Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Why were CSR improvements cut from Frank Pallone's ACA 2.0 bill?

There's one glaring omission in Frank Pallone's newly introduced "ACA 2.0" bill*, which sweetens ACA marketplace subsidies, funds reinsurance and advertising/outreach, fixes the family glitch and adds sundry other repairs. The new version cuts out the enhancement and extension of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR).  The bill introduced last March would have extended 94% AV CSR to 250% FPL, and offered 87% AV CSR all the way up to 400% FPL.

In conjunction with lowering the percentage of income required to buy a benchmark silver plan  at all income levels, the CSR enhancements would radically reduce out-of-pocket costs at incomes ranging from 201-400% FPL, where ACA takeup has been poor. Why the cut?

One possibility occurs to me, though I'm not sure of the logic behind it (so it may be wrong, of course).  ACA 2.0 is a showcase bill, with no chance of passing the Senate. Improved CSR, on the other hand, may be negotiable separately -- because the Trump administration is over a barrel with respect to CSR funding.

Monday, March 25, 2019

2019 ACA Enrollment: More silver loading effects, CSR enrollment down in SBEs

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CMS released a final enrollment report for the ACA marketplace today, along with the public use files that provide extensive enrollment breakdowns.

The top lines we already knew: Enrollment in was down 3.8% in 39 HealthCare.gov states, up .09% in 12 state-based exchanges (SBEs), and down 2.7% overall.

CMS adds that the percentage of subsidized enrollees rose from 85% to 87%. Translation: unsubsidized on-exchange enrollment was down 12.8%; subsidized enrollment was down just 0.5%. Off-exchange enrollment in ACA-compliant plans was in meltdown in 2017 and 2018; it remains to be seen whether the contraction continued, in the first year in which the Trump administration was actively promoting lightly regulated, medically underwritten short-term plans.

A few more factoids derived from a first look:

1. Enrollment in plans with Cost Sharing Reduction dropped sharply as a percentage of overall enrollment -- but the drop was concentrated in state-based exchanges for some reason. In all states taken together, CSR enrollment dropped from 53.6% to 50.3% of total enrollment -- but it dropped from 51.3% to 41.2% in SBEs, just downticking from 54.4% to 53.6% in HealthCare.gov states.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Medicare for America might let private insurance thrive

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The Medicare for America Act, soon to be updated and reintroduced by Reps Rosa DeLauro and Jean Schakowsky, is a true "Medicare for anyone" bill. Any employer can buy in* by paying 8% of payroll, and any individual can opt in and pay between $0 and 9.69% of income (on a siding scale) for a plan to be accepted by all providers who accept current Medicare -- i.e. virtually all providers.

While the bill allows employers to keep providing insurance and preserves Medicare Advantage in the individual market, some people appear to read the bill as a phase-out of private insurance.   Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, in a town hall earlier this week, touted a Medicare buy-in for anyone at "4-5% of income" and suggested, "Those insurers -- I don't think they're going to compete...over a couple of years, you're going to transition into single payer."

That would not likely be the case if Medicare for America were to become law, at least not in its current iteration. While low income workers would probably mostly end up in the public program, the bill creates conditions under which employers might still find a competitive advantage in offering top-drawer coverage to higher-paid workers. It also creates conditions under which Medicare Advantage and Medigap policies might compete.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Medicare for America...for how many candidates?

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Two months after the Kaiser Family Foundation found 74% support for a "plan similar to Medicare open to anyone" that would "allow people to keep the coverage they have," several Democratic presidential candidates appear to have abruptly converged on the idea. The only bill out there that meets this criteria is the Medicare for America Act, introduced last December by Reps  Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and soon to be reintroduced. 

Medicare for America does much more than create a strong public option that both employers and employees can buy into. It also absorbs Medicaid, transforms existing Medicare, and creates universal long term care insurance.  At healthinsurance.org , I ask whether candidates who have embraced the core concept, or some whisper or echo of it, will go for the whole package:
Perhaps it’s pusillanimous to balk at healthcare system transformation because of the certain all-out opposition of all major segments of the healthcare industry, not to say the Republican party and Fox News. But the question remains how much to bite off. The beating heart of Medicare for America, the transformative engine, is employer/employee buy-in to a strong public option, paying Medicare-plus rates and accepted by virtually all providers.

Whether that public option drains out a quarter of the employer-sponsored insurance market, half of it, or all of it, it renders public insurance – and public insurance payment rates – dominant. Candidates who embrace that core element – which harks back to the earliest iterations of the public option concept – may opt to carve it out of the near-total system transformation mandated in Medicare for America. Or they may not. Each candidate needs to think hard about how much mandated transformation within a decade or less they think the system can bear.
I hope you'll read the whole thing

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Would a public option mean fewer claims denials?

Here I'm going to pose a question for which I don't yet have good answers.

One strong appeal of the public option in various Medicare expansion bills -- e.g.,  Medicare X, Choose Medicare, Medicare at 50, Medicare for America -- is access to an all-but-unlimited provider network (effectively eliminating balance billing as well as limited choice of provider). My question To what extent does a national public option also promise to strongly reduce the agony inflicted on patients by coverage denials? And secondarily, to what extent would minimizing denials weaken legitimate cost control?

Pieces of the puzzle are provided by studies of denial rates in various markets and public programs. These studies are based on partial or not-so-partial data sets and may be measuring different things. One question that's often unclear to me when reading them is how many or what kinds of denials directly affect patients, and which are eaten by providers or represent (or trigger) a de facto negotiation between provider and payer. Not to mention how many are justified...

With that caveat, a few data points:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hospital industry will brook no Medicare expansions

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The American Hospital Association has commissioned a study by KNG Health Consulting that fires a warning shot against any expansion of public coverage that draws people out of the private market.

The report purports to show that the Medicare-X Choice Act introduced in 2017 by Senators Bennet and Kaine, establishing a strong national public option in the ACA marketplace, would cut healthcare spending by $1.2 trillion over ten years. Hospital spending would account for $774 billion of the total.  The study also forecasts that 5.5 million uninsured people would gain coverage.

As U.S. per capita healthcare spending is more than double the OECD average, one might think that cutting costs while increasing coverage would be cause for celebration. Of course the AHA doesn't see it that way, and warns of dire results for hospitals resulting from some 35 million people* shifting from private to a public plan that pays Medicare rates for services.  Leaving aside assumptions about hospitals' adaptability, and the study's calculations with respect to hospital revenue, its assumptions about the impact of Medicare-X on enrollment in private insurance strike me as dubious.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New enrollment drops in ACA marketplace have decelerated since 2017

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In my last post, I noted that new enrollment in HealthCare.gov states in 2019 was barely half the 2016 total.  Here I want to spotlight an important point that I noticed late and had to add via update: The sharpest drop in new enrollment was in 2017. Reduced new enrollment, though still quite steep, is a decelerating trend. Conversely, improved retention after first payments are due has accelerated since 2016, though we don't yet have numbers for 2019.

Here's how new enrollment and first-quarter retention have played out since 2016, the year of peak enrollment so far:

New enrollment, HealthCare.gov states, 2016-2019
As of the end of Open Enrollment

Change, 2016-17
Change, 2017-18
Change, 2018-19
Change, 2016-19

Kentucky retired its SBE and joined HealthCare.gov in 2017. Kentucky new enrollment for 2016 (18,733) is added to the 2016 total above.

Friday, March 08, 2019

The shrinking but retentive ACA marketplace

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n.b. the next post constitutes an update.

One feature of the ACA marketplace under Trump administration: as new enrollment contracts, retention has improved. With enrollment down 10% overall since 2016, the market has apparently contracted to its core: those who are renewing know they need or may need care.

Zeroing out the individual mandate for 2019 cannot have helped new enrollment, though new enrollment shrank just as much in 2018 as in 2019, when the mandate repeal went into effect. As the mandate repeal was pending through the fall of 2017 and became law in December 2017, many may have thought the mandate had been repealed as of 2018 -- if not the whole ACA, as Trump kept screaming. At the same time, discounts generated by silver loading (cheap gold and often-free bronze plans*) have probably improved retention. A higher percentage of enrollees are now subsidized, and the 87% of enrollees who are subsidized are paying lower premiums on average, as Charles Gaba has noted. Attrition has for years been much steeper among unsubsidized enrollees.

Better retention is reflected both in year-over-year renewals and in the level of attrition after first payments are due and throughout the year. In the 39 HealthCare.gov states, renewals were up slightly in 2019, while new enrollment shrank 16% (see CMS final snapshots 2019 vs. 2018). In California, the largest state-based exchange (SBE),  renewals were up 7.5% while new enrollment contracted 24%. Overall enrollment was down 4% in HealthCare.gov states and virtually flat (down 0.5%) in California.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Blue states willing to invest in ACA marketplace: Help those over 400% FPL or under?

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From the beginning, the ACA's apparent Achilles heel has been the plight of those who must look to the individual market for coverage but earn too much to qualify for subsidies.

I say "apparent" because the marketplace is not exactly a roaring success among those eligible for subsidies. But bear with me through a short history of the highly visible plight of the unsubsidized.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The public option we really need

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I have argued, recently and also over time, that a public option introduced into the current ACA marketplace without a change in marketplace structure can only do so much good

The marketplace's dominant flaw is that it's under-subsidized, and a public option won't make coverage more affordable for subsidized buyers. If you're a solo person earning $31,000 per year and have to pay $220/month for a public plan with an actuarial value of 70% -- likely with a $3000 deductible --that's not going to look much more attractive than comparable private plans. The public plan may drive down base premiums and so help unsubsidized buyers.