Tag Archive: small group market

California legislation limiting self-insured small employer medical stop loss coverage moves forward

California lawmakers are concerned a trend of small employers self insuring their employee health benefits and purchasing stop loss coverage for cases when a given worker incurs high medical bills will play havoc with the state’s small group health insurance market.  The chief concern is the arrangement will further reduce an already shrinking and distressed market segment and foster adverse selection as the state prepares to bolster the market starting in 2014 with a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) offered through the California Health Benefit Exchange.

Lawmakers are responding by imposing restrictions on medical stop loss coverage with SB 1431, legislation sponsored by California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and approved this week by the Senate Health Committee setting higher attachment points for the insurance.  Stop loss coverage has been reportedly offered with attachment points as low as $10,000 to $20,000.  Combined with a $1,000 to $2,000 deductible, employers would be responsible for an employee’s medical bills in a relatively narrow window above the employee deductible and below the stop loss attachment point.  Stop loss insurance kicks in when an employee’s medical costs exceed the attachment point.

“SB 1431 is necessary to prevent the state’s small group market from falling victim to adverse selection and unsustainable premium levels and protecting California’s small businesses, its employees, and the success of the post-ACA (Affordable Care Act) insurance market,” the committee’s analysis notes.

 


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. 

Self-insurance trend in small group market seen as threat to actuarial integrity of SHOPs

Self-insuring health benefits has traditionally been the province of large employers that could afford to assume the risk of paying much of their employees’ health care costs.  Smaller employers with too few workers to feasibly spread that risk have traditionally relied on insurance as a risk transfer mechanism.

In a sign of how distressed the small group health insurance market has become, that notion is being turned on its head.  Now small employers are shunning insurance and self-insuring their health benefit risk — to a certain point.  After an employee’s medical costs hit a set amount, stop loss insurance kicks in.  That “attachment point” as it’s referred to in insurance terminology can be as low as $10,000 to $20,000, according to this Los Angeles Times article.

As the Times reports, the practice is stoking controversy and raising concern it could steer small employers away from Small Business Health Options Programs (SHOPs) being set up under the state health benefit exchange component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Beginning in 2014, SHOPs will allow small employers to offer employees a variety health plans like so-called “cafeteria plans” offered by large employers.  The concern is without sufficient participation by employers, the SHOP plans could face increased risk for adverse selection by limiting the size of the SHOP’s risk pool.

While not directly saying so in the Times story, California’s insurance regulator is sufficiently alarmed by the potential threat to the actuarial integrity of that state’s yet to be formed SHOP that he wants legislation that would require higher attachment points for self-insured small employer health stop loss coverage.  That would also make self-insurance a less attractive option for small employers than getting coverage through the Golden State’s SHOP, reducing the SHOP’s spread of risk.  The California Health Benefit Exchange issued a solicitation last month seeking bids to help it design its SHOP.

 


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. 

PCIP unlikely to reduce ranks of medically uninsured

The Interim High Risk Pool created by the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) one year ago has not changed the underlying dynamics of the individual health insurance market and consequently appears to be having a negligible impact on reducing the ranks of the medically insured.

The pool, formalized as the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Program (PCIP), was created to provide temporary coverage for those with pre-existing conditions who don’t meet minimum medical underwriting standards of insurers and managed care plans.  It goes away on January 1, 2014, when the PPACA outlaws medical underwriting and requires payers to accept all applicants regardless of medical history.

So far, few have signed up for the plan.  As prior to the PCIP, younger people who would be eligible for PCIP enrollment pay lower rates for coverage but tend to go without.  Older folks in their 50s and early 60s who want coverage are finding PCIP rates out of reach. An added deterrent, other observers note, is the requirement that applicants for coverage be continually uninsured for at least six months.

“The PCIP is a great health plan and the out-of-pocket maximum is low,” Barry Cogdill, president of Business Choice Insurance Services in San Diego, told SignOn San Diego.  Nevertheless, he added, PCIP premiums are too expensive for many.  “That’s why health care reform happened,” Cogdill explained.  “The individual market has been the Achilles’ heel of the health insurance market. You end up with a lot of uninsured people.”

It appears many in this circumstance who aren’t covered by group or government plans will remain so.  Whether they will be able to find affordable coverage when state health benefit exchanges designed to aggregate purchasing power of individuals and small employers open for business in January 2014 remains to be seen.

 


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. 

WSJ: Medical utilization decreasing

Rising medical costs — a key driver of the health insurance crisis — appear to be easing, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.  According to the newspaper, there are two factors at work.  The first is the recession.  Since a large majority of people get health coverage through employment, their coverage gets more costly once they lose their jobs since they must buy costly COBRA coverage (many long term unemployed have lost that coverage) or pricey individual health insurance or HMO memberships.

In the case of the latter, more are opting for more affordable high deductible plans, which serve as a built in deterrent to the utilization of medical services.  “People just aren’t using health care like they have,” Wayne DeVeydt, WellPoint’s chief financial officer, told the newspaper. “Utilization is lower than we expected, and it’s unusual.”

If the U.S. economy enters a post recession deflationary period as some economists expect and some Federal Reserve bankers worry aloud, premiums might even fall.  That along with decreased utilization might head off potential market failure in the individual and small markets, troubled market segments that might not otherwise survive in their current form by the time most provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act take effect in 2014 if sharp increases in medical costs and premium rates continue.

 


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. 

New sign of distress in California’s health insurance market

Not long after 2010 got underway, Anthem Blue Cross created high anxiety among consumers in California’s individual health insurance market by announcing steep rate increases averaging 25 and as high as 39 percent effective March 1.  After the California Department of Insurance asked Anthem to run its numbers again, the insurer said it found mathematical errors in its actuarial projections and would refile corrected rates later this year.

Since individuals lack the bargaining power of employers, they tend to get the biggest rate hikes since insurers can essentially offer them on a take it or leave it basis.  Small employers with fewer than 50 employees by contrast have at least some negotiating leverage with insurers compared to individuals.  But not much more.  They offer next path of least resistance for payers to pass on rising medical costs.

And so come double digit rate increases for them, not just from Anthem Blue Cross but also from all of Anthem’s major competitors who along with Anthem make up about 90 percent of the state’s private health insurance market. A Los Angeles Times survey released May 26 found major insurers in California’s small-business market are raising rates 12 to 23 percent in the small group market.  Not surprisingly, the increases are producing protests from those small employers who have thus far managed to ride out the recession and remain in business.  Some warn the rate hikes will force them to curtail hiring or even close.

The small group market is the bleeding edge of the breakdown of employer-paid health insurance model upon which most working age Americans rely for health coverage.  These rate increases will likely prompt more small businesses to cease providing health insurance for their workers, forcing those employees into the already distressed individual market.

Many of those workers will find they cannot qualify for or afford individual coverage, boosting the number of medically uninsured Californians and creating political pressure for more immediate reforms than those contained in the recently enacted federal Patient Protection and Affordability Act.  The problem for policymakers is no amount of reform of the insurance mechanism that pays medical treatment and pharmaceutical costs can provide relief as long as those costs keep rising far in excess of the rate of inflation.

 


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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