Iowa

2019 OPEN ENROLLMENT ENDS (most states)

Time: D H M S

I just received the following press release from the Iowa Insurance Division...

2019 Health Insurance Enrollment Deadline Approaches

Des Moines – Open enrollment begins November 1 and ends December 15 for Iowans purchasing or changing their Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual health coverage to become effective January 1, 2019.

“As the open enrollment season begins, Iowans should thoroughly research all coverage options. The ACA-compliant insurance market is available to Iowans, however, most Iowans have been priced out of that market if they are not currently receiving federal subsidies to help pay premiums and, in some instances, deductibles. I would encourage consumers to meet with a licensed insurance agent to determine the best plan for themselves and their families,” Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said. “Changes made at the Iowa state legislature and by the federal government have provided a few more options in addition to ACA-compliant coverage for Iowans to review as they plan out their health needs for 2019.”

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.

Last year, Iowa's already-ugly individual market was rocked further yet by Big Kahuna Wellmark announcing that after finally entering the ACA exchange market in 2017, they were dropping back out again this year, leaving Medica as the only carrier offering ACA-compliant policies throughout the whole state. In response, Medica raised their 2018 ACA rates by a whopping 57% this year. This, in turn, led to the state legislature passing a law which stripped away pretty much any type of restriction or regulation of "Farm Bureau" plans, exacerbating the risk pool problem further yet.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Iowa had come up with an ingenious plan to resolve their troubled individual health insurance market: Start offering junk plans for everyone and damn the consequences:

Well, sure enough, just yesterday the Iowa state Senate voted to allow unregulated junk plans to be sold to...pretty much anyone in the state:

The Iowa Senate voted Wednesday to let the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield sell health insurance plans that don't comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

The new coverage could offer relatively low premiums for young and healthy consumers, but people with pre-existing health problems could once again be charged more or denied coverage.

*(except people who are actually sick, that is) --h/t Anne Paulson

I've written a lot about Idaho's decision to simply ignore ACA regulations by allowing non-ACA compliant healthcare policies which would destabilize the individual healthcare market even worse than it already is today.

A couple of weeks ago, University of Michigan law professor and ACA expert Nicholas Bagley explained how the bigger danger here is that if this move is allowed to stand, it won't be limited to just Idaho:

But it would be a mistake to ignore what Idaho is up to. If the Trump administration doesn’t intervene, other red states will surely follow in its footsteps. The result will be widespread disregard of the law and the rise of state-to-state inequalities in the private market similar to those that already exist in Medicaid.

 

May 11, 2015:

Wellmark spurns Obamacare exchange, but two competitors don't

Moderate-income Iowans who want to use Affordable Care Act subsidies to purchase health insurance still won't be able to choose policies from Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield next year. But they should be offered policies from at least two competitors.

April 25, 2016:

Iowa’s dominant health insurer has agreed to start selling policies a year from now that qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

A couple of weeks ago, a joint letter was sent to all four Congressional leaders from AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans), the BlueCross BlueShield Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the AMA, the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitalsm warning them, in no uncertain terms, of what the consequences of repealing the individual mandate would be:

We join together to urge Congress to maintain the individual mandate. There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need. Let’s work together on solutions that deliver the access, care, and coverage that the American people deserve.

A week or so ago, the American Academy of Actuaries sent a similar letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating pretty muc the same thing, but in more vivid detail:

With 43 states accounted for, Open Enrollment itself looming just 6 days from now and HealthCare.Gov's window shopping tool now open for business anyway, there aren't likely to be too many surprises left for my 2018 Rate Hike project. For that matter, healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health just published their own analysis which confirms my own closely: They have the 2018 on exchange average increase at 29.1%, while I currently have the combined on & off-exchange average (for 43 states) at 29.2%.

Still, I don't like loose ends, and those 8 missing states are bugging me, so I still want to fill them in for completeness' sake. The only big state remaining is Texas, but I'm also missing Alabama, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

Things are looking pretty precarious in Iowa for 2018, with Wellmark and Aetna bailing entirely on the state's individual market.

The good news, such as it is, is that Medica has stepped up to the plate as the sole insurance carrier filing to offer indy market policies (on the ACA exchange or off, I believe) across all 99 counties next year.

The bad news--although I can't really say that I blame them under the circumstances--is that they're insisting that they'll need a big rate hike to do so.

Here's the thing, though: First check out the headline in this story about it from The Hill:

Only ObamaCare insurer in most Iowa counties to hike premiums by 43.5 percent

One of the last insurers on Iowa's ObamaCare exchanges announced Monday it would sell plans in 2018 but proposed an average rate increase of 43.5 percent.

Of the 31 states which have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, only a handful issue regular monthly or weekly enrollment reports.

I noted in February that enrollment in the ACA's Medicaid expansion program had increased by around 35,000 people across just 4 states (LA, MI, MN & PA).

It's early June now, so I checked in once more, and the numbers have continued to grow. I have the direct links for 5 states now (including New Hampshire)...

While poking around in the SERFF rate filing database for different states, I occasionally find filings which DON'T apply to ACA-compliant policies or enrollees but which are of interest to healthcare nerds such as myself. I've decided to bundle these into a single post as they pop up, so check this entry once in awhile.


IOWA: Big Kahuna carrier Wellmark submitted a filing for non-ACA compliant small group policies (either grandfathered or transitional) which have effective/renewal dates of July, August or September 2017. The requested rate increase is 7.0% on average, which is pretty typical for small group plans, and it appears that Wellmark had 51,003 people enrolled in such policies as of 12/31/16. Nothing odd there.

What interested me, however, was this sentence:

Not exactly a surprise: The stampede appears to be starting.

The efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act have caused worry for insurers, who aren’t sure about the law’s future or what would replace it. On Thursday, Aetna Inc. said it would pull out of Iowa’s Obamacare market, becoming the second major health plan to do so this week after Wellmark Inc. said it was quitting the state as well.

“Aetna will not participate in the Iowa individual public exchange for 2018 as a result of financial risk and an uncertain outlook for the marketplace,spokesman T.J. Crawford said in an email Thursday. “We are still evaluating Aetna’s 2018 individual product presence in our remaining states.”

 

April 25, 2016 (less than 1 year ago):

there's some positive news for Iowa, at least; as noted by Cynthia Cox and reported on by Tony Leys of the Des Moines Register, Wellmark is joining the Iowa exchange next year:

Iowa’s dominant health insurer has agreed to start selling policies a year from now that qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield has not participated in the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace, which launched in the fall of 2013. The main effect of the company’s decision was that moderate-income Iowans could not choose Wellmark insurance if they wanted to purchase policies that qualified for new federal subsidies to help pay premiums.

Normally I post screenshots from the revised/updated SERFF filings and/or updates at RateReview.HealthCare.Gov, but it takes forever and I think I've more than established my credibility on this sort of thing, so forgive me for not doing so here. Besides, #OE4 is approaching so rapidly now that this entire project will become moot soon enough, as people start actually shopping around and finding out just what their premium changes will be for 2017.

The other reason I'm not too concerned about documenting the latest batch of updates/additional data is because in the end none of it is making much of a difference to the larger national average anyway; no matter how the individual carrier rates jump around in various states, the overall, national weighted average still seems to hover right around the 25% level.

Still, for the record, here's the latest...in four states (Iowa, Indiana, Maine & Tennessee) I've just updated the requested and/or approved average increases. In the other four (Massachusetts, Montana, North & South Dakota) I've added the approved rate hikes as well.

Thanks to commenter "InTheKnow" for the heads up:

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced Tuesday that it will narrow its choices for individual Affordable Care Act plans in Iowa and will eliminate ACA individual plans in South Dakota altogether in 2017.

First, some clarification: Wellmark isn't on the exchange to begin with, and wasn't planning on joining it in SD next year, so this is a rare case of a carrier dropping their off-exchange individual market offerings. Since all of Wellmark's indy enrollees in South Dakota are paying full price, this one can't be blamed on APTC enrollees being sicker than average, etc.

Having said that, this does impact around 8,000 off-exchange enrollees in SD.

As for Iowa, it's more of a mixed bag...Wellmark is basically swapping out higher end PPO plans for lower end HMO, which is pretty much the trend everywhere:

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