Inside Baseball: Observations on Obamacare, Enrollments and the Exchange

National healthcare consultant and columnist Bob Laszewski makes some interesting observations in his most recent column at Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review.  After making the rounds with insurance carrier executives, actuaries and others involved with the Obamacare rollout, here are some of the things Laszewski reports:

On Enrollment Numbers. About half the enrollments in the exchange are made up of folks that already had insurance and about half were previously uninsured. Other conventional polls indicate that the ratio is closer to two-thirds previously insured and one-third previously without insurance.

On Demographics and Risk. The average age of those enrolling is still high (not enough from the 18 -34 demographic). Actuaries indicate that the overall numbers  may present an even bigger issue: Is enrollment via the exchanges large enough to get the right mix of healthy and sick people to balance the risk?

On Enrollment Attrition. About 15% – 20% of those counted as enrolled have not paid even first month premium. Something to watch over the course of the rest of the year is how many new enrollees will simply allow their policies to lapse. If that happens, with open enrollment closed until next year those numbers are not likely to be replaced.

On Consumer Satisfaction. Carriers report hearing a lot of dissatisfaction from consumers about their new health plans especially when compared to what they had before.

On 2015 Rate Increases. While there will be some variation within and across states, generally, rate increases for 2015 are expected to be just under 10% on exchange plans. A number of factors contribute to this projection: Lack of claims data to analyze.  Rate increases greater that 10% are subject to regulatory review. And, Obamacare reinsurance protects carriers from underwriting losses until 2016.

Our bottom line. Waaaayyyyy more questions than answers. The answers aren’t likely to come for quite some time (years). Carriers don’t think Obamacare will be repealed but rather will evolve and are going forward in that fashion. No one has a handle on Obamacare costs at this point and won’t until enrollments stabilize, more claims data is available for analysis and the $20 billion federal reinsurance backstop for insurance carriers expires in 2016 or when as Laszewski states “the training wheels come off.”

Individual Mandate and the March 31 Deadline

Info for Part-time or Other Employees Currently Without Health Insurance

There’s lots of noise out there related to Obamacare’s individual mandate and the rapidly approaching March 31 open enrollment deadline. Here’s summary information for those part-time or other employees that currently do not have any health insurance:

  • The deadline to sign up for individual health insurance is March 31 – less than a week away. This marks the end of the open enrollment period.  After March 31, those without coverage will not be able to purchase an individual health plan (on or off the exchange) until the next open enrollment period beginning in November — unless they have a qualifying event such as marriage, birth of a child, loss of employer sponsored health coverage, move out of state, have a significant income change, etc.  If that’s the case, then they can enroll during a special enrollment period.
  • Extensions may be available based on information released just yesterday.  According to latest reports if someone started to apply for coverage through the HealthCare.gov website but could not finish by March 31 or they experienced other glitches in trying to sign up, they will have until about the middle of April to seek an extension.  Individuals can qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on the HealthCare.gov website indicating that they’ve tried to enroll before the deadline. The following are links to recent news stories that reported the extension that was officially announced yesterday:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/usa-healthcare-enrollment-idUSL1N0MN04Y20140326

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/03/25/White-House-Extends-Enrollment-Time-Obamacare

  • If someone goes without health coverage after March 31, they may be subject to health reform law’s tax penalty come tax time next April for not having coverage.  The penalty this year is $95 or up to 1% of income, whichever is greater.
  • Some financial assistance may be available.  Individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level (about $11,490 to $45,960 for individuals) may qualify of premium tax credits (also referred to as premium subsidies).  Tax credits are based on a percentage of household income and are applied on a sliding scale for those that qualify.

Individuals who want to obtain health care insurance before the March 31 deadline should visit Healthare.gov to begin their application process.

Letter to Jimmy Fallon: Abbott & Costello Meet Healthcare Reform

Dear Jimmy:

First, congrats on hosting the Tonight Show gig. You’ve made us laugh and we’ve enjoyed your work for a number of years now. Way to go!

Undoubtedly, recent events related to healthcare reform and Obamacare have provided you and your late-night talk show colleagues with an endless supply of comedy material. Nevertheless, in case you needed more material, we thought we’d pass along a prime example of a day in the life of today’s health insurance and business world.

Here’s an all too common, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenario that’s playing out with insurance companies and many small businesses across the country. It’s a direct result of the mass confusion surrounding the roll out of the Affordable Care Act. It centers on the scenario that many small businesses faced at the end of 2013 — “You Can Keep Your Plan. Wait! No, You Can’t Keep Your Plan. OK. Now, Yes. You Can Keep Your Plan Again Even Though the Clock is About to Strike Midnight.” 

It reminds me of the the classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” comedy skit. It would be really funny to those of us in the insurance business, except that it is generating real frustration and proving to be a major productivity drain on small businesses and their owners. Unfortunately, it’ s playing out like this all across the country.

Our Client Services Manager, one of the best and brightest around, was able to help an exasperated and frustrated client, a construction company executive. Despite the fact that insurance companies often earn the scorn of their policyholders, they clearly are not to blame this time. It’s the unorganized “Keystone Cops” style roll out of the Affordable Care Act that gets the blame here.

Okay, here we go…a real, honest-to-goodness scenario that would most certainly make Abbot and Costello proud:

Dear Joe (not his real name):

Attached is the worksheet – sorry about the roughness of it, but I am no rocket scientist. I think if this continues, we are going to need rocket scientists to do the figuring! Anyway, the worksheet shows more or less how everything was figured on the previous invoices…I tried the best I could to make some sense out of it. I was able to get copies of your 2013 invoices, so I have also attached them for your convenience.

(Jimmy, this is where it really gets good)

Here goes my explanation:

Your invoices for November 2013 and the prior invoices reflected the premiums for medical and dental effective with your renewal date and the renewal rates.

– Then, in December 2013, the invoice reflected the new medical rates effective 12/01/13, plus the OLD dental rates.

– Then, in January 2014, the invoice reflected the new medical rates, plus the ACA taxes put into effect 1/01/14.

– Then, in February, the invoice reflected the same rates and taxes as January. At that point your insurance carrier thought they had it right.

– BUT, after they sent the February invoice, they realized that they had been billing you for the OLD dental rates.

– So they sent a February “revised” invoice that reflected the premium adjustment from December 2013 and January 2014, plus the revised rates for February. Those differences are shown in the retro fee adjustment section of the revised February 2014 invoice. The current charges on the revised February 2014 reflect the difference between the old premiums and the new ones effective 12/01/13 – PLUS the adjustment on the taxes.*

*On this revised February 2014 invoice, the premium adjustment for one employee’s dental coverage does not come out exactly right, but it seems to even out. It looks like they under charged (by a few dollars) the retro fee adjustment, but they seemed to have overcharged (again, by a few dollars) on the taxes for January. I could not get the exact answer for that, (maybe they need to hire a rocket scientist!). But, it appears to even out in the end.

Finally, the March 2014 Invoice is supposedly correct going forward reflecting the correct premiums for both medical and dental coverage and with the correct amount of ACA taxes figured in (fingers crossed!).

There is a caveat there, though, per your carrier: The fees/taxes percentage/calculated does not change.The only issue is if the group dynamics change, then the costs will be different. 

If this is not clear, I am happy to go over it with you. Feel free to call me.

Thanks for your patience!

Mary (not her real name)

Well, there you have it Jimmy. We hope your comedy writers can do something with this. We are all still scratching our heads…

Health Plan Consumers Sound Off on Narrow Networks: Docs Drive the Bus

More on the topic of narrow networks…

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of health plan buyers,  a little over half (51 percent) of those responding pointed toward buying a plan that cost more but presented a greater selection of providers vs. buying a less expensive plan with fewer participating doctors and hospitals (37 percent). However, the scales were tipped a little in the other direction for those previously without health coverage who were buying insurance for the first time as well as some would-be purchasers who were already enrolled in individual plans. Interestingly, the survey also reported that when push came to shove, many of those same folks (more than 1/3) who leaned in the narrow network / lower cost direction, when confronted with the possibility of losing access to their regular or preferred doctor and/or hospital, changed their tune preferring greater choice and access despite the higher cost.

A 2013 Deloitte Health Care Consumer Survey found that the majority of consumers would not consider a network that did not include their primary care doc. 12 percent of respondents were willing to swap physician relationship with price. More were willing to accept fewer in-network hospitals to lower their costs as long as their preferred docs were in the network.

For more on this topic, read Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: February 2014 and also Deloitte Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers

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