Dylan Scott in Vox yesterday looked at what the health insurance lobby got from not actively fighting against the BCRA/AHCA in the Senate:
The major health insurance companies made a tactical decision to work with Republicans on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare rather than lobby to stop it….
For insurers, at least for now, there is a lot to like in the Senate plan. It repeals Obamacare’s tax on health plans, a $144 billion tax cut over 10 years, per an analysis of the House bill. It provides $50 billion in federal funding in the short term to shore up the private insurance market and $62 billion over the longer term for state programs that help stabilize their insurance markets.
I don’t grok this.
I’m looking at things through the lens of profitability not total revenue.
The individual market so far has been a break even at best business for most insurers. 2017 is looking better with very low MLR in quite a few states for a wide variety of providers. But it is not boringly profitable. Medicaid managed care is boringly profitable. A barely competent MCO should scrape out a consistent 1% or 2% per year. When I worked at UPMC Health Plan, we budgeted for 2% profits and as I was leaving we were looking at 5%+ profitability for FY17. Medicaid is getting whacked. One of the first things states will do to compensate for less federal funding is squeeze MCO profit margins by reducing rates while mandating a year to hold providers harmless. Medicaid anyways is a much bigger market than the individual market.
The thing that I really don’t get is the push to eliminate the health premium tax. It is a tax that all fully insured plans pay. This basically means small and medium group employer sponsored plans, individual policies, and Medicare Advantage plans pay. Large, self insured, employer groups don’t pay, traditional Medicare fee for Service does not pay. If we assume a perfectly elastic market, I could see the self-interested push to eliminate the tax as it would make going fully insured marginally less expensive than going to self-insured ASO contract arrangements for medium size employers or make Medicare Advantage bids slightly more attractive. But in the individual market all of the carriers in the 2018 rate filings indicate that the insurers assume it is a market with low elasticity of demand. The tax incidence is overwhelmingly borne by the buyer and does not eat into the operating margins of the insurer.
Most of the tax savings will accrue to the policy buyers not the insurers in competitive markets. In non-competitive markets like Alabama with a dominant Blue, more the tax savings can be captured by the insurer. But I am trying to figure out exactly how much more profitable this tax cut makes insurers. It will be billions but it will not be a hundred billion dollars of additional profitability.
I’m having a hard time grokking the actual incremental profitability that insurers got out of the BCRA compared to the assured losses they will be taking on Medicaid managed care cuts.