Health Insurance Info for Colorado

news & commentary on health insurance and benefits

The Death of HSA’s

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It should not come as a surprise that the current Administration would eventually take steps to abolish or otherwise destroy Health Savings Accounts, which were legalized as part of a deal made with Democrats to get Medicare Part D passed in 2003. Democrats universally loathe the idea that you could be allowed to buy a higher deductible plan and then contribute to your own “medical IRA” to pay for out-of-pockets expenses; they’d prefer you give the whole amount to an insurer (and the government) so they can re-distribute it properly. They’ve been gunning for HSA’s for at least a decade.

Health Savings Accounts represent one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growth segment in health insurance, and this has not gone un-noticed by the one-size-fits-all redistributive Left. I originally thought HSA’s would be eliminated via executive fiat in 2012; lo and behold, the gov needed the flexibility of HSA’s to keep Obamacare from foundering on the rocks. Those days are long gone; since the ACA has weathered all of the legal arguments thrown against it, regulators at CMS feel confident that they can now move against HSA’s, at least as far as the exchanges are concerned (and this will have repercussions in the private, individual market as well, I’m sure).

For 2017, it is highly unlikely that HSA’s of any kind will be legal or allowable on any exchange, federally-facilitated or state-run. The reason for this has to do with the ever-increasing deductibles required by the ACA, as well as new requirements, laid out in a brand-new, 500+ page rule, that mandate that some services other than preventive care must now be covered under the deductible. Since, under HSA plans, services other than preventive can’t be covered until the deductible is met, this means that, in CMS’ convoluted reasoning, that HSA’s are simply not relevant to their ever-higher deductibles and ever-expanding “first-dollar” coverage requirements. Its – yes – death by executive fiat, via a thousand cuts.

What is of course not talked about yet is the idea that, as soon as the new benefit plan design become mandated, old plans will bo longer be ACA-qualified: in essence, the elimination of ALL HSA-qualified plans in own fell swoop, and also the elimination of ANY HSA deductions into your HSA account.

Based on this, HSA’s as a valid health coverage will disappear by 2018. Who are you voting for in 2016?

Here’s an article that explains it more fully – go here.


Obamacare Co-ops failing big-time!

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Along with the collapse of Colorado’s own co-op, Colorado HealthOP, comes new that about 50% of the non-profit health coops spawned as a result of Obamacare have failed, with the loss of $2.4B in loan money. See the story here.

Colorado Medicaid Sign-ups Defy Expectations

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Politico, May 19, 2015: “Colorado has repeatedly revised its average enrollment estimates to account for increases. Early on, officials had projected that for the fiscal year ending June 30, about 144,000 new adults would be covered in any given month. In November, they bumped the number to nearly 205,000. It currently stands at about 234,000.”

See the full story here.


The Alternative to Obamacare is Easy

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I’ve said for some time that “health care reform” wasn’t the goal of Obamacare, and it certainly shouldn’t have cost however many trillions of dollars thats been forecast to pay for it (the actual figure isn’t important, save for one fact: it’s a lot more than we were promised, before we knew “what was in it”).

The mass media seems to be of the opinion that Republicans have no alternative to Obamacare, but the truth is that any number of alternative policies have been discussed within Republican circles. Most critics of outright repeal like to point out that the individual and employer mandates were Republican ideas; this canard has been bandied about for so long that it now been accepted as fact. The reality is that the mandates were viewed as essential only by a handful of think-tank policy wonks, and never really achieved critical mass with conservatives who study health care policy closely.

One of those individuals is John C. Goodman, from the Independence Institute. Mr. Goodman is considered to be the “father” of the health savings account, and he has a brand new article on what Republicans can do, now, to repeal the worst parts of Obamacare. In a previous article, “How The GOP should now deal with Obamacare”, he discussed the pitfalls that Republicans will likely encounter as they try to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with a new system that will inevitably be some version of what is currently in place.

In “A Republican Alternative To Obamacare”, he expands on his earlier work, by advising Republicans to concentrate on the promises made to voters in the 2014 elections: “keep your job; keep your health insurance; and keep your doctor”. And his solutions to health insurance, and health care, issues are the best I’ve read, encompassing great ideas and solutions to the kind of Washington-driven, centrally-planned health insurance environment we find ourselves in, with narrow networks, a return to highly steered “managed care”, rigid health care design, and lack of choice and flexibility.

I highly recommend the policy solutions he puts forward, and dearly hope that someone in the Republican leadership is listening and taking copious notes. The bottom line is this: without a clear cut and simple approach to replacing the disaster now known as Obamacare, Republicans will stand little chance of gaining any ground against entrenched interests, which include progressive Democrats, insurance company executives, and others who are beginning to reap the benefits of a quasi-monopoly driven by the central planners at HHS. Taking the alternative directly to the American people is the best way to get the message out, and that requires more than a statement in front of a podium at the Capitol, which is essentially all we’ve been given from the current Speaker of the House. It requires a full-court press by the leadership, because there isn’t a more pressing issue than repeal and replace Obamacare. I believe the political will can be found, and not just from Republicans.

Health Insurance Reform for Dummies

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Anyone who thinks that Obamacare was about heath care, let alone health insurance, reform, is either, at best, naive, or, at worst, completely ignorant of the law – and how it was passed, and the consequences of its various statutes, regulations, rulings, and case law.

Obamacare was about social engineering – much the same way that Common Core is about federal control of school curriculum, to advance certain, shall we say, dogmas that most of us would find puzzling, if not outright outrageous.

But I digress. I’ve often told those that will listen that I could have written a health insurance reform proposal that would have numbered a few hundred pages and would have been much, much more successful than the Affordable Care Act, assuming that its goal was the elimination of the chronically un-insured in these United States, probably around twenty million or so (it wasn’t, re-read paragraph two). And, it certainly would not have cost upwards of $2T plus that we see now (and that figure will continue to rise, even as deductibles rise, and out-of-pocket expenses rise, and so on). And I would agree that reform was needed, just not what we got.

James C. Capretta is one of a handful of experts who I respect wholeheartedly with regards health care reform policy. In this article he lays out the compelling reason why we need, not just to repeal, but replace Obamacare: because reform is just as needed now, as it was in 2009.

Here is the most interesting conclusion that Mr. Capretta advances: “The hard work of developing a credible alternative plan has already been mostly completed. What is needed now is a spirit of practical compromise among key Republican policymakers. It will not be possible to beat an incumbent program — the ACA — with abstractions, good intentions, and idealistic concepts. What’s needed is a workable, politically viable plan, one that voters can see for themselves would work better than the ACA.” 

As the article points out, the hard work for a viable replacement for the ACA has already been done. It will take Republicans to advocate for it in a forceful way. And, if SCOTUS disallows the payment of premium credits in the federal exchanges, as detailed in King v. Burwell, then Republicans won’t need to wait for control of the White House to replace Obamacare.

Six Million? Really??

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Much ballyhooed numbers on Obamacare enrollment are released, with an estimated six million enrolling, but  Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) expresses doubt. See the video and news story here.

Even in the face of such strong enrollment numbers, though, which have not yet been verified, the government has moved to extend the open-enrollment date for federal exchanges, even after a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) spokesperson said “we don’t actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014.” And of course, she is correct, as reported here. The open enrollment period is specifically defined by statute, and isn’t open to interpretation. Forbes has an interesting article on it, go here.

What this means is that people who have recently fallen ill or are otherwise uncovered will be able to get health insurance beyond the open-enrollment date, something that troubles insurers, some of whom are predicting double digit rate increases for 2015.

UPDATE: Here are three little questions about those Obamacare enrollment numbers.

1 in 4 support O-Care

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“The Associated Press-GfK survey finds that [only] 26 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act.” Read the full story here.

Compare this to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll from April 2013, found here. One quote from the piece shows slippage in support over the last year: “This month, 35 percent report a favorable view, 40 percent an unfavorable view…”


The Affordable Care Act Turns Four…

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The American Action Forum has published an eye-opening research paper on The Affordable Care Act, and comes to the conclusion that “regulatory costs exceed benefits by twofold”.

From the opening summary: “From a regulatory perspective, the law has imposed more than $27.2 billion in total private sector costs, $8 billion in unfunded state burdens, and more than 159 million paperwork hours on local governments and affected entities. What’s more troubling, the law has generated just $2.6 billion in annualized benefits, compared to $6.8 billion in annualized costs. In other words, the ACA has imposed 2.5 times more costs than it has produced in benefits.”

For the full report, including the employment impact and policy implications for small business, go here.

This New O-care Regulation Could Affect You

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From The Foundry at The Heritage Network, originally published in National Review Online: “One excepted benefit that  .. could serve as a lifeboat if the voyage of the SS Obamacare goes as badly as we have feared: indemnity insurance .. anything that constitutes an excepted benefit under HIPAA remains exempt from all of Obamacare’s new insurance regulations.”

Well, not anymore it seems, as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unilaterally decided to amend HIPAA to suit themselves. As usual, the government drops its bad news on Friday evenings when we are all exhausted from working to pay for our health insurance premiums (or not, if you’ve decided to pay the penalty). Go here for the full story.

And this quote is especially telling: “.. this latest proposed Obamacare regulation, like many before it, isn’t even a remotely plausible interpretation of the statutes that Congress actually passed. This latest “fix” is worth fighting — both to keep the lifeboats intact during this dangerous voyage and to keep a sound insurance option in place for the long haul.”

O-Care Premium Spikes Coming

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One of the most frequently cited ways that insurers used to reduce costs for the new ACA compliant plans was to engineer new provider networks, primarily HMOs, with lower fee-for-service reimbursements, referred to as  per-member-per-month arrangements. These networks were reviewed at the state level for adequacy. In fact, the new networks were substantially smaller, as many physicians opted out of them due to reduced reimbursement rates or capitation necessitated by the new rules carriers must operate under due to Obamacare.

The federal government decided that this won’t be acceptable for 2015.  In a draft letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), insurers will be required to include 30% of “essential community providers” (ESPs) in their network.

ESPs serve primarily “underserved” populations, including community health centers, HIV/AIDS clinics, family planning clinics and children’s hospitals. From Insurance Business: “In order to assure this is the case, CMS plans to establish its own process for certifying adequate provider networks, cutting out the role of state regulators.” See the full story here.

CMS, in 2013, stated that, for 2014, they would “rely on state analyses and recommendations when the state has the authority and means to assess issuer network adequacy.” See the full text of the earlier guidance here. For 2015, with CMS expanding the ESP requirement,this will likely increase premiums further, due to an increase in network providers mandated by CMS.

Other changes that will have a cost effect on premiums include changes to stand-alone dental plans, and a new requirement to pay for a 30-day supply of any new drug that a new customer had been taking—even if the drug would not have ordinarily been covered.  For the complete 2015 guidance, go here.

Insurers are rightfully concerned about the new requirements, with America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) already expressing its disapproval in comments filed on the proposed changes. Insurers have just weeks to present their changes, with some deadlines beginning in April of 2014.

Obamacare: premiums “to double”

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Health industry officials say Obamacare premiums will likely double, and in some cases triple, in certain parts of the country next year, in part because of the flawed launch of the new exchange marketplaces mandated under The Affordable Care Act. Announcements of rate hikes could come within months, with the most significant cause of rate increases related to projections about the number of young healthy individuals and families who would enroll, which have proved to be way off the mark.

The projection of double or triple-rate increases fly in the face of remarks by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said that “the [rate] increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee last week. This runs contrary to the way health insurance industry officials view rates in the coming year.

We’ve all been hearing about how younger people aren’t signing up in anywhere near the numbers needed or projected. So, why are young people important? In a phrase: adverse selection, which means, far more older, sicker people than younger, healthier ones in the pool, which creates – wait for it – higher claims costs that are almost certainly not supportable by current premiums.

In an article entitled Young Invincibles Are Killing Obamacare, Megan McArdle writes for Bloomberg View: “Young healthy people, and a lot of them, are needed to keep the market stable and premiums low. As we head into the final few weeks, we have a pretty good idea of how many young healthy people there will be, and the answer is: a whole lot fewer than the healthcare wonks were expecting.” Unfortunately, her dismissive analysis of the coming “death spiral” of Obamacare was flawed, even if she herself says that reaching anywhere near projections for young enrollees is “not likely”. Surprisingly, she concludes: “… it is now probably impossible to achieve the demographic mix that the government has been forecasting. And keeping it from happening may well prove very expensive for the federal government”.

How expensive? In his blog ACA Death Spiral, Seth Chandler, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center, writes a thoughtful analysis on the Kaiser Family Foundation study of early, low enrollment of younger participants in Obamacare, cited by Ms. McArdle in her column. His analysis and conclusion is posted as “The Kaiser analysis of ACA enrollment has problems”, and is a good, if somewhat dense, analysis of how difficult it is to make an accurate projection, and why the projected deficit in insurer profits isn’t 2.4%, as projected by KFF, but “rather a  [deficit] projection of 4.5%”.

This is not good news for premiums, or for costs related to Obamacare that the federal government will be required to pay for. With rates for 2015 likely being filed this summer for approval prior to 2014 open enrollment, it increasingly looks like Obamacare will be the election year issue of 2014.

Another Obamacare delay?

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Kaiser Health News is reporting that the Obama administration is preparing to implement yet another rule change in the rollout of Obamacare that would relax the enforcement of the medical loss ratio (MLR) provision for health insurers.

To review:  The MLR provision, which took effect in 2012, requires all insurers in the individual and small-group  health insurance market to spend 80% of every insurance premium dollar (85% for insurers in the large-group market) on medical care and expenses for customers, according to specific guidelines developed by the government. Only the remaining percentage of 15-20% can be used for administrative costs and profits. If an insurer does not meet its minimum-loss ratio, it must issue a rebate to its customers.

From “In the Federal Register, the Department of Health and Human Services signaled it may give insurers a temporary break on the ratio requirements, citing “the special circumstances” of the disastrous launch of Obamacare’s federal exchange website ( The administration also made other last-minute political changes during open enrollment, which ends on March 31.”

The minimum-loss provisions have been roundly criticized in this and other forums, as insurers would have little reason to manage claims costs below the MLR, since they will be penalized for doing so. It essentially sets the allowable limit for profit, regardless of how efficient or how successful a carrier is. In other words, health insurance carriers are regulated as utilities (a concept I first ran across in a well-known industry publication more than fifteen years ago).

The issue appears to be that insurer costs relating to the botched launch of Obamacare will make it difficult if not impossible to meet the MLR. Of course, at that point, if losses due to claims and other costs exceed revenue (likely, in my opinion), then the next big crisis will be “risk corridors”, which will compensate health insurance carriers for unanticipated losses. An understanding of this can be found here. And yes, it is a bailout, since the government agreed to compensate insurance carriers, who are required to meet claims and loss guidelines mandated by the government, for losses under The Affordable Care Act.

That it is considered to be a bailout by conservatives and not-a-bailout by progressives is a given. The reality is that the taxpayer is on the hook for outflows from companies who agreed to participate in the health insurance exchanges, if inflows don’t meet requirements for claims and costs (very likely, given that much lower numbers of previously-uninsured applicants, as well as applicants who are in the younger ages that the plan requires, have actually enrolled in Obamacare). In fact, many in the media get it completely wrong, as detailed here.

It is puzzling to me why some Republicans are quick to introduce legislation forbidding insurer compensation (known as the risk-corridor provisions) for losses incurred in meeting the requirements of Obamacare. They’d be better off simply allowing the Act to come apart on its own, which is what will happen, given the amount of panicked fiddling that is occurring with its implementation, and replacing it with something that will work, minus all of the social re-engineering. Eliminating the risk corridor provisions of Obamacare will simply bankrupt most carriers who agreed to participate in the exchanges, since they will be unable to sustain the losses that will occur given the conditions as they exist “in real-ville”. It’s been obvious for some time that the estimated number of uninsured, by most left-of-center pundits and think tanks, including FamiliesUSA, was optimistic; those numbers were used to justify and support all of the projections needed to make Obamacare work. That it isn’t working shouldn’t now be a surprise, and bankrupting insurers will simply provide Democrats with the end game they’ve always wanted: the death of the private health insurance market. Republicans should brandish the “no bailouts!” banner with great trepidation.

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