Insurers from Oregon to Pennsylvania, including a failed health-care co-operative and two long-established Blues plans have lost billions of dollars selling Obamacare policies. Now they are suing the federal government to recoup their losses. In a testament to industry desperation, insurers are asking federal judges to simply ignore a congressional ban on the payment of these corporate subsidies.
The regulatory atrocity that is Obamacare inspired this race to the courthouse. Despite billions in subsidies — to both low-income individuals and well-capitalized insurance companies — the industry has incurred big losses in the individual market.
In a paper published June 28 by the Mercatus Center, Brian Blase (Mercatus), Ed Haislmaier (Heritage Foundation), Seth Chandler (University of Houston), and Doug Badger (Galen Institute) used data derived from insurance-company regulatory filings to determine the extent and source of those losses. The study examined the performance of 174 insurers that sold qualified health plans (QHPs) in 2014 to both individuals and small groups (generally companies with 50 or fewer workers).
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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) placed numerous requirements on insurance offered in both the individual and small group markets. This study presents data from the 174 insurers that offered qualified health plans (QHPs)—plans that satisfy the ACA requirements and are certified to be sold on exchanges—in both the individual and small group markets in 2014. QHPs in both markets are essentially the same and are governed by nearly identical regulations, making possible a better-controlled analysis of the performance of insurers participating in the two markets. Average medical claims for individual QHP enrollees were 24 percent higher than average medical claims for group QHP enrollees. Moreover, average medical claims for individual QHP enrollees were 93 percent higher than average medical claims for individual non-QHP enrollees. As a result, insurers made large losses on individual QHPs despite receiving premium income that was 45 percent higher for individual QHP enrollees than for individual non-QHP enrollees. These higher medical claims resulted in loss ratios for individual QHPs nearly 30 percentage points higher than loss ratios in other markets. Given that insurer performance selling individual QHPs worsened in 2015, these findings suggest that the ACA rules and regulations governing QHPs may be incompatible with a well-functioning insurance market even with subsidies to insurers and incentives for individuals to enroll in QHPs.
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Rather than stabilizing in 2016 as many experts predicted, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is leading to large premium hikes and less choice and competition in the individual insurance market as plans prove unattractive to relatively young, healthy, and middle-class people. In order to achieve a better understanding of the ACA’s impact, a new Mercatus Center working paper compared insurers’ performance selling individual Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) with three other markets: the individual non-QHP market, the small group QHP market, and the small group non-QHP market.
My co-authors, Doug Badger of the Galen Institute, Ed Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation, Seth Chandler of the University of Houston, and I make two key empirical findings. First, individual market QHP enrollees had average medical claims nearly double the average claims for individual non-QHP market enrollees in 2014. Second, individual market QHP enrollees were about 25% more expensive than enrollees in small group QHPs.
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