Tag Archive: individual health insurance market

Trump’s support of key element of ACA individual health insurance reforms suggests no wholesale, quick repeal

For his part, Trump has said that he favors keeping one key aspect, which outlawed the old practice by many insurers of refusing to cover people with preexisting medical problems or charging them more than other customers. The insurance industry has long said it would have a hard time abiding by this rule unless virtually all Americans are required to have insurance — a central feature of the ACA that Trump wants to cut.

Source: Obamacare’s future in critical condition with Trump’s victory – The Washington Post

This is the grand bargain underpinning the Affordable Care Act reforms of the individual health insurance market designed to save the market as it circled the adverse selection death spiral drain pre-2014.

It’s noteworthy Trump indicated during the presidential campaign that he wants to retain the prohibition on medical underwriting — the part of the deal imposed on health plan issuers in exchange for effectively forcing more people into the individual risk pool with the coverage mandate to help restore it to functioning. Keeping this ACA reform component in place suggests there will be no wholesale, rapid repeal of the health care law’s individual market reforms. Trump will clearly have to negotiate with health plan issuers if he wants to keep the medical underwriting ban intact, particularly if he wants to dispense with quid pro quo of the individual coverage mandate.

This demonstrates that the health care policy of the incoming Trump administration is a very rough work in progress that’s hardly set in stone. There will likely be a period of intense negotiations involving various stakeholders leading up to the new president’s inauguration and in the initial months of Trump’s administration.

Update 11/11/16:

The president-elect reaffirmed his position, The New York Times reported:

Mr. Trump said Friday that, after talking with President Obama this week, he might be willing to leave in place parts of the Affordable Care Act once he’s in office. Mr. Trump made the comments to The Wall Street Journal in his first interview since winning the election. The newspaper said Mr. Obama had urged the president-elect to reconsider repealing his signature health care law, which Mr. Trump said had become “unworkable.” But in the interview, Mr. Trump said he told the president that he would consider keeping two provisions of the law: the prohibition against insurers denying coverage because of a patient’s pre-existing condition; and the one that allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until they turn 26.

 


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. 

Multi-state plans fall short of nationwide availability

President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have called for a publicly operated health plan to offer individual coverage. The intent is to bolster coverage options that have dwindled in some states as health plan issuers rethink their individual market participation as well as to bring to bear market pressure on participating plan issuers to hold down premium rates.

One existing provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act designed to do just that is at Section 1334 of law. It creates federally chartered health plans overseen by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and authorizes OPM to contract with health insurance issuers (or a group of health insurance issuers affiliated either by common ownership and control or by the common use of a nationally licensed service mark) to offer plans in multiple states.

Under Section 1334, such plans are to be available in all states starting in 2017. Turns out that isn’t going to happen. According to this page at the OPM website, just 22 state exchanges will have multi-state plans for sale next year. That contradicts Section 1334(e), which mandates OPM contract only with multistate plan issuers offering plans in all states in 2017.

OPM issued guidance earlier this year explaining why the requirement cannot be met:

While section 1334(e) of the ACA authorizes OPM to contract with issuers that offer nationwide expansion of coverage over a four-year schedule, the law does not preclude OPM from contracting with issuers that offer fewer than the scheduled number of states in any given year. The statute establishes general authority for OPM to contract for at least two plans in each state, but does not mandate firm parameters for attaining nationwide coverage. It remains the goal of the MSP Program to provide nationwide availability of MSP options by an issuer or group of issuers.

However, the experience of the first three years of the program has demonstrated that providing nationwide coverage for any issuer or group of issuers is difficult to achieve. Moreover, the statute does not give the Director of OPM authority to compel any issuer to provide nationwide coverage or to participate in the MSP Program. Therefore, OPM will exercise administrative discretion in deciding whether to contract with an issuer or group of issuers who would like to participate in the MSP Program but who cannot commit to offering coverage in all 51 jurisdictions by the fourth year of their participation in the program.

In sum, OPM is saying Section 1334(e)’s requirement notwithstanding, if health plan issuers don’t want to play in all states, it cannot force them to given the Affordable Care Act’s recognition of health insurance markets as voluntary. Also, the realities of the individual market in 2017 substantially reduced the likelihood of plan issuers offering multi-state plans nationwide as they reassess their participation in the state individual health insurance markets and the exchanges 2017 and post.

 


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. 

Greater than expected staying power of employer-sponsored health coverage could jeopardize viability of post-ACA individual market

There are three basic explanations being offered up by individual health plan issuers on the eve of plan year 2017 open enrollment to justify sharply increased premiums in many states:

  1. Most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act premium stabilization programs are expiring in 2017 and money is still owned plans under one of the expiring mechanisms designed to even out a given health plan issuer’s loss experience with that of other issuers;
  1. Plan issuers have more extensive loss experience data than in the initial years of the individual market segment as the Affordable Care Act reforms kicked in and it was harder to estimate what to charge;
  1. Closely related is the previous point, loss data indicates statewide individual risk pools are posting higher than expected medical utilization, with even higher utilization among plans sold on state health benefit exchanges. Premiums are thus being aligned to reflect the true quality and loss experience of the statewide risk pools.

The third point describes a dynamic situation that could change over time. For example, if medical utilization decreases and the health risk profiles of those in the individual market improve, premiums could readjust downward to reflect that more favorable environment.

However, a more long term concern that should be troubling for health policymakers voiced within some quarters of the health insurance industry is the state risk pools are unbalanced. Or to use an insurance industry term, adversely selected and skewed toward those more prone to using a lot of medical care with too few folks in the pool who use less. Those are actuarially assumed to be the so-called “young invincibles” in their twenties and thirties.

This is a larger concern because it could reflect a more long term, structural problem in the individual market as a whole. If the pool remains unbalanced, premium rates are likely to remain elevated since there are fewer premium dollars flowing into the pool from those who use less medical care to offset the expenses of higher utilizers. The longer premiums remain elevated, the greater the risk to the viability of the individual market as a whole since adverse selection tends to perpetuate an unvirtuous cycle of more people abandoning the market as premiums increase, reinforcing the need for additional premium hikes. This was the situation that existed prior to the Affordable Care Act’s 2010 enactment. Even in populous states like California, where accounts of premium increases of nearly 40 percent and an individual market poised to enter the terminal “death spiral” phase of adverse selection tipped the political scales to assure the needed votes in Congress for the law’s approval.

One of the assumptions of the Affordable Care Act’s individual market reforms is that by making individual coverage more like employer-sponsored coverage with minimum benefit requirements, annual enrollment periods and no medical underwriting, employer-sponsored coverage among smaller organizations would decline. It hasn’t turned out that way. The greater than expected staying power of employer-sponsored health coverage could reinforce an ongoing structural imbalance in the individual market, particularly in smaller states where by definition the risk pool is naturally limited.

The reason is the twenty and thirty somethings health plan issuers say they need to help achieve a good spread of risk for a balanced pool are more likely to be covered in employer sponsored plans than people age 50 and older  — and therefore not participating in the individual market. They are beginning their careers and more likely to be employed full time and whereas the latter age cohort is more likely to be retired, semi-retired, self-employed, and otherwise not employed full time by an employer offering health benefits.

 


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. 

Key factors driving perception of poor value in individual health insurance market

The law “requires you and each member of your family to have qualifying health care coverage (called minimum essential coverage), qualify for a coverage exemption, or make an individual shared responsibility payment when you file your federal income tax return,” the tax agency says on its website.

Some consumers who buy insurance on the exchanges still feel vulnerable. Deductibles are so high, they say, that the insurance seems useless. So some feel that whether they send hundreds of dollars to the I.R.S. or thousands to an insurance company, they are essentially paying something for nothing.

Obama administration officials say that perception is wrong. Even people with high deductibles have protection against catastrophic costs, they say, and many insurance plans cover common health care services before consumers meet their deductibles. In addition, even when consumers pay most or all of a hospital bill, they often get the benefit of discounts negotiated by their insurers

Source: Health Law Tax Penalty? I’ll Take It, Millions Say

Perception as political pundits often say is reality, particularly so when it comes to pocketbook issues. At the root of this perception is the more generous HMO plans that came about in the 1970s and 1980s that offered little or no out of pocket costs. That conditioned consumers to think of health insurance as pre-paid medical care rather than an insurance product. High deducible plans by comparison are predicated on a basic principle of insurance: to cover the risk of high and unexpected costs — and not to protect consumers from paying out of pocket to see a medical provider for routine care.

So not surprisingly, plans that come with high deductibles are seen as a poor value since consumers aren’t going to see any of their premium dollars returned to them unless they need high cost care such as hospitalization. Back in the pre-HMO days of the 1950s and 1960s, hospitalization and other “major medical” costs as health insurance policies were termed then was the main point of coverage and not primary care physician office visits. Hence, those policies came with high deductibles that were only triggered by high cost care.

A closely related perceptual problem with the return of the major medical model and high deductibles relates to high premiums for high deductible plans. That violates the established expectation of a tradeoff for accepting higher deductibles in exchange for lower premiums since less first dollar risk is being assumed by health plans. This is a huge issue for consumers in the individual market in age rating bands 50 and older but whose household incomes exceed 400 percent of federal poverty levels, thus disqualifying them for tax credit subsidies offered for coverage purchased through state health benefit exchanges. It has led to proposals such as allowing fifty somethings to buy into Medicare earlier than the minimum eligibility age of 65.

 


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. 

Aetna CEO warns of adverse selection in individual health insurance market — what the ACA intended to cure

Healthier people will avoid buying Affordable Care Act health insurance plans as premiums climb, threatening the stability of the market, Aetna Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini said.

“As the rates rise, the healthier people pull out because the out-of-pocket costs aren’t worth it,” Bertolini said at Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead Summit in New York. “Young people can do the math. Gas for the car, beer on Fridays and Saturdays, health insurance.”

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“What happens is the population gets sicker and sicker and sicker and sicker,” Bertolini said. “The rates keep rising to try and catch it. It’s a fruitless chase, and ultimately you end up with a very bad pool of risk.”

Source: Aetna CEO Says Young People Pick Weekend Beer Over Obamacare

That “fruitless chase” as Bertolini terms it refers to adverse selection. In plain words, adverse selection means risk pooling and risk spreading — the essential functions of insurance — fundamentally break down. As time goes on, the pool shrinks and those left in it are increasingly adverse risks more inclined to need payments for losses. The demand for coverage dollars paid out of the risk pool outpaces premium dollars flowing in. Premiums must increase substantially to restore balance, driving away those the pool needs to remain viable.

If Bertolini’s characterization of the individual health insurance market segment holds true going forward, it would mean the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s reforms have failed since they were specifically designed to restore an individual health insurance market trapped in the death spiral of adverse selection and rising premiums. The goal of the reforms is to restore the functionality and stability of the individual market risk pool by enhancing the spread of risk and ensuring members remain in the pool year round.

 


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. 

Health Exchange Signups Fall Short – The Yeshiva World

In February 2013, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 24 million people would buy health coverage through the federally and state-operated online exchanges by this year. Just 11.1 million people were signed up as of late March.Exchanges are marketplaces where people who do not receive health benefits through a job can buy private insurance, often with government subsidies.“Enrollment is key, first and foremost,” said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that funds health-care research. “They have to have this critical mass of people so that, by the law of averages, you’re going to get a mix of healthy and less healthy people.”A big reason the CBO projections were so far off is that the agency overestimated how many people would lose insurance through their employers, which would force them into the exchanges. But there have been challenges getting the uninsured to sign up, too.

Source: Health Exchange Signups Fall Short – The Yeshiva World

There’s a strong element of irony here given the Obama administration’s stated position that health care reform should retain the employer-sponsored model that covers the majority of Americans under age 65. According to this report, it retained a bit too much  — to the detriment of a robust individual market the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act insurance market reforms envisioned.

 


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. 

NYT: Vision of robust individual health insurance market remains elusive three years after key ACA reforms

State health benefit exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were envisioned as robust marketplaces with many health plans offering a wide selection of providers. That robust marketplace is central to the law’s policy thrust to create a market in which consumers would fare far better value than in the dysfunctional pre-ACA individual marketplace, able to select from a broad range of health plans offering both value and choice of providers. More consumers thanks to premium subsidies and mandated coverage, in turn attracting a greater number of health plans and providers to tap into that enlarged market. More is better for all.

The New York Times published two stories Sunday suggesting that hoped for market vigor is proving elusive three years after most of the Affordable Care Act’s main reforms took effect and that market forces are favoring less over more. One story reports health plans driven by consumer demand for low premiums are narrowing provider networks as plans leverage market power to negotiate aggressive reimbursement rates with fewer providers. On the health plan issuer side of the market, The Times reports, there aren’t many playing in the state exchange space with consumers in large parts of the nation having only one or two exchange plans from which to choose.

 


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. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Minnesota retreating from individual market for PY 2017

More than 100,000 Minnesotans will need to look for new insurance for 2017. Blue Cross Blue Shield is pulling back from the state’s market for individual policies, citing heavy losses.

Source: Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Minnesota Says Losses Were Too High : Shots – Health News : NPR

The individual market remains in a state of flux in some states in response to the Affordable Care Act reforms intended to restore it to functioning by setting up state exchanges offering premium and out of pocket subsidies, eliminating medical underwriting and requiring everyone to have some form of coverage year round.

Quoted in this item, Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation, provides this analysis:

“Right now what it seems like is that insurance companies are really trying to reset their strategy,” Cox said. “So they may be pulling out selectively in certain markets to re-evaluate their strategy and participation in the exchanges.”

She said the individual markets just aren’t turning out as expected. “The hope was that these markets would encourage exchange competition and [get] more insurers to come in. … I don’t know if we’re at a point where it’s completely worrisome, but I think it does raise some red flags in pointing out that insurance companies need to be able to make a profit or at least cover their costs.”

 


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. 

Sorry, We Don’t Take Obamacare – The New York Times

The goal of the Affordable Care Act, which took effect in 2013, was to provide insurance to tens of millions of uninsured or under-insured Americans, through online state and federal marketplaces offering an array of policies. By many measures, the law has been a success: The number of uninsured Americans has dropped by about half, with 20 million more people gaining coverage. It has also created a host of new policies for self-employed people like Ms. Moses, who previously had insurance but whose old plans were no longer offered.Yet even as many beneficiaries acknowledge that they might not have insurance today without the law, there remains a strong undercurrent of discontent. Though their insurance cards look the same as everyone else’s — with names like Liberty and Freedom from insurers like Anthem or United Health — the plans are often very different from those provided to most Americans by their employers. Many say they feel as if they have become second-class patients.

Source: Sorry, We Don’t Take Obamacare – The New York Times

A primary goal of the Affordable Care Act when enacted was to tame the “Wild West” landscape of individual health coverage and put it more on a par with employer-sponsored coverage. And to provide more peace of mind to those having individual coverage.

It did so by defining essential health benefits and minimum actuarial value of individual plans. According to this New York Times story, that hoped for relative degree of parity has yet to be achieved, with employer-sponsored plans that cover the majority of working age adults remaining preferred by providers.

 


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. 

Departure of most loss and risk leveling mechanisms poses major test for ACA individual market reforms

A major test of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual market reforms begins with health plans effective next year — plan year 2017. That’s when two of three mechanisms designed to prevent big spikes in plan premium rates are set to go away. Their goal is to provide a degree of premium stability for plan years 2014 through 2016. They do so by balancing the spread of risk and losses among all health plan issuers, particularly given the uncertainty with the move to modified community-based rating in place of medical underwriting of individuals and families starting in 2014.

Gone will be reinsurance for plans sold through state health benefit exchanges to protect plan issuers from exchange enrollees who incur very high medical costs. Also going away is the risk corridors mechanism under which individual and small group plans whose members incurred costs exceeding 103 percent premiums collected receive subsidies from plan issuers having losses below 97 percent of premiums. Left in place for 2017 and later years is the loss leveling mechanism known as risk adjustment — whereby health plan issuers with plans having fewer members with high risk chronic health conditions transfer funds to those with higher numbers of members with such conditions.

Two big questions going forward 2017 post are 1) whether the risk adjustment mechanism alone will keep premiums from shooting upward as plan issuers signal robust premium increases are in the works for 2017 and 2) whether risk adjustment will ward off adverse selection against exchange plans by leveling risk among plans sold both within and outside the exchanges given health plan complaints of high losses on exchange plans.

Over the longer term, a looming question is to what extent for profit health plans will continue to offer individual plans in the exchanges given their function as voluntary marketplaces. “All indications are that … most insurance plans on the exchanges are yielding zero percent at the very most,” notes Vishnu Lekraj, senior equity analyst with Morningstar.

 


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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