Charles Gaba's blog

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bipartisan bill on Thursday that state officials say will help keep healthcare premiums from spiking again next year.

The bill creates what’s known as a reinsurance program for the state’s health insurance marketplace, which was created as part of the Affordable Care Act.

...Without the fix or any action in Washington, Maryland officials predicted that healthcare premiums in 2019 could jump up to 50 percent, driving more of the 150,000 people to abandon the state’s marketplace — possibly leading to its collapse.

As you may have noticed, I'm on a bit of a grandfathered/transitional plan data kick this week (there's a reason for it which you'll understand next week). These numbers are tricky to hunt down, since they aren't tracked by the ACA exchanges. Most states either don't track them at all or don't make it easy for the public to locate, and it's even treated as a proprietary trade secret in a few states.

The Kaiser Family Foundation gave a rough estimate of around 2.1 million people still being enrolled in GF/TR plans last year, but they never broke it out by state. Plus, of course, that was last summer; since no one can newly enter these types of policies, their numbers continue to gradually shrink year after year.

OK, I'm just seeing this now so I could be seriously misreading the article, but if I'm not, this is quite the eye-opener:

Virginia is on the cusp of expanding Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents, after a veteran Republican state senator said Friday that he is willing to split with his party and help Democrats realize a goal they have been chasing for years.

Virginia state Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) said he supports allowing more poor people to enroll in the federal-state healthcare program on two conditions.

He wants the plan structured so that Medicaid recipients do not suddenly lose coverage if their earnings rise. And he wants a tax credit or some other help for middle-income people who already have insurance but are struggling to pay soaring premiums and co-pays.

Earlier today I wrote an extensive post about California's individual market, specifically breaking out the number of off-exchange policies, including a rare look at some hard grandfathered plan enrollment numbers.

I've also managed to dig up a fascinating document from 2010 buried on the Alabama Insurance Department's website, which provides quite a bit of demographic insight into Alabama's overall health insurance market. While all of this info is now 8 years out of date (and even precedes the first ACA open enrollment period), it does provide a few clues into estimating what's going on in Alabama today.

This first table shows exactly what Alabama's individual market looked like: 164,404 people were enrolled in pre-ACA "major medical" policies in 2010:

The California Health Care Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic organization. From their About page:

The California Health Care Foundation is dedicated to advancing meaningful, measurable improvements in the way the health care delivery system provides care to the people of California, particularly those with low incomes and those whose needs are not well served by the status quo. We work to ensure that people have access to the care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford.

A few days ago, I ran a comparison of the average unsubsidized (full price) 2018 premium increases for each state which I had projected last fall against a study last month by the Urban Institute in which they reported the actual average premium increases, by state, of some of the ACA policies available on the exchange. Urban wasn't able to examine every plan, but they did a full analysis on the Lowest Cost Silver, 2nd Lowest Cost Silver (benchmark plan) and Lowest Cost Gold policies in each market and statewide.

Urban's analysis concluded that depending on how you looked at their data, the overall national average increase was between 29-32% year over year...versus my own national projection of around 29.7%.

I didn't fare so well at the state level: I was within 5 percentage points of their actual averages in 31 states, and within 10 points in 6 more. I was way off in the other 14 for various reasons.

OK, I'm finally able to get back to digging into the meat of the FINALLY just-released 2018 Open Enrollment Report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid.

In Part 2, I'm looking at the actual 2018 Open Enrollment Period Public Use Files, which break out a ton of demographic info by state, county and even zip code depending on the state (some of it is available for all 50 states + DC, while other data is only available for the 39 states hosted by HealthCare.Gov).

First up: As I noted earlier today, there's around a 10,000 enrollee discrepancy between the national total I came up with back in early February and CMS's official total. I compared my state-by-state totals against CMS's report and found differences in 5 of the state-based exchanges:

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVE BLOG, SO CHECK BACK FREQUENTLY FOR UPDATES.

Yes, at long last (3 weeks later than last year, which itself was 4 days later than in 2016), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has finally released the official, final 2018 Open Enrollment Report. Let's dig in!

This report summarizes enrollment activity in the individual Exchanges during the Open Enrollment Period for the 2018 plan year (2018 OEP) for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 11.8 million consumers selected or were automatically re-enrolled in Exchange plans during the 2018 OEP. An accompanying public use file (PUF) includes detailed state-level data on plan selections and demographic characteristics of consumers. The methodology for this report and detailed metric definitions are included with the public use file.

The Kaiser Family Foundation runs a widely-respected monthly natonal tracking poll about healthcare issues. The questions they ask sometimes change from month to month, and this month they asked a whole bunch of questions about...the Individual Market and the ACA exchanges. In other words, pretty much a bonanza of data-nuggety goodness for this site:

  • As part of the Republican tax reform plan signed into law at the end of 2017, lawmakers eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate penalty starting in 2019. About one-fifth of non-group enrollees (19 percent) are aware the mandate penalty has been repealed but is still in effect for this year. Regardless of the lack of awareness, nine in ten non-group enrollees say they intend to continue to buy their own insurance even with the repeal of the individual mandate. About one-third (34 percent) say the mandate was a “major reason” why they chose to buy insurance.

A month ago I noted that along with a whole mess of other crap, Congressional Republicans were attempting to effectively starve the ACA out by simply cutting off funding of the law via the recent "must pass" omnibus spending bill:

Republicans also want to use the funding bill to go after Obamacare. They would prohibit funding for administering or enforcing the health care law, prohibit the administration from collecting a fee from insurance companies to run the insurance exchanges and eliminate more than half a billion dollars in funding for managing the program at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(sigh) I'm not quite sure how "prohibiting funding for administration" differs from "eliminating funding for managing the program", but it amounts to the same thing: They're trying to shut down CMS's ability to actually run the ACA.

The good news is that none of that ended up making it into the omnibus bill.

Regular readers know that I've developed a tradition over the past three years of tracking the average unsubsidized premium rate increases for the ACA-compliant individual market, painstakingly poring over the rate filings for every carrier in every state and running a weighted average by their market share.

Every year there are numerous challenges and headaches which get in the way, including things as obvious as "not every carrier publishes the number of enrollees they have covered" to complex situations like "carrier X is dropping out of the on-exchange market in half the counties of the state but is sticking around in the off-exchange market". In addition, many carriers submit an initial rate request...followed a few months later by a revised one...neither of which might end up matching the final premium changes approved by state regulators. Sometimes there may be 2-3 more revised filings along the way which muddy the waters even further.

Over the past few weeks, in the midst of the failed Republican-sponsored "ACA stabilization bill" known as Alexander-Collins (which laughably included "Bipartisan" in the title evne though it had changed dramatically from the actual bipartisan bills which Senators Patty Murray and Bill Nelson had worked with Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins on last fall), Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced real ACA stabilization/improvement bills of their own.

The official names of these bills are the "Undo Sabotage and Expand Affordability of Health Insurance Act of 2018" (USEAHIA) and the "Consumer Health Insurance Protection Act" (CHIPA) respectively, but for pretty obvious reasons I'm shortening each of them to simply "ACA 2.0".

 

Whenever the discussion of what the next Big Move for healthcare policy should be comes up in Democratic/progressive circles, the incredibly difficult path which had to be paved to get the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009-2010 is often brought up as an example of how difficult it is to make even minor changes, much less major ones.

That gets a bit repetitive after awhile, however, so here's another excellent case study from 20 years earlier: The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988.

Thanks to Amy Lotven for this trip down memory lane via the New York Times:

Retreat in Congress; The Catastrophic-Care Debacle - A special report.; How the New Medicare Law Fell on Hard Times in a Hurry

With the benefit of hindsight, legislators and policy makers in both parties now agree that the seeds of disaster for the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act were sown well before it became law barely a year ago.

OK, it's taken me way too long to get around to doing this, but I'm finally going to do livestreaming via Periscope.

You can follow public streams via Twitter, of course (which I may do from time to time), but in order to receive notices of scheduled livestreams, you have to follow me on Periscope itself:

1. Download the Periscope App to your iOS/Android device, of course.

2. Launch Periscope and tap the "People" tab.

3. Run a search for my username: @charles_gaba

4. Tap the + icon to follow me.

Then shoot me a message to let me know you're following me. There's supposed to be a notification tool for announcing when you're going live.

It's my intent to have two types of livestreams: Some will be open to anyone and may be done randomly; others will be scheduled and restricted to certain Patreon supporters.

I'm still working out the details on the distinction between the two, but one way or the other will be having the first one next week.

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