First some good news:
JUST IN: Ohio Dept of Insurance says CareSource will sell ACA health plans in Ohio's Paulding County. No more empty ACA counties.
— Bob Herman (@bobjherman) August 24, 2017
Every county will have at least one insurer offering plans on the Exchanges.
Now the mechanics of that process are important. I want to revive a November 1, 2016 post looking into the competitive dynamics of the ACA market structure:
I also had a chance to talk to a very smart and wonky friend of the blog who asked a very good question — what are the odds that there are no carriers in a state in 2018 on Exchange…
I do not think this is likely. I think it is highly likely that there are a number of states where there is a single carrier and even more states which may have multiple carriers but with a clear division so that most counties in those states only have a single carrier. However I am having a hard time seeing the mechanics of carriers completely dropping out and abandoning states en masse. Could it happen in a single state? Yes, I think it is unlikely but possible. Would it happen in four or five states? No.
The basis of my response is that the federal subsidy structure makes it very hard for a carrier to continually lose money in a state if it is the only carrier. Let’s look at a few scenarios below the fold.
2017 Single Carrier States
In the states with only a single carrier for the 2017 plan year, the only reason for the incumbent to leave the on-exchange market in 2018 is if they lose massive amounts of money in 2017 AND they can not get the rates hiked in 2018. If a carrier is losing a lot of money in a state, that state or region is unlikely to be attractive to other carriers to enter. We see in 2016 that states are willing to approve very large rate increases from carriers if they can demonstrate that this is the only way to cover the expected claims. If the incumbent carrier in a single carrier state is seeing large medical losses, they will get the rates. This normally would trigger concerns about a death spiral where higher rates drive out healthier individuals. Off Exchange could see a death spiral. However the on-Exchange subsidized population is protected from most of the rate increases by the subsidy formula. The individual market in a high cost, single carrier state could turn into an extremely sick Off-Exchange population plus a reasonably healthy subsidized population……
2017 multi-carrier states
….carriers that have adapted a Silver Spam strategy to choose a narrow and fairly unhealthy risk pool while exploiting risk adjustment. Under that scenario, the narrow network carrier should be making money in 2017 or at least not doing too badly for itself. The other carriers will exit. After an exit, the Silver Spamming carrier will face a challenge as I have strong doubts that a Silver Spam strategy is viable for a super narrow carrier without some ability to offload high cost and high complexity medical risk to someone else. We should expect significant rate increases in 2018 from the sole Medicaid like carrier to cover their shipping out of network costs for their new members with highly complex and highly expensive care needs…..
If both carriers are losing money, we get an interesting staring contest as both carriers will often think that if they are the sole surviving carrier in the market, they can suck at the federal money hose. In that scenario we see a lot of sound and fury signaling very little. Both carriers will make noise about how tough the Exchange market is. Carrier A will say that they need to raise rates by 33% and Carrier B will say they need to raise rates by 37%. A is waiting for B to drop and B is waiting for A to drop. Both carriers will file plans and networks in 2017 for 2018 and then they will withdraw some and accuse the insurance regulator of acting in bad faith. As the summer comes along, the board of A might tell them to pull the plug and concede the market to B or vice versa.
At that point the surviving carrier has an effective monopoly on the subsidized Exchange market. Very large rate increases could be pushed through where the Federal government eats most of the cost. If the surviving carrier is smart, they’ll Silver Gap in 2018 as much as they can to get a far larger check from the Feds while driving the risk pool to be broad and healthy as the post-subsidy premiums will drop. The Off-Exchange market will be in trouble if the surviving carrier is the sole carrier but so far we have seen national carriers stick around off-Exchange far more willingly than they have been on-Exchange.
I would not be shocked if a single state has to get crazily creative to keep a single carrier on-Exchange in the entire state. But I do not expect mass withdrawal of carriers because the interaction of the subsidy attachment point and the ability of a monopolist insurer to effectively print money from the Feds will keep the last carrier involved.
Yay! Removes a Republican talking point.
@Cheryl Rofer: Correction: should, but probably will not, remove a Republican talking point. Just ask Rep. Ryan.
Great news, indeed. Now that Trump has shown that he can’t repeal the ACA, perhaps insurance companies which have left some markets empty will feel like they need to get back into those markets.
Remember when the GOP used to like it when marketplaces succeeded? Now Cleek’s Law dictates that they must try to wreck the marketplace like some Leninist party.
I sorta miss harassing those youngster interns in my Republican Congressmen’s offices with my almost daily phone calls. I think I’ll share this good news about our state with them tomorrow. I
just to make the point that their boss is lousy at predicting things, and we should all take that into account the next time he makes a pronouncement.