2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

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.

UPDATE: OK, it looks like El-Sayed's campaign has already released his plan details after all. I'm reading it over now and will update with my thoughts later today.

UPDATE Midnight Wednesday: Scroll down for my initial thoughts (more tomorrow)

Later today, Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed is expected to release his plan for a state-level single payer healthcare system for my home state of Michigan:

A Democrat running for governor in Michigan is supporting a tax increase to pay for a statewide government-run health-care system, going further than his party’s candidates in other parts of the country who are also calling for expanded coverage.

The past two days have brought a flurry of 2019 premium rate change filings, with Washington, New York, Maine, DC and Pennsylvania putting their preliminary cards on the table. These join 5 other states which had already posted their early numbers, so I now have 10 compiled.

Now that I have a solid amount of state data to work with, I figured I should write up a tutorial to explain my methodology. This has become especially important the past two years since there's some new factors to consider.

This is huge news given that Pennsylvania is the 5th largest state in the country (and a swing state to boot)...but it's also incredibly frustrating due what isn't included. From an official Pennsylvania Insurance Dept. Press Release:

Health Insurance Plan Rates Stabilize, Offer More Choice for Consumers Despite Federal Government Sabotage

Harrisburg, PA – Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman today announced that health insurance rates in Pennsylvania have moderated significantly, counter to the national trend, after Wolf Administration efforts to combat the effects of sabotage on health insurance markets by the federal government and specifically the Trump Administration to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Importantly, the filings indicate that rate increases in Pennsylvania will be significantly more modest in 2019 than other states and many consumers will see more choices in their local markets as a result of Pennsylvania's efforts to increase competition.

Shout-out to Mitchell Stein for this heads up: The Maine Bureau of Insurance has posted their preliminary 2019 individual and small group policy premium rate filings.

One important twist: A few months back I remember reading that Maine, like several other states, was considering establishing some type of reinsurance program along the lines of successful programs in Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon. I also remember reading that the Maine version was unusual--it would actually involve reestablishing an old, discontinued state program which was still on the books but had been mothballed for years. However, I never got around to doing a write-up about it.

Anyway, it looks like the program (Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association, or MGARA for short), is indeed being ramped back up:

Several weeks ago I wrote about a bit of a bombshell development in Virginia:

Members of local advocacy group Charlottesville For Reasonable Health Insurance had provided testimony at the Virginia General Assembly and organized an email campaign, helping to ensure passage of the bill through the legislative session. Introduced by Sen. Creigh Deeds and effective July 1 2018, SB672 will allow self-employed people to take advantage of the much more affordable health plans in the small group business marketplace, without having to hire employees.

...Charlottesville and surrounding counties (Albemarle, Green, Fluvanna) have by far the most expensive healthcare premiums in the nation in 2018. Rates more than tripled for consumers buying coverage on the ACA Individual Exchange, making comprehensive insurance unaffordable for people who do not qualify for subsidy assistance. A typical family of four is being charged $3000 per month for high deductible plans.

via Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo:

A state court in Maine has ruled that Gov. Paul LePage (R) must submit the paperwork necessary to move forward on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover about 70,000 more low-income people in the state.

In her ruling, state judge Michaela Murphy slammed LePage’s health department for unilaterally blocking the expansion’s implementation since voters overwhelmingly approved it by ballot initiative last November.

“The Court concludes that the Commissioner’s complete failure to act cannot be considered substantial compliance,” she wrote, ordering the governor to submit the necessary paperwork to the federal government by June 11.

It wasn’t immediately known whether LePage planned to appeal the decision.

PREDICTION: Yeah, he will. He's out of office in seven months, and I'm willing to bet he's gonna continue doing everything possible to drag this out until his replacement takes office in January.

Hot on the heels of Washington State releasing their preliminary 2019 individual market rate hike request comes a similar press release out of the New York Department of Financial Services...and neither the carriers nor the state regulators are making any bones about the reason for next year's rate increases:

PROPOSED 2019 HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM RATES FOR INDIVIDUAL AND SMALL GROUP MARKETS

Health insurers in New York have submitted their requested rates for 2019, as set forth in the charts below.  These are the rates proposed by health insurers, and have not been approved by DFS.

The good news? As I reported a week or so ago, every county in Washington State will have at least one carrier on the ACA exchange next year.

The bad news? As expected, thanks in large part to sabotage of the ACA by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans, the average requested 2019 premium increase for unsubsidized enrollees is 19.1%:

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Eleven health insurers filed 74 health plans for Washington state’s 2019 individual and family health insurance market, with an average proposed rate increase of 19.08 percent. There are no bare counties, although 14 counties will have only one insurer selling through Washington’s Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. 

Several quick tidbits out of the District of Columbia from the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority May board meeting:

  • Their preliminary 2019 premium rate filings were originally due by May 1st, but this was bumped out until June 1st. Not available publicly yet, however.

As I noted last week, insurance carriers in North Carolina were supposed to have submitted their preliminary 2019 premium rate change filings as of May 21st. Unfortunately, as I also noted last week, those "deadlines" appear to be more "guidelines" in many states, with North Carolina among them; there's no publicly-available premium change data available yet.

However, as Louise Norris notes over at healthinsurance.org, there's some interesting news afoot in the Tar Heel State:

Looking ahead to 2019

Insurers that wish to offer individual market coverage in North Carolina in 2019 had to file rates and forms by May 21, 2018. The two insurers that offer 2018 coverage in the North Carolina exchange — Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina — have both filed rate for 2019. Although the filings do show up in SERFF, they have very little publically available data at this point.

PLEASE NOTE IMPORTANT UPDATES BELOW.

I just received the following from a healthcare broker, who I trust from past communication exchanges, who wishes to remain anonymous. I'm presenting it as sent, with the only changes being breaking it out into paragraphs for readability & with their state's identifying information removed.

Glossery:

Over the past few weeks I've noted that a half-dozen states or so (Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, California and Illinois) have been pushing through a long list of bills/laws at the state level to either protect the ACA from sabotage or even strengthen it. Meanwhile, other states have either expanded Medicaid under the ACA (Virginia, of course) or have locked in ballot measures to do so this fall (Utah, Idaho). Finally, several states have announced they're joining dozens of others to take advantage of "Silver Loading" or full-on "Silver Switching".

Well, things haven't slowed down. Just a few days after eight different ACA/healthcare bills passed out of either the state Senate or Assembly, California legislators have passed several more:

Rhode Island is the 5th state (to my knowledge) to officially post their preliminary 2019 individual market rate change requests.

As shown below, things are pretty cut & dry in Rhode Island; they only have 2 carriers participating in the individual market (Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan). BCBSRI is asking for a 10.7% average increase, while Neighborhood is requesting 8.7% overall.

The estimated market share ratios are based on this press release from HealthSourceRI, the state ACA exchange. That doesn't include the final numbers or the off-exchange enrollment, but it should be pretty close, as there are only 2 carriers and their requested increases are so close to begin with it wouldn't make much difference. The weighted average is 9.3%.

Last night I made a big fuss about New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signing a restoration of the ACA's individual mandate penalty into law.

It turns out that the Governor of Vermont also signed the ACA mandate restoration bill I wrote about back in March into law a few days ago as well...but it's not as noteworthy, for several reasons. As Louise Norris reports over at healthinsurance.org:

Vermont governor signs legislation to implement an individual mandate starting in 2020; working group will sort out enforcement details

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