Sabotage

Five weeks ago, when Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter announced that Idaho had decided to basically just blow off federal law altogether and start offering non-ACA compliant health insurance policies on the individual market alongside the compliant versions, I wrote:

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I understand why Idaho would do this. Yes, of course the deep red state government opposes the ACA in general and sure, they want to "lower premiums" on the individual market, but Trump's recent "ShortAss Plan" executive order would do pretty much the same thing (allowing non-ACA compliant off-exchange "Short Term/Association Plans" which amount to the same thing...without putting GOP Gov. Butch Otter's fingerprints all over the ugly stories which would soon follow if/when people started actually enrolling in these types of policies. Besides, as much as Idaho claims to hate the ACA, they seem to be quite proud (and rightly so) of their own state-based ACA exchange, Your Health Idaho.

Well, it sounds like CMS Administrator Seema Verma was thinking along the same lines, because this unexpected story broke a few hours ago: Verma sent a letter to Otter and his state Insurance Commissioner shooting down their "state-based plans" idea as being flat-out illegal.

Today, Covered California issued a new study about the projected impact of Donald Trump and Congressional Republican efforts to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act not just in 2019, but over the next 3 years. They main focus is on two sabotage moves which have already happened (repeal of the individual mandate and the shortened/underfunded marketing of the open enrollment period on the federal exchange) and one which is on the verge of happening (Trump's "Short Term and Association Plan" executive order, aka #ShortAssPlans).

Here's what they concluded:

Thanks to Twitter follower "@tweetmix" for bringing this to my attention.

Back in late January, I noted that while the ACA's Shared Responsibility Penalty (aka the Individual Mandate) was repealed by Congressional Republicans back in December, ithe repeal doesn't actually go into effect until spring 2020 (for lacking coverage in 2019). For 2017 and 2018, it's still on the books...and the IRS has stated point-blank that they will be rejecting tax returns that don't include a statement of ACA-compliant coverage. This, I noted, is going to piss off a whole bunch of confused people who are under the assumption tthat the mandate penalty has already been repealed. My suspicions were confirmed by last week's Kaiser Family Foundation survey, which found that sure enough, at least 21% of the country incorrectly thinks that they don't have to pay a fine for not having compliant coverage this year.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has decided to shut down Donald Trump's #ShortAssPlans executive order before it starts infecting the Evergreen State (yes, that's their official nickname...I looked it up):

Kreidler announces intention to being rulemaking on short-term medical plans

March 6, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler announced his intention today to begin rule-making to create protections for Washington consumers who buy short-term medical plans. He is taking this action in response to the recent rules the Trump administration proposed to increase the duration of short-term medical plans from 90 days to up to 364 days.

In a statement last week, Kreidler shared his concerns about short-term medical plans:

SOME GUY, OCTOBER 2017:

With the 2018 Open Enrollment Period coming up just 5 days from now, it's time to put this to bed: After 6 months of painstaking research and analysis, I've compiled a comprehensive analysis of the weighted average rate changes for unsubsidized ACA-compliant individual market policies in 2018, including both the on- and off-exchange markets. It's already been confirmed by a different analysis by healthcare consulting firm Avalere Health, which used a completely different methodology to arrive at the exact same conclusion: The national average increase is between 29-30%, ranging from as low as a 22% average premium drop in Alaska (thanks to their successful reinsurance program) to as high as a painful 58% increase in Virginia.

“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

Over a year and a half ago, I noticed that aside from the usual names being listed as insurance carriers offering individual market policies in various states (Humana, Molina, Blue Cross Blue Shield, etc), there was one other name which kept popping up over and over again: "Freedom Life":

Covered California’s Executive Director Addresses Harvard Study on Impact of Eliminating Individual Mandate on Enrollment and Premium

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee issued the following statement in connection with the Harvard Medical School Study, “Eliminating the Individual Mandate Penalty in California: Harmful but Non-Fatal Changes in Enrollment and Premiums,”published in Health Affairs. The Harvard study, conducted by a team lead by Dr. John Hsu, is the first national effort to measure the potential impacts of removing the individual mandate penalty based on surveying actual California consumers about their likely actions in the face of there being no penalty.

via Covered California, yesterday:

  • An analysis of potential premium changes in states across the nation shows increases of 16 to 30 percent likely in 2019 if federal steps are not taken.
  • While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s subsidies would largely insulate subsidized consumers from these costs, millions of unsubsidized consumers would pay the full price of these increases. Many would likely be priced out of coverage.
  • Continued policy and premium uncertainty risks further carrier withdrawals, leaving more consumers with only one health plan and even the prospect of “bare counties.”
  • The analysis reviews three federal policy options that could stabilize markets and mitigate the impact of premium increases in many states.
  • Covered California’s open-enrollment period is still underway and consumers have through Jan. 31 to sign up for coverage.

Welp. The Republicans did it. And later today, barring some dramatic last-minute development, the GOP Tax Scam is gonna be signed into law.

UPDATE: It's done. It passed the GOP House, GOP Senate and GOP House (again). Trump's signing it at any moment.

The GOP Tax Scam does many terrible things, of course, many of which are worse than repealing the ACA’s individual mandate. And even within the healthcare arena, the $25 billion PAYGO Medicare cut caused by the GOP tax scam is arguably more damaging overall.

Still, ACA stuff is my wheelhouse, so I’ll stick to the direct impact the bill (if it does become law) would have on the Affordable Care Act.

Above is the video explainer I whipped up a few weeks ago. It’s long and a bit wonky, but it should give a pretty good overview of the situation.

What about the two “market stabilization” bills that Susan Collins was supposedly demanding in return for her “Yes” vote? Yeah, about those:

Last winter and spring, you may recall that I crunched a ton of data to come up with my best estimates about just how many people were projected to lose their healthcare coverage at the Congressional District level in the event various versions of Affordable Care Act repeal/replacement bills were to be signed into law (the AHCA, BCRAP, ORRA and so forth). After the first couple of attempts, the folks over at the Center for American Progress took over much of the heavy lifting on my part.

CAP started breaking the numbers out, leaving me to separate them out into easily-sharable state-level infographics (I also added partisan info for each member of Congress, since every Democrat has been steadfastly opposed to each one of these bills, while just about every Republican has supported most of them so far).

 

Welp. There you have it.

It's not over yet, since the House of Representatives still has to vote on the bill again (either as is, or after hashing out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill), but assuming the final version of the bill includes mandate repeal and is indeed signed into law, this is what the ACA's 3-legged stool would look like when the dust settles.

Obviously I'll have much more to say about what happened last night soon, but for the moment I'll leave it at this.

 

(h/t to former CCIIO Director Gary Cohen for the reminder)

You've probably never heard of the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO)...

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), part of the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), provides national leadership in setting and enforcing standards for health insurance that promote fair and reasonable practices to ensure that affordable, quality health coverage is available to all Americans. The center also provides consumers with comprehensive information on coverage options currently available so they may make informed choices on the best health insurance for their family.

...but among other things, they're the folks who actually implement the ACA, including, among other things, HealthCare.Gov (I'm not sure if it's the same team that operates HC.gov or not...probably a lot of overlap between the two?).

Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight

Ensuring the Affordable Care Act Serves the American People

A few days ago I noted that I had seriously misunderstood the Congressional Budget Office's individual market premium projections in the event the ACA's individual mandate is repealed: Yes, it'd be ugly, but not nearly as bad as I thought, although they still expect up to 13 million people to lose coverage as a result.

Yesterday, the Center for American Progress did an analysis which broke out those 13 million by state...along with the impact on individual market premiums and the 25 billion in immediate Medicare cuts which the GOP's tax bill would implement.

While I have my own doubts about some of the CBO's assumptions, there can be no doubt that premiums would increase substantailly, millions of people would end up without healthcare coverage, and the $25 billion in Medicare cuts do appear to be locked in if the GOP's bill were to become law:

Me, just under a month ago:

Things were looking pretty dicey for two of Montana's three insurance carriers participating on the individual market the past few days. One of the three, Blue Cross Blue Shield, saw the writing on the wall regarding Cost Sharing Reductions (CSR) likely being cut off and filed a hefty 23% rate hike request with the state insurance department. The other two, however (PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op, one of a handful of ACA-created cooperatives stll around), assumed that the CSR payments would still be around next year and only filed single-digit rate increases.

I'm not going to speculate as to the reasons why they both did so when it was patently obvious that having the CSRs cut off was a distinct possibility, although I seem to recall the CEO of the Montana Co-Op said something about their hands being tied since CSR reimbursement payments are legally required, after all. Basically, it sounds like he was genuinely trying to avoid passing on any more additional costs to their enrollees than they had to.

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