Charles Gaba's blog

I know I was out of town for a couple of weeks recently, but I'll be on the job this time, really!

I'm flying out to DC Wednesday for the annual Families USA Health Action conference:

Working together, we are stronger. That’s why Families USA brings together community leaders from across the nation each year to improve the lives of America’s families. In 2019 we will meet for the 24th annual Health Action Conference on January 24-26, in Washington, D.C. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

No other national grassroots health care conference brings together the swath of consumer activists and policymakers to inform, engage and inspire America’s health care agenda. We will be rolling up our sleeves to greet a new Congress and state legislatures in 2019.

via DC Health Link (the District of Columbia ACA exchange):

DC Health Link Pulling Out All the Stops for African-American “Week of Action”
Friday, January 18, 2019

Marching in MLK, Jr. Day Parade, barber shop outreach, and visiting churches highlight opportunities to boost African-American health insurance enrollment

WHAT/WHO:

With less than two weeks left to the January 31 deadline to sign up for 2019 coverage, DC Health Link is ramping up outreach efforts to the African-American community, where the uninsured rate remains high. DC Health Link, in partnership with various community organizations, is encouraging uninsured African-Americans to enroll in quality, affordable health insurance during DC Health Link’s “African-American Week of Action.”

New York State of Health continues to roll on with the 2019 ACA Open Enrollment Period. With nine days left for people to enroll, they're now nearly 3% ahead of last year's final QHP selection total:

Press Release: NY State of Health Hosts Online Informational Webinars in Spanish and Mandarin Tomorrow

  • Enrollment Remains Strong During Final Weeks of Open Enrollment
  • Enroll Today! 2019 Open Enrollment Ends January 31, 2019
  • Customer Service Center Hours Extended before Deadline

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 22, 2019) - NY State of Health, the state’s official health plan Marketplace, today reminded New Yorkers that now is the time to enroll in a Qualified Health Plan (QHP) for 2019 coverage. NY State of Health will hold webinars in Spanish and Mandarin tomorrow night, January 23, 2019. Open Enrollment for 2019 ends January 31. Consumers across the state have a choice of many quality health plans, and financial assistance is available to most individuals who buy coverage through NY State of Health.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in an interview airing on MSNBC, stated that two of the major pieces of healthcare legislation she intends on pushing through this session are raising the ACA's tax credit eligibility threshold and "replacing" the now-repealed ACA individual mandate (i was never sure whether "replacing" meant reinstating it or actually replacing it with some other enrollment incentive).

I realize that the odds of any useful healthcare legislation managing to pass the Senate and become law under the Trump Administration is pretty slim, but hey, it's still good news, right!

Well, that news just got a whole lot better! via Richard Alonso-Zaldivar of the AP:

There's a half-dozen or more different healthcare policy overhaul bills which are being batted around by Congressional Democrats these days, ranging from the fairly modest ("lower the Medicare buy-in to age 50!") up through the full-blown, "pure" Single Payer bill being pushed by Bernie Sanders & other "Medicare for All" activists.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a deep dive into another plan being proposed by the Center for American Progress, a leading left-leaning policy think tank. Their plan was rather awkwardly titled "Medicare Extra for All" (MEFA), and it's based in large part on three previous proposals:

I've noted several times before that the Massachusetts Health Connector (MA's ACA exchange) is one of only a handful of states which has managed to break their Open Enrollment record for five straight years:

  • 2014: 31,695 (major technical problems)
  • 2015: 140,540 (complete platform overhaul)
  • 2016: 213,883
  • 2017: 266,664
  • 2018: 267,260
  • 2019: 284,969 and counting...

What's most remarkable about the current total is that the 2019 Open Enrollment Period hasn't ended yet in Massachusetts. Residents still have until midnight Wednesday, January 23rd to enroll.

Oh, yeah...and don't forget: Unlike most states, Massachusetts still has a healthcare coverage mandate law which imposes a financial penalty on MA residents who don't have adequate healthcare coverage (unless they qualify for a hardship or other special exemption):

As part of her proposed 2020 annual budget, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has included an item of particular interest to those following the ACA:

Health Care Access and Affordability

State government plays a critical role in today’s health care system. Every policy decision we make has an impact on the individuals, children and families who need care. The Governor’s FY20 budget proposal builds on this momentum, preserving vital ACA protections that promote market stability and help to keep uninsured rates low. There are no eligibility cuts or broad-based benefit impacts proposed.

...Market Stability and Reinsurance Initiative

Last year there was much hand-wringing by myself and other healthcare wonks about whether or not the Trump Administration would attempt to kill off Silver Loading (and its even-wonkier cousin, Silver Switching). HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma kept sending out mixed and confusing signals about their intentions.

Eventually, Azar decided that while he doesn't like the practice, there wasn't enough time to change the rules before the 2019 Open Enrollment Period was set to begin, so he decided to take a pass for the time being.

Well, in yesterday's NBPP release, the HHS Dept. addressed the issue of CSR reimbursement funding directly...but they also made it clear that they're letting Silver Loading slide for another year:

Here's another wonky-but-important negative change which Trump's HHS Dept. is planning on making to the ACA exchanges starting in 2020:

We propose a premium adjustment percentage of 1.2969721275 for the 2020 benefit year, including a proposed change to the premium measure for calculating the premium adjustment percentage. Under §156.130(e), we propose to use average per enrollee private health insurance premiums (excluding Medigap and property and casualty insurance), instead of employer-sponsored insurance premiums, which were used in the calculation for previous benefit years, for purposes of calculating the premium adjustment percentage for the 2020 benefit year. The annual premium adjustment percentage sets the rate of increase for several parameters detailed in the PPACA, including: the annual limitation on cost sharing (defined at §156.130(a)), the required contribution percentage used to determine eligibility for certain exemptions under section 5000A of the Code (defined at §155.605(d)(2)), and the employer shared responsibility payments under sections 4980H(a) and 4980H(b) of the Code.

Here's what this seeming gobbledygook means, as explained by Matt Fiedler of the Brookings Institute:

Yesterday, the Dept. of Health & Human Services finally released the 2020 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parmeters, otherwise known as the NBPP, several months later than they were supposed to. There's a LOT of proposed changes to digest, and I'll write more about others soon, but I want to focus on one of the bigger ones here: Auto-renewals:

Currently, enrollees in plans offered through a Federally-facilitated Exchange or a State-based Exchange using the Federal platform can take action to re-enroll in their current plan, can take action to select a new plan, or can take no action and be re-enrolled in their current plan. Since the program’s inception, these Exchanges have maintained an automatic reenrollment process which generally continues enrollment for current enrollees who do not notify the Exchange of eligibility changes or take action to actively select the same or different plan.

So I was reading this thread on Twitter...

When people say “oh the shutdown only affects government workers,” remind them that IT requires maintenance. GOV websites that help businesses are going offline by the dozens per week https://t.co/1wGeTgsCyy pic.twitter.com/sYmBwTYFSq

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

How many government servers were not patched in the past month? How many applications and website frameworks were not updated? How many pentests were postponed? How many logs were not examined for intruders?

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

Imagine if your private company simply stopped having employees show up for a month. The government is no different and the impact is larger than all but the most massive private sector orgs

— Ned Pyle (@NerdPyle) January 17, 2019

via Amy Lotven of Inside Health Policy two days ago:

Issuers Urge CMS To Offer Guidance On 2020 Exchange Policy As Rule Stalled

Two associations representing health plans tell CMS that with the annual exchange rule stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) due to the government shutdown, the agency should immediately issue informal guidance that the plans need to understand regulatory and operational changes for the 2020 plan year. Issuers will likely be asked to submit applications in May, and it is critical to get guidance as soon as possible for adequate preparation, the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) and the Alliance for Community Health Plans (ACHP) say in a Jan. 15 letter.

CMS typically released the draft Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) in the early fall and it was generally finalized prior to the new year, although last year the final version was delayed until spring, which also frustrated plans. This year, the proposed rule didn’t land at the OMB for review until Nov. 28.

Livetweets from the Access Health CT monthly board meeting. It's important to note that the Connecticut ACA exchange originally was going to stick with the "official" 2019 Open Enrollment deadline of December 15th, but after the horribly-timed judicial ruling in the #TexasFoldEm federal lawsuit, decided to bump their 2019 enrollment deadline out by an extra month after all:

OVERVIEW: We ended #OpenEnrollment with 111,066 Active 2019 Enrollees. Of those, 71% qualified for premium tax credits.#AHCTBoDMeeting #CustomerFirst

— Access Health CT (@AccessHealthCT) January 17, 2019

With the final Open Enrollment deadlines now having passed for Minnesota, California, Colorado and Connecticut (but some data still missing for CA and CT), it's time to check in once again to see where things stand at the state-by-state and national levels.

At least 13 states have now exceeded their 2018 Open Enrollment performance, 7 of which use state-based exchanges: Idaho, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Colorado, Rhode Island, Florida, Maryland, Hawaii, Wyoming, New York and Utah.

Also worth noting: Four states (Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota) are part of the "Five Year Club"...all four have managed to break their previous enrollment records for five years in a row. Mazel Tov!

This just in from Connect for Health Colorado...

Connect for Health Colorado® Sees Increase in Number of Coloradans Receiving Financial Help in Sixth Open Enrollment Period

DENVER – More than 169,000 Coloradans selected health coverage for 2019 through the state health insurance Marketplace by the close of Open Enrollment Tuesday, an increase of 2 percent over the previous Open Enrollment period, according to new data released today by Connect for Health Colorado®, and the number getting financial help buying insurance grew sharply.

About three of every four people—77 percent – who chose health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado qualified to receive financial help to reduce their monthly premium. That is up from 69 percent in 2018 and 61 percent in 2017.

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