START OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD

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CSRs

Right on top of his potentially devastating executive order this morning (I haven't written up a formal post about it after the fact, but my explainer from a few days ago does a pretty good job of giving the gist), Donald Trump has supposedly finally decided to lower the boom for real on cutting off the legally and contractually mandated Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to insurance carriers:

President Donald Trump plans to cut off subsidy payments to insurers selling Obamacare coverage in his most aggressive move yet to undermine the health care law, according to two sources.

The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program.

 

OK, I was in on the Breaking News a few hours ago; unfortunately a) I had to pick my kid up from school and b) our power went out. (I'm currently online via our generator). As a result, I haven't actually posted anything here at the site about the just-announced Alexander-Murray deal until now.

Axios has the basics:

Sen. Lamar Alexander says he and Sen. Patty Murray have reached a deal to fund the Affordable Care Act's cost-sharing subsidies in exchange for giving states more regulatory flexibility with the law. Shortly after Alexander announced the deal to reporters, President Trump called it a "good short term solution."

OK, right off the bat: I guarantee you that Donald Trump (who just yesterday ranted about how "Obamacare is 'dead' and 'gone') doesn't have the slightest friggin' clue whether this (or any other deal) is "good" or "bad". He hasn't read it and he wouldn't understand any of it if he tried to anyway.

Press release from the North Dakota Insurance Dept,, September 28, 2017:

Medica Leaving North Dakota Individual Health Insurance Exchange in 2018
Post date: Sep 28, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. – Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread today confirmed that the Insurance Department was informed late Wednesday, Sept. 27, that Medica does not intend to sign an agreement with the federal government to offer coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange for their individual health insurance in North Dakota for 2018.

“We have had numerous conversations with Medica over the course of the past few months, and given the uncertainty that currently exists around cost sharing reductions, they are unable to move forward in the Federal Exchange,” Godfread said.

Things were looking pretty dicey for two of Montana's three insurance carriers participating on the individual market the past few days. One of the three, Blue Cross Blue Shield, saw the writing on the wall regarding Cost Sharing Reductions (CSR) likely being cut off and filed a hefty 23% rate hike request with the state insurance department. The other two, however (PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op, one of a handful of ACA-created cooperatives stll around, assumed that the CSR payments would still be around next year and only filed single-digit rate increases.

I'm not going to speculate as to the reasons why they both did so when it was patently obvious that having the CSRs cut off was a distinct possibility, although I seem to recall the CEO of the Montana Co-Op said something about their hands being tied since CSR reimbursement payments are legally required, after all. Basically, it sounds like he was genuinely trying to avoid passing on any more additional costs to their enrollees than they had to.

Pennsylvania is the first state which has released their approved 2018 rate hikes since Donald Trump officially pulled the plug on CSR reimbursement payments last Friday. It's also one of just 16 states which had yet to do by then. Most of the remaining states are small or mid-sized, so plugging Pennsylvania into the 2018 Rate Hike Project leaves just Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey as missing states with more than 8 million residents.

Back in June, the PA Insurance Commissioner was pretty up front and clear about what the major causes of 2018 rate increases on the individual market would be:

Insurance Commissioner Announces Single-Digit Aggregate 2018 Individual and Small Group Market Rate Requests, Confirming Move Toward Stability Unless Congress or the Trump Administration Act to Disrupt Individual Market

IMPORTANT: I need to stress that I am not in any way supportive of having CSR reimbursement payments cut off. I've written dozens of blog posts for the past year and a half about the danger this poses and I've repeatedly explained why this is a reckless, dangerous move by Donald Trump, I've even repeatedly noted how incredibly easy it would be to resolve the issue with a simple, one paragraph bill. Having said that, assuming the payments do stop being made, this is an explainer of how to turn it into a "lemonade out of lemons" situation for as many people as possible. Make no mistake, however: Millions of people will still be hurt by this...just not the people Trump thinks he's hurting.

Several healthcare wonk colleagues and I have been carefully piecing together the CSR sabotage price loading strategies for every state over the past week or so. This changed from a theoretical exercise to a real one due to Donald Trump officially pulling the plug on Cost Sharing Reimbursement payments effective immediately late Thursday night.

As in most states, the Michigan Dept. of Financial Services, seeing the potential writing on the wall, sent out a memo to all individual market insurance carriers instructing them to submit two different sets of rate filings for 2018: One assuming CSR payments would continue, the other assuming they won't:

UPDATE 10/13/17: Welp. Trump officially lowered the boom on cutting off CSR reimbursement payments last night, so CSR sabotage is no longer a threat, it's a reality (unless there's a court injunction or the GOP-held Congress actually gets off their asses and formally appropriates the payments with a simple, 87-word bill).

    Covered California (CA's ACA exchange) just issued the following press release:

    Covered California Keeps Premiums Stable by Adding Cost-Sharing Reduction Surcharge Only to Silver Plans to Limit Consumer Impact

    • In the absence of a federal commitment to continue funding cost-sharing reduction (CSR) reimbursements through the upcoming year, Covered California health insurance companies will add a surcharge to Silver-tier products in 2018.
    • However, because the surcharge will only be applied to Silver-tier plans, nearly four out of five consumers will see their premiums stay the same or decrease, since the amount of financial help they receive will also rise. Those who do not get financial help will not have to pay a surcharge.
    • Financial help means that in 2018, nearly 60 percent of subsidy-eligible enrollees will have access to Silver coverage for less than $100 per month — the same as it was in 2017 — and 74 percent can purchase Bronze coverage for less than $10 per month.
    • California and individual markets across the nation still need a clear commitment that the federal government will continue to make CSR payments to promote lower premiums, save taxpayer money and ensure health insurance companies participate.

     

    Joint post by David Anderson, Charles Gaba, Louise Norris and Andrew Sprung

    Note: This post is a joint effort with colleagues who have closely tracked the CSR chaos induced by Trump and Republicans in Congress. Dave Anderson is a former health insurance analyst, now a healthcare scholar at Duke, and a blogger at Balloon Juice; Louise Norris is co-owner with her husband Jay of a unique health insurance brokerage for individual market customers, and a top source of marketplace information and analysis at her own blog as well as at healthinsurance.org and elsewhere. Andrew Sprung writes about healthcare policy on his blog, xpostfactoid, as well as at healthinsurance.org and other publications.

    I noted back in August that there will only be one insurance carrier offering policies on the Nebraska individual market next year (Medica), with Blue Cross Blue Shield dropping out.

    Medica originally requested a 16.9% average rate hike, but that was based on the assumption that CSR funding would be appropriated. However, Louise Norris reports that the final, approved average increase will actually be more like 31% due specifically to the lack of guaranteed CSR reimbursements.

    Medica has 35,269 members on their ACA-compliant individual market plans in 2017. But all of the current Aetna enrollees, as well as off-exchange BCBSNE enrollees, will need to switch to Medica plans at the end of 2017, as Medica will be the only insurer offering plans in Nebraska’s individual market for 2018.

    I was a bit confused by the initial rate hike request for individual market carriers in Kansas, but it seems I was overthinking it. There will be three carriers offering indy market plans this year: Medica, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas and Ambetter (aka Centene, but operating under the name "Sunflower State" here, which is just annoying).

    Ambetter ("Sunflower State") is new to the state, so there's no "rate hikes" to speak of. My confusion was regarding BCBSKS, which is already on the KS exchange but didn't appear to submit any actual "rate change" request last time I checked. Louise Norris has cleared up this mystery:

    WARNING: THIS IS LONG AND WONKY BUT IMPORTANT.

    The Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payment controversy has been sucking up a huge amount of oxygen over the past 9 months. Most of this is due to Donald Trump repeatedly threatening to cut off the monthly reimbursements to insurance carriers since January, but some of the concern was already there before he even took office. Why? Because the whole reason the CSR payments are at risk of being discontinued in the first place is a federal lawsuit filed by John Boehner on behalf of the House Republican Caucus back in 2014.

    The case slowly ground it's way through the judicial process mostly under the radar for a couple of years. Law experts like Nicholas Bagley of the University of Michigan took the view that the case actually had some merit to it on the surface, but should still be shot down due to a lack of standing:

    This Just In...

    Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield's 2018 Affordable Care Act marketplace prices will rise by 25 percent, less than it had requested.

    The insurer had asked the Department of Insurance for a 33.6 percent increase in June, one month after Aetna announced it would pull out of Delaware's marketplace. The withdrawal will end its coverage of 11,854 Delawareans and make Highmark the only insurance provider in the Delaware marketplace. 

    ...Right now, about 27,000 Delawareans have health insurance through the marketplace. The rate increases will not affect Medicare, Medicaid or coverage by private and government employers. 

    ...Highmark's rate request was based on the uncertain future of Obamacare, especially whether the federal government would or would not enforce the mandate that makes uninsured people either opt in or pay a tax penalty, or continue to make the cost sharing reduction payments, which helps reduce prices for low-income Americans.

    Protect Our Care is a healthcare advocacy coalition created last December to help fight back against the GOP's attempts to repeal, sabotage and otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act. This morning they released a report which compiled the approved 2018 individual market rate increases across over two dozen states.

    Needless to say, they found that the vast majority of the state insurance regulators and/or carriers themselves are pinning a large chunk (and in some cases, nearly all) of the rate hikes for next year specifically on Trump administration sabotage efforts...primarily uncertainty over CSR payment reimbursements and, to a lesser extent, uncertainty over enforcement of the individual mandate penalty.

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