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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
Here's something refreshing: U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) giving a floor speech in which he lays out at least a half a dozen different types of deliberate sabotage of the ACA's upcoming 2018 Open Enrollment Period by the Trump Administration to date. Start at 4:30:
On Senate Floor, King Discusses “Sabotage” of the Affordable Care Act
“Why does anyone want to have fewer people with insurance?”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to address threats to the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare marketplace.
“I’m rising today in sadness, but also in some anger because there’s a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act collapsing,” said Senator King in his speech. “Mr. President, it is not collapsing – it’s being mugged. It’s being stabbed in the back. It’s being sabotaged, deliberately and consciously by the actions of the Administration. And I want to emphasize – this isn’t about ideology, it’s not about politics… this is about people.
INSURANCE DEPARTMENT RELEASES PROPOSED RATES FOR 2018 HEALTHCARE EXCHANGE
Atlanta – Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens announced today that his office had submitted proposed 2018 health insurance rates to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the federally-facilitated Healthcare Exchange for final federal approval.
“Today my office submitted 2018 Obamacare rates to Washington D.C. for approval,” Hudgens said. “In its fifth year, Obamacare has become even more unaffordable for Georgia’s middle class with potential premium increases up to 57.5 percent. I am disappointed by reports that the latest Obamacare repeal has stalled once again and urge Congress to take action to end this failed health insurance experiment.”
I've written not one, not two, but three different blog entries in the past 24 hours about Bernie Sanders' just-announced "Medicare for All" proposal...but the reality is, I shouldn't have. Frankly, while it's a discussion/debate that we do need to have, making a big thing about it right this moment is, the more I think about it, terrible timing, because the Affordable Care Act is still in being attacked and at risk in several ways:
FIRST: The CSR issue still hasn't been resolved, although at this point it's extremely unlikely that Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander are going to pull a CSR/reinsurance rabbit out of their hats after all. Last week things looked somewhat promising, but this week it appears to have gone off the rails again...and with just 17 days left in the fiscal year (and, I believe, only 14 days before the contracts have to be signed by carriers for 2018 exchange participation), there's almost no time left to get even a minor stabilization bill pushed through.
SECOND: On a related note, Bill "so much for the Jimmy Kimmel test!" Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are still trying to cram through their pile-of-garbage Hal Mary Trumpcare bill, which is at least as bad as the GOP's failed AHCA/BCRAP bills were earlier this year and even worse in some ways. Again, there's only 17 days left to pull it off, but remember what happened with AHCA last spring...anything's possible. Here's a summary of the impact of the Cassidy-Graham bill via Andy Slavitt and the Centers for Budget & Policy:
OLYMPIA, Wash. - Eleven health insurers filed 71 health plans for Washington state’s 2018 individual and family health insurance market, with an average proposed rate increase of 22.3 percent. No health insurer filed plans in two counties – Klickitat and Grays Harbor.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has been reaching out to insurers since they filed their plans on June 7 to see if one or more will reconsider offering plans in the bare counties.
“I’m very concerned by the proposed changes we’re seeing,” Kreidler said. “I know these numbers will be extremely upsetting to people who buy their own health insurance. They’re upsetting to me. We’re going to spend the next several months reviewing every assumption insurers have made to make sure their proposed increases are justified.