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As Expected, States Will Have More Control and Greater Flexibility in Regulating Obamacare Starting in 2019

In a CMS press release the Trump Administration announced yesterday, as expected, that beginning in 2019 individual states will have more control and greater flexibility in regulating the individual health insurance market and the Obamacare Marketplace (aka the Exchange). In a summary of the “final 2019 Payment Notice Rule” CMS highlighted provisions that were intended to increase flexibility, improve affordability, and decrease administrative burdens.

 

It’s likely that changes made at the individual state level will ultimately have some impact either directly or indirectly on employer sponsored health coverage, particularly the small group market. We will be monitoring this very closely for our clients and will report back, especially as we get closer to 2019 and more information becomes available.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the headlines and links to the respective articles following yesterday’s announcement by CMS:

Here’s a link to the CMS press release:

 

Warren Buffett on the Amazon/Berkshire/Chase health venture — “Don’t Expect Any Miracles Out Of Us”

A month and change has now passed since the great splash of January’s big Amazon/Berkshire/Chase health venture announcement. It certainly was successful in disrupting the news cycle. The initially sky-high healthcare “Richter Scale” readings are returning to normal. And, it’s pretty safe to say that any substantive changes, major disruption, and any new normal that may be triggered by this venture on big healthcare (20% of the economy), other employers – big, small and in between, and everybody else are not on the immediate horizon.

Like the CVS/Aetna venture announced last December, real change is likely to be More Tortoise Than Hare.

A sampling of Warren Buffett’s comments in some of his recent interviews with Bloomberg, CNBC, and KHN may provide you with a little more insight and a glimpse of some of his expectations.

Here are a few sound bytes from recent Buffett interviews:

He said that the goal of the business is “better care, lower costs,”and, that it will take time.”

This is not easy. If it was easy, it would have been done.”

It would be very easy I think to go in and shave off 3 or 4 percent just by negotiating power. We’re looking for something much bigger than that.”

He spoke of health-care spending taking up an increasing proportion of the U.S. economy, and a indicated that the goal of the venture is to “at least” halt that ascendant trend.

Buffett also stated that he hopes “we could find a way where perhaps better care could be delivered even at somewhat lesser cost.”

To read more go to Bloomberg: Buffett-Dimon Health Venture To Go Beyond Just Squeezing The Middlemen 

Could 2018 End Up Being a Year of Improved Health Insurance Market Stability? Here are Five Reasons It Could Be the Case.

With healthcare seemingly out of the political crosshairs for the moment and any tectonic shifts emanating from a new Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/J.P. Morgan Chase superpower health entity a ways down the road, employers may get to experience some at least temporary market stability in the way of more choices, more consistent rates, less volatile renewals, and more opportunities to innovate (e.g. SharedFunding).

Employers have grounds for hope, at least for the next year or so.

Here are five (5) reasons that may lead to at least some temporary stability and have positive impact on cost and selection in the group market:

  1. The total number of people insured is holding steady or possibly even increasing despite the repeal of the individual mandate.
  2. Interest and energy in employer sponsored plans is up. More employers are offering health coverage. Many are also trying to improve their health coverage in order to compete for and retain talent in a more robust job market and a stronger economy.
  3. Much of the market activity for both insurance carriers and healthcare providers is geared toward gaining scale while building a better mousetrap (eg. Aetna/CVS, Unitedhealthcare and other carriers acquiring providers, etc). Strategic M&A activity is expected to continue.
  4. More states are experimenting by exercising the state waiver option (more info here and here). While tinkering with the individual market and Medicaid will get most of the headlines, more control on the state level should spawn more innovation and new options in the group market especially for small and mid-size employers.
  5. Health systems are now focused on vertical integration and improving their overall value proposition. They’re jockeying for market position and attempting to win over patients and payors alike.

 

 

In Acquiring Aetna, CVS Health is Aspiring to Become “the Trusted Front Door to Health Care”. What’s the Impact on Current Aetna Customers?

In a letter to the broker community Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini provided a glimpse of where the combined CVS/Aetna entity hopes to head once everything is completed. If approved, the blockbuster transaction is expected to close late in 2018.

Here’s what Bertolini had to say:

“CVS Health and Aetna are joining to become the trusted front door to health care. Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within three miles of a CVS Health retail store and nearly five million Americans visit CVS Health every day. We will use CVS Health’s 9,700 retail locations to establish entirely new community health hubs dedicated to improving consumer wellbeing and answering questions about health, prescription drugs and health care benefits.

Our company will deliver care by utilizing CVS Health’s network of 1,100 in-store clinics, which are significantly less expensive than traditional health care delivery settings. Further integration of our pharmacy operations will help offset some of the projected increases in prescription drug prices, resulting in cost savings for employers and consumers.”

How Does This Week’s Announcement Impact Our Employer Clients Currently on Aetna Plans? And, Should You Be Concerned?

If you have an Aetna plan in place now or are considering switching to an Aetna plan in 2018 there’s no cause for any immediate concern.

According to Bertolini the pending transaction would have no immediate effect on the Aetna products already in place or any Aetna products offered in the market in 2018.

Or, as the title of a recent Wall Street Journal article analyzing the effects of the acquisition proclaimed CVS-Aetna Is More Tortoise Than Hare.

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