OE6

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Several weeks ago I wrote about a bit of a bombshell development in Virginia:

Members of local advocacy group Charlottesville For Reasonable Health Insurance had provided testimony at the Virginia General Assembly and organized an email campaign, helping to ensure passage of the bill through the legislative session. Introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds and effective July 1 2018, SB672 will allow self-employed people to take advantage of the much more affordable health plans in the small group business marketplace, without having to hire employees.

...Charlottesville and surrounding counties (Albemarle, Green, Fluvanna) have by far the most expensive healthcare premiums in the nation in 2018. Rates more than tripled for consumers buying coverage on the ACA Individual Exchange, making comprehensive insurance unaffordable for people who do not qualify for subsidy assistance. A typical family of four is being charged $3000 per month for high deductible plans.

Hot on the heels of Washington State releasing their preliminary 2019 individual market rate hike request comes a similar press release out of the New York Department of Financial Services...and neither the carriers nor the state regulators are making any bones about the reason for next year's rate increases:

PROPOSED 2019 HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM RATES FOR INDIVIDUAL AND SMALL GROUP MARKETS

Health insurers in New York have submitted their requested rates for 2019, as set forth in the charts below.  These are the rates proposed by health insurers, and have not been approved by DFS.

The good news? As I reported a week or so ago, every county in Washington State will have at least one carrier on the ACA exchange next year.

The bad news? As expected, thanks in large part to sabotage of the ACA by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans, the average requested 2019 premium increase for unsubsidized enrollees is 19.1%:

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Eleven health insurers filed 74 health plans for Washington state’s 2019 individual and family health insurance market, with an average proposed rate increase of 19.08 percent. There are no bare counties, although 14 counties will have only one insurer selling through Washington’s Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. 

Several quick tidbits out of the District of Columbia from the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority May board meeting:

  • Their preliminary 2019 premium rate filings were originally due by May 1st, but this was bumped out until June 1st. Not available publicly yet, however.

As I noted last week, insurance carriers in North Carolina were supposed to have submitted their preliminary 2019 premium rate change filings as of May 21st. Unfortunately, as I also noted last week, those "deadlines" appear to be more "guidelines" in many states, with North Carolina among them; there's no publicly-available premium change data available yet.

However, as Louise Norris notes over at healthinsurance.org, there's some interesting news afoot in the Tar Heel State:

Looking ahead to 2019

Insurers that wish to offer individual market coverage in North Carolina in 2019 had to file rates and forms by May 21, 2018. The two insurers that offer 2018 coverage in the North Carolina exchange — Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina — have both filed rate for 2019. Although the filings do show up in SERFF, they have very little publically available data at this point.

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 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.

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.

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?

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.” 

Last month I noted that New Jersey is taking a leading role regarding protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act; the state legislature has passed bills which would:

  • 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"

(New Jersey actually already had several other "ACA protection" laws on the books in the first place, including protections against short-term plans and "surprise billing".)

In addition, new Governor Phil Murphy had alread proven that he understands and supports the ACA; within days of taking office he had already issued an executive order telling all state agencies to do everything they reasonably can to inform the public about how to enroll during Open Enrollment and so forth.

Just an hour or so ago I posted about a vice president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association stating point-blank what I and every other healthcare wonk under the sun has been warning for months (or years, really, if you include the original justification for the Individual Mandate under RomneyCare):

Kris Haltmeyer, a vice president at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, told reporters that the premium increases were in part due to the repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate in the Republican tax reform bill in December...“With the repeal of the individual mandate and the failure of Congress to enact stabilization legislation, we are expecting premiums to go up substantially,” Haltmeyer said.

...He said the premium increases are “related to the loss of the mandate and then underlying medical costs.”

“Those two things have the most impact on the rate increases,” he added.

...Oh, and what comes after mandate repeal and underlying medical costs? You guessed it: #ShortAssPlans

I've written quite a few entries bashing the Short-Term Plan portion of Donald Trump's executive order opening up the floodgates on non-ACA compliant policies. However, I've written far less about the other shoe he's dropping: Association Health Plans, or AHPs. In fact, while I discussed AHPs briefly in Part Two of my Risk Pool video, the only blog post I've written to date which specifically focuses on them just quoted from this Avalere Health article:

Association Health Plans (AHPs) are health insurance arrangements sponsored by an industry, trade, or professional association that provide health coverage to their members—typically small businesses and their employees. Health insurance coverage offered through AHPs aims to make coverage available and affordable for small groups and individual employees. Importantly, these arrangements are currently governed by state and federal requirements and are subject to state oversight, including standards related to premiums and benefit requirements.

Via press release from "Protect Our Care":

Polls in 6 Battleground States Show Voters Blame Republicans for Rate Hikes

Six new Public Policy Polling surveys in battleground states find voters will blame Republicans for the expected health care premium increases this summer by approximately 30 points and voters believe Republicans and President Trump have been actively undermining and sabotaging the Affordable Care Act.

ARIZONA Voters say they will blame Republicans if health care premiums increase this summer. 55% say they will hold Republicans in Washington responsible if rates increase, compared to just 29% who said they would not. A plurality of voters (49%) say they believe Washington Republicans and President Trump have been trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act – and a majority of independent voters (57%) also say they agree with that statement.

OK, this doesn't technically count as an official 2019 Rate Hike analysis since none of it comes from actual carrier rate filings, but Covered California, the largest state-based ACA exchange, just released their proposed 2018-2019 annual budget, and it includes detailed projections regarding expected premium increases and enrollment impact over the next few years due specifically to the GOP's repeal of the ACA's Individual Mandate. Oddly, while they mention short-term plan expansion as another potential threat to enrollment/premiums, they do so passingly, and they don't mention association plans at all:

Since 2014, nearly 5 million people have enrolled in Medi-Cal due to the Affordable Care Act expansion, and more than 3.5 million have been insured for some period of time through Covered California. Together, the gains cut the rate of the uninsured in California from 17 percent in 2013 to a historic low of 6.8 percent as of June 2017.

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