Highlight on Alaska: Alaskan fund reminiscent of high risk pools–Will the country follow suit?

In the summer of 2016, Alaska’s Republican legislature passed, and the independent governor signed into law, a bill that established a state health insurance fund to stabilize rates and cover the medical costs incurred by high-usage insured individuals with insurance companies. The fund is reminiscent of high-risk insurance pools that existed prior to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), when individuals could still be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and had difficulty obtaining insurance. Although the law was a reaction to rising costs among Alaskans and Alaska’s insurers, other states may follow suit, now that President-Elect Donald Trump has indicated that his administration will “work with both Congress and the states to re-establish high-risk pools.”

Alaska’s small population is subject to high health care costs.  Only 23,000 Alaskans enrolled in the non-group market in 2016.  Average monthly marketplace premiums were $863 pre-advance premium tax credit (APTC) in Alaska, according to an April HHS Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) report, compared to $396 in the rest of the nation. Premiums rose by more than 31 percent in 2016 in Alaska, compared to just over 1 percent nationally, and not all marketplace enrollees qualified for premium tax credits. Only one insurer, Premera Blue Cross, will remain in the marketplace in 2017. Notably, Premera insured 8,500 people in 2015, but nearly one-quarter of its monetary claims arose from only 37 cases.

House Bill (HB) 374, which was signed into law in July 2016, earmarks $55 million accrued through an existing 2.7 percent premium tax on all Alaskan insurers–not only health insurers–for a comprehensive health insurance fund. The fund provides insurers with money to cover the costs of claims incurred by high-risk residents. The bill sunsets in two years, but allows the state to apply for a state innovation waiver under section 1332 of the ACA.

The incoming federal administration, however, has stated its plans to repeal the ACA and replace it with new legislation.  Other states may consider following Alaska’s lead in order to continue to provide insurance to those individuals with the greatest need for it.

Highlight on Illinois: Exchange rates rise in the Land of Lincoln

Illinois residents purchasing individual health insurance plans through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) could pay rate increases in 2017 as high as 55 percent, according to rate information released by the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI). The agency submitted rate increases to the federal government ranging from 43 percent to 55 percent, depending on the type of plan—bronze, silver, gold.

Filings

The submitted rates are not final. Although the DOI has submitted the 2017 rate filings to CMS, the rates will not be finalized by federal CMS until October, 2016. Additionally, network and premium information will not be available until that time. The DOI announced that the rate information was published as early as possible to allow Illinois families to make better-informed decisions regarding health care coverage. The DOI acknowledged the rate increases as “a very difficult outcome for consumers.”

Rates

The average rate increase across all ratings areas for the lowest bronze plan is 44 percent. The rate change is lowest in Kane, Du Page, Will, and Kankakee counties, where the rate change is a 10 to 25 percent increase. Counties like Lake and Cook have a 40 to 60 percent increase, whereas counties including La Salle and McLean have a 20 to 40 percent increase for their lowest bronze plans.

The average rate increase across all ratings areas for the lowest silver plan is 45 percent. Counties like Cook and Kendall saw a 40 to 60 percent increase, whereas counties like Du Page, Sangamon, and McLean saw increases of 25 to 40 percent. The average rate increase across all ratings areas for the second lowest silver plan is 43 percent.

The highest average rate increase across all ratings areas is for the lowest gold plan—an increase of 55 percent. Although several counties do not have gold plan offerings, rate increases in some counties, including Peoria County, are as high as 60 to 70 percent. Rate increases for the lowest gold plan in counties like Cook, McLean and Sangamon are 40 to 60 percent.

In practical application, the new rates mean that a 21-year-old nonsmoker who purchases the lowest-priced silver plan in Cook County in 2017 could pay a premium of $221.13 a month—an increase from $152.42 a month in 2016. In Lake and McHenry counties the increases are more dramatic for the same consumer, $268.03 a month in 2017, up from $212.23 a month. However, for some, the rate increase is not as massive as it seems because 75 percent of Illinois exchange enrollees receive tax credits to offset premium costs.

Cause

The DOI attributed the rate increases to several factors, including the federal government’s failure to make payments to insurers promised as part of the ACA and an overall increase in medical and pharmaceutical costs. Additionally, the DOI pointed to the fact that, until 2017, policyholders are permitted to keep non-ACA compliant plans, a factor that the DOI said has harmed insurers’ risk pools and placed upward pressure on plan costs.

CMS clarifies user fee adjustment mechanism for contraception accommodation

Third-party administrators (TPAs) must submit the Notice of Intent Disclosure Form to CMS stating their intention to seek a user fee adjustment even though the original deadline has passed. CMS has issued answers to frequently asked questions for TPAs, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and federally-facilitated marketplace (FFM) issuers who are seeking reimbursement for contraceptive services. The information that these parties must submit will allow CMS to determine the discount to be applied to the user fee paid for participation on the FFM (CMS FAQ, November 9, 2015).

User fee discount

The government has provided an accommodation for self-insured nonprofit religious organizations that object to the contraceptive coverage mandate found in sections 1001 and 1004 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). Under the accommodation, the nonprofit or their TPA notifies HHS of the objection. The TPA will cover the contraceptive services and will contract with an FFM issuer. The FFM reduces the issuer’s marketplace user fee to account for the payment made to the TPA to cover the services. In order to receive this discount, FFM issuers and TPAs must submit certain information to CMS.

FAQs

TPAs and PBMs must submit the notice of intent form by November 13, 2015, via email. FFM issuers seeking the 2014 benefit year adjustment should submit their spreadsheets by December 11, 2015. CMS will provide webinar training on completing the forms. The document contains instructions regarding recipient email address, subject lines, and attachments.

CMS clarifies that PBMs can enter in the same arrangements as TPAs to provide contraceptive services. PBMs must follow the requirements imposed on TPAs. However, if the TPA or PBM and the FFM issuer are part of the same entity or parent company, only the FFM should submit its spreadsheet. If the entities are separate, the TPA must submit its form indicating the total value of eligible paid claims.

The user fee discount is limited to the dollar amount of contraceptive claims. CMS intends to deduct the appropriate amount from the issuer’s monthly obligation at the end of the 2015 calendar year. The FFM issuer is also eligible for an additional 15 percent payment for administrative costs. Although CMS has not established reimbursement for TPA or PBM administrative costs, these groups may require that the FFM share part of its administrative payment.