Thursday, October 31, 2019

Should states pursue reinsurance for their ACA marketplaces?

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While sabotaging the ACA marketplace on multiple fronts, the Trump administration has from the beginning supported one means of keeping premiums down: encouraging states to submit waiver proposals seeking federal funding for reinsurance programs.

These programs partially reimburse insurers for costs incurred by individual enrollees that cross a certain threshold. In New Jersey for example, the program pays 60% of an enrollee's costs exceeding $40,000 per year, up to a threshold of $250,000. To date, CMS has approved 12 state reinsurance waiver proposals, 7 of them implemented by 2019.

The ACA marketplace began life with a national federally funded reinsurance program, but it sunset after three years (2014-2016). Not coincidentally, premiums nationwide rose by about 25% in that year -- a year of correction, in which insurers also recognized that they had significantly underpriced coverage in the ACA's first three years. They recovered profitability in 2017.

By reducing premiums, reinsurance also reduces premium subsidies. Trump's HHS has proved willing to pass much of the savings through to the states, providing tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the approved programs.

The case against reinsurance

Some progressives, however, have concluded that reinsurance is a poor use of state resources. The ACA benefit structure subjects these programs to a Catch-22: Reducing base premiums tends to raise premiums for subsidized enrollees.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Looks like New Jersey's reinsurance trade-off paid off

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New Jersey's Department of Banking and Insurance has published second quarter enrollment numbers for the state's individual market for health insurance. Some upside surprises:

New Jersey Individual Market Enrollment, Second Quarter 2018 to Second Quarter 2019
Venue
Q2 2019
Q2 2018
# change
% change
On-exchange
220,217
222,696
(2,479)
-1.1%
Off-exchange
  92,798
  85,361
 7,437
+8.7%
Total
313,015
308,057
 4,958
+1.6%

  • Off-exchange enrollment is up from the first quarter -- unusual, because anyone enrolling after December 15, 2018 would have to qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. In Q1, off-exchange enrollment was up 2.98% year-over-year. In Q2, it's up 8.7% over Q2  2018, to 92,798. 

  • On-exchange enrollment, which was down a disappointing 7.1% as of the end of Open Enrollment, has had much lighter attrition than in previous years. It's down just 1.6% since Q1, compared to an average Q1-to-Q2 drop of  6.8% in the three previous years. Accordingly, it's down just 1.1% from Q2 2018.

  • Total individual market enrollment is up 1.6% compared to Q2 2018.  That's all in ACA-compliant plans, as New Jersey bans the lightly regulated, medically underwritten short-term plans promoted by the Trump administration.
New Jersey's 2019 experience is something of a case study for what you might call the reinsurance tradeoff.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Silver loading 2020 update: The sky isn't falling

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Last week I noted that the discounts for subsidized ACA marketplace enrollees generated by silver loading (see explanation at bottom)* are likely to be somewhat reduced in 2020, given that a) average unsubsidized premiums are down 3-4%, b) and average premiums for the benchmark silver plan are down more sharply (-4%) than average premiums for the cheapest plan at each metal level (-3%).

Let's see how price spreads and discounts at each metal level have changed in the counties with the highest marketplace enrollment nationwide. Together, these 9 counties hold 16% of all on-exchange ACA marketplace enrollment.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Oscar throws a wild card into the 2020 ACA marketplace

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Re the premise of my prior post -- that discounts in bronze and gold plans will be weaker in the 2020 ACA marketplace:  I've stumbled on a wild card, and it's pretty wild. Let's start where we did yesterday:
CMS has published ACA marketplace premiums for 2020.  The top-line news is that premiums have dropped 3-4%.  The key point for subsidized enrollees (69% of the ACA-compliant market) is that silver loading has gone into reverse -- and consequently there will be fewer discounted plans available. That's because benchmark silver plan premiums -- the second-cheapest silver plan in each market, which determines subsidy size -- have dropped more sharply (-4%)  than average premiums for the cheapest plan at each metal level (-3%).
Okay, so discounts stemming from silver loading* may be reduced on average, and in particular, discounts in cheapest silver may be the most impaired. Now for the wild card: Oscar is offering a $0 deductible bronze plan in Florida and Texas (and maybe elsewhere, but those two states account for a quarter of all ACA marketplace enrollment). In Miami, for a 40 year-old at an income of $17,300 -- about 140% FPL -- it's zero premium too; at $24,900 income (just below 200% FPL) it's $79/month.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Silver loading goes into reverse in 2020


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CMS has published ACA marketplace premiums for 2020.  The top-line news is that premiums have dropped 3-4%.  The key point for subsidized enrollees (69% of the ACA-compliant market) is that silver loading has gone into reverse -- and consequently there will be fewer discounted plans available. That's because benchmark silver plan premiums -- the second-cheapest silver plan in each market, which determines subsidy size -- have dropped more sharply (-4%)  than average premiums for the cheapest plan at each metal level (-3%).

Silver loading, recall, is the byproduct of Trump's October 2017 cutoff of direct federal reimbursement to insurers for the Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies they are required to provide to low income marketplace enrollees who select silver plans. Faced with the cutoff at the brink of open enrollment for 2018, most state insurance departments allowed or encouraged insurers to price CSR into silver premiums only. Since premium subsidies, designed so that the enrollee pays a fixed percentage of income, are set to a silver plan benchmark (the second cheapest silver plan), inflated silver premiums create discounts for subsidized buyers in bronze and gold plans.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

What is Elizabeth Warren cooking up?

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Quick, what's the difference in the way the Des Moines Register and the New York Times quoted Elizabeth Warren's recent I'll-have-a-plan promise?

Des Moines:
"Right now, the cost estimates on Medicare for All vary by trillions and trillions of dollars. And the different revenue streams for how to fund it — there are a lot of them," she said to a crowd of about 475 at Simpson College. "So this is something I’ve been working on for months and months and it’s got just a little more work until it's finished."
New York:
“I plan over the next few weeks to put out a plan that talks about, specifically, the cost of Medicare for all and, specifically, how we pay for it,” she told the crowd at the event, held at Simpson College.

On Trump's fight to uninsure people

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rule of law, for now

It is contingently heartening that Trump administration's most egregious and damaging attempts to restrict government-supported access to healthcare for immigrants and low income people have so far been slapped down by the courts.  That is, Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky and Arkansas, and the public charge rule, stayed nationally for now.

The counterpoints are many: these stays were all imposed by Clinton and Obama appointees; the Supreme Court could overturn all; the stayed public charge rule is still having a chilling effect, inducing immigrants to forgo vital services for their children as well as themselves; and an ideologically blinkered 5th Circuit may be on the brink of striking down or impairing the ACA - in which case its fate may depend on aged liberal justices surviving through next June.  Our institutional resilience is the sound of one hand clapping.

I have a post in progress for healthinsurance.org to this effect -- this one's a placeholder.  [update, 10/22: here it is].

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Privatizing Medicare: Paul Ryan's soul goes marching on

ICYM the prior post on Trump's executive order aiming to advance the privatization of Medicare on multiple fronts, I've had the chance to refine it twice, on BlueWaveNJ and at medicareresources.org (hence the blogging drought here).

The short version (from the medicareresources.org post):
Issued on October 3, Trump’s order instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take steps aiming to
  • “Voucherize” Medicare in the manner proposed by Paul Ryan – that is, let private Medicare Advantage plans set prices for traditional Medicare, rather than vice versa as at present.
  • Create a private insurance market outside of Medicare for wealthy seniors that would likely lure doctors away from participation in Medicare.
  • Subject Medicare enrollees to the joys of “balance billing” – getting billed by providers for amount in excess of their normal share of the Medicare bill.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Trump's bid to destroy Medicare

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It's clear that Trump is working to destroy U.S. democracy -- selling U.S. aid and favors to countries in exchange for pursuing trumped-up charges against his political opponents.

Now he's following up via executive order with a bid to destroy Medicare.

In the runaway train that is U.S. healthcare costs, Medicare (and Medicaid) is the only substantial brake, in that the government sets prices paid to providers, albeit with outsized provider input. Medicare hospital rates are about half* those paid on average by commercial insurers. Rates paid to physicians average about 78% of commercial rates -- and in high-demand specialties and regions with few providers, commercial insurers often pay four, five and six times Medicare rates.

In countries that successfully offer universal coverage, the government either serves as the sole payer, sets rates for all payers, or oversees all-payer negotiations. The U.S. alone leaves commercial insurers to be divided and conquered by payers. That's the main reason U.S. healthcare costs average about double the OECD average.

In an executive order that begins with a deranged preamble slandering Medicare for All proposals, Trump orders the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare the ground for ending Medicare rate-setting:

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