Build It and They Will Come? Group Health Plan Prevalence Doesn’t Always Drive Enrollment (Well, Except in CA)

With the new year steadily approaching, employers across the country are beginning to think about open enrollment. In the past, Group Health Plans seemed to prevail, but for the upcoming year, that will change. Check out this article from our partner, UBA Benefits, to learn how PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) are actually the new way to drive open enrollment engagement.


Though more expensive, PPOs still dominate the market overall in terms of plan distribution and employee enrollment. However, when you look regionally, PPO plans are most prevalent in the Central U.S., while CDHPs are most prevalent in the Northeast.

Prevalence of Plan Type by Region

Prevalence of Plan Type by Region

From an enrollment standpoint, PPO plans have the greatest enrollment in the West, and the least enrollment in the Northeast. HMO enrollment continues to drop across most of the country, but held steady in the Southeast, capturing 9.8% of the market in 2017. CDHP enrollment, meanwhile, is highest in the North Central U.S. at 46.3%, but grew in every region of the United States except the West, where it decreased to 14.7% of the market.

Enrollment by Plan Type by Region

Enrollment by Plan Type and Region

California is often different, which is why we look at them both as part of the overall West and as a separate entity. Looking at California alone, HMOs are king, followed by PPO plans, whereas, in the rest of the U.S., including the Western region, PPOs and CDHPs are the top two predominant plans. Similarly, although HMO enrollment continues to drop in general, HMOs account for nearly half of the plan types and plan enrollment in the state of California, at 50% and 48.9%, respectively.

You can read the original article here.


Would you like to have your own customized benchmark results? Look no further! Take this survey to get your stats. Taking the Benchmark Survey will help you effectively benchmark where you need to be in order to remain competitive, manage expenses in innovative ways, and do so with the confidence that options do exist should the plan ever become cost-prohibitive. Click here for more information.

 

Source:

Olson B. (9 November 2017). "Build It and They Will Come? Group Health Plan Prevalence Doesn’t Always Drive Enrollment (Well, Except in CA)" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/build-it-and-they-will-come-group-health-plan-prevalence-doesnt-always-drive-enrollment-well-except-in-ca


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2017 Health Plan Survey Shows Sharp Rise in Group Healthcare Premiums

With over 20,000 health plans entered into UBA's Health Plan survey, the results have never been more informative. After reading the post below on Group Healthcare Premiums, head on over to this page to take our benchmark survey for customized results fit to your company's needs.


I’m happy to report that this year’s UBA Health Plan survey achieved a milestone. For the first time, we surpassed 20,000 health plans entered—20,099 health plans to be exact, which were sponsored by 11,221 employers. What we were able to determine from all this data was that a tumultuous Presidential election likely encouraged many employers to stay the course and make only minor increases and decreases across the board while the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) became clearer.

There were, however, a few noteworthy changes in 2017. Premium renewal rates (the comparison of similar plan rates year over year) rose nearly 7%, representing a departure from the trend the last five years. To control these costs, employers shifted more premium to employees, offered more lower-cost CDHP and HMO plans, increased out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and significantly reduced prescription drug coverage as six-tier prescription drug plans exploded on the marketplace. Self-funding, particularly among small groups, is also on the rise.

Percent Premium Increase Over Time

UBA has conducted its Health Plan Survey since 2005. This longevity, coupled with its size
 and scope, allows UBA to maintain its superior accuracy over any other benchmarking survey in the U.S. In fact, our unparalleled number of reported plans is nearly three times larger than the next two of the nation’s largest health plan benchmarking surveys combined. The resulting volume of data provides employers of all sizes more detailed—and therefore more meaningful—benchmarks and trends than any other source.

Read our breaking news release with survey highlights. For a detailed examination of the key findings, download UBA’s free 2017 Health Plan Survey Executive Summary. To benchmark your exact plan against others in your region, industry or size bracket, contact a UBA Partner near you to run a custom benchmarking report.

 

 

You can read the original article here.

 

Source:

Weber P. (30 October 2017). "2017 Health Plan Survey Shows Sharp Rise in Group Healthcare Premiums" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/2017-health-plan-survey-shows-sharp-rise-in-group-healthcare-premiums

 

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IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure

 Where does the IRS stand on ACA (Affordable Care Act)? It's time to know. Check out this article from Benefits Pro for more information.


The Internal Revenue Service has announced that for the first time, tax returns filed electronically in 2018 will be rejected if they do not contain the information about whether the filer has coverage, including whether the filer is exempt from the individual mandate or will pay the tax penalty imposed by the law on those who don’t buy coverage.

Tax returns filed on paper could have processing suspended and thus any possible refund delayed.

The New York Times reports that the IRS appears to be acting in contradiction to the first executive order issued by the Trump White House on inauguration day, in which Trump instructed agencies to “scale back” enforcement of regulations governing the ACA.

The move by the IRS reminds people that they can’t just ignore the ACA, despite the EO. Although only those lacking coverage have to pay the penalty, everyone has to indicate their insurance coverage status on their filing.

While the uninsured rate for all Americans dipped to a historic low of 8.6 percent in the first three months...5 states with lowest, highest uninsured rates

According to legal experts cited in the report, the IRS is indicating that although the administration may have leeway in how aggressively it enforces the mandate provision, it’s still in effect unless and until Congress specifically repeals it.

While many people thought they didn’t have to bother with reporting, and many insurers have raised rates anticipating that the lack of a mandate would lead to lower enrollments and higher costs for them, that’s not the case. Initially the IRS did not reject returns because the law was new.

The penalty is pretty steep; for those who don’t have coverage, it can range from $695 for an individual to a maximum of $2,085 for a family or 2.5 percent of AGI, whichever is higher. Not everyone without coverage would be penalized, though; if their income is too low or if the lowest-priced coverage costs more than 8.16 percent of their income, they’ll avoid the penalty.

That said, it’s not known how stringently the IRS will be in enforcing the mandate. But at least taxpayers will know whether they’re exempt from the penalty or whether they’re obligated to buy coverage.

 

 You can read the original article here.
Source:
Satter M. (23 October 2017). "IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/10/23/irs-to-reject-returns-lacking-health-coverage-disc?ref=hp-top-stories&slreturn=1509378329

Health Care Property & Casualty Profile - November / December 2017

In this November / December Health Care Profile, we will dive into digital innovation within hospitals, the financial benefit of easing doctor burnout, and how the federal government threaten three Massachusetts psychiatric hospitals. Read more below.


HOSPITALS WANT DIGITAL INNOVATION

A survey conducted by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and health innovation company AVIA found that 85 percent of health care leaders realize that digital innovation is a key factor in the long-term success of their health care organizations.

Survey respondents included executives and innovation officers from 317 health systems in 48 states. When asked to define innovation, almost 75 percent of survey respondents said that it involves collaborating with innovative organizations, and 42 percent said that they believe innovation includes testing and scaling externally developed digital solutions.

Christina Jack, the AHA’s senior director of entrepreneur strategy and innovation, stated that digital innovation could be hampered by the fact that it is dependent upon the competencies of a chief information officer. And, as a result, it isn’t woven into an organization’s operations.

Nonetheless, the health care leaders who participated in the survey were hopeful about the future and stated that, if done correctly, digital innovations could improve the patient and workplace experience for both physicians and staff, as well as improve safety and decrease costs.

According to the survey, areas where hospitals have already invested in digital innovation include operational efficiencies, primary care delivery and utilization, patient access and care transitions.

FEDS THREATEN 3 PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITALS

The federal government threatened ceasing Medicare payments to three Massachusetts psychiatric hospitals after safety lapses caused two mentally ill patients to forgo critical medication. One patient had a seizure and suffered a traumatic head injury as a result.

 

According to a letter dated Sept. 8 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to the CEO of all three hospitals, conditions discovered on Aug. 28, 29 and 30 posed an immediate jeopardy to the health and safety of patients, limiting the hospitals’ capacity to render adequate care.

FINANCIAL BENEFIT OF EASING DOCTOR BURNOUT

According to a recent study published in JAMA’s Internal Medicine, addressing doctor burnout could save hospitals over $1 million per year.

The study looked at the cost of physician turnover as a whole and then used evidence to determine how many physicians leave their jobs because of burnout. It found that for an organization that employs 450 doctors, doctors who leave due to burnout cost the organization $2.5 million per year. If the same organization spent $1 million per year to lower the risk of burnout by 20 percent, it could save about $1.25 million each year.

Researchers said that the ways to decrease burnout involve understanding what causes it, such as a lack of work-life balance, heavy workloads, and a lack of flexibility and control.


HRL - Employers - Happy

Critical compliance changes for next year: An open enrollment checklist

Keeping up-to-date with health care is one of our top priorities. From HR Morning, here is a comprehensive list of everything you need to know so far going into 2018.


As HR pros immerse themselves in negotiating plan changes for this year’s open enrollment, it’s critical to keep these new 2018 regulation changes front and center.

To help, here’s a checklist of changes you’ll need to be aware of when making plan-design moves:

1. Mental Health Parity reg changes enforced

Beginning January 1, 2018, plans that require “fail first” or “step therapy” could violate the Parity Act’s “non-quantitative treatment limitation” (NQTL) rules. Under the NQTL rules, plans can’t be more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse benefits than they are for medical/surgical ones.

Here’s an example of a fail-first strategy: Requiring mental health or addiction patients to try an intensive outpatient program before admission to an inpatient treatment if the same restriction doesn’t apply to medical/surgical benefits.

2. New Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template

Under the ACA, plans were required to start using the new SBC template on or after April 1, 2017.

For calendar year plans, that means this is the first enrollment with the new template, which includes new coverage examples and updates about cost-sharing. You can find more details on and instructions for the new form here: bit.ly/temp544

3. Women’s preventive care

The Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines were updated for 2018 calendar plans to include a number of items that must be covered without any cost-sharing. The list includes breast cancer screenings for average-risk women, screenings for cervical cancer, diabetes mellitus and more.

 

See the original article here.

Source:

Bilski J. (17 October 2017). "Critical compliance changes for next year: An open enrollment checklist" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/critical-compliance-changes-for-next-year-an-open-enrollment-checklist/


Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding

Are you looking for a run-down on Navigator programs and their funding? In this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation, we are offered an informative peak of the 2017 changes in federal Navigator funding within the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Read the original article here.

Source:

Pollitz K., Tolbert J., Diaz M. (11 October 2017). "Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/data-note-changes-in-2017-federal-navigator-funding/

 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created Navigator programs to provide outreach, education, and enrollment assistance to consumers eligible for coverage through the Marketplaces and through Medicaid and requires that they be funded by the marketplaces.  For the past two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has funded Navigator programs in the 34 states that use the federal marketplace through a multi-year agreement that was expected to continue for the current budget year.  In August, CMS officials announced significant reductions to Navigator funding for the 2018 budget year.  These funding reductions coming so close to the start of the 2018 open enrollment period will affect the help many Navigators can provide to consumers seeking to enroll in coverage.

This data note analyzes funding changes and discusses the implications for Navigators and consumers.  It presents results of a Kaiser Family Foundation online survey of federal marketplace (FFM) Navigator programs conducted from September 22, 2017 – October 4, 2017 about 2017 funding awards (for the 2018 open enrollment period), the relationship between funding amounts and program performance, and the likely impact of funding changes on programs and the consumers they serve. It also includes insights from a roundtable meeting of more than 40 Navigators co-hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation held on September 15, 2017, as well as analysis of administrative data.

BACKGROUND

In 2015, CMS signed three-year agreements with Navigator organizations to provide consumer assistance to residents of federal marketplace states.  The multi-year agreements promoted continuity and experience among Navigator professionals.  Multi-year agreement also spared CMS and Navigators the time and expense involved in reissuing grants during critical weeks leading up to open enrollment.  Under the agreements, Navigator programs in the FFM states are required to set goals and report performance data throughout the year relating to specific duties and activities.

Funding amounts under the multi-year agreements have been determined annually — $60 million for the first budget year (which runs September through August), and $63 million for the second budget year.  CMS notified continuing programs of the grant amount available to them for the coming year in late spring; programs then submitted work plans, budgets, and performance goals based on that amount.  Once CMS approved these plans, final awards were made in late August.

In May 2017, continuing Navigator programs were notified of available third-year funding amounts, which totaled $60 million, with grants for most programs similar to the year-two funding amount. In June, programs submitted their work plans and budgets corresponding to these amounts. The Navigator programs expected final Notice of Awards (NOA) by September 1, 2017.

On August 31, one day prior to the end of the second budget period of the grants, CMS announced it would reduce Navigator funding by more than 40%. CMS issued a bulletin stating that funding for the third year would be based on program performance on its enrollment goals for the second budget period.  On September 13, 2017, two weeks into the third budget year of the grant, FFM Navigator programs received preliminary NOAs for third-year funding, which totaled $36.8 million, or 58% of the year-two awards. (See Appendix A for funding awards by program.)

2017 NAVIGATOR FUNDING REDUCTIONS

CMS notified Navigator program of their preliminary 2017 grant awards on September 13, 2017.  The full list of preliminary awards was obtained and released by a third party (see Appendix A). This section summarizes funding changes based on information from that list.

Funding changes at the state level for 2017 were uneven across states.  Three FFM states (Delaware, Kansas, and West Virginia) received no net reduction in year-three Navigator funding.  Among the other 31 FFM states, the funding reductions ranged from 10% in North Carolina to 80% or more in Indiana, Nebraska, and Louisiana (Table 1).

Table 1: 2016 Federal Navigator Funding Awards  and Preliminary 2017 Awards as of  September 13, 2017, by State
State 2016 Funding Award 2017 Preliminary Funding Award Percent Change
Alabama $1,338,335 $1,036,859 -23%
Alaska $600,000 $446,805 -26%
Arizona $1,629,237 $1,167,592 -28%
Delaware $600,000 $600,000 0%
Florida $9,464,668 $6,625,807 -30%
Georgia $3,682,732 $1,433,936 -61%
Hawaii $334,510 $185,143 -45%
Illinois $2,581,477 $1,792,170 -31%
Indiana $1,635,961 $296,704 -82%
Iowa $603,895 $226,323 -63%
Kansas $731,532 $731,532 0%
Louisiana $1,535,332 $307,349 -80%
Maine $600,000 $551,750 -8%
Michigan $2,228,692 $627,958 -72%
Mississippi $907,579 $382,281 -58%
Missouri $1,815,514 $729,577 -60%
Montana $495,701 $374,750 -24%
Nebraska $600,000 $115,704 -81%
New Hampshire $600,000 $456,214 -24%
New Jersey $1,905,132 $720,545 -62%
North Carolina $3,405,954 $3,061,034 -10%
North Dakota $636,648 $208,524 -67%
Ohio $1,971,421 $568,327 -71%
Oklahoma $1,162,363 $798,000 -31%
Pennsylvania $3,073,116 $1,988,501 -35%
South Carolina $1,517,783 $511,048 -66%
South Dakota $600,000 $236,947 -61%
Tennessee $1,772,618 $1,497,410 -16%
Texas $9,217,235 $6,110,535 -34%
Utah $902,681 $394,862 -56%
Virginia $2,187,871 $1,108,189 -49%
West Virginia $600,000 $600,000 0%
Wisconsin $1,338,306 $749,215 -44%
Wyoming $605,847 $183,654 -70%
Total $62,882,140 $36,825,245 -41%
Source: List of preliminary grant awards was obtained and released by a third party, not by CMS.

When the multi-year agreement was established, federal funding was allocated across FFM states based on the state’s share of the number of uninsured people, with a minimum amount ($600,000) reserved for each of the smallest states.  This allocation formula no longer seems to apply.  For example, total funding for Navigators in Indiana ($290,000) was less than that for Navigators in Alaska ($447,000) despite the fact that there are four times as many uninsured residents in Indiana compared to Alaska (422,000 vs 95,600 in 2016).  Similarly, funding for Navigators in Ohio was less than that for Navigators in Oklahoma ($568,000 vs $798,000) though there are more uninsured residents in Ohio (631,000 vs 409,000).1

Overall, the funding reductions varied widely across individual Navigator programs. The vast majority (82%) of Navigator programs experienced reductions, while 18% of programs saw their funding stay the same or increase compared to funding levels in 2016. Forty-nine percent of programs had their funding reduced by more than half and more than one-quarter experienced funding reductions of over 75% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Changes in Navigator Program Funding, 2016-2017

NAVIGATOR PROGRAM FUNDING VERSUS PERFORMANCE

This section summarizes findings from the KFF Survey of FFM Navigators about 2017 funding changes and program performance on certain metrics during the second year of the multi-year agreement.  All Navigator programs were contacted, and 51% participated in the survey.

Navigators say the basis for 2017 funding decisions has not been clear.  Nearly half (49%) of respondents said that the rationale for the funding notice they received on September 13 was not provided at all, and another 40% said it was unclear (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Navigator Program Perception of Clarity of CMS Funding Rationale

The August 31 CMS bulletin indicated that funding for the Navigators would be based on performance against year-two “enrollment goals.” According to the bulletin, “a grantee that achieved 100 percent of its enrollment goal for plan year 2017 will receive the same level of funding as last year, while a grantee that enrolled only 70 percent of its enrollment goal would receive 70 percent of its previous year funding level, a reduction of 30 percent. The new funding formula will ensure accountability within the Navigator program.”

It is not clear what metric CMS used to determine funding levels since Navigators have been required to track a number of activities relative to goals, all of which could result in or contribute to enrollment in health coverage.  These include:

  • Number of consumers assisted with qualified health plan (QHP) selection/enrollment (including reenrollment);
  • Number of one-on-one interactions with consumers, including both general and specific inquiries; and
  • Number of consumers assisted with applying for Medicaid/CHIP, including referral of consumers in non-expansion states to the state Medicaid office;
  • Number of consumers reached through outreach and public education activities.2
NAVIGATOR-ASSISTED QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN SELECTION METRIC

The number of consumers assisted with QHP selections is the most direct measure of marketplace enrollment tracked by Navigators, although as discussed below, it does not capture all marketplace enrollments that involved Navigator assistance.

There are two measures of Navigator-assisted QHP selections, one self-reported by the programs and one based on data collected by healthcare.gov – the Multidimensional Information and Data Analytics System, or MIDAS data.  The healthcare.gov online application includes a field where Navigator staff can enter their identification number for each consumer whom they assist. Navigators report that program staff have not been trained on this data entry and did not consistently enter it. Several weeks after the start of the fourth open enrollment period, some Navigator programs said they were encouraged by their CMS project officers to improve consistency of staff identification numbers on applications.  Some say they subsequently received reports from CMS staff during the project year comparing MIDAS and self-reported data on QHP selections that did not match – in some cases by a factor of two – and programs did not know why.  Other programs said they did not receive reports from CMS on their MIDAS data.  Navigators expressed concern about the accuracy of data counting QHP selections, especially if this will become the basis for future funding decisions.

The survey asked Navigators to provide both their goal and self-reported performance data for Navigator-assisted QHP selections as reported to CMS for the second budget period. Navigator performance relative to the goal was compared to the change in funding from 2016 to 2017.  Among programs that provided the performance data, findings include:

For 22.5% of programs, 2017 funding matches performance on the self-reported QHP selection metric (Figure 3).  Included in this group were:

  • 15.0% of programs that exceeded or met at least 95% of the goal and whose 2017 funds were not reduced; and
  • 7.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding reduced by the same or similar percentage (+/- 5%).

For 77.5% of programs, 2017 funding does not reflect performance on the QHP selection metric.  Included in this group were:

  • 22.5% of programs that exceeded or met at least 95% of the goal and whose 2017 funds were reduced;
  • 27.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding reduced by a greater percentage; and
  • 27.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding changed by a smaller percentage.

Figure 3: Change in Navigator Funding Compared to Performance on QHP Selection Metric

The QHP selection metric tends to undercount enrollment that is connected to assistance provided by Navigators. Through the survey and at the roundtable, Navigators expressed concern that the QHP selection measure does not reflect the number of consumers whom they help and who ultimately enroll in marketplace health plans.  This metric, as defined by CMS, counts only those consumers who select a plan in the Navigator’s presence, a fraction of the total number of individuals who enroll in coverage and who were helped by Navigators.  For example, if a Navigator helped a consumer complete her application and reviewed plan choices, but the consumer went home to consider her options and made a final selection that evening, that visit could not be reported as a Navigator-assisted plan selection.3 According to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2016 Survey of Health Insurance Marketplace Assister Programs and Brokers, 18% of assister programs reported that nearly all consumers they helped who were determined eligible to enroll in a QHP made their plan selection during the initial visit. Thirty-five percent said they knew the final plan selection of all or nearly all such consumers whom they helped.

OTHER NAVIGATOR PERFORMANCE METRICS

Funding changes for 2017 also do not appear to align with performance on other metrics.  Navigators reported goals and performance data on other key metrics that relate to enrollment (Figure 4). Most programs met or exceeded these goals, so these metrics do not appear to be related to the funding reductions.  Among programs that answered these questions, Eight in ten programs (83%) met their goals for one-on-one consumers interactions, 71% met their goals for helping consumers enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, and three quarters met their outreach and education event goal.

Figure 4: Most Navigators Met Other Enrollment-Related Goals

One-on-one assistance: The most comprehensive measurement required by CMS is the number of consumers provided one-on-one assistance.  A one-on-one encounter can involve helping a consumer with any step along the process that ends with enrollment:  educating consumers about the availability of plans and assistance, completing a marketplace application for financial assistance, appealing a marketplace decision, reviewing and understanding plan options, or selecting a QHP.  Navigators also provide one-on-one assistance to consumers after they enroll so that they can remain covered.  Such help includes answering tax reconciliation questions, resolving premium payment disputes, and referring consumers for help with denied claims.  Once they have resolved the problem they came in with, many consumers leave and complete the enrollment process on their own.  The one-on-one assistance metric would also count consumers who are helped but who do not enroll in coverage.  On average, the number one-on-one encounters Navigators reported was 15 times higher than the number of QHP selections.

Medicaid/CHIP enrollment assistance or referrals: The ACA requires a “no wrong door” application process through which consumers can apply through the marketplace, using a single streamlined application, for either private health insurance subsidies or Medicaid/CHIP.  Navigators are required to help all consumers with the application.  Navigators from Medicaid expansion states noted that most consumers who sought help were ultimately determined Medicaid eligible.  At the roundtable, some commented that, when the August 31 bulletin was released, they assumed CMS would base funding on enrollment under both types of coverage.

Outreach and public education: Four years after implementation, the public’s understanding of ACA benefits and requirements remains limited.  For example, many consumers continue to be unaware that signups for private non-group health insurance, generally, must take place during open enrollment.4  Turnover in marketplace plans is high, as most participants need non-group coverage only while they are between jobs or other types of coverage.  Navigators report that consumers are less likely to seek, or be receptive to, information about the marketplace until they actually need it.

IMPACT OF NAVIGATOR FUNDING REDUCTIONS

This section summarizes findings from the KFF Navigator survey as well as insights from the Navigator Roundtable meeting on program changes that may result from the funding reductions.

Most Navigator programs say they will continue to operate in 2018 despite the funding reductions.However, three programs said they will terminate work for year-three.  These include two programs – one statewide and one nearly statewide5 – that had been the only Navigator service providers for consumers in most areas of their respective states.  Their decision to withdraw was based on the level and timing of funding reductions.  The September 13 NOA directed that no more than 10% of the grantee’s award could be spent by programs pending CMS review and approval of the final budget and work plan.  Because the preliminary award was announced two weeks into the plan year with final awards scheduled to be made as late as October 28, grantees were faced with maintaining staff payroll and other expenses for as long as two months without assurances they would be reimbursed. The terminating programs, both operated by nonprofits, determined this was not feasible.

Most programs report they will likely reduce their geographic service area and limit help to rural residents. Among programs whose funding was reduced, 45% of statewide programs and two-thirds of regional programs said it is somewhat or very likely they will have to limit the territory their program will serve in year three. Programs emphasized their inability to afford the same level of travel expenses and/or the cost of satellite offices that they had previously incurred in order to offer in-person help to consumers living farther away.  Consumers living in rural communities may be the most affected.  Most (55%) statewide Navigator programs and 72% of regional programs expect to limit services to rural residents this year (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Navigator Programs Reducing Geographic Service Area and Services in Rural Areas

Nearly all programs (89%) expect to lay off staff as a result of funding reductions (Figure 6).  Some programs expect to cut Navigator staff by 75% or more.  The KFF 2016 Assister Survey found that continuity among staff has been high to date.  One advantage of the multi-year agreement was to allow staff experience to grow over time.  To fill in the gaps left by staff lay-offs, some programs plan to rely more heavily on less experienced volunteers.

Figure 6: Navigator Program Response to Funding Reductions

Most Navigator programs expect to reduce services in other ways, as well.  Nearly all programs (81%) say they will likely reduce outreach and public education activities as a result of budget reductions.  In addition, 89% of programs say they will likely reduce spending on marketing and advertising. Nearly six in ten programs (57%) said they will likely reduce the number of months in which they offer Navigator assistance.  Some programs expect to close following open enrollment, others will cut back to a skeletal staff.  As a result, consumers who need assistance at tax time, or help with special enrollments or post-enrollment problems during the year, may have difficulty finding it.

Over four in ten programs say it is likely they will curtail help to consumers related to Medicaid.  At the roundtable, some discussed a strategy of pre-screening consumers during open enrollment to identify those likely eligible for Medicaid/CHIP.  These consumers might be asked to come back at a later date, if they do not have an immediate medical or coverage need, because Medicaid and CHIP enrollment is year round.  Other expressed concern that, if CMS bases future funding on QHP plan selections, Navigators in Medicaid expansion states could be disadvantaged.

In addition, 57% of programs say they will likely limit time staff can devote to helping consumers with complex cases.  These cases include consumers experiencing identity proofing problems (for example, faced by young adults who have not previously filed income tax returns or established credit ratings).6  They also include consumers with income data-matching problems (for example, self-employed individuals who have difficulty estimating income for the coming year).  People who cannot resolve identity or other data verification problems within 90 days risk losing their marketplace coverage or subsidies.

Another 54% of programs say they will likely limit the number of limited English proficiency (LEP) consumers they can serve.  Programs often pay a premium for bi-lingual staff, an expense they may no longer be able to afford with reduced funding.

Consumers who need these kinds of assistance may have difficulty finding it elsewhere.  Many consumers seek help from other types of marketplace assister programs.  Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) also receive funding from the federal government to provide in-person enrollment assistance, although the authorization for most federal funding expired September 30 and has yet to be extended.  In addition, Certified Application Counselor (CAC) programs provide in-person help in the marketplace, though are not paid by the marketplace.  The KFF 2016 Assister Survey found that all three types of programs play an important role in helping consumers.  They also tend to differ from Navigator programs in some key respects.  In particular, Navigator programs typically undergo a higher level of training; they are more likely to operate statewide, sponsor outreach and enrollment events, handle complex cases, and provide help throughout the year.

The KFF 2016 Assister Survey also found that agents and brokers are less likely than marketplace assister programs to serve consumers who need translation services, help with complex cases, and help with Medicaid applications. Brokers and agents are also less likely to help uninsured consumers, immigrants, and consumers who lack internet at home.

DISCUSSION

The Administration’s decision to reduce funding for Navigator programs comes at a challenging time for consumers who rely on coverage through the marketplaces. High-profile insurer exits from the marketplaces, rising premiums, and uncertainty over the federal commitment to funding the cost sharing subsidies are likely sowing confusion among consumers about whether coverage and financial assistance remain available. This confusion, coupled with a shortened open enrollment period, increases demand for the consumer education and in-person enrollment assistance Navigators provide. At a time when more help may be needed, the funding reductions are likely to reduce the level of in-person help available to consumers during this fall’s open enrollment and throughout the 2018 coverage year.

Navigator programs generally report that they do not understand the basis for the funding decisions, and our survey results suggest that there is not a clear link between funding and performance of programs relative to goals on the measures they are required to track and self-report. This ambiguity makes it difficult for programs to plan for the future.

Both the magnitude of the reductions and the timing has caused disruption to Navigator program planning and operations.  Programs plan to adopt various strategies in response to the reductions, including reducing their geographic service area and cutting services, such as outreach and assisting with complex cases. Three programs report they will terminate operations, leaving consumers in their states with very limited access to in-person help. While consumers may be able to turn to other assister programs or brokers, less in-person assistance will be available in some areas, especially for people with complex situations or who live in remote or rural communities.

 

Read the original article here.

Source:

Pollitz K., Tolbert J., Diaz M. (11 October 2017). "Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/data-note-changes-in-2017-federal-navigator-funding/


An Early Look at 2018 Premium Changes and Insurer Participation on ACA Exchanges


Each year insurers submit filings to state regulators detailing their plans to participate on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces (also called exchanges). These filings include information on the premiums insurers plan to charge in the coming year and which areas they plan to serve. Each state or the federal government reviews premiums to ensure they are accurate and justifiable before the rate goes into effect, though regulators have varying types of authority and states make varying amounts of information public.

In this analysis, we look at preliminary premiums and insurer participation in the 20 states and the District of Columbia where publicly available rate filings include enough detail to be able to show the premium for a specific enrollee. As in previous years, we focus on the second-lowest cost silver plan in the major city in each state. This plan serves as the benchmark for premium tax credits. Enrollees must also enroll in a silver plan to obtain reduced cost sharing tied to their incomes. About 71% of marketplace enrollees are in silver plans this year.

States are still reviewing premiums and participation, so the data in this report are preliminary and could very well change. Rates and participation are not locked in until late summer or early fall (insurers must sign an annual contract by September 27 in states using Healthcare.gov).

Insurers in this market face new uncertainty in the current political environment and in some cases have factored this into their premium increases for the coming year. Specifically, insurers have been unsure whether the individual mandate (which brings down premiums by compelling healthy people to buy coverage) will be repealed by Congress or to what degree it will be enforced by the Trump Administration. Additionally, insurers in this market do not know whether the Trump Administration will continue to make payments to compensate insurers for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which are the subject of a lawsuit, or whether Congress will appropriate these funds. (More on these subsidies can be found here).

The vast majority of insurers included in this analysis cite uncertainty surrounding the individual mandate and/or cost sharing subsidies as a factor in their 2018 rates filings. Some insurers explicitly factor this uncertainty into their initial premium requests, while other companies say if they do not receive more clarity or if cost-sharing payments stop, they plan to either refile with higher premiums or withdraw from the market. We include a table in this analysis highlighting examples of companies that have factored this uncertainty into their initial premium increases and specified the amount by which the uncertainty is increasing rates.

Changes in the Second-Lowest Cost Silver Premium

The second-lowest silver plan is one of the most popular plan choices on the marketplace and is also the benchmark that is used to determine the amount of financial assistance individuals and families receive. The table below shows these premiums for a major city in each state with available data. (Our analyses from 201720162015, and 2014 examined changes in premiums and participation in these states and major cities since the exchange markets opened nearly four years ago.)

Across these 21 major cities, based on preliminary 2018 rate filings, the second-lowest silver premium for a 40-year-old non-smoker will range from $244 in Detroit, MI to $631 in Wilmington, DE, before accounting for the tax credit that most enrollees in this market receive.

Of these major cities, the steepest proposed increases in the unsubsidized second-lowest silver plan are in Wilmington, DE (up 49% from $423 to $631 per month for a 40-year-old non-smoker), Albuquerque, NM (up 34% from $258 to $346), and Richmond, VA (up 33% from $296 to $394). Meanwhile, unsubsidized premiums for the second-lowest silver premiums will decrease in Providence, RI (down -5% from $261 to $248 for a 40-year-old non-smoker) and remain essentially unchanged in Burlington, VT ($492 to $491).

As discussed in more detail below, this year’s preliminary rate requests are subject to much more uncertainty than in past years. An additional factor driving rates this year is the return of the ACA’s health insurance tax, which adds an estimated 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums.

Most enrollees in the marketplaces (84%) receive a tax credit to lower their premium and these enrollees will be protected from premium increases, though they may need to switch plans in order to take full advantage of the tax credit. The premium tax credit caps how much a person or family must spend on the benchmark plan in their area at a certain percentage of their income. For this reason, in 2017, a single adult making $30,000 per year would pay about $207 per month for the second-lowest-silver plan, regardless of the sticker price (unless their unsubsidized premium was less than $207 per month). If this person enrolls in the second lowest-cost silver plan is in 2018 as well, he or she will pay slightly less (the after-tax credit payment for a similar person in 2018 will be $201 per month, or a decrease of 2.9%). Enrollees can use their tax credits in any marketplace plan. So, because tax credits rise with the increase in benchmark premiums, enrollees are cushioned from the effect of premium hikes.

Table 1: Monthly Silver Premiums and Financial Assistance for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker Making $30,000 / Year
State  Major City 2nd Lowest Cost Silver
Before Tax Credit
2nd Lowest Cost Silver
After Tax Credit
Amount of Premium Tax Credit
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
California* Los Angeles $258 $289 12% $207 $201 -3% $51 $88 71%
Colorado Denver $313 $352 12% $207 $201 -3% $106 $150 42%
Connecticut Hartford $369 $417 13% $207 $201 -3% $162 $216 33%
DC Washington $298 $324 9% $207 $201 -3% $91 $122 35%
Delaware Wilmington $423 $631 49% $207 $201 -3% $216 $430 99%
Georgia Atlanta $286 $308 7% $207 $201 -3% $79 $106 34%
Idaho Boise $348 $442 27% $207 $201 -3% $141 $241 70%
Indiana Indianapolis $286 $337 18% $207 $201 -3% $79 $135 72%
Maine Portland $341 $397 17% $207 $201 -3% $134 $196 46%
Maryland Baltimore $313 $392 25% $207 $201 -3% $106 $191 81%
Michigan* Detroit $237 $244 3% $207 $201 -3% $29 $42 44%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $366 $383 5% $207 $201 -3% $159 $181 14%
New Mexico Albuquerque $258 $346 34% $207 $201 -3% $51 $144 183%
New York*** New York City $456 $504 10% $207 $201 -3% $249 $303 21%
Oregon Portland $312 $350 12% $207 $201 -3% $105 $149 42%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $418 $515 23% $207 $201 -3% $211 $313 49%
Rhode Island Providence $261 $248 -5% $207 $201 -3% $54 $47 -13%
Tennessee Nashville $419 $507 21% $207 $201 -3% $212 $306 44%
Vermont Burlington $492 $491 0% $207 $201 -3% $285 $289 2%
Virginia Richmond $296 $394 33% $207 $201 -3% $89 $193 117%
Washington Seattle $238 $306 29% $207 $201 -3% $31 $105 239%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Looking back to 2014, when changes to the individual insurance market under the ACA first took effect, reveals a wide range of premium changes. In many of these cities, average annual premium growth over the 2014-2018 period has been modest, and in two cites (Indianapolis and Providence), benchmark premiums have actually decreased. In other cities, premiums have risen rapidly over the period, though in some cases this rapid growth was because premiums were initially quite low (e.g., in Nashville and Minneapolis).

Table 2: Monthly Benchmark Silver Premiums
for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker, 2014-2018
State Major City 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Average Annual % Change from 2014 to 2018 Average Annual % Change After Tax Credit, $30K Income
California Los Angeles $255 $257 $245 $258 $289 3% -1%
Colorado Denver $250 $211 $278 $313 $352 9%  -1%
Connecticut Hartford $328 $312 $318 $369 $417 6%  -1%
DC Washington $242 $242 $244 $298 $324 8%  -1%
Delaware Wilmington $289 $301 $356 $423 $631 22%  -1%
Georgia Atlanta $250 $255 $254 $286 $308 5%  -1%
Idaho Boise $231 $210 $273 $348 $442 18%  -1%
Indiana Indianapolis $341 $329 $298 $286 $337 0%  -1%
Maine Portland $295 $282 $288 $341 $397 8%  -1%
Maryland Baltimore $228 $235 $249 $313 $392 15%  -1%
Michigan* Detroit $224 $230 $226 $237 $244 2%  -1%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $162 $183 $235 $366 $383 24%  6%
New Mexico Albuquerque $194 $171 $186 $258 $346 16%  1%
New York*** New York City $365 $372 $369 $456 $504 8%  -1%
Oregon Portland $213 $213 $261 $312 $350 13%  -1%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $300 $268 $276 $418 $515 14%  -1%
Rhode Island Providence $293 $260 $263 $261 $248 -4%  -1%
Tennessee Nashville $188 $203 $281 $419 $507 28%  2%
Vermont Burlington $413 $436 $468 $492 $491 4%  -1%
Virginia Richmond $253 $260 $276 $296 $394 12%  -1%
Washington Seattle $281 $254 $227 $238 $306 2% -1%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Changes in Insurer Participation

Across these 20 states and DC, an average of 4.6 insurers have indicated they intend to participate in 2018, compared to an average of 5.1 insurers per state in 2017, 6.2 in 2016, 6.7 in 2015, and 5.7 in 2014. In states using Healthcare.gov, insurers have until September 27 to sign final contracts to participate in 2018. Insurers often do not serve an entire state, so the number of choices available to consumers in a particular area will typically be less than these figures.

Table 3: Total Number of Insurers by State, 2014 – 2018
State Total Number of Issuers in the Marketplace
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (Preliminary)
California 11 10 12 11 11
Colorado 10 10 8 7 7
Connecticut 3 4 4 2 2
DC 3 3 2 2 2
Delaware 2 2 2 2 1 (Aetna exiting)
Georgia 5 9 8 5 4 (Humana exiting)
Idaho 4 5 5 5 4 (Cambia exiting)
Indiana 4 8 7 4 2 (Anthem and MDwise exiting)
Maine 2 3 3 3 3
Maryland 4 5 5 3 3 (Cigna exiting, Evergreen1 filed to reenter)
Michigan 9 13 11 9 8 (Humana exiting)
Minnesota 5 4 4 4 4
New Mexico 4 5 4 4 4
New York 16 16 15 14 14
Oregon 11 10 10 6 5 (Atrio exiting)
Pennsylvania 7 8 7 5 5
Rhode Island 2 3 3 2 2
Tennessee 4 5 4 3 3 (Humana exiting, Oscar entering)
Vermont 2 2 2 2 2
Virginia 5 6 7 8 6 (UnitedHealthcare and Aetna exiting)
Washington 7 9 8 6 5 (Community Health Plan of WA exiting)
Average (20 states + DC) 5.7 6.7 6.2 5.1 4.6
NOTES: Insurers are grouped by parent company or group affiliation, which we obtained from HHS Medical Loss Ratio public use files and supplemented with additional research.
1The number of preliminary 2018 insurers in Maryland includes Evergreen, which submitted a filing but has been placed in receivership.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Uncertainty Surrounding ACA Provisions

Insurers in the individual market must submit filings with their premiums and service areas to states and/or the federal government for review well in advance of these rates going into effect. States vary in their deadlines and processes, but generally, insurers were required to submit their initial rate requests in May or June of 2017 for products that go into effect in January 2018. Once insurers set their premiums for 2018 and sign final contacts at the end of September, those premiums are locked in for the entire calendar year and insurers do not have an opportunity to revise their rates or service areas until the following year.

Meanwhile, over the course of this summer, the debate in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has carried on as insurers set their rates for next year. Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would have made significant changes to the law effective in 2018 or even retroactively, including repeal of the individual mandate penalty. Additionally, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals over whether it would continue to enforce the individual mandate or make payments to insurers to reimburse them for the cost of providing legally required cost-sharing assistance to low-income enrollees.

Because this policy uncertainty is far outside the norm, insurers are making varying assumptions about how this uncertainty will play out and affect premiums. Some states have attempted to standardize the process by requesting rate submissions under multiple scenarios, while other states appear to have left the decision up to each individual company. There is no standard place in the filings where insurers across all states can explain this type of assumption, and some states do not post complete filings to allow the public to examine which assumptions insurers are making.

In the 20 states and DC with detailed rate filings included in the previous sections of this analysis, the vast majority of insurers cite policy uncertainty in their rate filings. Some insurers make an explicit assumption about the individual mandate not being enforced or cost-sharing subsidies not being paid and specify how much each assumption contributes to the overall rate increase. Other insurers state that if they do not get clarity by the time final rates must be submitted – which has now been delayed to September 5 for the federal marketplace – they may either increase their premiums further or withdraw from the market.

Table 4 highlights examples of insurers that have explicitly factored into their premiums an assumption that either the individual mandate will not be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will not be made and have specified the degree to which that assumption is influencing their initial rate request. As mentioned above, the vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the Administration.

Insurers assuming the individual mandate will not be enforced have factored in to their rate increases an additional 1.2% to 20%. Those assuming cost-sharing subsidy payments will not continue and factoring this into their initial rate requests have applied an additional rate increase ranging from 2% to 23%. Because cost-sharing reductions are only available in silver plans, insurers may seek to raise premiums just in those plans if the payments end. We estimate that silver premiums would have to increase by 19% on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments, with the amount varying substantially by state.

Several insurers assumed in their initial rate filing that payment of the cost-sharing subsidies would continue, but indicated the degree to which rates would increase if they are discontinued. These insurers are not included in the Table 4. If CSR payments end or there is continued uncertainty, these insurers say they would raise their rates an additional 3% to 10% beyond their initial request – or ranging from 9% to 38% in cases when the rate increases would only apply to silver plans. Some states have instructed insurers to submit two sets of rates to account for the possibility of discontinued cost-sharing subsidies. In California, for example, a surcharge would be added to silver plans on the exchange, increasing proposed rates an additional 12.4% on average across all 11 carriers, ranging from 8% to 27%.

Table 4: Examples of Preliminary Insurer Assumptions Regarding Individual Mandate Enforcement and
Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR) Payments
State Insurer Average Rate Increase  Requested Individual Mandate Assumption CSR Payments Assumption Requested Rate Increase Due to Mandate or CSR Uncertainty
CT ConnectiCare 17.5% Weakly enforced1 Not specified Mandate: 2.4%
DE Highmark BCBSD 33.6% Not enforced Not paid Mandate and CSR: 12.8% combined impact
GA Alliant Health Plans 34.5% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.0%
CSR: Unspecified
ID Mountain Health CO-OP 25.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 17.0%
ID PacificSource Health Plans 45.6% Not specified Not paid CSR: 23.2%
ID SelectHealth 45.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 20.0%
MD CareFirst BlueChoice 45.6% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
ME Harvard PilgrimHealth Care 39.7% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 15.9%
MI BCBS of MI 26.9% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Blue Care Network of MI 13.8% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Molina Healthcare of MI 19.3% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 9.5%
NM CHRISTUS Health Plan 49.2% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.0%, combined impact of individual mandate non-enforcement and reduced advertising and outreach
NM Molina Healthcare of NM 21.2% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 11.0%
NM New Mexico Health Connections 32.8% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
OR* BridgeSpan 17.2% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 11.0%
OR* Moda Health 13.1% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 1.2%
OR* Providence Health Plan 20.7% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.7%, largely due to individual mandate non-enforcement
TN BCBS of TN 21.4% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 7.0%
CSR:  14.0%
TN Cigna 42.1% Weakly enforced Not paid CSR: 14.1%
TN Oscar Insurance  NA (New to state) Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 0%, despite non-enforcement
CSR: 17.0%, applied only to silver plans
VA CareFirst BlueChoice 21.5% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
VA CareFirst GHMSI 54.3% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
WA LifeWise Health Plan of Washington 21.6% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.2%
CSR: 2.3%
WA Premera Blue Cross 27.7% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 4.0%
CSR: 3.1%
WA Molina Healthcare of WA 38.5% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 5.4%
NOTES: The CSR assumption “Potentially not paid” refers to insurers that filed initial rates assuming CSR payments are made and indicated that uncertainty over CSR funding would change their initial rate requests. In Michigan, insurers were instructed to submit a second set of filings showing rate increases without CSR payments; the rates shown above assume continued CSR payments. *The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation reviewed insurer filings and advised adjustment of the impact of individual mandate uncertainty to between 2.4% and 5.1%. Although rates have since been finalized, the increases shown here are based on initial insurer requests. 1Connecticare assumes a public perception that the mandate will not be enforced.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Discussion

A number of insurers have requested double-digit premium increases for 2018. Based on initial filings, the change in benchmark silver premiums will likely range from -5% to 49% across these 21 major cities. These rates are still being reviewed by regulators and may change.

In the past, requested premiums have been similar, if not equal to, the rates insurers ultimately charge. This year, because of the uncertainty insurers face over whether the individual mandate will be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will be made, some companies have included an additional rate increase in their initial rate requests, while other companies have said they may revise their premiums late in the process. It is therefore quite possible that the requested rates in this analysis will change between now and open enrollment.

Insurers attempting to price their plans and determine which states and counties they will service next year face a great deal of uncertainty. They must soon sign contracts locking in their premiums for the entire year of 2018, yet Congress or the Administration could make significant changes in the coming months to the law – or its implementation – that could lead to significant losses if companies have not appropriately priced for these changes. Insurers vary in the assumptions they make regarding the individual mandate and cost-sharing subsidies and the degree to which they are factoring this uncertainty into their rate requests.

Because most enrollees on the exchange receive subsidies, they will generally be protected from premium increases. Ultimately, most of the burden of higher premiums on exchanges falls on taxpayers. Middle and upper-middle income people purchasing their own coverage off-exchange, however, are not protected by subsidies and will pay the full premium increase, switch to a lower level plan, or drop their coverage. Although the individual market on average has been stabilizing, the concern remains that another year of steep premium increases could cause healthy people (particularly those buying off-exchange) to drop their coverage, potentially leading to further rate hikes or insurer exits.

Methods

Data were collected from health insurer rate filing submitted to state regulators. These submissions are publicly available for the states we analyzed. Most rate information is available in the form of a SERFF filing (System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing) that includes a base rate and other factors that build up to an individual rate. In states where filings were unavailable, we gathered data from tables released by state insurance departments. Premium data are current as of August 7, 2017; however, filings in most states are still preliminary and will likely change before open enrollment. All premiums in this analysis are at the rating area level, and some plans may not be available in all cities or counties within the rating area. Rating areas are typically groups of neighboring counties, so a major city in the area was chosen for identification purposes.


New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women


You can read the original article here.

Source:

Sobel L., Salganicoff A., Rosenzweig C. (6 October 2017). "New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/new-regulations-broadening-employer-exemptions-to-contraceptive-coverage-impact-on-women/

The Trump Administration has issued new regulations that significantly broaden employers’ ability to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement.  The regulation opens the door for any employer or college/ university with a student health plan with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs to qualify for an exemption. Any nonprofit or closely-held for-profit employer with moral objections to contraceptive coverage also qualifies for an exemption. Their female employees, dependents and students will no longer be entitled to coverage for the full range of FDA approved contraceptives at no cost.

On October 6, 2017, the Trump Administration issued two new regulations greatly expanding the types of employers that may be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement.  These regulations are a significant departure from the Obama-era regulations that only granted an exception to houses of worship.  One of the regulations allows nonprofits or for-profit employer with an objection to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs to qualify for an exemption and drop contraceptive coverage from their plans.  The other regulation also exempts all but publicly traded employers with moral objections to contraception from rule. These new policies, effective immediately, also apply to private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans. The immediate impact of these regulations on the number of women who are eligible for contraceptive coverage is unknown, but the new regulations open the door for many more employers to withhold contraceptive coverage from their plans.

New regulations from the Trump administration greatly expand exemption from #ACA contraceptive coverage rule

Contraceptive coverage under the ACA has made access to the full range of contraceptive methods affordable to millions of women. This provision is part of a set of key preventive services that has been identified by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for women that must be covered without cost-sharing. Since it was first issued in 2012, the contraceptive coverage provision has been controversial. While very popular with the public, with over 77% of women and 64% of men reporting support for no-cost contraceptive coverage, it has been the focus of litigation brought by religious employers, with two cases (Zubik v Burwell and Burwell v Hobby Lobby)  reaching the Supreme Court. This brief explains the contraceptive coverage rule under the ACA, the impact it has had on coverage, and how the new regulations issued by the Trump Administration change the contraceptive coverage requirement for employers and affect women’s coverage.

How do the new regulations change contraceptive coverage requirements for employers?

Since they were announced in 2011, the contraceptive coverage rules have evolved through litigation and new regulations. Most employers were required to include the coverage in their plans. Houses of worship could choose to be exempt from the requirement if they had religious objections. This exception meant that women workers and female dependents of exempt employers did not have guaranteed coverage for either some or all FDA approved contraceptive methods if their employer had an objection. Religiously affiliated nonprofits and closely held for-profit corporations were not eligible for an exemption, but could choose an accommodation. This option was offered to religiously affiliated nonprofit employers and then extended to closely held for-profitsafter the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The accommodation allowed these employers to opt out of providing and paying for contraceptive coverage in their plans by either notifying their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection. The insurers were then responsible for covering the costs of contraception, which assured that their workers and dependents had contraceptive coverage while relieving the employers of the requirement to pay for it.

As of 2015, 10% of nonprofits with 5,000 or more employees had elected for an accommodation without challenging the requirement. This approach, however, has not been acceptable to all nonprofits with religious objections.1 In May 2016, the Supreme Court remanded Zubik v. Burwell, sending seven cases brought by religious nonprofits objecting to the contraceptive coverage accommodation back to the respective district Courts of Appeal. The Supreme Court instructed the parties to work together to “arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”2

On October 6, 2017, the Trump Administration issued new regulations greatly expanding eligibility for the exemption to all nonprofit and closely-held for-profit employers with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, including private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans (Figure 1).  In addition, publicly traded for-profit companies with objections based on religious beliefs also qualify for an exemption. There is no guaranteed right of contraceptive coverage for their female employees and dependents or students. Table 1 presents the changes to the contraceptive coverage rule from the Obama Administration in the new Interim Final regulations issued by the Trump Administration.

Figure 1: Employers Objecting to Contraceptive Coverage: Exemptions and Accommodations Under the Trump Administration Regulations

The accommodation will be available to employers that previously qualified for the accommodation.  They now will also have the choice of an exemption. The federal departments issuing the regulations posit that these new rules will have limited impact on the number of women losing contraceptive coverage.   However, it is not clear how many employers previously utilizing the accommodation will now opt for an exemption, resulting in the loss of contraceptive coverage for their employees and dependents.  In addition, there are also an unknown number of organizations that were not previously eligible for either the accommodation or exemption that may now opt for an exemption. These new regulations create two new categories of employers who can now qualify for an exemption or can voluntarily chooses an accommodation:  1) publicly traded for-profit companies with a religious objection and 2) nonprofit and closely held for-profit employers who have a moral objection to contraceptives, a considerably larger pool of employers than when the exemption was available only to those who were employees of a house of worship or who were eligible for an accommodation in the past.

Table 1: Summary of Changes in the Contraceptive Coverage Regulations for Objecting Entities
  Obama Administration
August 2012 to October 5, 2017
Trump Administration
Effective October 6, 2017
What types of contraceptives must plans cover without cost-sharing? At least one of each of the 18 FDA approved contraceptive methods for women, as prescribed, along with counseling and related services must be covered without cost-sharing. No change
Are any employers “exempt” from the contraceptive mandate?
  • Religious institutions defined as “houses of worship”
  • Grandfathered plans
  • No notice to employees is required. Women workers and female dependents must pay for their own contraceptives.
  • Religious institutions defined as “houses of worship”
  • Grandfathered plans
  • Nonprofit or  for-profit employers (including publicly traded companies), insurers, or private colleges or universities that issue student insurance plans with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage
  • Nonprofit or closely held for-profit employers, insurers, or private colleges or universities that issue student insurance plans with a moralobjection to contraceptive coverage
  • Notice is only required if the plan previously included contraceptive coverage. Women workers and female dependents must pay for their own contraceptives.
Who pays for contraceptive coverage for employees of organizations receiving an exemption?
  • The cost of contraceptives is borne by women workers and female dependents.
  • There is no guarantee of contraceptive coverage for employees of an exempt organization.
  • The employer may choose to cover some methods, but has no obligation to cover all 18 FDA methods without cost sharing
No change

What type of employers may seek an “accommodation” to avoid paying for contraceptives in their plans?  
  • Closely held for-profit corporations and religiously affiliated nonprofits with religious objections to contraception can opt out of providing and paying for contraceptive coverage
  • Notice must be provided to either their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection.
  • Women workers and female dependents receive no cost contraceptive coverage.
  • Any entity (except for houses of worship) eligible for an exemption can choose the accommodation instead of the exemption.
  • Notice must be provided to either their insurer, third party administrator, or the federal government of their objection.
  • Women workers and female dependents receive no cost contraceptive coverage.
Who pays for contraceptive coverage for employees of organizations receiving an accommodation?
  • Insurance companies of firms obtaining an accommodation must pay for contraceptive coverage.
  • Third-party administrators (TPA) of self-funded health plans must cover the costs of contraceptives for employees. The costs of the benefit are offset by reductions in the fees the TPA pays to participate in the federal exchange.
No change
When can entities change from an accommodation to an exemption? N/A
  • When an employer or private college or university currently using the accommodation opts for an exemption, the revocation of contraceptive coverage will be effective on the first day of the first plan year that begins 30 days after the date of the revocation or 60 days notice may be given in a summary of benefits statement.
  • The issuer or third party administrator is responsible for providing the notice to the beneficiaries.

How has the contraceptive coverage rule affected women?

Contraceptive use among women is widespread, with over 99% of sexually-active women using at least one method at some point during their lifetime.3 Contraceptives make up an estimated 30-44% of out-of-pocket health care spending for women.4 Since the implementation of the ACA, out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs has decreased dramatically (Figure 2). The majority of this decline (63%) can be attributed to the drop in out-of-pocket expenses on the oral contraceptive pill for women.5 One study estimates that roughly $1.4 billion dollars per year in out-of-pocket savings on the pill resulted from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.6  By 2013, most women had no out-of-pocket costs for their contraception, as median expenses for most contraceptive methods, including the IUD and the pill, dropped to zero.7

Figure 2: The Contraceptive Coverage Policy Has Had a Large Impact on Out-Of-Pocket Spending in a Short Amount of Time

This provision has also influenced the decisions women make in their choice of method. After implementation of the ACA contraceptive coverage requirement, women were more likely to choose any method of prescription contraceptive, with a shift towards more effective long-term methods.8  High upfront costs of long-acting methods, such as the IUD and implant, had been a barrier to women who might otherwise prefer these more effective methods.  When faced with no cost-sharing, women choose these methods more often9, with significant implications for the rate of unintended pregnancy and associated costs of childbirth.10

Finally, decreases in cost-sharing were associated with better adherence and more consistent use of the pill. This was especially true among users of generic pills.  One study showed that even copayments as low as $6 were associated with higher levels of discontinuation and non-adherence,11 increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Do states with no-cost contraceptive coverage laws allow exemptions to objecting entities?

The federal standards under Affordable Care Act created a minimum set of preventive benefits that applied to most health plans regulated by the federal government (self-funded plans, federal employee plans) and states (individual, small and large group plans), including contraceptive coverage for women with no cost-sharing.  States have also historically regulated insurance, and many have had mandated minimum benefits for decades. State laws, however, have more limited reach in that they only apply to state regulated fully insured plans, do not have jurisdiction over self-funded plans, where 61% of covered workers are insured.12 In self-funded plans, the employer assumes the risk of providing covered services and usually contracts with a third party administrator (TPA) to manage the claims payment process. These plans are overseen by the Federal Department of Labor under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and are only subject to federally established regulations.13  The ACA sets a minimum standard of coverage for preventive services for all plans. However, state laws regulating insurance, including contraceptive coverage, can require fully insured plans to provide coverage beyond the federal standards.

Eight states have strengthened and expanded the federal contraceptive coverage requirement (CA, IL, MD, ME, NV, NY, OR, VT).  Another 20 states have contraceptive equity laws that require plans to cover contraceptives if they also provide coverage for prescription drugs but they do not necessarily require coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives or ban cost-sharing (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Many States Have Contraceptive Coverage Requirements

Many of the 28 states that have passed contraceptive coverage laws (both equity and no-cost coverage) have a provision for exemptions, but the laws vary from state to state and only apply to fully insured plans.  This means that there may be a conflict between the state and federal requirements when it comes to religious exemptions.  In some states with a contraceptive coverage requirement, some employers who are eligible for an exemption under federal law will not qualify for an exemption under state law (Table 2). Employers in those states will have to have to meet the standards established by their state even though they may qualify for an exemption based on the new federal regulations.  This conflict may set the stage for future litigation.

Table 2: State Requirements for No-Cost Contraceptive Coverage
StateDate Effective Applies to Coverage required without cost sharing Exemptions allowed
  Private plans Medicaid With RX all FDA approved OTC Vasectomy Religious Moral
CaliforniaJanuary 2015 X MCOs X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
IllinoisJanuary 2017 X X X
except male condoms
Any employer, or insurer with a religious objection Any employer, or insurer with a moral objection
MarylandJanuary 2018 X X X X X Religious organizations if the coverage conflicts with the organization’s bona fide religious beliefs and practices None
MaineJanuary 2019 X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
NevadaJanuary 2018 X X X Insurers affiliated with a religious organization None
New YorkAugust 2017 X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers* None
OregonAugust 2017 X X X Narrowly defined nonprofit religious employers None
VermontOctober 2016 X X – and all other public health assistance programs X X None None
NOTES: *Requires the insurer to offer a rider to policyholders so that women will have contraceptive coverage.
SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of state laws and regulations.

Conclusion

The Trump Administration’s new regulations substantially expand the exemption to nonprofit and for-profit employers, as well as to private colleges or universities with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage. It is unknown how many of these employers and colleges will maintain coverage through the accommodation as before and how many will now opt for the exemption leaving their students, employees and dependents without no-cost coverage for the full range of contraceptive methods. As a result of the new regulation, choices about coverage and cost-sharing will be made by employers and private colleges and universities that issue student plans. For many women, their employers will determine whether they have no-cost coverage to the full range of FDA approved methods.  Their choice of contraceptive methods may again be limited by cost, placing some of the most effective yet costly methods out of financial reach.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Sobel L., Salganicoff A., Rosenzweig C. (6 October 2017). "New Regulations Broadening Employer Exemptions to Contraceptive Coverage: Impact on Women" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/new-regulations-broadening-employer-exemptions-to-contraceptive-coverage-impact-on-women/


Employer Premiums Rise Nearly 7% in 2017; Employees Absorb More of the Health Insurance Cost

On October 26th, UBA released the following press release on the UBA Health Plan Survey:


Increased prescription drug costs for employees with 5- and 6-tier plans; increased out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, especially for singles; self-funding on the rise

Premium renewal rates (the comparison of similar plan rates year over year) for employer sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.6%—a significant increase from the five-year average increase of 5.6%, according to the 2017 United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Health Plan Survey, released today. Two states saw record premium increases: Connecticut saw a 24% increase in premiums in 2017, up to $655 from $530; New York also saw a large increase of 14%, up to $712 in 2017 over $624 in 2016.

On the other side, some states saw decreases in premiums, such as Arizona and Washington which saw 2% and 10% decreases, respectively.

Percent Premium Increase Over Time

Average employee premiums for all employer-sponsored plans rose from $509 in 2016 for single coverage to $532 in 2017 and from $1,236 to $1,272 for family coverage (a 4.5% and 3% increase respectively). Average annual total costs per employee increased from $9,727 to $9,935. However, the employee share of total costs rose 5% from $3,378 to $3,550, while the employer’s share rose less than 1%, from $6,350 to $6,401.

“Premiums have been holding relatively steady the last few years. And while this year’s increases are not astronomical, their departure from the trend does warrant attention. To mitigate these rising costs, employers are shifting more premium onto employees, offering more lower-cost consumer directed health plans (CDHPs) and health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, increasing out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and leveraging continued extensions on the ability to “grandmother,” says Peter Weber, President of UBA. “We’ve also seen reductions in prescription drug coverage to defray increasing costs even further.”

Prescription Drug Plans—For a second year, prescription drug plans with four or more tiers are exceeding the number of plans with one to three tiers. Almost three-quarters (72.6%) of prescription drug plans have four or more tiers, while 27.4% have three or fewer tiers. Even more surprising is that the number of six-tier plans has surged, accounting for 32% of all plans, when only 2% of plans were using this design only a year ago.

“While employers chose to hold contributions, copays and in-network benefits steady, they dramatically shifted prescription drug costs to employees. By increasing tiering and adding coinsurance (vs. copays), employers were able to contain costs,” says Weber.

Out-of-Pocket Costs—Median in-network deductibles for singles and families across all plans remain steady at $2,000 and $4,000, respectively. Single out-of-network median deductibles saw a 13% increase in 2016, and a 17.6% increase in 2017, from $3,400 to $4,000. Both singles and families are facing continued increases in median in-network out-of-pocket maximums (up by $560 and $1,000, respectively, to $5,000 and $10,000).

Self-Funding—The number of employers using self-funding grew 48% for employers with 25 to 49 employees in 2017 (5.8% of plans), and 13.4% for employers with 50 to 99 employees (9.3% of plans).

Overall, 12.8% of all plans are self-funded, up from 12.5% in 2016, while almost two-thirds (60.9%) of all large employer (1,000+ employees) plans are self-funded.

“Self-funding has always been an attractive option for large groups, but we see self-funding becoming increasingly desirable to all employers as a way to avoid various cost and compliance aspects of health care reform,” says Weber. “For small employers with healthy populations, self-funding may be particularly attractive since fully insured community-rated plans under the ACA don’t give them any credit for a healthy group.”

The 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey Executive Summary is available now at http://bit.ly/2017UBASurvey. For interviews, contact Carina Sammartino, Media Relations, csammartino (at) hrmarketer.com or 760-331-3547.

About the 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey
The 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey contains the validated responses of 20,099 health plans and 11,221 employers, who cumulatively employ over two and a half million employees and insure more than five million total lives. While other surveys primarily target large employers, the focus of the UBA survey is to report results that are applicable to the small and mid-size companies that represent the overwhelming majority of the nation’s employers, while also including a mix of large companies in rough proportion to their actual prevalence, nationally. This is an important distinction compared to other national surveys.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Mukhtar G. (26 October 2017). "Employer Premiums Rise Nearly 7% in 2017; Employees Absorb More of the Health Insurance Cost" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/news/employer-premiums-rise-nearly-7-in-2017-employees-absorb-more-of-the-health-insurance-cost


HRL - Pills - Glass

Medicare Advantage: How Robust Are Plans’ Physician Networks?


You can read the original article here.

Source:

Jacobson G. (5 October 2017). "Medicare Advantage: How Robust Are Plans’ Physician Networks?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/medicare/report/medicare-advantage-how-robust-are-plans-physician-networks/

One of the biggest trade-offs between Medicare Advantage and traditional Medicare is that Medicare Advantage plans have a more limited network of doctors and other providers. The size and breadth of provider networks can be an important factor for beneficiaries when choosing between traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, and among Medicare Advantage plans. As of 2017, 19 million of the 58 million people on Medicare (33%) are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, yet little is known about their provider networks.

19 million people on Medicare are in a #MedicareAdvantage plan, yet little is known about their provider networks. 

This report is the first known study to examine the size and composition of Medicare Advantage plans’ physician networks. This analysis draws upon data from 391 plans, offered by 55 insurers in 20 counties, and accounted for 14% of all Medicare Advantage enrollees nationwide in 2015. Key findings include:

Figure ES-1: One in three Medicare Advantage enrollees were in plans with narrow physician networks

  • More than three in ten (35%) Medicare Advantage enrollees were in narrow-network plans while about two in ten (22%) were in broad-network plans. To some degree, the relative narrowness of plan networks masks the total number of physicians that enrollees could access, particularly in larger counties.
  • Medicare Advantage networks included less than half (46%) of all physicians in a county, on average.
  • Network size varied greatly among Medicare Advantage plans offered in a given county. For example, while enrollees in Erie County, NY had access to 60% of physicians in their county, on average, 16% of the plans in Erie had less than 10% of the physicians in the county while 36% of the plans had more than 80% of the physicians in the county.
  • Access to psychiatrists was typically more restricted than for any other specialty. Medicare Advantage plans had 23% of the psychiatrists in a county, on average; 36% of plans included less than 10% of psychiatrists in their county. Some plans provided relatively little choice for other specialties as well; 20% of plans included less than 5 cardiothoracic surgeons, 18% of plans included less than 5 neurosurgeons, 16% of plans included less than 5 plastic surgeons, and 16% of plans included less than 5 radiation oncologists.
  • Broad-network plans tended to have higher average premiums than narrow-network plans, and this was true for both HMOs ($54 versus $4 per month) and PPOs ($100 versus $28 per month).

Insurers may create narrow networks for a variety of reasons, such as to have greater control over the costs and quality of care provided to enrollees in the plan. The size and composition of Medicare Advantage provider networks is likely to be particularly important to enrollees when they have an unforeseen medical event or serious illness. However, accessing the information may not be easy for users, and comparing networks could be especially challenging. Beneficiaries could unwittingly face significant costs if they accidentally go out-of-network. Differences across plans, including provider networks, pose challenges for Medicare beneficiaries in choosing among plans and in seeking care, and raise questions for policymakers about the potential for wide variations in the healthcare experience of Medicare Advantage enrollees across the country.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Jacobson G. (5 October 2017). "Medicare Advantage: How Robust Are Plans’ Physician Networks?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/medicare/report/medicare-advantage-how-robust-are-plans-physician-networks/