Observations and questions on exchange plan losses

Reading media accounts of health plan issuer complaints of losses on plans sold through state health benefit exchanges, one might think all individual plans are sold through the exchanges. That false perception has implications for gauging the success of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual market reforms since the exchanges are only one element of them. Other key components affect all individual (and small group) plans regardless of whether they are sold on the exchanges or outside of them such as modified community based rating barring medical underwriting of individuals and pooling all individuals and small employers into single state risk pools.

The tendency to view the individual market as one and the same with the exchanges appears driven at least in part by too little data on the off-exchange individual market as compared to exchange qualified health plans. Even though the number of off-exchange plans exceeds those sold on the exchanges in many states, “[th]e lack of transparency about this market will be a growing problem for consumers and regulators,” noted Joel Ario of Manatt Health Solutions and Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the winter meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

Another aspect of the complaints of exchange plan losses hasn’t been covered in any detail. While some health plan issuers say exchange plans are a money loser due to high medical utilization, they could also dislike having to meet additional compliance and plan administration requirements for exchange participation that makes them unattractive. Particularly if they don’t also offer Medicaid managed care plans serving a demographic more closely aligned with those who purchase coverage through the exchanges.

Finally, more examination and reporting are needed on what’s driving reported losses among plans sold on the exchanges. The frequently reported rationale is it’s because exchange plans enrolled people who are “sicker than expected.” Sicker with what, exactly? Are the losses being incurred by those eligible for cost sharing subsidies in silver plans given that most exchange plans purchased are higher deductible bronze and silver-rated plans? Are those enrollees not eligible for out of pocket cost sharing burning through the deductibles with high cost care such as outpatient surgeries and hospitalization?


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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Frederick Pilot

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