.5 million divided by 12 months, divided by the statewide average of $654/month this year). This doesn't really make much difference, however, since BCBS still holds nearly 99% of the market anyway.

Assuming an 11.5% #ACASabotage factor (mandate repeal + shortassplans), this translates into unsubsidized enrollees having to pay an extra $900 than they'd otherwise have to (a 9.2% rate increase instead of a 2.3% rate drop).

Oklahoma is pretty clear cut: BCBSOK holds nearly all of the ACA-compliant market share, with CommunityCare HMO having a small number of off-exchange enrollees (the numbers are estimates based on last year's figures).

The Urban Institute projected an 18.4% rate increase due to #MandateRepeal and #ShortAssPlans. BCBSOK doesn't go into specifics about the impact, but does list both of these as significant factors. Knocking 1/3 off this projection gives around 12.4%.

Unsubsidized Oklahoma enrollees are paying an average of $694/month in 2018. Without ACA sabotage, they'd likely see this drop to around $595; instead, they're likely looking at paying roughly $681/month, or an additional $1,033 apiece.

North Dakota was one of only two states (the other one was Vermont) which didn't allow their insurance carriers to add any additional premium load into their 2018 rates to account for Donald Trump's cut-off of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments.

In direct response to this, Medica Health Plans dropped out of the ND on-exchange individual market this year to avoid taking the CSR hit. They hung around the off-exchange market, however, and therefore still have about 600 enrollees in the state.

As a result of this, my estimated impact of ACA sabotage efforts by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans has to include the factors from both 2017 and 2018: Cost-Sharing Reduction cut-off (9%) as well as Mandate Repeal and Short-Term Plan expansion (13.8%).

New Hampshire is perhaps the most striking example of both insurance carriers significantly overshooting the mark for 2018 premiums while also proving my point that just because premiums are dropping next year, #ACASabotage is still causing unsubsidized enrollees to pay a lot more than they'd have to otherwise.

All three of the carriers offering ACA policies on New Hampshire's individual market are reducing their 2019 premiums, by anywhere from 7.4% for Harvard Pilgrim to a whopping 15.2% in the case of Ambetter/Celtic.

THe enrollee market share numbers come from the monthly report from the New Hampshire insurance department (I'd love it if every state required one of these...it includes both on and off-exchange enrollees). The "PAP" column refers to NH residents enrolled in their "private option" Medicaid expansion program...but those are still part of the same risk pool as the other enrollees, so they still have to be factored into the market share formula.

Nebraska is about as simple as it gets--there's only one carrier offering ACA individual market plans. Unfortunately, they've redacted the combined average rate change request between their two plan entries, so all I can do is split the difference and assume around a 1% average increase.

The Urban Institute projected that Nebraska rates would see a whopping 20.4 percentage point increase due to #MandateRepeal and #ShortAssPlans, which are both referenced in Medica's filing. Since they don't get more specific than that, I'm assuming 2/3 of Urban's estimate, or a 13.6% increase.

Unsubsidized Nebraska enrollees are currently paying an average of $854/month, so if accurate, that's a difference of around $116/month or nearly $1,400 for the year. Ouch.

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