Philip Dorsey, a retired lawyer and legal editor, recounts his experience with health insurance since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Mr. Dorsey has been forced out of his plan each New Year’s Day since 2012.
“In the first year I got a glimpse of how reform reduced coverage for the many on the group health plans offered by large corporations to their employees. In the second year I saw how it had similar effects on the owners and employees in small businesses that obtain group plans through professional or trade associations. In the third year I would see how individuals who lost group insurance coverage were affected when forced into the individual market.”
The future of the Affordable Care Act could depend on the success of federal and state administrators in signing people up in the current open enrollment period—the last one before the 2016 election. Over 10 million people eligible for ACA coverage have yet to sign up. Retention of those already covered may be hindered by rising premiums, dissatisfaction with high deductibles or coinsurance in some plans, limited choices of providers offered by plans, or simple ignorance of the necessity to re-enroll.
UnitedHealth Group’s shock $425 million downgrade to its earnings forecast for 2015 was almost entirely driven by losses on the ObamaCare exchanges. UnitedHealth is the largest U.S. insurer by enrollment, and the company is warning it may withdraw from ObamaCare in 2017. The insurer has already suspended advertising for its ObamaCare coverage and stopped paying commissions to insurance brokers for signing people up.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed mandating minimum network standards for health plans sold on the federal marketplace in 2017 as part of an effort to handle the broad shift toward narrow provider networks. The Affordable Care Act requires that all medical policies on the exchanges have enough in-network hospitals and doctors for members so that “all services will be accessible without unreasonable delay.” However, the 381-page proposed rule (PDF) released Friday goes a step further, asking states to establish a quantitative measure to ensure ACA policyholders have sufficient access to healthcare providers.
UnitedHealth Group just announced they expect to lose $700 million in the Obamacare exchanges and are seriously considering withdrawing from the program in the coming year. Why is this happening? Because nowhere near enough healthy people are signing up to pay for the sick. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute have come to largely the same conclusion—enrolling a total of 10 million in the exchanges, based on historic trends, would mean only about 9 million of them would be subsidy eligible. That would amount to only 38% of the 24 million people eligible for a subsidy.
One of the untold elements of the rapid decay underway in the ObamaCare exchanges is the massive shift toward the Medicaid managed care companies, and away from the traditional commercial insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Aetna. In short order, ObamaCare is evolving into a Medicaid marketplace. Not only in terms of the design and quality of the narrow-network plans that are being offered, but in the actual carriers that sell those policies.
The new individual marketplace created under ObamaCare was intended to rival that of the employer sponsored insurance marketplace in stability and predictability, while premiums were to rise at rates much lower than the historical average. This study from the American Action Forum evaluates the degree to which these promises have been fulfilled. AAF found that the cost of both the benchmark Silver plan and the lowest cost Bronze plan will increase by 10% in 2016.
UnitedHealth expects to lose $425 million on ObamaCare, including $275 million in 2016. The situation is so dire, the company took the unusual step of announcing between quarterly reports both the losses and that it may withdraw from Obamacare entirely after 2016. If United indeed pulls out, it would cause hundreds of thousands more Americans to lose their health plans.
This high incidence of failure teaches us two things. First, it should end the thinking that non-profits are somehow better than for-profits. The second lesson is for Republicans in Congress. While there are major problems with Obamacare that should be addressed, legislators shouldn’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.
When consumer advocates tried to call the obstetrician-gynecologists in the online directory of insurers’ in-network providers on the Maryland state exchange, they found that only about 22% of the 1,493 practitioners were accepting new patients, performed well-patient visits and had appointments available within four weeks. More than a third weren’t available at all because they had left the networks, retired or were dead.