ACA Sabotage

2018 MIDTERM ELECTION

Time: D H M S

As I just noted earlier this afternoon, Massachusetts is NOT expecting the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to impact their 2019 individual market enrollment or premiums for a simple reason: The Bay State never formally repealed their own, pre-ACA mandate penalty. They basically mothballed it once the ACA's version went into effect, and are simply dusting it off for 2019 and beyond now that the federal mandate has been formally repealed.

However, the two mandate penalties don't work quite the same way. For the federal mandate, unless you qualify for an exemption (and there's a whole bunch of those), the penalty for not having ACA-compliant healthcare coverage is (or has been up until now) as follows:

This Just In...

Ready for Open Enrollment, Health Connector sets 2019 plans with lower premium increases, selects community organizations to provide in-person support to residents

Boston – September 13, 2018 – The Massachusetts Health Connector Board of Directors today approved 57 Qualified Health Plans from nine carriers for individuals and families, with new plan designs that create better value for members and premium increases that average under 5 percent from 2018.

Unfortunately, the press release doesn't specify what "under 5%" means, nor does it break that out by carrier/market share. I've put in a request for those details and will update this as soon as I hear back from them. They sent me the following chart, but this only includes enrollees earning between 300-400% of the Federal Poverty Level, which means the marketshare across the entire individual market is likely somewhat different. I'm assuming the 4.4% overall average applies to the entire market but could be wrong about that as well:

For months now, I've been trying to get people to understand that when it comes to sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, especially in terms of individual market premium increases, you have to include the impact of actions taken by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans in BOTH 2017 and 2018, not just 2018 alone.

In 2017, the single largest factor in the ~28% average national unsubsidized premium increase for ACA plans was Donald Trump's cutting off of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) reimbursement payments to carriers. This alone accounted for fully half of the 2018 increase. However, there were other, smaller actions taken which added up to another 3% or so: Slashing the Open Enrollment Period in half, CMS slashing the marketing budget for the federal exchange down 90%, slashing the outreach/navigator budget down 40% and so on.

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Yesterday CMS Administrator Seema Verma posted this on Twitter...

I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we thoroughly evaluate the results of their innovative reforms. #TransformingMedicaid

— Administrator Seema Verma (@SeemaCMS) September 13, 2018

Way back on January 20, 2017, the very day Donald Trump was inaugurated, he issued an Executive Order which started the process of undermining the Affordable Care Act. As David Anderson of Balloon Juice succinctly put it:

yes individual mandate exemptions will be passed out like pacifiers at a rave

— David Anderson (@bjdickmayhew) January 21, 2017

section 2 is the meat. Defangs individual mandate by passing out hardship exemptions like candy on Halloween

— David Anderson (@bjdickmayhew) January 21, 2017

Iowa has only a single insurance carrier offering ACA-compliant individual market policies this year. Next year they'll have two, as Wellmark has decided to Hokey Pokey their way back onto the exchange again in 2019...but since they weren't around this year, there's no current policy premiums to measure any increase (or decrease) against.

That leaves Medica. Here's what they had to say about their 2019 rates back in June:

Medica, the sole carrier now selling individual health insurance policies in Iowa, plans to raise its 2019 premiums by less than a tenth as much as it did for 2018.

Medica raised its Iowa health insurance premiums by a staggering average of 57 percent for 2018. It was the steepest such health insurance increase in Iowa history. Company leaders said last summer they needed the higher premiums to stay in the market. But this time around, the Minnesota-based carrier is planning to raise Iowa premiums by an average of less than 5.6 percent, state regulators disclosed Wednesday.

 Back in June, Washington State delivered the bad news: They were expecting 2019 ACA-compliant premiums to increase by another 19.1% (due primarily to this year's sabotage of the law by Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans) on top of this year's 36% increase (10 points of which was due specifically to Trump's CSR reimbursement cut-off).

Today, Washington insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler announced the approved 2019 premium changes, and while the news certainly isn't great, it's not quite as bad as expected earlier this summer:

Reed O'Conner, the hard-right wing judge presiding over the idiotic #TexasFoldEm lawsuit which could potentially wipe out the Affordable Care Act as soon as January 1st, has been radio silent for the past week since he heard oral arguments over the case from the dueling bands of state Attorneys General.

However, if Tim Jost's description of how that hearing went is anything to go by, it's looking pretty ominous:

To enter the Fort Worth Courtroom of Judge Reed O’Connor on September 5, 2018, was to leave the real world.  The Affordable Care Act was once again on trial.  At stake was access to health care for the 20 million Americans who have gained coverage through the ACA, affordable coverage for 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, and preventive services coverage for 44 million Medicare beneficiaries.

Hmmm...OK, this is rather curious.

New Mexico was one of the earlier states to post their initial, requested 2019 ACA individual market premium hikes back in June. At the time, the five carriers asked for rate increases ranging from a slight drop (-0.4% for Molina) to as high as an 18.5% increase for Presbyterian Health, which is currently only offering off-exchange policies this year. Based on their preliminary filings, New Mexico was looking at a weighted average increase of around 10.0% next year, which would have been more like 4% if not for this years sabotage efforts by Trump and the GOP (mandate repeal & expansion of #ShortAssPlans):

Normally at this point in the year I only do full rate hike write-ups for states when their approved rate changes are made public by insurance regulators. I'm making an exception for Texas, however, because my preliminary analysis of the statewide average premium changes back in June was missing a huge portion of the market--I only had around half the ACA individual market accounted for, and I repeatedly warned that the missing enrollment and rate change data could easily skew the statewide average higher or lower.

Well, it's early September now, and not only do I have access to pretty much all of the missing data now, some of the rate filings have changed significantly as well. At the time, I estimated Texas carriers as requesting average rate increases of just 1.5% overall, with them dropping around 10.6% if not for the ACA's individual mandate being repealed and Trump's expansion of #ShortAssPlans.

I received a tip about this early this morning...which, unfortunately, I was unable to scoop anyone with due to being bogged down/caught up with the #TexasFoldEm drama.

As a result, it looks like Shelby Livingston of Modern Healthcare was first to post about it:

Montana insurer wins lawsuit against feds over unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments

Several health insurers have sued the U.S. government over its failure to make cost-sharing reduction payments that help lower healthcare costs for certain consumers. One just scored the first victory. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled in favor of Montana Health Co-op, which sued the federal government for $5.3 million in unpaid cost-sharing reduction payments, finding that the government violated its obligation under the Affordable Care Act when it stopped paying the CSRs in October 2017."

The rest of the article is behind a paywall, but the gist of it is as follows:

 

Welp. This doesn't look good. As I noted earlier this afternoon, the insane #TexasFoldEm lawsuit held their oral arguments today, and as expected, the Republican-appointed judge in the case, Reed O'Connor, isn't exactly a fan of the ACA. Paul Demko lays out the bottom line in Politico:

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, vigorously questioned attorneys during the three-hour hearing but gave no indication when he would rule.

Lawyers for the Trump administration partially agreed with the red states' argument, concluding that the removal of Obamacare's individual mandate requires striking down the law's insurance provisions, including protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.

But the administration disagreed on the need for immediate action, arguing that any remedies should not be applied until next year.

I noted this back in June, and the numbers are virtually identical today:

In June 2018, President Trump’s administration announced – as part of a lawsuit known as Texas v. United States, brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general – it will no longer defend the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Yes, this is the #TexasFoldEm case which has oral arguments happening even as I'm typing this.

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