Thursday, September 29, 2016

Will the Administration's Making Good on Billions of Dollars Due the Health Plans Solve Obamacare's Exchange Problems?

Amy Goldstein at the Washington Post is out with a story reporting that the Obama administration is looking to use an obscure federal law to pay billions of dollars in Obamacare risk corridor liabilities to participating insurance companies.

You might recall that the administration was only able to pay 12.5% of what insurers were owed for 2014 under the reinsurance program designed to protect health plans from losses in the insurance exchanges. It has been assumed that payments for 2015 losses would fare no better.

The fundamental problem was that carriers who lost money did so at a rate eight times greater than the level of carriers who made money in 2014––there just wasn't enough money coming from profitable carriers to pay the carriers losing money all that they were owed under the reinsurance scheme. When the administration said they would try to make up any deficit from other funds, Republicans put a provision in a budget bill that prohibited that.

Because these payments were not made, most insurance companies took a major hit to their bottom lines. The hit was so bad that many of the new Obamacare co-ops collapsed at least in part because of the incomplete payments.

Now, the administration apparently thinks it can use an obscure and bottomless "Judgement Fund" that is used to fund any legal liabilities the federal government incurs because of law suits––a number of insurers who didn't get paid have sued. The administration apparently thinks they can access this money simply by "settling" with the suing health plans and applying that "settlement" to all health plans owed money. The Congress does not have to approve such "settlements." If the administration now finds a way to pay the carriers all that they were due, I have to believe Republicans will challenge them in court just as they have done the administration's controversial interpretation of the health law that enabled them to pay insurance companies directly for the low income participants' out-of-pocket subsidies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Detailed Obamacare Blue Cross Enrollment--About Half the Enrollment Doesn't Get a Subsidy!

About half of those buying Obamacare compliant individual health plans do not receive a subsidy.

I was struck by this comment coming from one of Obamacare's most vocal supporters, Vox's Sarah Kliff:
Obamacare's insurance expansion is on the path to looking like other safety net programs we know, offering limited services to a predominantly low-income population.
She might be right about Obamacare devolving into a low-income style safety net program. But she couldn't be more wrong about the people who have no choice but to buy Obamacare if they want health insurance.

In the September 2016 issue of the trade publication, The AIS Report on Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, reporter Steve Davis did something no other reporter I know of has done. He called a number of Blue Cross plans and asked how many of their Obamacare individual health insurance policyholders get a subsidy and how many do not. His report covers 26 state Blues plans.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Big Obamacare Rate Increases Don't Reflect What People Actually Pay––Wrong!

How many people in the individual health insurance market don't get a subsidy to pay for their health insurance, or wouldn't be eligible for one it they did buy it?

Here is what an Obama administration spokesperson said yesterday about all of the big 2017 Obamacare rate increases: "Headline rate increases do not reflect what consumers actually pay," said Kathryn Martin, acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services.

What she is once again referring to is that 85% of those getting subsidies could get their rate increases eliminated or blunted by the subsidies. It is worth pointing out that the consumer only avoids the big increase if they are in, or move to, the lowest or second lowest cost Silver Plan.

Staying with a higher priced plan they might now be in will not avoid the increases.

And, once again, the administration doesn't tell us that moving to a lower price plan may require higher deductibles and co-pays and more limited provider networks.

But more importantly, why does this administration, and so many Obamacare supporters that parrot this line, continue to ignore the many millions of people who do not get a subsidy and have no choice but to take the full whack from these rate increases if they want to stay covered?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"The Blues Have Deep Reserves and They'll Be Here Long After We're Gone"--Here's How It Really Works

The denials about just how bad the Obmacare exchange situation is keep piling up.

Maybe the most uniformed and naive was this comment in the Dallas Morning News:
"The Blues have deep, deep reserves, and they'll be here long after we're gone,"[Sabrina] Collette [a research professor at Georgetown University], said. "They're probably calculating they can ride out this rocky time and emerge with a dominant position."
In the same article it was reported that local Dallas HMO Scott and While Health Plan is withdrawing from the exchanges. The article also pointed out that Texas Blue Cross has lost more than $1 billion on the exchanges over the last two years and is now seeking a rate increase of 60% for 2017.

These Blue Cross plans, particularly the community-based not-for-profits like Texas, do not have a bottomless bank account.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Latest Proposals to Fix Obamacare Come Up Way Short--The Insurance Industry Trade Association Joins the List of Deniers

In my last couple of posts, I have lamented the degree to which prominent Obamacare supporters have been denial about the trouble The Affordable Care Act exchanges are in. Now we can add the insurance industry trade association, AHIP, to the list.

With the Obamacare exchange exits by the publicly traded health plans, the not-for-profit Blue Cross and regional HMOs now form the backbone of the Obamacare exchanges. I am not predicting any imminent exits on their part, but another year will be a different story if this isn't fixed. If you look at the size of their statutory surplus accounts and their staggering ongoing losses in the face of reports the risk pool continues to deteriorate, it's a simple exercise in math so see what's coming.

The clock is just plain ticking on the time left to fix Obamacare.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Obamacare on Life Support?

My comments on CNBC today.

"Those Whining Obamacare Insurers"

Affordable Care Act defenders need to understand that if we don't quickly move on to a robust conversation about how to fundamentally make the individual health insurance market viable many of the remaining often not-for-profit plans will have to walk away from the Obamacare exchanges.

See my post at Forbes

Thursday, August 4, 2016

According to Aetna We Have Two Kinds of Insurance Companies Under Obamacare: The "Less Worse Off" and the "Worse Worse Off"

Surviving Co-Ops Sue Feds Over Inadequate Obamacare Reinsurance Payments While Aetna Complains the Payments Aren't Enough For Their Only "Less Worse Off" Financial Results

I don't know if you noticed the recent juxtaposition between the surviving co-ops complaint that they shouldn't have to pay the big legacy carriers money under the Obamacare "3Rs" reinsurance scheme with Aetna's complaint this week that these same payments aren't enough for them to be confident they will continue in the exchanges.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Obamacare's 2017 California Rates to Increase an Average of 13% With the Biggest Players Going Up 17.2% and 19.9%

After last year's 4% rate increase, California's Obamacare insurance exchange rates appear to be catching up to the rest of the country.

The two biggest carriers are raising rates by much more than the average 13.2% increase. Blue Shield said its average increase was 19.9% and Anthem said it would increase rates an average of 17.2%

According to the LA Times, Covered California officials blamed the big increase on the "rising costs of medical care, including specialty drugs, and the end of the mechanism that held down rates for the first three years of Obamacare."

Well, once again when it comes to Covered California's explanations, not exactly.

On the argument blaming the rising cost of care, in late May Milliman published its Milliman Medical Index indicating that baseline medical cost trend was up 4.7% year-over-year––the lowest annual increase since Milliman first measured cost trend in 2001. And, of course, this 4.7% increase included the cost of specialty drug costs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Everything Will Be Fine As Soon As The Obamacare Market "Stabilizes"––Not

North Carolina Family Plans Already Cost More Than $10,000 a Year With Rates Going Up By Double Digits for 2017

With one state after another announcing big 2017 Obamacare rate increases the latest refrain from Obamacare supporters is that with maybe one or two more years of rate increases everything will be fine.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

The latest example is in North Carolina where market leader Blue Cross, the biggest insurer with 330,000 people covered, is asking for an 18.8% 2017 rate increase. Aetna, with 130,000 customers is asking for 24.5%.
See My Post at Forbes

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New York's 2015, 2016 and 2017 Obamacare Rate Increases

New York just announced the 2017 requested rate increases for individual health insurance.

I thought the history of New York's increases was interesting.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Why Are Centene and Molina the Exception To Most Big Health Plan Losses On the Obamacare Exchanges?

This paragraph in a recent AP story caught my eye:
Two companies that report exchange success so far, Molina Healthcare Inc. and Centene Corp., say they have focused on covering low-income customers in markets where they already have an established presence in Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers the poor. Molina sells coverage in nine states and is thinking about adding two for next year.
Why are these traditionally Medicaid carriers doing so well when most of the health plan market is losing their shirts in the Obamacare exchanges?

See my post at Forbes

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Figures Don't Lie But Liars Figure": The Disingenuous Obama Administration's Report That Claims Obamacare's Average Premiums Rose by Only 8% in 2015

The Obama administration is out with a report that the average 2015 Obamacare exchange premium increased by only 8% last year.

As best I can tell, that is a true statement.

It is also an incredibly disingenuous statement.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

United Healthcare Leaving the Obamacare Exchanges Is Not the Point––What's Happening to the People Who Have No Choice But to Buy Their Health Insurance Under Obamacare Is

Comments in a recent Politico article over United HealthCare's pullout from the Obamacare exchanges because of $1 billion in losses have me scratching my head.

"It's a nothingburger in terms of market impact, said insurance industry consultant John Gorman. But symbolically and politically, it's huge" He went on, "We're only about halfway through the drama of stabilizing these marketplaces. We've got another two or three years to go, and it's going to be a bloody two or three years."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines––A Really Dumb Idea

Any candidate that suggests such a scheme only shows how unsophisticated he and his advisers are when it comes to understanding how the insurance markets really work––or could work.

I gave a speech to 750 health insurance brokers and consultants in DC last week.

When selling health insurance across state lines, something Trump and a number of other Republican presidential candidates have been pushing, was mentioned the audience literally laughed. That's what health insurance professionals who spend their days in the market think of it!

This is about as dumb an insurance "reform" idea as has ever been proposed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

John Kasich's Ohio Health Care Record: Making Lemons Into Lemonade

It's easy to be critical of Obamacare.

But from the time The Affordable Care Act was passed until a new President and Congress have a chance to change things in 2017, America's governors haven't had the luxury of just complaining about it. They have had to govern.

Governor Kasich and his team have made big health care change a reality by collaborating with the key stakeholders in Ohio. On that score they have made lots of Obamacare lemons into lemonade.

Read my op-ed today at the National Review.

And, my post last fall at Forbes regarding Kasich's Medicaid expansion in Ohio. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Obamacare Hits 12.7 Million Enrollments––But Only Grows 8.5%

Today the administration announced that 12.7 million people signed up for coverage in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges.

Said the CEO, "We knocked the lights out this year. We did a great job."

Let's take a closer look.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why the Obamacare 2016 Open Enrollment Stalled: The Big Unwritten Story About Obamacare––How Unaffordable It Is For the Working and Middle Class

Back on December 22nd when the President triumphantly announced 6 million enrollments on and the administration pointed to "unprecedented demand" on the exchanges, I was the skunk at the garden party arguing in the Washington Post that it was all just churn as existing customers were only trying to escape all of the big rate increases.

Well guess what? It was all churn.

The administration will shortly announce the total number of people who signed up for Obamacare under the Affordable Care Act.

The number signing up in 2016 will turn out to be not much more than the number who signed up last year after those who don't pay are netted out––no sizeable gain in enrollment has been accomplished on a national basis. [February 4 Update: The increase was 8.5% over 2015.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 Obamacare Outlook

One of the more Obamacare fluent reporters just emailed me a set of questions regarding the 2016 outlook for Obamacare.

I thought I would share my responses with you:
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