Charles Gaba's blog

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange today announced that more than 200,000 people purchased their 2019 health insurance coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s online health insurance marketplace, during the most recent open enrollment period held Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 of last year.

Even with the four percent decrease in total number of enrollments reported from February of 2018, the Exchange saw more than 90 percent of those who selected a 2019 health plan during the open enrollment period make their initial premium payment.

A 4% drop may sound bad, but total QHP selections during OE6 were actually down 8.3% year over year (from 243K to 223K), so this is actually an improvement in that sense. 90.5% of those who selected policies are still effectuated as of February this year vs. 86.4% as of February in 2018.

A week or so ago, I reported that the Vermont Health Connect had finally released their official 2019 Open Enrollment Period data.

Vermont is among the few states which also releases their off-exchange numbers, and it's a good thing they do that because it helps explain the 12.3% drop in on-exchange enrollment this year. In short, thanks to VT making the move to active #SilverSwitching for 2019, several thousand people moved from on-exchange Silver ACA plans to nearly-identical off-exchange Silver plans.

Anyway, today they issued a formal press release with additional details...and at the same time bumped up the official enrollment tally by a bit:

2019 Individual Enrollment Report Shows More Vermonters are Covered

Shoutout to James Medlock for digging up this relic from the 2008 Presidential primariy race: A lit piece from then-Senator Barack Obama's campaign slamming then-Senator Hillary Clinton over her insistence on her proposed healthcare policy bill including an Individual Mandate Penalty. How many Republican talking points can you spot below?

There's a lot going on here. For starters, the couple on the first page are basically 2008 versions of "Harry & Louise"...it's a white, middle-age, middle-class suburban couple poring over their finances. Considering that the 1993 "Hillarycare" proposal was destroyed in large part due to the health insurance lobby's successful series of Harry & Louise "there's got to be a better way" ads, Obama using this same tactic had to sting.

New York State of Health, NY's ACA exchange, posted their final statewide 2019 Open Enrollment Period numbers a few weeks back.

A few days ago, they broke that data out further, providing county-level granular data as well:

Press Release: NY State of Health Announces 2019 Enrollment Increases in All Counties of New York State
Feb 22, 2019

HealthSource RI enrollments up by nearly 2,000 customers as RI’s uninsured rate reaches all-time low

Feb 25, 2019

  • According to the latest Rhode Island’s Health Information Survey, only 3.7% of Rhode Islanders were uninsured in 2018, down from 4.2% in 2016.
  • HealthSource RI’s individual and family enrollments increased by 1,849. This Open Enrollment, 32,486 customers enrolled and paid compared to 30,637 last year.

The "...and paid" caveat is important. Last month HealthSource RI reported 34,533 QHP selections after the 2019 OEP wrapped up, so that's an impressive 94% paid/effectuated rate. For comparison, last year 30,637 paid out of 33,021, or 92.8%, so they've improved on that front as well.

Back in mid-January, Connect for Health Colorado released their semi-final 2019 Open Enrollment Period report:

By the close of this year’s Open Enrollment, Coloradans had selected 169,672 medical insurance plans, which compares to 165,777 medical plan selections for the 2018 Open Enrollment period.

Hmmm...I'll have to look into these numbers a bit further. Colorado's 2018 Open Enrollment total was indeed 165,777 according to C4HCO...but according to CMS's official report it was only 161,764 QHP selections. This is the same thing which happened last year, when C4HCO reported 172,361 QHPs vs. CMS's 161,568. It's therefore possible that the final/official 2019 CMS report will put Colorado's total around 4,000 enrollees lower than my own numbers.

However, either way, Colorado joins Massachusetts in increasing their ACA open enrollment numbers every year for five years straight, bucking the national trend!

A couple of weeks ago, Louise Norris gave me a heads up that not only has the New Mexico Insurance Dept. restricted the sale of non-ACA compliant "short-term, limited duration" plans to be...you know...both short term and of limited duration via regulation...

In September 2018, the New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance (OSI) and Health Action NM (an advocacy group for universal access to health care) presented details about potential state actions to stabilize the individual market. OSI has the authority to regulate some aspects of the plans, including maximum duration, but they noted that legislation would be needed for other changes, including minimum loss ratios and benefit mandates.

New Mexico’s insurance regulations were amended, effective February 1, 2019, to define short-term plans as nonrenewable, and with terms of no more than three months. The regulations also prohibit insurers from selling a short-term plan to anyone who has had short-term coverage within the previous 12 months.

(sigh) via Joan Alker of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute:

Last week, the state of Arkansas released its latest round of data on implementation of its Medicaid work reporting requirement – the first in the country to be implemented. As readers of SayAhhh! know, over 18,000 lost coverage in 2018 as a result of not complying with the new reporting rules. And the policy is clearly failing to achieve its purported goal – incentivizing work – with less than 1% of those subject to the new policy newly reporting work or community engagement activities.

Minnesota's new Democratic (pardon me..."Democratic-Farmer-Labor", or DFL) Governor, Tim Walz, has just posted his proposed state budget for the next fiscal year, and it includes some fantastic expansions & improvements to the healthcare system of Minnesota, including both state-level ACA enhancements and a push for a robust Public Option, along with other ideas.

The state House is also DFL-controlled, but the GOP holds a small majority in the state Senate, so I have no idea how much if any of this is politically feasible, but I love the roadmap:

Huh. As Joan Alker of the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute just put it, here's one I wasn't expecting:

Bill expanding ‘Insure Oklahoma’ program passes Senate committee

A Senate bill seeking to expand the Insure Oklahoma program has advanced out of committee Monday morning.

Senate Bill 605, authored by Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, directs the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority to implement "the Oklahoma Plan" within Insure Oklahoma. An agency spokesperson said the program provides premium assistance to low-income working adults employed by small businesses.

The latest numbers from Insure Oklahoma show less than 19,000 are enrolled.

According to McCortney, the intent of his bill is to provide insurance for Oklahomans who would qualify for Medicaid in states which opted to expand but are currently not insured.

Note: Huge props to Amy Lotven for breaking this story!

WARNING: Before you read any of the following, first read this entire post, which explains the latest insane twist in the never-ending Cost Sharing Reduction legal saga. Yeah, I know, I know...just do it. I'll wait.

....

OK, now that you're all caught up, there's yet another aspect to this craziness which has arisen.

Towards the end of the first post, I noted that:

I'm not sure of the details on how those MLR rebates are allocated, but I know in 2018, nearly 6 million people received an average rebate of $119 apiece. Most of that came from the large and small group markets, but around 1 million people on the ACA individual market received $137 apiece (around $133 million total). That's right: It's theoretically possible that the carriers could have to dole out up to 75 times as much in MLR rebates for 2018 as they did last year.

First of all, it turns out that the amount of money potentially at stake is even higher than that:

Note: Huge props to Amy Lotven for breaking this story.

I've written about the CSR Saga so many times that I'm getting tired of explaining the backstory. However, once again, here's the short version:

Once again, the very short version is this:

  • The contract insurance carriers sign when they offer policies on the ACA exchanges is to cover a chunk of low-income enrollee deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs which would normally be the enrollees' responsibility. These are called Cost Sharing Reductions (CSR).
  • The carriers then submit their CSR invoices to the federal government, which is supposed to reimburse the insurance carriers every month.
  • Donald Trump cut off contrctually-required CSR reimbursement payments to insurance carriers in October 2017...and hasn't made any payments since.

(I'm not going to rehash how Trump was able to cut off those payments with a Thanos-like snap of his fingers; suffice to say it's connected to a lawsuit filed so long ago that John friggin' Boehner was still Speaker of the House at the time).

Back in early December, I noted that while I applauded both New Jersey and the District of Columbia for creating their own individual healthcare coverage responsibility requirements (aka, The Individual Mandate) in response to Congressional Republicans repealing the ACA's federal penalty, doing so also required making sure that residents of NJ/DC *knew* they had done so:

There's only one problem with this: The impact of the mandate penalty is completely psychological in nature. It only works (to the extent that it does at all) if people know that they'll be penalized financially for not complying with the mandate.

Two weeks ago, I posted a semi-final state-by-state 2019 Open Enrollment Period breakout which had the total at 11,430,438 QHP selections nationally.

At the time, I projected:

I still expect the final national QHP selection tally to increase by around 35,000 more when the dust settles, including perhaps 1,000 more from DC, 5K - 10K more from New York and around 28,000 from Vermont (which hasn't reported anything so far this Open Enrollment Period). If so, the official total should end up around 11.47 million nationally, with the 12 State-Based exchanges coming in around 1.6% higher than last year (an all-time high for them collectively) vs. the 39 states on the federal exchange, which dropped another 3.8% this year. Nationally, the official total should end up around 280,000 enrollees short of last year.

Since then I've plugged in the final numbers from New York (which indeed added around 6,700 more enrollees), the District of Columbia (which added over 3,000 more) and, just this morning, Vermont (which only added 25,000 more, with a caveat). Net increase? 34,889 QHP selections.

That indeed brings the grand total to 11,465,327 QHP selections nationally...or 11.47 million...with the state-based exchanges increasing 1.6% year over year, and the national total dropping 285,000 enrollees.

At long last, the final piece of the puzzle can be added: I just received the final 2019 Open Enrollment Period numbers from Vermont Health Connect.

Before looking at it, it's important to understand that Vermont has a unique way of reporting ACA-compliant healthcare policy enrollments.

For the first two years of Open Enrollment, the state didn't allow any off-exchange (or "direct") enrollments for the individual market (or the small business market, I believe). That means all indy market enrollments were done through the exchange. Due to technical problems (and possibly for other reasons as well), however, starting in 2016 they started allowing direct/off-exchange enrollment as well, as every other state does (the District of Columbia is the only other ACA exchange which has no off-exchange market). However, Vermont still requires the insurance carriers to report those off-exchange enrollees to them and they report them as well.

I wish every state reported their enrollment data this way; it would make it much easier for me to do my job, since as it stands the off-exchange market is a bit of a mystery in most states.

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