Tag Archives: exchanges

When Leaders Don’t Lead on Medicaid

The big debate across the states over the expansion of Medicaid only deals with half of the equation.

The first half of the equation is political: who gets added to the entitlement rolls and who doesn’t. Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker, for example, decided to: turn down federal funds for expanding coverage; add 80,000 adults who are below the poverty line; and move some 70,000 residents who are above the line to the new federal exchange and subsidies.

But Wisconsin, like other states and the federal government, has ducked the rest of the issue: the staggering cost increases. Medicaid expenses, for which the states pay about 40% and the feds 60%, are crowding out funding for just about every other priority: K-12 education, the university system, environmental advances and economic development.

It’s the same story on health costs at the federal level. Medicaid, Medicare and the health bill for federal employees are the biggest driver of the crushing federal deficit. One recent secretary of defense said the department spends more on health costs than on weapons.

The void in the debate is the deafening silence on how to get the costs under control, with the exception of cutting people off the rolls.

It’s especially sad because there are solutions. Leading-edge employers in the private sector have put together a new business model for the delivery of health care that drastically lowers costs while improving health. Their best practices are applicable in the public sector, as some units of local government have discovered to great advantage.

Here are some proven, audited, beyond-debate cost-cutting moves that could be made with Medicaid plans:

  • Consumer-Driven Health Plans (CDHP) — Indiana has received a waiver from the Obama Administration to install Health Savings Accounts and to set higher deductibles for Medicaid recipients. Such CDHP plans cut costs by 20-30%. School districts and counties have deployed HSAs, as has Indiana for state employees and Purdue. Medicaid is rife with utilization abuse, because of an absence of such incentives and disincentives.
  • Reference Based Pricing (RBP) — CALPERS, the giant California pension fund that buys health care for 1.3 million members, has installed caps on procedures, such as $1,500 for colonoscopies and $30,000 for joint replacements. It’s easy to pay twice those maximums or more. But why do it? Why not RBPs for Medicaid? Note: A good number of providers have accepted the maximum prices.
  • Medical Homes — Another 20-30% can be cut from medical costs by offering proactive primary care. Many companies have set up on-site clinics to provide holistic care and keep people out of expensive hospitals. Why not set up medical homes where there are concentrations of Medicaid patients? Primary care is a lot less expensive than specialty care, the main offering of large hospital corporations. It’s also less expensive by far than care from emergency rooms, to which Medicaid entitlees often default. Obamacare provides some funds for community health centers, so there is a start for such medical homes.

The biggest problem for introducing aggressive and innovative management into Medicaid dynamics is the joint ownership of the program by federal and state governments. Differing agendas produce stalemate in most states. And, in the void, the costs scream upward.

Gov. Walker turned down the new federal dollars for a larger Medicaid program because of skepticism about the long-term availability of federal dollars. The soaring, unsustainable cost increases give substance to his position.

But his worry should be redirected to the costs. His concerns could be mitigated if the overall charges were sharply reduced.

He would look presidential if he followed the lead of private sector payers. That, again sadly, is in the political arena, so he probably wouldn’t get a federal waiver from the Obama administration for innovations, even if Indiana did.

Who loses in the managerial paralysis, when leaders don’t lead? In the case of Medicaid, it’s the taxpayers and poor people.

Private Exchanges May Be the Free Market Solution to Cost Control and Healthcare Consumerism

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is sometimes shortened to the “Affordable Care Act” or ACA, the act has few features that will make insurance more affordable.  Government studies and industry experts have indicated that strict coverage mandates, limited premium classifications, community rating, added benefits, single risk pools, and price compression will raise premiums more rapidly than if the ACA had never been passed.

The development of exchanges, both government and private exchanges, are part of an evolution that will change the way insurance is sold and bought.  It is a new way of connecting products with customers.   Government exchanges are likely to be used mainly by those qualifying for a federal subsidy.  The standards and restrictions on government exchanges are likely to attract poor risks and high cost claimants.  The government exchanges will use government paid “navigators” rather than independent licensed agents.  The government exchanges and navigators are not expected to offer supplemental products, life insurance or other products and services.

Private exchanges may be the free market solution to real cost control and lowering the number of uninsureds.  With 40-50 million uninsureds, the traditional agent distribution system for insurance is not working.   About 60% of the uninsured are under age 35.  Studies conducted in Georgia by the Center for Health Transformation Uninsured Working Group showed that 35% of the uninsured could afford insurance but did not know it.  Another 40% needed lower cost options that were not available to them either because insurers emphasized high premium products, or because existing state laws or legislative mandates increased premiums and favored insurers over consumers.

Many uninsureds work for a small businesses that do not offer insurance. They may be self-employed, part-time, or doing contract work.  In most cases, the need is for individual insurance, not group plans.  Selling single policies can be time consuming with little financial rewards for an agent.  Many potential individual sales are halted at the kitchen table when in the process of completing an application issues arise that could cause a declination.   Information derived by an insurer during the underwriting process is typically fed into an industry association called the Medical Information Bureau.  That information is shared across companies and a declined health application could have ramifications for future applications of life insurance, disability coverage and other forms of insurance. 

Private exchanges are developing that will offer individual and group products that emphasize wellness and treatment compliance for those under medical care.  PPACA requires insurers to “community rate” their products.  That is, individuals or small groups will not get direct credit for healthy activities.  New entities are forming that will likely attract healthy individuals and the less healthy members interested in getting better.  Developing private health cooperatives, captive mutual companies, and new insurers may be unencumbered by an existing unhealthy membership or a current business model that limits attracting customers willing to be engaged in healthy behaviors. 

Healthcare consumerism is more likely to emerge through private exchanges than government exchanges.  Private exchanges will provide a transition from employer-based insurance to individual-centered or consumer-centered insurance.  In theory, both large and small employers will be able to purchase health insurance through the private exchanges, and their employees can choose an individual health plan from those offered by participating insurers.

Time will tell.  We are in the beginning stages of a major market revolution.  We already know that government exchanges as originally promised for small groups have been delayed one year until 2015.  As private exchanges come on line, I believe each will be a little different and offer varying levels of products and services.  For awhile it will be a “wild west” show.  Ultimately, the success and failure of each exchange’s product and distribution model will lead to consolidation and better products, services, convenience, help, and information for the consumer.  In the end, more product competition and price transparency will lead to more citizens being insured and lower insurance costs will prevail.  This is the way free markets create successful products and services that consumers want to buy.

Why Obamacare Is Unraveling

President Obama’s announcement during a Nov. 14 press conference that he would like to see insurance carriers extend non-complying health coverage after Jan. 1 may be the event that unravels the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Carriers and health plans have worked hard for several years, have spent millions of dollars complying with ACA, have fought with insurance department regulators getting policies approved and, in many cases, have notified consumers of the need to terminate non-compliant policies. Now, carriers and health plans have a new wrinkle thrown their way.  What is going to happen next?

Some of the key principles of ACA are:

  • Clear definition of Essential Health Benefits (i.e., EHB)
  • Clear definition of metallic or metal level plans based upon the actuarial value of the benefit plan
  • Restrictions on premium format and methods to derive premium rates
  • Rigorous rate review and approval process coordinated by a combination of state insurance departments and federal oversight
  • Mandates for participation in some type of health coverage
  • Large number of taxes and fees to help fund ACA
  • Assumption that there would be a reasonable risk pool so carriers could appropriately price and predict future costs of care

Minimum loss ratio requirements to ensure that a reasonable portion of the premium rate goes toward the payment of claims

Carriers have worked hard to comply with the new regulations, which for many have involved significant shifts in the methods used to conduct business.  The rate development process for a typical carrier follows this process:

  • Review of prior claims experience and profitability
  • Determination of what rate increase will be required to maintain a profitable product offering
  • Development of proposed rate for various rate cohorts with competitive comparisons
  • Potential benefit redesign to meet regulatory changes or competitive pressures in the marketplace
  • Obtaining independent actuarial certification regarding proposed rates as a reasonableness test (e.g., Section 1163 required in California)
  • Filing of rates with regulators for approval and follow-up with regulators until rates are formally approved
  • Communication of rates to those insured, and implementation of the new rates

This process can require four to six months to complete.  It is actuarially complex and requires careful analysis of many factors and variables. 

As ACA emerged, carriers had to adjust benefits covered in prior products where they failed to meet the minimum EHB required.  In some cases, products were terminated because they did not meet either the EHB or the minimum actuarial value of 60%.  Carriers worked hard to develop replacement products, filed these with regulators and started to present these to their customers. 

It was obvious that some customers would be concerned about the impact of rate changes associated with ACA-approved benefit programs.  Rates would increase for a variety of reasons:

  • Health care inflation continues
  • Mandated benefits required broader coverage than previously purchased
  • Elimination of gender rating generally increased rates for insured males
  • Minimum Actuarial Values (i.e., > 60% AV) raised benefits for some insureds
  • Assumed average risk score for the individual market was higher than in the past because medical underwriting is no longer appropriate, and, in some cases, carriers raised the average assumed health status built into the rates to reflect the enrollment of additional Medicaid- or Medicaid-like lives.
  • Age rating was affected, requiring higher rates at younger ages to offset some of the reductions at the older ages (i.e., 3:1 limits on age rating curve).

The concerns expressed by the public on higher rates, the concerns expressed about policy cancellations, the delays caused by website challenges, the continued frustrations about ACA all combined into a situation where a large portion of public were frustrated with ACA.  The president’s announcement was a response to many of these concerns and frustrations.

However, there are several complications facing the carrier community as a result of this suggestion or proposal to the insurance departments and affected carriers.

  • Rates for terminated programs were not updated for 2014.  Rates can’t be extended without adjustment because rates were established for a previous time period, and there has been inflation.  Updating would require a minimum of 4 – 6 months.  The software implemented by the federal government and used at the local insurance department level is built around the new ACA requirements and would likely reject restored versions of terminated policies.
  • The risk pool for all of the ACA-approved rates will be changed significantly if individuals are able to continue their prior programs.  Selection bias issues would be significant.
  • The individual mandate for credible health coverage would be compromised if individuals continued their prior, non-compliant coverage.  The anticipated tax base would be jeopardized with the continued offering of non-compliant coverage if penalties were forgiven.
  • The disruption to the insurance industry involved in the exchanges would be significant and potentially would permanently damage the risk pool.
  • More importantly, the public’s perception of the benefit of ACA to them will be affected as changes were required, then they weren’t, then they will be, etc.

Although there are many features of ACA that potentially provide value to the public, the flawed rollout, the delays in implementation and now radical changes to the structure of the ACA program very likely start to unravel the viability of the program.  Only time will tell.

How Will the Supreme Court's Decision Impact Health Care Reform?

Everyone is waiting for the US Supreme Court’s decision on the individual health care mandate anticipated the week of June 25, 2012. The hype is considerable, and the average individual is trying to figure out what this means. Experts disagree what the outcome will be. This articles tries to summarize some of the likely results of the decision.

I personally believe the mandate will be rejected by the Court, although it isn’t an obvious outcome. If rejected, this will have an impact on health care reform as currently defined. It is important that everyone is subject to the same rules so the various situations are consistently handled. For example, if one class of individuals do not have to participate in the reformed system, then the goal of significantly reducing the uninsured and under-insured will not be met. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act fails to eliminate the uninsured but takes a significant step towards that goal.

The development of exchanges, the additional rules required for rate filing and associated approvals of rates, the transition to government approved “metallic” plans will slow and perhaps even stop if the mandate is rejected. The benefit of this might be reduced administrative costs and may even result in a spike in health plan earnings as the pressure is relieved.

If the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unraveled a bit, it actually might have a positive impact on the Federal deficit if spending is reduced and related provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are de-funded.

For example, some of the innovation will likely disappear (i.e., Accountable Care Organizations, comparative effectiveness research, electronic medical records, etc.). The Medicaid expansion will likely slow. Employers will reconsider their near term benefit strategies, perhaps taking a more serious look at what they can do to reduce costs in light of the easing of federal oversight.

However, what about the economy? What about the likely impact to the cost of care? One of the frequently ignored reasons why health care reform was so important is the impact on our national economy. The cost of care continues to escalate faster than general inflationary levels. The US health care system continues to be one of the most expensive both in terms of dollars and also as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

The continued economic woes facing the general economy exacerbate the health care cost problem.

Affordability is at an all-time low and costs continue to grow faster than we can afford. Providers are increasingly resistant to discount their charges further driving up prices.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although imperfect at best, did provide some hope to control the unbridled increase in health care costs. The rejection of the mandate at a minimum disables any hope of meaningfully controlling health care costs within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

We still need a health care solution. We still need a broad solution that all can effectively be a part of. If the mandate fails to survive, we need a back-up plan to get everyone on board to solve the health care problems we all face whether we admit or not.

My prediction is that we are faced with two undesirable options:

  • Over-reaction against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act further dismantling some of the good it did, resulting in rapidly increasing costs from a false sense of relief, resulting in even greater problems down the road.
  • Quick transition to even a more severe solution of direct government take-over of the entire health system along the lines of social systems implemented in Europe.

I still am a big fan of the private sector taking the lead in creating a viable solution rather than succumbing to a government solution. Unfortunately, I don't see a sense of urgency like we need to be seeing. Too many ignore the reality of the seriousness of the financial issue and the significant impact on our overall economy.

I hope for good news and moderate reaction to the Supreme Court decision.