Narrow networks have changed considerably under the Affordable Care Act, but the trajectory of regulation remains unclear.
Health insurance plans with limited networks of providers are common on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) health insurance Marketplaces. Recent studies have found that these “narrow network” plans constituted nearly half of all Marketplace offerings in the first two years of coverage, with one analysis concluding that about had the option of buying such a plan if they chose.
Plans with limited networks are not new and are not confined to the Marketplaces. Yet there is reason to believe that they have grown in prevalence partly because of the ACA.
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Aetna’s decision to abandon its ObamaCare expansion plans and rethink its participation altogether came as a surprise to many. It shouldn’t have. Everything that’s happened now was predicted by the law’s critics years ago.
Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said that this was supposed to be a break-even year for its ObamaCare business. Instead, the company has already lost $200 million, which it expect that to hit $320 million before the year it out. He said the company was abandoning plans to expand into five other states and is reviewing whether to stay in the 15 states where Aetna (AET) current sells ObamaCare plans.
Aetna’s announcement follows UnitedHealth Group’s (UNH) decision to leave most ObamaCare markets, Humana’s (HUM) decision to drop out of some, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s announcement that it was quitting the individual market in Minnesota, and the failure of most of the 23 government-created insurance co-ops.
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It’s hard to exaggerate the alchemy of distortions that are turning ObamaCare into such a pending disaster that big insurers like Aetna, Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealth Group,once supporters, can’t cut back their participation fast enough.
ObamaCare was always going to be a questionable deal for taxpayers if the only people who signed up were poorer people whose premiums were largely paid by taxpayers. That was fine as far as insurers were concerned. They can make a profit even if taxpayers are the only ones paying.
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Competition on the Obamacare marketplaces will decline next year. There will be significantly more places in the country where customers have no choice of health insurance because just one company signed up to sell coverage.
This is the conclusion that health policy experts have increasingly gravitated toward in recent months and weeks, as major insurance companies have announced hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses on the Obamacare marketplaces.
“Under any likely scenario, there will be less insurer participation in the exchanges in 2017 than there was in 2016,” says Michael Adelberg, a senior director at FaegreBD Consulting who previously worked in the Obama administration helping to manage the marketplaces’ launch.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan’s health care blueprint, released late last month as part of his “A Better Way” reform agenda, would deliver affordable, accessible health coverage at less cost and with less disruption to the health care market than Obamacare. Ryan’s plan would slash premiums by, among other things, getting rid of Obamacare’s costly essential-health-benefit mandates. People would be free to purchase low-cost plans that don’t cover procedures they don’t want or need. The plan would also make health coverage more affordable for middle class families by replacing Obamacare’s complicated scheme of subsidies with more straightforward, age-based, refundable tax credits.
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CBO projects that the combined federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA subsidies will grow from 11 percent of GDP in 2016 to 16.3 percent of GDP in 2046. This run-up in spending will increase annual federal budget deficits and push cumulative federal debt to 141 percent of GDP in 2046 — well past the point that most economists would consider dangerous for the economy. (Spain’s debt is 99 percent of GDP in 2016).
CBO’s base case scenario is also probably too optimistic. CBO’s projection assumes federal revenue will grow from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2016 to 19.4 percent in 2046 (the 50-year average of federal revenue, from 1966 to 2015, was 17.7 percent of GDP). But the projected growth in federal revenue derives from tax provisions that are sure to change in coming years. For instance, under the ACA, a new 3.8 percent tax was imposed on non-wage income for persons with incomes over $200,000 annually and on couples with incomes over $250,000 per year. These thresholds are not indexed, which means more and more taxpayers, and, eventually, the middle class, will pay this tax as their incomes grow naturally with inflation.
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Humana is the latest health insurer to significantly pull back its participation selling subsidized individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act, announcing plans to scale back next year to “no more than 156 counties” across 11 states.
The decision means Humana will reduce its Obamacare geographic presence by nearly 1,200 counties from the 1,351 counties across 19 states where the insurer currently sells individual coverage on exchanges under the health law now. UnitedHealth Group is scaling back to three states and Aetna said this week it was evaluating its participation in 15 states and wouldn’t expand to new states next year.
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Hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives’ experiment with health insurance has hit the end of the road after a couple years of heavy losses. CHI is “exploring options to sell” its health plan subsidiary, executives said in new financial documents.
The documents, released this week to bondholders, explain that top CHI executives “decided to exit the health insurance business” in May after undergoing a strategic review in March. CHI’s consolidated insurance division, QualChoice Health, formerly known as Prominence Health, has hemorrhaged money since its inception. QualChoice sells Medicare Advantage plans and commercial plans to employers in six states.
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A network of clinics that serves low-income patients in rural Northern California is finally finding balance after being deluged with newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act.
After a more than two-year moratorium on nearly all new adult patients, the Redding-based Shasta Community Health Center has reopened its doors to some newcomers this month, and it will start accepting more new patients in September.
When Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, was first expanded under the Affordable Care Act in early 2014, the number of people insured under the program doubled to around 40,000 people in the region served by Shasta Community Health. Not only did the clinics see new patients, but the demand for services soared from existing ones who were newly insured.
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Aetna became the latest health insurer to cast doubt upon its future in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges after it called off a planned expansion Tuesday and suggested it could abandon that market completely.
A departure by Aetna, the nations’ third-largest insurer, could further reduce the number of choices for customers and eventually push insurance prices higher. Competition by insurers is a key feature of the exchanges, designed to keep a lid on prices, but several insurers are abandoning them because they are losing enormous amounts of money.
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