CSRs

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Last year, while Congressional Republicans were doing everything possible to officially repeal the Affordable Care Act via legislative means, Donald Trump spent months repeatedly threatening to cause the ACA individual market exchanges to either "explode" or "implode" (depending on the day) by, among other things, cutting off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to insurance carriers.

As I've explained many times before, Trump thought that his cutting off CSR payments would cause the insurance carriers to flee the markets altogether. He also thought his actions would simply cause low-income ACA enrollees to lose the financial assistance they were receiving to cover deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses altogether, which is a reasonable assumption if you don't understand how CSRs actually works (which I guarantee you Trump doesn't).

*(OK, that's hyperbole...unsubsidized enrollees are still left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in unnecessary premium payments for at least another year or so, and there's still no guarantee of the final ruling...see below...)

Almost exactly a year ago, Donald Trump, after 9 months of bluster about doing so so, finally pulled the trigger on his threat to cut off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments to insurance carriers for the deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses which they agree to cover every month for around 7 million low-income ACA exchange policy enrollees.

Trumps stated goal in doing so was, of course, to "blow up" the ACA, to cause it to "implode" (which is actually the opposite of blowing something up, but that's a different discussion) and ultimately fail in the process.

Today at 11am CST (I think that's Noon EST?), HHS Secretary and Donald Trump's Used Car Salesman Alex Azar will give a Big Speech to the Nashville Health Care Council in Tennessee:

Tomorrow, HHS Secretary Azar will join Governor Haslam in Nashville, Tennessee to deliver remarks at an event hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council.

Secretary Azar will share news regarding the Affordable Care Act marketplace and reflect on lessons for healthcare reform.

In advance of tomorrow, here are a few excerpts of Secretary Azar’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

“The previous administration’s major healthcare achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was an attempt to use more government regulation and intervention to improve American healthcare.

“As we all know, the results were disastrous, with skyrocketing costs and disappearing choices.

“But today, I am here to share with you some good news.

As I noted last month when I first analyzed the requested 2019 rates for North Dakota insurers, ND was somewhat unique last year in that it was one of only two states (the other was Vermont) which didn't tack on any extra premium increases for 2018 to account for the lost Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement revenue after Donald Trump cut off those payments last October.

This led to one of North Dakota's three carriers, Medica, dropping off the ACA exchange altogether, though they still ended up enrolling a few hundred people directly via the off-exchange market.

I received a tip about this early this morning...which, unfortunately, I was unable to scoop anyone with due to being bogged down/caught up with the #TexasFoldEm drama.

As a result, it looks like Shelby Livingston of Modern Healthcare was first to post about it:

Montana insurer wins lawsuit against feds over unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments

Several health insurers have sued the U.S. government over its failure to make cost-sharing reduction payments that help lower healthcare costs for certain consumers. One just scored the first victory. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of Montana Health Co-op, which sued the federal government for $5.3 million in unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments, finding that the government violated its obligation under the Affordable Care Act when it stopped paying the CSRs in October 2017."

The rest of the article is behind a paywall, but the gist of it is as follows:

When I first analyzed Vermont's 2019 ACA policy rate filings back in May, the state's two ACA carriers, Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP Healthcare, were requesting average premium increases of 7.5% and 10.9% respectively.

Vermont's situation is unusual compared to most other states for a couple of reasons. First of all, VT is one of only two states (Massachusetts is the other one) which has merged their Individual and Small Group market risk pools into one to help stabilize both markets. This is something I wish every state would do, frankly, although it's probably a lot easier to do in deep blue states (and Vermont having such a small population probably made it easier as well).

Utah has four carriers offering ACA-compliant individual market plans. Two of them (BridgeSpan and Regence BCBS) only offered their policies off-exchange this year; I'm not sure what the status is for either one in 2019. I can only find hard enrollment data for one of the four (Regence), so I'm estimating the other three based on a combination of last year's numbers and the total estimated individual market size in Utah from 2017. Because of this, consider the Utah estimates to be even rougher than some other states.

Having said that, there's one interesting extra sabotage factor to consider for the University of Utah rate filing: They note that they've added an extra 10.3% to their 2019 rates specifically tied to last year's Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) cut-off. I presume they chose not to bake the CSR load into their rates this year, but I don't think Utah went the "mixed load" route so who knows?

In any event, as far as I can tell, this means around a 14-point #ACASabotage factor, between CSR load, mandate repeal and #ShortAssPlans.

North Dakota was one of only two states (the other one was Vermont) which didn't allow their insurance carriers to add any additional premium load into their 2018 rates to account for Donald Trump's cut-off of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments.

In direct response to this, Medica Health Plans dropped out of the ND on-exchange individual market this year to avoid taking the CSR hit. They hung around the off-exchange market, however, and therefore still have about 600 enrollees in the state.

As a result of this, my estimated impact of ACA sabotage efforts by the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans has to include the factors from both 2017 and 2018: Cost-Sharing Reduction cut-off (9%) as well as Mandate Repeal and Short-Term Plan expansion (13.8%).

March 20, 2018:

Azar Says He Is Not Aware Of Discussions On Blocking ‘Silver-Loading’ in 2019

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that he has not been involved in discussions about blocking ‘silver-loading’ plans in 2019 and is not aware of any agency discussions about ending the practice at the moment.

...In recent weeks, some stakeholders have speculated that the Trump administration could block silver-loading in 2019. Several pro-ACA experts say that even though the administration may have authority to stop silver-loading, it would be a self-destructive move, especially leading up to the November midterm elections.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma told reporters on Thursday (March 22) that she was “very concerned” about certain aspects of ‘silver loading’ plans, namely that it raises costs for unsubsidized consumers and the federal government. Verma did not commit to allowing or blocking the process for the 2019 plan year.

 

via Amy Lotven of Inside Health Policy:

Update: The court has instead opted to dismiss the case; but states can bring action again if circumstances change i.e. Admin blocks silver-loading in 2020 and beyond. IHP story TK @nicholas_bagley @charles_gaba taking comments ! https://t.co/cPHJlmehsH

— Amy Lotven (@amylotven) July 18, 2018

She's referring to this:

Dem AGs Ask Court To Put CSR Case On Hold In Light Of Silver-Loading

This year, thanks to their reinsurance program, ACA individual market premiums dropped by around 23.6% on average, from a whopping $1,040/month to "only" $795/month per enrollee.

HOWEVER, they would have dropped about 4.5 percentage points more if not for Trump cutting off Cost Sharing Reduction reimbursement payments, or roughly $560/year per enrollee. AK averaged around 16,000 effectuated ACA-compliant individual market enrollees per month in 2017, so that amounts to right around $8.9 million total. 6,930 enrollees qualify for CSR assistance this year, so that averages around $1,280 apiece in CSR help, which sounds about right to me.

Last fall I wrote a lot about how different states would be dealing with the tens of millions of dollars in losses they were facing after the Trump Administration decided to cut off Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments to them. As a quick reminder, there basically four (or five, depending on your POV) options available to each carrier and/or state insurance commissioner for dealign with CSR costs for 2018:

  • No Load: They could gamble that the CSR problem would be resolved and the payments would be made after all (i.e., they would price normally).
  • Broad Load: They could spread the CSR cost out evenly across all of their 2018 ACA policies, on exchange & off.
  • Silver Load: They could load the CSR costs onto all Silver plans only (both on & off exchange).
  • Silver Switcharoo: They could load CSR costs onto all on-exchange Silver plans only, while also creating "mirror" Silver plans off-exchange without any CSR load.
  • Mixed Load: Each insurance carrier could choose whichever of the other 4 strategies they wanted to and let the chips fall where they may. Not sure if this really counts as a "strategy", since it's more or less "all of the above".

For nearly a year, healthcare wonks like myself, David Anderson, Andrew Sprung and Louise Norris have been heavily getting the word out to promote not just the "Silver Loading" CSR-load workaround, but an even more clever variant which I've coined "the Silver Switcharoo" which takes the concept of Silver Loading and goes one step further.

It gets a bit complicated, but here's my explainer of how the Silver Switcharoo works for ACA individual market policies.

The bottom line is that in theory/on paper, just about everyone either comes out ahead or at least is no worse off if they use silver switching:

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.

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