Highlight on Minnesota: Health plans’ red ink worst in a decade

Nonprofit insurers in Minnesota reported an operating loss of $687 million on nearly $25.9 billion in revenue for 2016, according to a trade group for insurers, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. The financial results were the worst in a decade, with losses in both the state public health insurance programs and the marketplace where individuals purchase coverage for themselves.

Overall, revenue from premiums increased 4 percent over the prior year, while expenses increased 6 percent to $26.6 billion. State public programs accounted for more than half of the overall losses, followed by continued losses in the individual market. According to the report, on average, health insurers paid $763 per second for care. To pay those bills, insurers withdrew nearly $560 million from state-mandated medical reserves. The bulk of the financial losses reported did not result from the employer group and Medicare markets, which remained steady, and where most Minnesotans get health insurance.

In the individual market, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota said it lost $142 million for 2016, compared to a $265 million deficit the previous year. The decline mirrored the drop in enrollment, the insurer noted, rather than an improvement in the business. Over the last 10 years, health insurers returned a profit in seven. The numbers reported by the trade group focused solely on revenue and income from the health insurance business, as investment returns made by insurers were not counted in the numbers. Some saw hope in the overall numbers, however, noting that the market was not in a “death spiral,” as some health law critics have argued, because many insurers in 2016 saw slight improvements from the previous year.

Insurance antitrust exemption reform clears House

The House passed on March 22, 2017, H.R. 372, The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017, with a bipartisan vote of 416 to 7. The Act repeals in part the McCarran-Ferguson Act antitrust exemption for insurers, including price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation, and retains the exemption for certain collaborative activities. A CBO report projected that the Act would have no significant net effect on the premiums that private insurers would charge for health or dental insurance and that any effect on federal revenue would be negligible.

The report noted that health insurance premiums could be lower to the extent that enacting the bill would prevent insurers from engaging in practices currently exempted from antitrust law. On the other hand, insurers could become subject to additional litigation and thus their costs and premiums might increase. The CBO estimated that both of those effects would be small.

The American Hospital Association had expressed concerns about the abuse of market power by large commercial insurers with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services previously.

AHCA’s Patient and Stability Fund would benefit large states, study finds

Large states and states with fewer insurers offering coverage in the individual and small group markets could receive the most money under the American Health Care Act’s (AHCA) Patient and State Stability Fund, according to a study by Avalere. The AHCA, which consists of two bills that came out of the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees, is touted as an effort to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148).

Bill

Section 132 of the Ways and Means bill would add title XXII to the Social Security Act to create the Patient and State Stability Fund. The Fund would provide funding for the states and District of Columbia from 2018 through 2026 for eligible states to do any of the following:

  • provide financial assistance to high-risk individuals who do not have employer health insurance to enroll in health insurance coverage in the state’s individual market;
  • provide incentives for entities to enter into agreements with the state to help stabilize health insurance premiums in the health insurance market;
  • reduce the cost for providing coverage in the individual and small group markets;
  • promote participation in the individual and small group markets and increase available insurance options;
  • promote access to preventive services, dental care, and certain services for individuals with mental or substance abuse disorders;
  • provide payments to providers for the provision of health care services as specified by the Administrator; and
  • provide assistance to reduce out-of-pocket costs for individuals enrolled in health insurance coverage in the state.

Funding

The bill would appropriate $100 billion over 10 years to provide allocations to states. According to Avalere, the first 85 percent of the funds would be distributed based on the share of the state’s insurance claims as a percentage of the nation, so states that have more people with insurance and higher medical costs could receive more funding that states lower overall enrollment and spending.

The remaining 15 percent would be distributed to states that have seen an increase in the number of low-income uninsured from 2013 to 2015 or have fewer than three insurers offering coverage in their exchange in 2017.

Distribution among states

According to Avalere, the allocation methodology could result in states like California, Florida, and New York receiving the most money North Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Carolina could receive disproportionately high amounts of money due to the lack of health insurance participation on their markets in 2017.

The funding levels “vary widely” on a per capita basis compared to the state’s individual market enrollment in 2015, Avalere concluded. They range from $1,830 in the District of Columbia to $220 in Montana.

Tale of two mergers: Cigna-Anthem goes south; Humana, Aetna drop plans

Cigna Corp. has chosen to terminate its proposed merger agreement with Anthem, Inc., which would have combined two of the largest medical health insurance carriers in the U.S. in a $54 billion deal. The decision comes after a D.C. court order enjoining the transaction. The district court found that the merger would decrease competition and lessen choices in the health insurance market and that the competitive harm could not be offset (see Swan song for Anthem’s acquisition of Cigna?, Health Law Daily, February 9, 2017). In 2015, proposed mergers were announced between four of the five largest health insurance companies in the United States. In addition to Anthem’s proposed acquisition of Cigna, Aetna, Inc. attempted to purchase Humana Inc., and the subject quickly came under scrutiny (see To merge or not to merge, that was the question before a Senate subcommittee, Health Law Daily, September 24, 2015).

In Cigna’s announcement about the merger termination, the company noted that its decision was based on its belief that the proposed merger would not have been approved. To effect termination, Cigna filed a complaint in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking declaratory judgment that it lawfully terminated the merger agreement and that Anthem is not permitted to extend the termination date. Cigna’s complaint seeks payment by Anthem of the $1.85 billion reverse termination fee contemplated in the merger agreement, as well as additional damages in an amount exceeding $13 billion. In response, Anthem sought a temporary restraining order in the same court to enjoin Cigna from terminating and taking any actions contrary to the terms of the proposed merger agreement. Anthem contended that there was still sufficient time to meet the merger agreement date of April 30, 2017, and that the merger would save more than $2 billion in annual medical costs for consumers. Anthem also provided a long list comparing the carrier’s interests in proceeding with the merger and Cigna’s interest in avoiding it.

In addition to Cigna and Anthem’s announcements following the D.C. court ruling, Humana and Aetna recently terminated their pending merger agreement (see Aetna, Humana plan separate futures after dissolving merger plans, Health Law Daily, February 14, 2017; Aetna’s $47 billion purchase of Humana enjoined, Health Law Daily, January 23, 2017). Under the terms of the merger agreement, Humana is entitled to a “breakup fee” of $1 billion, or approximately $630 million, net of tax. Of note, in order to demonstrate that its proposed merger with Humana would not run afoul of antitrust issues similar to the now contentious Anthem-Cigna merger, Aetna had pulled out of some health insurance exchanges for the upcoming enrollment period. Humana has now stated its intent to pull out of the exchanges for 2018. President Trump weighed in on the pullout, repeating the “repeal and replace” mantra. The pullout is based on Humana’s analysis of data associated with the company’s exchange membership following the 2017 open enrollment period, and what it perceived as future uncertainty in the risk pool.