ACA Sabotage

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

 

(*credit to Nicholas Bagley for coining "Texas Fold'em")

Ut-oh. I've only written one blog post about this one (back in February) because the argument behind it is so idiotic that it actually makes King vs. Burwell seem like Marbury v. Madison by comparison.

Here's the short version:

Texas is suing the federal government over President Barack Obama's landmark health law — again.

In a 20-state lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that after the passage of the GOP's tax plan last year — which also repealed a provision of the sweeping legislation known as "Obamacare" that required people to have health insurance — the health law is no longer constitutional.

UPDATE 4:30pm: (sigh) As I expected, the stripped-down version of SB897 passed the state House

SB 897, to impose Medicaid work requirements, passed the House 62-47. #mileg

— Lindsay VanHulle (@LindsayVanHulle) June 6, 2018

The revised version of the bill still has to be kicked back over to the state Senate for a final vote, but that's almost certain to pass, so the only thing stopping it at this point is the possibility of Gov. Rick Snyder vetoing it, which is what I figured it would come down to in the the first place.

UPDATE 6/11/18: So much for that prospect:

A couple of months ago, I sounded a (semi-muted) alarm about the future of Silver Loading and Silver Switching of Cost Sharing Reduction costs when CMS Administrator Seema Verma not only failed to state flat-out that she wouldn't attempt to stop these workarounds, but started giving indications that she was actively considering doing just that.

If this were to happen, then it would be devastating to millions of people while helping almost no one, as my colleagues Dave Anderson, Andrew Sprung, Louise Norris and I explained in Health Affairs a few weeks back.

Well, it appears that this particular bullet will be dodged for at least one year, anyway:

HHS won’t ban silver-loading this year, Azar admits after being pressed. No time to write broad-loading regs for 2019 plan year.

The past two days have brought a flurry of 2019 premium rate change filings, with Washington, New York, Maine, DC and Pennsylvania putting their preliminary cards on the table. These join 5 other states which had already posted their early numbers, so I now have 10 compiled.

Now that I have a solid amount of state data to work with, I figured I should write up a tutorial to explain my methodology. This has become especially important the past two years since there's some new factors to consider.

This is huge news given that Pennsylvania is the 5th largest state in the country (and a swing state to boot)...but it's also incredibly frustrating due what isn't included. From an official Pennsylvania Insurance Dept. Press Release:

Health Insurance Plan Rates Stabilize, Offer More Choice for Consumers Despite Federal Government Sabotage

Harrisburg, PA – Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman today announced that health insurance rates in Pennsylvania have moderated significantly, counter to the national trend, after Wolf Administration efforts to combat the effects of sabotage on health insurance markets by the federal government and specifically the Trump Administration to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Importantly, the filings indicate that rate increases in Pennsylvania will be significantly more modest in 2019 than other states and many consumers will see more choices in their local markets as a result of Pennsylvania's efforts to increase competition.

Shout-out to Mitchell Stein for this heads up: The Maine Bureau of Insurance has posted their preliminary 2019 individual and small group policy premium rate filings.

One important twist: A few months back I remember reading that Maine, like several other states, was considering establishing some type of reinsurance program along the lines of successful programs in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon. I also remember reading that the Maine version was unusual--it would actually involve reestablishing an old, discontinued state program which was still on the books but had been mothballed for years. However, I never got around to doing a write-up about it.

Anyway, it looks like the program (Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association, or MGARA for short), is indeed being ramped back up:

Hot on the heels of Washington State releasing their preliminary 2019 individual market rate hike request comes a similar press release out of the New York Department of Financial Services...and neither the carriers nor the state regulators are making any bones about the reason for next year's rate increases:

PROPOSED 2019 HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM RATES FOR INDIVIDUAL AND SMALL GROUP MARKETS

Health insurers in New York have submitted their requested rates for 2019, as set forth in the charts below.  These are the rates proposed by health insurers, and have not been approved by DFS.

The good news? As I reported a week or so ago, every county in Washington State will have at least one carrier on the ACA exchange next year.

The bad news? As expected, thanks in large part to sabotage of the ACA by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans, the average requested 2019 premium increase for unsubsidized enrollees is 19.1%:

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Eleven health insurers filed 74 health plans for Washington state’s 2019 individual and family health insurance market, with an average proposed rate increase of 19.08 percent. There are no bare counties, although 14 counties will have only one insurer selling through Washington’s Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. 

Several quick tidbits out of the District of Columbia from the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority May board meeting:

  • Their preliminary 2019 premium rate filings were originally due by May 1st, but this was bumped out until June 1st. Not available publicly yet, however.

PLEASE NOTE IMPORTANT UPDATES BELOW.

I just received the following from a healthcare broker, who I trust from past communication exchanges, who wishes to remain anonymous. I'm presenting it as sent, with the only changes being breaking it out into paragraphs for readability & with their state's identifying information removed.

Glossery:

Over the past few weeks I've noted that a half-dozen states or so (Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, California and Illinois) have been pushing through a long list of bills/laws at the state level to either protect the ACA from sabotage or even strengthen it. Meanwhile, other states have either expanded Medicaid under the ACA (Virginia, of course) or have locked in ballot measures to do so this fall (Utah, Idaho). Finally, several states have announced they're joining dozens of others to take advantage of "Silver Loading" or full-on "Silver Switching".

Well, things haven't slowed down. Just a few days after eight different ACA/healthcare bills passed out of either the state Senate or Assembly, California legislators have passed several more:

Rhode Island is the 5th state (to my knowledge) to officially post their preliminary 2019 individual market rate change requests.

As shown below, things are pretty cut & dry in Rhode Island; they only have 2 carriers participating in the individual market (Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan). BCBSRI is asking for a 10.7% average increase, while Neighborhood is requesting 8.7% overall.

The estimated market share ratios are based on this press release from HealthSourceRI, the state ACA exchange. That doesn't include the final numbers or the off-exchange enrollment, but it should be pretty close, as there are only 2 carriers and their requested increases are so close to begin with it wouldn't make much difference. The weighted average is 9.3%.

*(OK, 95%+, anyway)

It isn't often that virtually everyone across the entire healthcare field agrees on anything, and yet here we are. Via Noam Levey of the L.A. Times:

Trump's new insurance rules are panned by nearly every healthcare group that submitted formal comments

More than 95% of healthcare groups that have commented on President Trump’s effort to weaken Obama-era health insurance rules criticized or outright opposed the proposals, according to a Times review of thousands of official comment letters filed with federal agencies.

The extraordinary one-sided outpouring came from more than 300 patient and consumer advocates, physician and nurse organizations and trade groups representing hospitals, clinics and health insurers across the country, the review found.

Last month I noted that New Jersey is taking a leading role regarding protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act; the state legislature has passed bills which would:

  • 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"

(New Jersey actually already had several other "ACA protection" laws on the books in the first place, including protections against short-term plans and "surprise billing".)

In addition, new Governor Phil Murphy had alread proven that he understands and supports the ACA; within days of taking office he had already issued an executive order telling all state agencies to do everything they reasonably can to inform the public about how to enroll during Open Enrollment and so forth.

Sadly, this is pretty much exactly what I've been expecting:

Sen. Mike SHIRKEY (R-ClarkLake) said today he's hammered out an agreement with the administration and the House on creating work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

Speaking during a taping of "Off The Record," Shirkey said, "We have a deal." All sides have signed off on the exemptions to the work requirement, but he didn't get into all fo them pending a formal announcement coming as soon as later this week.

From the wording of this, it sounds an awful lot like "all sides" appears to refer to Republican Senator Shirkey, the rest of the Republican State Senate, the Republican State House and the Republican Governor.

Shirkey confirmed that the 29-hour job requirement in the Senate bill has been pared back to 20 to which he says, "I was hoping Michigan could take a leadership position and set a new standard for that." But rather than jeopardize the entire package, he compromised.

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