Tag Archive: reinsurance

Final 2017 bid to temporarily stabilize non-group market includes reinsurance revival — and public option

In what is likely to be a final, last minute effort this year to temporarily bolster the challenging market that is non-group or individual medical coverage, two elements involved in the crafting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are being revived. One – reinsurance — was enacted as part of the law’s insurance market reforms but expired in 2017. Another – the so-called “public option” – wasn’t.

On August 30, a group of eight state governors called on Congress among other measures to restore reinsurance to protect health plan issuers wary of high cost claims and worse than expected statewide risk pools as part of a federal stability fund that would help states fund reinsurance programs in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, seven states have applied to the Trump administration for state innovation waivers under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to establish reinsurance programs in 2018 to help stabilize their non-group markets. Two other states enacted authorizing legislation for such a waiver, according to a chart prepared by the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.

The proposal by the eight state governors – notably both Republicans and Democrats – would fortify the non-group coverage by allowing individuals to buy coverage via the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program in counties where only one commercial non-group plan is offered. This in effect would provide a “public option” in the form of a government-run plan that was considered but rejected in the development of the Affordable Care Act. It also is in line with a suggestion by former President Barack Obama during his final year in office to create a public plan to address constrained choice among plans in some parts of the nation. Using the FEHBP for the public option could raise objections that as a large employer group plan, it’s not actuarially and administratively suitable for covering non-employees.

Those objections as well as declining affordability for plans sold off the state exchanges jeopardizing the non-group risk pool could help fuel a proposal expected this month by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to extend Medicare to those under age 65. Look for this proposed Medicare expansion to serve as a starting point for debate on a possible successor to the Affordable Care Act’s individual and possibly small group market reforms going into 2018-20. In the meantime, both Congress and the Trump administration will likely go along with some of the proposals to help stabilize non-group including extending — at least for 2018 — out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for low income households purchasing silver level plans on state health benefit exchanges. Uncertainty surrounding that funding has drawn widespread concern from states, the exchanges and plan issuers, and consumer interests with no one standing to gain politically if they are not continued.

A key element of the Medicare expansion proposal will likely be some form of presumptive eligibility and/or automatic continuous enrollment, accompanied by payroll and self-employment taxes to help fund the expansion for those under 65 and ineligible for other private or public coverage – along with a possible opt in for those eligible for employer sponsored plans. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle with the support of states, plan issuers and consumer groups will likely conclude the Affordable Care Act’s annual enrollment period used for employer group plans does not translate well to the non-group market. Annual enrollment is a very well established and administratively supported process for employer group plans. But it has proven challenging to implement in non-group due to the market segment’s characteristic high churn and part year enrollment by consumers that makes it difficult to risk rate.

Conventional political wisdom would hold expanded Medicare might be a non-starter among majority Republicans in Congress. But it stands a chance of advancing since it would with automatic enrollment potentially reduce the need for the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer shared responsibility mandates that have proven among the most unpopular provisions of the statute. A Medicare expansion might well include statutory authority allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices for the program, addressing concerns shared across the political spectrum over high medication 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. 

Alaska poised to establish own reinsurance program for individual health insurance market, authorize 1332 waiver

Alaska’s relatively thin population makes it difficult to sustain a viable individual health insurance market. Too few “belly buttons” as plan members are termed within the industry doesn’t allow for adequate spread of risk so that premiums paid by members who use relatively little medical services offset those who use more. That also makes the state less attractive to health plan issuers since they could potentially suffer adverse selection.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual market reforms included reinsurance to reduce that risk by compensating health plan issuers once medical utilization costs for a given member exceed a certain dollar amount over a plan year. That premium stabilization component that applies to plans sold in state health benefit exchanges goes away for plans effective in 2017.

Consequently, Alaska lawmakers approved legislation backed by Gov. Bill Walker to create its own reinsurance program for the individual market. HB 374 would also authorize the state to seek a state innovation waiver from the federal government under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to establish its own state plan governing the individual market.

The legislation comes with a high level of urgency. State Insurance Division director Lori Wing-Haier told lawmakers that Alaska’s individual insurance market could collapse if it’s not enacted, according to this report. That’s not an overstatement given only one health plan issuer, Premera Alaska, remains in the individual market.

 


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. 

Diminished premium stabilization safety net possible factor in UnitedHealth Group’s decision to reevaluate exchange participation 2017 forward

UnitedHealth Group’s announcement this week that it’s reassessing its participation in state health benefit exchange markets for plan year 2017 cites deteriorating loss experience and increased risk. There’s another factor not mentioned by UnitedHealth that warrants discussion and analysis.

For plan years 2014-2016, health plan issuers participating in state exchanges are shielded from losses by a triple safety net built into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known as premium stabilization programs. The three programs were put in place recognizing health plan issuers had no prior experience calculating premiums using new community rated statewide risk pools put in place by the law. Also, there’s the expectation that people who were previously medically uninsured are likelier to come with pent up needs for medical care and thus be costly to cover. The programs include:

  • Risk corridors, which level losses among health plan issuers so that issuers with lower than expected claims make payments to plans with higher than expected claims;
  • Reinsurance, which essentially insures health plan issuers when a covered individual’s medical costs exceed a set dollar amount and;
  • Risk adjustment, which like risk corridors also levels the field among health plan issuers by taking money from plan issuers with lower-risk enrollees and transferring it to plan issuers with higher-risk enrollees.

The first safety net, risk corridors, developed a huge hole out of the box and faces an uncertain future. The federal government announced this year that due to federal budget cuts in the program and higher than expected claims, health plan issuers would receive just 12.6 percent of what they requested for plan year 2014 claims experience.

Come plan year 2017, both risk corridors and the reinsurance programs expire, leaving only one safety net intact: risk adjustment. By placing expiration dates on two of the programs, the Affordable Care Act implies the exchange marketplace is expected to have achieved a degree of financial stability after three years of operations. UnitedHealth Group’s announcement suggests the company isn’t so confident. That said, it could opt to remain in more populous states such as California where there are more “covered lives” in the exchange marketplace. With a greater number of enrollees, the insurance principle works to naturally spread the risk of losses and is less dependent on the premium stabilization programs to keep the market financially viable.

Meanwhile, Aetna and Anthem reacted to the UnitedHealth development by emphasizing their commitment to the exchanges. Anthem is “continuing our dialogue with policymakers and regulators regarding how we can improve the stability of the individual market,” Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish said in a statement. Aetna has slightly pared back the number of state exchanges that it will offer plans in 2016 (15 versus 17), according to this Forbes item by Bruce Japsen.

 


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. 

Explaining Health Care Reform: Risk Adjustment, Reinsurance, and Risk Corridors | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Explaining Health Care Reform: Risk Adjustment, Reinsurance, and Risk Corridors | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

The Kaiser Family Foundation produced this excellent primer on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Premium Stabilization Programs. Working together, these mechanisms are intended to smooth the transition for health plan issuers subject to the Affordable Care Act’s new marketplace rules that took effect this year.

The individual market has temporary shock absorbers for plan years 2014-16 while both individual and small group plans benefit from an ongoing risk adjustment mechanism designed to level the risk burden among plan issuers to ensure they don’t take on more or less than their share of higher cost insureds.

 


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. 

2014 premiums for California exchange plans lower than forecast

At first glance, premium increases among health plan issuers set to participate in California’s health benefit exchange individual marketplace in 2014 are not coming in nearly as high as forecast in an actuarial study issued in March.  The Milliman study commissioned by the exchange, Covered California, projected that market changes due to Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requirements would increase 2014 premiums by 14 percent on average.  Consumers buying richer coverage due to the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits requirement would add 4.8 percent and higher average actuarial value for existing covered services another 11.5 percent.

Instead of a total increase of more than 30 percent based on these numbers, average 2014 premium rates for one of the large participating plan issuers, Blue Shield of California, will rise 13 percent for plan year 2014.  While still in the double digits, it’s not that much above the underlying annual nine percent rate increase “trend” driven by increases in provider reimbursement, increases in utilization due to new procedures and technology and higher prescription utilization and costs per the Milliman projection.

Several factors are likely keeping rate increases lower than expected in California, whose exchange marketplace is being closely watched as a harbinger of where individual health insurance rates may be headed next year in other state exchange markets.

  • Rates are for 2014 only under the one year term of the contract between Covered California and participating plan issuers.  That gives the 13 plan issuers initially participating in the marketplace time to determine if their rates are adequate and to assess initial enrollment numbers.
  • Covered California is one of a handful of state exchanges using an “active purchaser” model in which it negotiates terms and conditions for participation in its exchange marketplace, the largest in the nation with potentially more than an estimated 2 million enrollees signing up for individual plans in 2014.  That provides the exchange with a degree of bargaining power with participating plan issuers, who in turn responded by narrowing their provider networks in order to hold down costs.
  • Increased plan issuer confidence in the Affordable Care Act’s reinsurance and risk adjustment provisions designed to mitigate high claims costs from sicker individuals using more costly medical services.
  • Last but not least, politics.  Had rates for exchange plans come in as high as actuarially predicted, taxpayers would have had to absorb a larger amount of the premium increases for those earning 400 percent or less or federal poverty guidelines in the form of premium subsidies.  Those earning more than 400 percent of poverty would have experienced substantial “rate shock” since they are ineligible for the subsidies — advance personal income tax credits to offset premiums for coverage purchased through state exchanges — creating pressure for more regulatory reforms.  A measure that will appear on the November 2014 ballot — after the 2014 rates will have been in effect for more than 10 months — will ask California voters if health insurance rates should be subject to prior regulator approval.
 


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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