Tag Archive: medical underwriting

Fate of individual market hangs in balance

An immutable truth of any market is sellers and buyers must be able to get together on mutually agreeable terms and conditions and do so on a sustainable basis. If that doesn’t occur, markets grow weak and eventually fail. Sellers withdraw and buyers don’t buy. That has certainly been happening in the individual medical insurance market. Some health plan issuers have pulled back their offerings in many states for the current plan year. Many consumers are reluctant buyers, accustomed for decades to all inclusive, low co-pay managed care plan model. They naturally see individual plans that come with both high premiums and high out of pocket costs as a poor value, expecting a greater inverse relationship between the two. Particularly if they don’t benefit from premium and cost sharing subsidies.

That’s not a prescription for long term buy side support. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act forces sellers and buyers of individual plans together by requiring sellers to sell regardless of an individual’s medical history and buyers to buy under pain of paying an income tax penalty for not having some form of continuous, credible coverage. But even those efforts to prop up the market appear less than certain to achieve a robust, well-functioning market. The big questions for the incoming administration and new Congress are:

  • Whether the individual medical insurance segment that covers a sizable and growing portion of the working age population can sustainably function as a market?
  • To what extent government policy should support the market and does the political will exist to do so?
  • If the market should be left intact, what must be done to make it actuarially viable over the long term and avoid its tendency toward adverse selection?
 


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. 

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. 

Improving primary/urgent care consumer experience as a means of risk selection in individual market

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s reforms of the individual health insurance market are intended to create a large, risk diversified pool with the individual mandate and prohibition on health plan medical underwriting. A related goal is to enhance competition among health plan issuers based on value and price rather than risk selection – selecting for populations more likely to have lower medical utilization. In addition, the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment mechanism — 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 – is designed to disincentive selecting members who tend toward lower medical utilization.

However, as this Money item suggests, market forces may be in play that could work against shifting the market away from risk selection as a means of competition. How? By creating a health plan bundled with a consumer friendly front end primary/urgent care clinic that targets Millennials and young families. These plans – Zoom and UnitedHealth’s Harken Health unit — compete by offering a superior primary and urgent care consumer experience. Along with convenience and transparency and more personalized care and healthy lifestyle support. Since their target demographic is less likely to be suffering from costly chronic health conditions or require hospitalization, the overall risk profile of their plan memberships will likely be superior to those of other health plan issuers.

 


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. 

Wellness isn’t just in the “workplace”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s use of modified community-based rating and its outlawing medical underwriting has drawn criticism that the policy unfairly subsidizes those who lead unhealthy lifestyles and drive up costs. While individual and small group market health plan issuers can no longer base premiums on an individual’s lifestyle or health status for coverage beginning January 1, 2014 or later, a type of risk rating is available to employers under the law. It’s in the form of “workplace wellness” programs that allow employers to reduce what employees have to pay toward their health insurance or offer financial incentives if participating employees meet specified health status metrics such as weight, BMI, blood pressure and serum cholesterol.

Studies of the effectiveness of these programs yield mixed results, suggesting they have only limited influence on the health status of employees, this Atlantic article indicates. Since engaging in health promoting activities is largely driven by peoples’ personal choices and circumstances, I believe the best thing employers can do is to maximize their employees’ ability to make healthy lifestyle choices rather than essentially bribing them to do so. That means affording them the ability to devote the necessary time to properly engage in them.

 


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. 

California advances legislation requiring community-based rating in 2014 — sans individual mandate — over objections of health plans

California legislative health committees have approved legislation authored by their chairs that would require health plans and insurers to transition from medical underwriting to community-based rating in 2014.  The authors of the bills, AB 1461 and SB 961, said they would conform California law to a similar provision of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that becomes effective that year.

The California Association of Health Plans (CAHP) opposes the bills unless they are amended to also mirror the PPACA’s requirement that all individuals be enrolled in a health plan or have health insurance.  If the PPACA’s so-called “individual mandate” is set aside as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, CAHP fears without a similar requirement in California law, health plans will fall into the adverse selection death spiral and become actuarially unsustainable.

But putting teeth into any California requirement that all residents have some form of medical coverage could prove problematic since those teeth like the PPACA version would likely take the form of a penalty or excise tax.  As a new tax, it would require approval by two thirds of the California Legislature, which would be a near political impossibility as long as Republicans hold at least one third of the seats in either house.

CAHP also dislikes provisions in the bills that would bar health plans from considering smoking when setting an applicant’s rates, arguing it would lead to non-smokers subsidizing smokers.

 


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 reform forcing insurers to retool from risk selection to risk management

With the coming end of medical insurance underwriting in 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), payers are retooling their business models to enable them to manage medical risk posed by high utilization patients.  These are people with complex, chronic conditions whose needs for care and medications rank them in the top one percent of all patients.  In risk management terms, these are “catastrophic” risks payers will soon no longer be able to avoid.  Instead, these patients will have to be managed to minimize utilization.  Daniel Malloy of the healthcare consultancy IMS Health explains in this New York Times article earlier this week:

Insurance companies will be required to enroll millions of new customers without the ability to turn them away or charge them higher premiums if they are sick. They will prosper only if they are able to coordinate care and prevent patients from reaching that top 1 percent, Mr. Malloy said. “The insurance model is fundamentally changing,” he said.

The Times article notes insurers are becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying high utilization patients and those likely to develop serious complications. “It’s important to know who they are and manage their conditions,” Dr. Pat Courneya, the medical director for the health plan offered by HealthPartners, told the newspaper.

Managing costs posed by these high risk patients could also require a holistic medicine approach that treats the whole person — both body and psyche.  The Times article reports that “insurers are also still grappling with their understanding of human nature — why some people simply don’t take care of themselves or take their medicine or go to the doctor, even when it is clear that they should.”

 


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: Health insurance business model no longer viable

In 2011, some health insurers were conceding the individual market was failing, entering the dreaded death spiral of adverse selection.  But none went as far as Aetna CEO, Chairman and President Mark Bertolini at a Las Vegas conference this week in proclaiming the business model of health insurance broken and facing extinction.

“The system doesn’t work, it’s broke today” Bertolini was quoted as saying by HealthData Management in remarks to attendees of the HIMSS12 conference. “The end of insurance companies, the way we’ve run the business in the past, is here.”

A fundamental function of any form of insurance is underwriting the selection and rating of risks. With medical underwriting ending January 1, 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), it’s no wonder Bertolini sees the end of health insurance as we have known it.

The PPACA as well as other factors are forcing health insurers to reinvent themselves.  But as what?  Since Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) being created by the reform law are risk sharing mechanisms that reward better patient outcomes and reduced treatment costs though more coordinated, more holistic patient care, Bertolini sees a role for insurers to help manage that risk.  “We need to move the system from underwriting risk to managing populations,” Bertolini was quoted as saying. “We want to have a different relationship with the providers, physicians and the hospitals we do business with.”

What about state health benefit exchanges created by the PPACA that open for business in 2014?  The exchanges are to serve as purchasing pools to help individuals and small businesses aggregate purchasing power to get better deals on health insurance than they would otherwise get negotiating on their own behalf.  If health insurance is becoming a thing of the past as Bertolini predicts, what will they be buying?  Bertolini foresees all-inclusive, branded “health systems” (perhaps similar to California-based Kaiser Permanente) that leverage health information technologies to put patients in charge of their health.

 


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. 

UCLA research note: Elimination of PPACA’s coverage mandate would accelerate adverse selection

If the U.S. Supreme Court severs a keystone element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that mandates all Americans have public or private health coverage by 2014 but leaves intact another key provision requiring insurers and managed care plans to accept all applicants without medical underwriting, payers would experience adverse selection and premium rates would necessarily rise in response, making coverage less affordable.  That undermines a key objective of the 2010 law designed to reduce the number of people who are medically uninsured, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research concludes in a research note issued this month.

The note determined this scenario would result in only a small reduction in the number of medically uninsured Californians by 610,000 or 13 percent of the eligible uninsured by 2019. Eliminating the minimum coverage requirement while leaving in place the PPACA’s modified community-based rating where coverage is guaranteed to all applicants would not allow payers to avoid covering less healthy individuals more likely to need expensive medical care.

The UCLA research note effectively concurs with an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court case filed by health insurers and plans who contend the PPACA’s coverage mandate is designed to work in conjunction with community-based versus individual medical underwriting and therefore cannot be excised from the law.  “The result would be a ‘marketwide adverse-selection death spiral’ that would thwart rather than advance Congress’s goal of expanding affordable health care,” they warn.

 


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. 

Obama administration cites health insurance crisis in Supreme Court brief supporting PPACA coverage mandate

The Obama administration last week filed its brief supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) requirement that every American be covered by public or private health insurance effective Jan. 1, 2014.  Opponents of the requirement, referred to in the administration’s brief as the “minimum coverage provision,” contend it’s an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional authority over commerce and taxation.

The minimum coverage provision is the keystone of the PPACA and the product of a political tradeoff leading up to the 2010 enactment of the legislation to address what the brief terms “a crisis in the national health care market.”  The provision was aimed at quelling opposition from health insurers who opposed the PPACA’s requirement to shift from their existing medical underwriting risk selection model to a community-rating model that requires all applicants be accepted and charged standardized premiums regardless of their medical histories.  Unless everyone is required to be in the insurance market in some form or another, payers argued, they would be exposed to adverse selection because only those who needed coverage would purchase it, driving up claims costs.  That would lead to adverse selection since the insurance pool would have a disproportionate number of sick people needing costly medical treatment while healthier people who go without coverage don’t contribute premiums to cover those costs.

The administration argues in its brief that this results in cost shifting in which those who have coverage end up paying additional premium dollars to pay for the uncompensated care of the uninsured, many of whom cannot obtain affordable coverage due to pre-existing conditions.  “The Act breaks this cycle through a comprehensive framework of economic regulation and incentives that will improve the functioning of the national market for health care by regulating the terms on which insurance is offered, controlling costs, and rationalizing the timing and method of payment for health care services,” the brief states.

In sum, the administration asserts, the market needs community rating to sustainably provide coverage to all Americans.  But it cannot work without what effectively functions as a community insurance requirement.  Everyone gets in the pool regardless of medical history — and everyone pays to enter.

 


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. 

%d bloggers like this: