Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

NOTE: I'm well aware that the math below is of the "back of the envelope" variety and has a lot of caveats and assumptions.

Today is Tax Day, so I decided to do a fun little exercise (OK, it's not fun for those getting stuck with the bill).

Last week I crunched the numbers and determined that roughly 6.5 million middle-class Americans enrolled in individual market policies are being hit with an average health insurance premium hike of around $960 apiece this year specifically caused by the various sabotage efforts put forth by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans last year. This primarily consisted of the CSR remimbursement payment cut-off, but also included smaller factors like threats (later made reality) to not enforce and/or repeal the individual mandate; slashing marketing/outreach budgets by 90% and 40% respectively; and so forth.

I have mixed feelings about private health insurance companies and, by extension, health insurance brokers.

On the one hand, as a universal coverage advocate who'd prefer that it be pretty much all publicly funded, I see private, profit-based insurance carriers as a middleman which shouldn't be necessary in the first place.

On the other hand, until the day comes where universal coverage via a single Medicare-for-All-like national healthcare system, insurance carriers are necessary, and since they offer a variety of different policies with different networks, coverage features, premiums, deductibles, co-pays and so forth, that means a lot of hand-holding is also necessary.

A couple of weeks ago I reported that the state legislature and governor of deep red Utah has agreed to partly expand Medicaid under the ACA...

Gov. Gary Herbert signed a measure Tuesday to give more than 70,000 needy Utahns access to government health coverage, ending years of failed attempts on Capitol Hill to expand Medicaid in the state.

But whether House Bill 472 ever takes effect still remains uncertain. Under President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Utah law needs approval by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which has sent mixed signals on whether it will fully sign off.

Even if CMS does approve HB472, it will likely be about a year — even on an aggressive schedule — before the state can begin enrolling people for coverage.

...but with two major caveats:

This morning I was contacted on Twitter by a woman in Louisville, Kentucky who appears to be in pretty dire straits:

On 7/1/18, in Ky, my Medicaid/ ACA will be canceled. I may still need a brain shunt, LP #8, RXs, PT, etc. I was informed that my PCP could write a letter stating I was "Medically Fragile" but even then the provider has final say. Like fox guarding hen house. Please help me/DM

Here's her story according to her GoFundMe page (I've cleaned up the formatting a bit for easier readability):

I am a disabled attorney living with my 76-year-old mother who takes care of me. In 2011, I was bitten by a tick and was infected with Ehrlichiosis Chaffeensis and Rickettsia. A week later, I contracted Coxsackie B4 virus. Because I was kept on antibiotics for 19 years, I had no immune system to fight these illnesses.

A few days ago I noted that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan had signed a bipartisan bill into law which creates a $380 million reinsurance fund which should cancel out up to 21% of next year's looming individual market premium hikes.

However, I forgot to mention the other important thing that the same bill does: Evidently it would also head off Donald Trump's attempt to open the floodgates on the type of minimally-regulated "short-term" and "association" plans which would further damage the ACA-compliant individual market risk pool:

(C) THIS SUBTITLE APPLIES TO ANY HEALTH BENEFIT PLAN OFFERED BY AN ASSOCIATION, A PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEE ORGANIZATION, OR ANY OTHER ENTITY, INCLUDING A PLAN ISSUED UNDER THE LAWS OF ANOTHER STATE, IF THE HEALTH BENEFIT PLAN COVERS ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES OF ONE OR MORE SMALL EMPLOYERS AND MEETS THE REQUIREMENTS OF SUBSECTION (A) OF THIS SECTION.

I've noted before that now that the Republicans in Congress have repealed the ACA's much-hated (but vitally necessary) individual mandate penalty (effective 2019), the odds of it being reinstated at the federal level are virtually zilch. Even if there's a massive blue wave in November and the Democrats are able to retake both the House and Senate, they're extremely unlikely to be willing to face the same type of firestorm/backlash that they did back in 2009-2010 over it.

If you need proof of this, take a look at the "ACA 2.0" bills recently proposed by both the House and Senate Dems. Both versions check a whole bunch of items off of my "If I Ran the Zoo" wish list...but neither one includes restoring (much less increasing) the Individual Mandate penalty at the federal level.

As I noted last month, the Republican-controlled Michigan State Senate is planning on jumping on board the pointless, wasteful, cruel "work requirement" bandwagon which is all the rage among the GOP types these days.

Sure enough, they're planning on ramming it through within the next week: The Michigan Senate’s Competitiveness Committee is expected to hold a hearing on SB 897, a bill that would impose a work requirement on over 670,000 adult Michiganders with Medicaid health coverage...or nearly 7% of the state population.

The committee chair and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Mike Shirkey (SD-16) is planning on pushing the committee vote through ASAP and then kicking it over to the full state Senate right away.

A few weeks ago I posted an entry title, "Will Trump's HHS Dept. do the stupidest thing possible? Reply Hazy; Try Again Later."

The "stupidest thing possible" being referred to was whether or not CMS Administrator Seema Verma is planning on putting the kibosh on Silver Loading and the Silver Switcharoo starting in 2019:

The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not say Thursday if the Trump administration is considering setting limits on how insurers that sell Obamacare plans structure subsidies for their customers.

"I'm not going to comment on the agency's deliberations," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said when asked by the Washington Examiner about rumors that had circulated about the issue. When pressed about whether any conversations had occurred, Verma said, "I'm just going to leave it at that."

 

WARNING: LOTS OF WONKY NUMBER-CRUNCHY STUFF BELOW.

Skip to the end if you just want to see my findings for every state, but be warned that there's a bunch of caveats/disclaimers involved.

UPDATE: To clarify, you're looking for the VERY LAST TABLE. Not that one...no, not that one either...the one at the very bottom of the post. I've added a highlighted note right above it.

The total individual/family policy health insurance market was roughly 10.6 million people in 2013. This included people enrolled in either "grandfathered" policies (i.e., policies enrolled in prior to the ACA being signed into law in 2010) or in "transitional" policies (those enrolled in between 2010 and late 2013, just before the ACA required all new individual market policies to be fully compliant with the new healthcare law.

How many of those 10.6 million people are still enrolled in grandfathered (GR) or transitional (TR) policies today? Unfortunately, there seems to be very little available data about just how many people are still in these policies. The Kaiser Family Foundation gave a rough estimate of around 2.1 million people last year, which sounded about right to me. However...Kaiser didn't include a state-level breakout of their estimates, and of course it's a year later so that number, if accurate, has probably shrunk a bit more.

Last month I noted that while Congressional Republicans spent all of 2017 desperately attempting to "blow up" the Affordable Care Act via a combination of legislation, the Trump Administration simultaneously tried to tear down the law via various regulatory sabotage efforts. This year the GOP Congress appears to have mostly given up on their mischief (they did manage to partially wound the ACA by repealing the individual mandate), the Trump Administration is doubling down on regulatory sabotage, laying what I've termed "Regulatory Siege" to the law.

In my mind, "phase one" included the non-legislative stuff Trump did last year, including stuff like cutting off CSR reimbursements, slashing the Open Enrollment Period in half, slashing marketing funding by 90%, slashing the outreach budget by 40% and so on. "Phase two" includes the previously-announced #ShortAssPlans executive order, CMS allowing work requirements for Medicaid and so forth (individual mandate repeal belongs here as well, although that was legislative, not regulatory...although there's overlap as you'll see below).

Yesterday brought Phase Three.

The total individual/family policy health insurance market was roughly 10.6 million people in 2013. This included people enrolled in either "grandfathered" policies (i.e., policies enrolled in prior to the ACA being signed into law in 2010) or in "transitional" policies (those enrolled in between 2010 and late 2013, just before the ACA required all new individual market policies to be fully compliant with the new healthcare law.

How many of those 10.6 million people are still enrolled in grandfathered (GR) or transitional (TR) policies today? Unfortunately, there seems to be very little available data about just how many people are still in these policies.

via Christopher Snowbeck of the Star-Tribune:

Positive Blue Cross results trigger rebates to consumers
It is legally required to return about $30 million of its 2017 profit to subscribers.

After three years of losses in the state’s market where individuals buy health insurance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota made so much money last year that it has to give some back.

The Eagan-based carrier, which is the state’s largest nonprofit health plan, disclosed last week that it expects to provide $30 million in consumer rebates as required by rules in the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Analysts said that Blue Cross likely isn’t alone in having overshot with rates last year, since insurers across the country have been struggling to figure out how much premium revenue they need to cover the cost of medical bills in the individual market.

In Minnesota, rebates driven by big margins are a surprising cap to a year that started with fears that mounting losses would cause a market collapse.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bipartisan bill on Thursday that state officials say will help keep healthcare premiums from spiking again next year.

The bill creates what’s known as a reinsurance program for the state’s health insurance marketplace, which was created as part of the Affordable Care Act.

...Without the fix or any action in Washington, Maryland officials predicted that healthcare premiums in 2019 could jump up to 50 percent, driving more of the 150,000 people to abandon the state’s marketplace — possibly leading to its collapse.

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