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.

On the argument blaming the mechanism that held down rates the first three years coming to an end, what Covered California didn't mention was that the Congress also suspended the health insurance tax under Obamacare for 2017––an action that about offset the end of the reinsurance program for insurers.

California did have a much lower Obamacare rate increase last year when compared to many other parts of the country. But one of the things I have learned over the years is that it is not uncommon for one insurance company or one market to see better claims experience than others only to have it all come back to average in due course.

California actuaries that I have talked to never doubted that this would ultimately be the case here. They pointed to three things that only delayed the inevitable. First, Covered California canceled 1 million pre-Obamacare policies unlike most states that grandfathered them for a time in the face of the "you can keep your health insurance if you like it" blow back in 2014. Second, the actuaries tell me that California insurers tended to go out for bigger 2014 rate increases than many other parts of the country and, third, almost immediately went to much smaller networks when Obamacare first launched. The combination of these things gave California some room to skate the first two years.

Covered California is also arguing that their regulation has kept the average health plan profit to only 1.5%. That is significant because carriers tend to price for at least a 5% profit in this historically problematic individual health market.

That profits are only priced to be at a 1.5% margin tells me there will be more upward rate pressure next year when the carriers price for 2018 claims and will ultimately need to get back to acceptable margins.

I am sure that Covered California will now be telling us that consumers can escape these increases by shopping for a lower cost plan.

Just remember, health insurance costs come in three ways: higher premiums, bigger deductibles and co-pays, and narrower networks. The cheapest cost plans are cheaper for a reason.

If fact, I went onto Covered California and downloaded the 2016 cost of a plan for a family of four (mom and dad age-40 in Compton) and found that Anthem and Blue Shield were already among the highest cost plans while the plans most identified as Medicaid-like––Molina, Health Net, and LA Care––were the cheapest:


And, if this family goes to the cheaper Bronze plans offered in Compton, they will see their individual deductible go up––in 2016 the increase would have been from $2,250 to $6,000 while the family deductible would have gone from $4,500 to $12,000 in 2016.

They will also tell us that most people get subsidies. Yes, on the exchange. But about half the market doesn't get a subsidy when the on and off exchange individual market is taken into consideration. The people who aren't subsidized take the full hit for these big rate increases.

California: Welcome to Obamacare!

See my post at Forbes on what supporters were saying a year ago about Covered California being the model for Obamacare's long-term success.

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 HealthCare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov 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:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

UnitedHealth Group Losing Big Money and Threatening to Leave the Obamacare Exchanges--Because the Obamacare Insurance Business Model Does Not Work

It's official. The Obamacare insurance company business model does not work.

UnitedHealth Group just announced they expect to lose $700 million in the Obamacare exchanges and are seriously considering withdrawing from the program in the coming year.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported just about everybody else is losing their shirts in Obamacare as well:
Several other big publicly traded insurers also flagged problems with their exchange business in their third-quarter earnings Anthem Inc. said enrollment is less than expected, though it is making a profit. Aetna Inc. said it expects to lose money on its exchange business this year, but hopes to improve the result in 2016. Humana Inc. and Cigna Corp. also flagged challenges...

There are signs that broad pattern has continued--and in some cases worsened--this year. A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysis of state filings for 30 not-for-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers found that their overall company wide results were "barely break-even" for the first half of 2015.

Goldman analysts projected the group would post an aggregate loss for the full year--the first since the late 1980s. The analysis said the health-law exchanges appeared to be a "key driver" for the faltering corporate results, and the medical-loss ratio for the Blue insurers' individual business was 99% in the first half of 2015--up from 91% at that point in 2014, and 82% for the first six months of 2013.
Every health plan I talk to tells me that they don't expect their Obamacare business to be profitable even in 2016 after their big rate increases. That does not bode well for the rate increases we can expect to be announced in the middle of next year's elections.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Crocodile Tears Over the Failing Obamacare Co-Ops--The Canaries in the Obamacare Coal Mine

I can't believe what I've been hearing recently from Obamacare defenders over the failing Obamacare co-ops--the most recent count has eight of them going bust.

The biggest complaint seems to be that those mean Republicans forced these co-ops out of business because of a provision they included in the last budget.
Read my post at Forbes

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Flat Enrollment Estimates For 2016--Has the Obama Administration Given Up on Obamacare?

On Thursday, the Obama administration said they expect to have 10 million people enrolled on the Obamacare insurance exchanges in 2016. They further said they expect to sign-up only one in four of those still uninsured and eligible during the 2016 open enrollment scheduled to begin on November 1.

These are astonishing admissions.

In 2013 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the Obamacare insurance exchanges would enroll an average of 22 million people during 2016.

Given the original expectations how can we now not say this program is a terrible failure?

Read my post at Forbes




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ohio Governor John Kasich's Medicaid Expansion: Successful Governance is Very Hard Work

Presidential candidate John Kasich (R-Ohio) has taken a lot of criticism on the campaign trail for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. But if his Medicaid expansion isn’t an extraordinary example of successful conservative governance I don’t know what would be.

See My Post at Forbes

Monday, August 17, 2015

Has Obamacare Really Reduced The Uninsured By 16 Million And Continued To Show Strong Growth?

Recent reports have touted a significant drop in the number of uninsured and generally credited Obamacare for it. And, other reports have recently highlighted about 950,000 more people signing up for Obamacare since the 2015 open enrollment closed but haven’t said anything about the number of people who dropped their coverage during the same period.

Many of these reports may be technically correct but hardly give an accurate picture.
See my post at Forbes

Monday, July 27, 2015

Health Insurer Merger Mania -- Muscle-Bound Competitors And A New Cold War In Health Care

It is doubtful that the dramatically escalating consolidation in both the health insurance industry and among hospitals and doctors will make our health care system either more efficient or more competitive.

This reminds me of the Cold War. Each side gets more powerful so that the other side can’t come to dominate it. The two sides finally get so big and powerful they reach a point of détente—let’s just agree to get along. Or, in the case of the Cold War, one side just ultimately spends the other side into submission.

That kind of environment doesn’t create more efficiency or innovation but undermines real competition just like you would expect one oligopoly facing off against another to do. We just end up with a few muscle bound players creating sizable barriers for new innovative and disruptive players to enter.
Read more on my Post at Forbes

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

California Senate Votes To Open Up Obamacare To 2.5 Million Illegal Residents

King V. Burwell Opponents Said Killing Subsidies Would Blow Up Obamacare­­––Now They Want To Open Up Unsubsidized Care To Illegal Californians

And consider this. Passage of the California legislation that has already cleared the Senate (SB 4) could be a real boon to the business of health care delivery in California. California’s impressive medical system could be the leader in international medical tourism. SB 4 would also make it clear that a foreign person could land at LAX, give Covered California a call and sign up for an almost full pay Platinum plan for a few hundred dollars a month, on the first of the following month when their coverage became effective show up at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and have thousands of dollars of treatment, get back on the plane and go home, and then drop the coverage.

See my post at Forbes

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why The Affordable Care Act Isn't 'Here to Stay'­­­­--In One Picture

Why is Obamacare still so unpopular? Why aren’t the working class and middle-class signing up for it? Why is the Obamacare population sicker and causing so many big rate increases a year earlier than expected? Is Obamacare financially sustainable in its present form? Is it politically sustainable as it is?

Here is one picture that tells you just about everything you need to know to understand where Obamacare stands--politically and financially.

See my post at Forbes



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