2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Arizona has only three carriers offering individual market policies next year. Blue Cross Blue Shield of AZ has nearly 40,000 enrollees and is keeping rates virtually flat, but specifically states that yes, they baked in extra costs to account for Congressional Republicans repealing the ACA's Individual Mandate and due to Trump's expansion of #ShortAssPlans (see screenshot below).

Centene is dropping rates by over 5 points. I don't know their exact enrollment/market share, so I'm forced to assume it's similar to last year's 95,000. Again, they call out both #MandateRepeal and #ShortAssPlans, but don't include a specific percentage for either (they did, but it was redacted in the public filing).

Finally, Cigna is dropping their 2019 premiums by a whopping 18.2% even with sabotage factors, which again are referenced in the filing. I don't know their enrollment either, but amd assuming it's roughly 16,000 since Arizona's total ACA indy market is around 150,000 people.

Only limited portions of Louisiana's actual rate filings are actually publicly available at either the SERFF database or the HC.gov Rate Review site, making it difficult to get a bead on the weighted averages. Fortunately, this article in The Advocate does the work for me:

Obamacare premiums to drop in Louisiana in 2019 after years of rate hikes

After seeing years of rate hikes, Louisiana residents getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s individual exchange will see premiums drop in 2019 by an average of 6.4 percent.

The direction is an abrupt turnaround for the individual exchange, created under the ACA —commonly known as Obamacare — to offer insurance to people who don’t receive it through their jobs or other means. Until now, Louisiana’s individual market has weathered years of rising premiums, including a jump of 18.5 percent on average for 2018.

Alaska has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market plans, so it should be a piece of cake to calculate their average premium change, since I don't have to calculate the relative market share.

Unfortunately, some carriers submit multiple filings for different lines of business even if they both use the same "Actuarial Memorandum" to justify the incresae...and often times the memo itself is redacted, with the critical data (covered lives, percent increases, dollar amounts, etc.) blocked out, making it kind of useless for my purposes. Such is the case with Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, the sole ACA market carrier in Alaska. Thanks in large part to the state's successful reinsurance program, they're dropping rates by 7% on most of their policies, and by 10.3% on the rest...but I don't know the relative portion of each, so I can't be sure what the weighted average of the two is. The second listing is for Health Savings Account plans only, so I'm assuming the bulk of their enrollees have the first types of policies, which suggests roughly an 8% overall premium drop.

(see update below)

Last year Alabama had only a single insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield, offering individual market policies anywhere in the state. For 2018, a new carrier, Bright Health Insurance, jumped into the AL market. For 2019, both companies are lowering rates--BCBSAL is only dropping theirs slightly, but Bright clearly way overshot the mark out of the gate and is lowering their prices by 15.5% overall next year.

Unfortunately, neither of the filings clarifies just how many enrollees either has, so I don't know what the relative market share is; I'm going to assume that BCBS held onto about 90% of the total given their monopoly hold last year and the fact that Bright is a new/unknown player in the market (not to mention the fact that Bright seems to have overpriced their first year). Obviously I'll have to change this if I receive hard numbers to the contrary.

It took me four full months for me to analyse the 2019 ACA rate filings for the first 30 states, but the remaining 20 should come fast & furious starting today, because it looks like they were all finally uploaded to the official RateReview.HealthCare.Gov website earlier this afternoon.

Case in point: Hawaii. There's four carrier listings at RR.HC.gov, but this is misleading; two of them are basically double-listed (Hawaii Medical Service Association separated out their PPOs and HMOs into separate listings, but the filing itself merges both; the same is true of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, whish has On and Off-Exchange policies listed separately in the database but again merges them into the same filing). In reality, Hawaii only has two carriers on the Individual Market as they have for years.

The Missouri Insurance Dept. has released preliminary 2019 rate filings for the individual and small group markets. Interestingly, in addition to the ACA compliant rate changes, they also posted transitional policy rate changes as well, which is unusual.

Missouri's situation is pretty straightforward: Three existing ACA market carriers are sticking around, and a fourth one is jumping in (Medica). Since Medica is new to the market, they don't have any actual rate changes to speak of. The other three are requesting rate increases of 3.7%, 7.3% and -8.6% respectively; Celtic is dropping rates next year.

Sabrina Corlette gave the heads up last night...

.@HHSGov hosting media call on short-term plans at 6:30pm ET tonight, suggesting rule release is imminent. For bckground on what's proposed, see #GtownCHIR summary. https://t.co/qFzkLXayYc

— Sabrina Corlette (@SabrinaCorlette) July 31, 2018

And sure enough, they dropped the new rule this morning:

The Trump administration issued new insurance rules Wednesday morning to encourage more Americans to buy inexpensive, skimpy health plans originally designed for short-term use.

There are only two insurance carriers participating in the North Carolina individual market this year: Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna. That's expected to change for 2019, as Centene (aka Ambetter) is expected to jump into the NC market, but in terms of premium changes, it's just BCBS and Cigna which can be counted in my 2019 Rate Hike project.

Cigna hasn't released their 2019 filings publicly yet, but they only held around a 4% market share last year (around 21,000 enrollees) so unless they raise or lower rates by a huge amount, it's unlikely to move the needle much one way or the other.

The other 96% of the NC individual market belongs to Blue Cross...and they just issued a very public statement about their intentions for 2019:

BLUE CROSS NC FILES TO LOWER ACA RATES BY AVERAGE OF 4.1 PERCENT
31 Jul 2018

 

Monday afternoon there was a hell of a jaw-dropper out of the Empire State:

Gov. Cuomo just announced that he has directed Supt. Vullo to reject any individual market rate increase that included an increase to compensate for the repeal of the individual mandate

...Assuming that nothing else changes during the rate review process, this makes carriers that didn't associate a % of their rate request with the loss of the mandate big winners...and those who did, not so much.

Sure enough, after watching the half-hour speech by Cuomo, it sure as hell sounded like he was doing exactly that: Instructing the state insurance commissioner to only allow 2019 ACA individual market premiums to increase by around the 12.1% (on average) that they were expecting to go up with the ACA's individual mandate penalty in place instead of the roughly 24% (on average) that they said they'd have to raise them to cancel out the adverse selection impact of the mandate being repealed:

Hot on the heels of Wisconsin's ACA reinsurance program being approved by CMS comes another reinsurance waiver approval, this time for Maine:

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (the Departments) approved Maine’s application for a State Innovation Waiver under section 1332 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (the waiver). Maine’s application seeks to reinstate a reinsurance program called the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association (MGARA) from 2019 through 2023. As a result of the waiver approval, more consumers in Maine may have coverage, consumers will see lower premiums, and the state will receive Federal funds to cover a substantial portion of state costs for MGARA.

Maine’s State Innovation Waiver under section 1332 of the PPACA is approved subject to the state accepting the specific terms and conditions (STCs). This approval is effective for January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2023.

Summary of Maine’s State Innovation Waiver under section 1332 of the PPACA Application

Michael Capaldo is an employee benefits consultant and self-described "ACA wonk" out of New York.

I don't know him beyond some in-depth wonky online discussions, but I don't see any reason for him to make the following up:

Gov. Cuomo just announced that he has directed Supt. Vullo to reject any individual market rate increase that included an increase to compensate for the repeal of the individual mandate

— Michael Capaldo (@consultbenefits) July 30, 2018

Assuming that nothing else changes during the rate review process, this makes carriers that didn't associate a % of their rate request with the loss of the mandate big winners...and those who did, not so much.

— Michael Capaldo (@consultbenefits) July 30, 2018

There's a lot of fuss and bother yesterday about a brand-new report which tries to project what the costs and savings would be if Bernie Sanders' so-called "Medicare for All" proposal were to actually become law.

The biggest gnashing of teeth was over headlines like this one from CBS and this one from Axios screaming about how "IT WOULD COST $33 TRILLION!!!"

...which is, of course, incredibly disingenous and irresponsible on the face of it for several reasons, primarily because that's over a 10 year period.

January 2018:

It looks to me like after his short-lived 2016 Presidential campaign (seriously, it only lasted 70 days...heck, even Lincoln Chafee's campaign lasted twice as long), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker decided to go back to shoring up his image in his home state...and since Wisconsin is one of 14 states which doesn't have any term limits for the top spot, it looks like he's scrambling to move back to the center policy-wise just in time to run for a third term this November:

Scott Walker proposes plan to prop up Obamacare marketplace

After years of fighting Obamacare, Gov. Scott Walker is now seeking to stabilize the state marketplace under the law.

New Jersey was one of a handful of states with a newly-full blue government which took swift and decisive action to cancel out some of the worst ACA sabotage efforts of the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans this year. The following bills were passed by the state legislature and signed by new Governor Phil Murphy:

  • Reinstate the ACA's individual mandate penalty,
  • Establish a robust reinsurance program to significantly lower insurance premiums for individual market enrollees,
  • Protect people from out-of-network "balance billing", and
  • Cancel out Trump's expansion of "Association Health Plans"
  • In addition, New Jersey already outlawed "Short-Term Plans" (and "Surprise Billing") before the ACA was passed anyway.

In the nearly five years I've been operating this website, I've made it clear that while I'm not a fan of the private, for-profit health insurance industry, I have tried to put myself in their shoes when it comes to business decisions about whether or not to participate in the ACA exchange market and so forth.

For instance, when Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee baked a 7.1% premium hike into their projected 2019 premiums to cover themselves in case the #RiskAdjustmentFreeze turned into a years-long saga a few weeks ago, I noted that it was completely understandable, given the history of CMS reneging on contractual promises over the past few years (first with the Risk Corridor Massacre, then with Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments). In other words, you may think health insurance companies are Evil Greedy Monsters, but a contract's a contract.

Even so, it's understandable that the general public usually plays the world's smallest violin for insurers when they see headlines like this:

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