Tag Archive: statewide risk pool

Issuer churn continues among non-group plans despite ACA’s statewide risk pooling

Cyndee Weston has navigated the shifting ground better than many. For years she has had the same insurer — BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma — which has dominated that state’s market for individual plans and is the only marketplace player for 2018. But even though the carrier is the same and the health law requires insurers to take all comers, canceled plans each year force her to learn a new coverage design, file new paperwork with doctors and worry her primary physician will be dropped from the network.

Source: Churning, Confusion And Disruption — The Dark Side Of Marketplace Coverage | California Healthline

Before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s non-group market reforms took effect in 2014, plan issuers frequently shut down plans, placing them in runoff mode once the pool quality declined too much and they fell into the adverse selection death spiral. It appears however the pattern nevertheless continues even with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all non-group risk be pooled into single statewide risk pools, making it tough on plan members seeking stability.


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. 

ACA provisions to restore individual health insurance market may have missed target

One of the major reforms of the individual health insurance market segment put in place by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is pooling people into statewide risk pools to achieve greater spread of risk. In addition, the law reinforces the fundamental insurance principle of risk spreading by creating incentives for people to get into the pool. Those include advance tax credit premium and reduced cost sharing subsidies for individual plans offered on state health benefit exchanges and tax penalties applied to everyone not covered under some minimum form of coverage for hospital and physician care. Also, requiring health plans to accept all applicants for coverage regardless of medical history.

The goal is to restore what was a struggling market segment circling the drain of runaway adverse selection prior to the reforms going into effect in 2014. Few might have thought such a sweeping overhaul of the market wouldn’t restore it to a healthy, viable segment of the health insurance market. But as the reforms are about to enter their fourth year, it’s unclear whether they will achieve the goal of improved spread of risk. Health plan issuers complain the risk pool is imbalanced with too few young people and too many older and higher utilizing folks. They’ve openly expressed concern that’s driving adverse selection – the very problem the reforms intended to remedy.

Other factors that jeopardize the sustained actuarial viability of the individual market:

  • Poor overall population health status and low health education levels (i.e. how to stay healthy, minimize need for medical care), generally increasing utilization and cost trend.
  • Inadequate market forces exerting downward pressure on medical costs. The Affordable Care Act includes provisions to shift to value-based medical provider reimbursement reform for Medicare, but not the individual or small group market segments.
  • A high level of churn as people’s life situations change, moving them into and out of the individual health insurance 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. 

When ACA individual market reforms fail and reprise de facto high risk pool

The Minnesota Department of Commerce struck a deal with five health plans in the state’s individual market to prevent a market collapse. In June, Blue Cross Blue Shield announced that it was leaving the individual market, with 103,000 individuals left to find a new plan when open enrollment starts on November 1. It was feared that other plans would quickly follow suit. Given that BCBS had a broad network and notably higher risk profile, the remaining plans were not eager to take on new enrollees in a guaranteed issue environment. The agreement reached included caps on health plan enrollment and significant rate increases between 50-66.8 percent. Only one of the five plans, BCBS’s narrow-network HMO plan, Blue Plus, agreed to offer plans without an enrollment cap.

Source: Capping Enrollment To Save Minnesota’s Individual Market

A key element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s reforms of the individual health insurance market is the formation of statewide risk pools comprised of those not covered by government or employer-sponsored plans. But as the Minnesota Department of Commerce notes in this news release, just five percent of Minnesota residents or 250,000 people don’t fall into these categories and make up the entire universe of the individual market.

When Affordable Care Act rules that permit health plan issuers to slice and dice state individual risk pools into county-sized rating areas where they can choose — or not — to offer a plan or plans are factored in, that universe is narrowed down. That effectively reduces the spread of risk for health plan issuers offering coverage in those rating areas if there are few issuers offering plans within them. Ultimately, the number of those in the individual market becomes too small to achieve effective spread of risk, even with the law’s individual shared responsibility mandate to have some form of health coverage in force. Especially in smaller states like Minnesota, where it appears from this Health Affairs blog post that rather than spreading risk across a larger population, the individual market is functioning more like a high risk rather than true insurance pool. That’s why Minnesota regulators accommodated health plan issuer concerns by capping enrollment — a defining characteristic of a high risk pool.

That’s a perverse development given the Affordable Care Act’s reforms of the individual market were specifically intended to restore the individual market to healthy functioning and obsolete state high risk pools that offered tightly limited coverage to those whose health status fell short of health plan issuers’ medical underwriting standards that existed prior to the reforms taking effect in 2014.


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. 

Federal study finds Medicaid expansion improves individual risk pool, reduces HIX plan premiums

The HHS analysis uses 2015 data on HealthCare.gov plans and enrollment to assess how Medicaid expansion affects Marketplace premiums. It controls for differences across states in demographic characteristics, pre-ACA uninsured rates, health care costs, and state policy decisions other than Medicaid expansion, finding a 7 percent difference in Marketplace premiums holding these factors fixed.

States that expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA have Marketplace risk pools comprised largely of individuals with incomes above 138 percent FPL, while non-expansion states have Marketplace risk pools that include more individuals below 138 percent FPL. Because lower-income individuals on average have poorer health status than those with higher incomes, a state’s decision not to expand Medicaid affects the Marketplace risk pool and, ultimately, Marketplace premiums. Issuers have noted that Medicaid expansion is one way that states can strengthen their Marketplaces.

Source: Medicaid expansion lowers Marketplace premiums by 7 percent

The upshot of this analysis is the actuarial health of the statewide individual health insurance risk pools would be improved taking into account the correlation between socio-economic status and health status and removing households earning between 100 and 138 percent of federal poverty from the pool by making that cohort eligible for expanded Medicaid.

Given that some health plan issuers have withdrawn from state health benefit exchange marketplaces citing lower population health status — and higher risk — than anticipated, it would be interesting to see if there’s a correlation between states that opted not to expand Medicaid eligibility and states where plans have exited exchanges for plan year 2017.


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. 

Too early to declare failure of individual health insurance market statewide risk pooling

One of the primary reforms of the individual health insurance market under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was to create a single risk pool for entire states for individual health plans effective 2014 and later. The purpose was to rescue the individual market from a death spiral crisis of adverse selection that threatened its existence. To keep their individual plans solvent pre-2014, plan issuers resorted to playing a game of whack a mole with their plans. As losses mounted in existing plans, they would shut them down and place them into runoff mode by closing them off to new enrollees. Then they set up new plans containing new enrollees stringently screened via medical underwriting in an attempt to hold down claims costs.

The result was widespread market failure. Many consumers in the individual health insurance market couldn’t purchase coverage because they couldn’t meet the increasingly strict medical underwriting criteria. Those already in existing plans faced steep premium rate increases making coverage unaffordable.

There are widely differing views on whether the Affordable Care Act’s single statewide risk pooling mechanism is achieving adequate spread of risk to remedy the adverse selection that plagued the market pre-2014. Media coverage is sloppy. Accounts such as this one conflate the statewide risk pool with the health benefit exchange marketplace. They are not one and the same. Individual plans are sold both on and off the exchanges. There is no separate risk pool for those enrolling in the individual market through exchanges and another for those who do not.

Many media reports frequently report individual market enrollees are “sicker than expected.” Higher medical utilization as the 2014 reforms kicked in was in fact expected. The Affordable Care Act contained premium stabilization mechanisms that took into account the possibility of high utilization due to pent up demand from those who were previously without coverage either voluntarily or because they fell short of medical underwriting standards or couldn’t afford the premium increases as the market imploded.

A problematic issue with current mainstream media coverage is the tendency to jump to the conclusion that high anticipated medical utilization in the early years of the individual market reforms are indicative of its long term viability. As the standard investment exculpatory disclaimer goes, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, good or poor. Ditto short term volatility.

Respected health care industry blogger Timothy Jost offers a sharply contrasting perspective to bearish sentiment that the statewide risk pooling mechanism is a failure. He cites a report issued this week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service indicating claims costs were flat year over year from 2014 to 2015 as evidence the statewide risk pools are functional. Higher premiums for 2017, he writes, are due to health plan issuers adjusting rates to comport with actual experience in 2014 and 2015 plan years instead of the educated guessing they employed for 2014, the first year of the major individual market reforms. Also being factored in is the end of the reinsurance component of the Affordable Care Act’s premium stabilization mechanisms starting in 2017.


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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