Healthcare.gov appears to be working much better, at least in enabling individuals to select plans. And some of the state exchange web sites appear to be improving their functionality too. Some have heralded these advances as providing hope that the Exchanges will be able to meet the enrollment projections on which the economics of insurance without medical underwriting in part depend. But do these claims stand up to the cold light of mathematics? Not very well.
Here’s the headline:
A close look at the numbers shows that the pace of enrollments from here to the close of open enrollment needed to meet projections is high in every state, even those touted as successful, and almost impossibly high in many. Given the incredibly slow start in most jurisdictions, it will not just take a little pickup over the next few months to achieve the projected and needed number of persons in the Exchanges. It will take a miraculous last minute stampede. Since miracles seldom occur, the result may be two different stories of the Affordable Care Act: a few states in which the Exchanges proved from the start to be a somewhat stable mechanism for providing health insurance without medical underwriting but a significant number of other states in which the results for at least the first year represent a large failure.
News appears to be breaking out that the federal exchanges enrolled about 100,000 in November. This is being heralded as somewhat of a success compared to the 26,000 who enrolled in October. And, of course, enrollment figures from healthcare.gov are difficult to assess due to the actual and feared dysfunctionality of the web site. But one way to look at this is to consider what has to happen between December 1, 2013, and March 23, 2014, the close of open enrollment to make projections. The states that are dependent on healthcare.gov need about 4.84 million enrollees by the end of that period if the nation is to meet the goal of having 7 million enrolled in the Exchanges by the close of open enrollment. If, right now, there are about 126,000 enrollees in those states, we are just 2.5% of the way there.
The pace of enrollment on healthcare.gov will need to increase by a factor of about 20 in order to meet goal. In absolute terms, healthcare.gov needs to be enrolling about 42,000 people per day. And while perhaps not every single one of those people need to enroll for the system to succeed, the 7 million enrollment goal isn’t just a mere wish. There are, as I and many others have noted potentially serious consequences to the stability of insurance markets if the figures fall well short, even in several states.
Continue reading “In Which Your Author Does the Math”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: California, Connecticut, Enrollment, Exchange, Healthcare.gov, November, Seth J. Chandler, Texas, The Affordable Care Act, The States
Dec 2, 2013
I’ve read a number of reports in recent days gushing over the progress Covered California is making leading the nation in signing up people for Obamacare.
But, I am having trouble understanding how the numbers should make anyone gush with enthusiasm.
Covered California, the state health insurance exchange, has a goal of enrolling 500,000 to 700,000 subsidy eligible Californians by March 31, 2014.
Covered California just announced that it would proceed with its original plan to cancel 1.1 million existing individual policies (their estimate)––80% of them by December 31. Covered California also just said that 510,000 of them would qualify for a subsidy.
The only place a Californian can buy a policy with a subsidy is on the Covered California state exchange.
So, it would certainly seem that the only way those 510,000 people can continue their coverage and get a subsidy is to sign-up on the California health insurance exchange––80% of them by December 23.
So, if only the canceled policyholders who are subsidy eligible replace their canceled policies Covered California will make the lower end of its entire 2014 enrollment goal. Doesn’t sound like much of a stretch goal for them.
Besides the 1.1 million who have lost their policies because of cancellation, Covered California has estimated that 5.3 million Californians are uninsured and eligible to purchase coverage on the state exchange––about half with subsidies.
Continue reading “Trying To Make Sense of the Covered California Numbers”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: Covered California, enrollment numbers, Robert Laszewski, Subsidies, The Affordable Care Act, The States
Nov 25, 2013
Covered California, the state-run Obamacare health insurance exchange, announced on Wednesday that 59,000 people have so far signed up for health insurance.
Given that California amounts to about 10% of the nation’s population, this would suggest a smooth running federal exchange might well have enabled the Obama administration to have met its national first month goal of 500,000 sign-ups.
But the California enrollment also points to the real challenge Obamacare faces.
In the first month, 84% of the enrollees did not qualify for a subsidy. It has been widely estimated that about half of all potential enrollees will eventually qualify for a subsidy. As Covered California’s chief executive said, “Those are individuals who have been waiting a lifetime for health coverage.”
Covered California is not scheduled to release any age data until next week, but the health plans already know what they are getting. The President of the California health insurance trade association also said yesterday, “It is important for the exchange to achieve a balance in enrollment between the old and the young and the sick and the healthy to allow costs to be spread among all people.”
These Healthcare.gov problems have been a sideshow for Obamacare. The main event will be about whether more than just those who have been “waiting all of their lives” to get guarantee issue health insurance they are sure to make money on will eventually sign-up in adequate numbers.
Continue reading “What Could Have Been and What Still Has To Happen”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: Covered California, Enrollment, Robert Laszewski, The Affordable Care Act, The States
Nov 15, 2013
Besides state and higher-level health care expenditures, county level HCE are useful, integral really. For example, to promote the Triple Aim (the best care for the whole population at the lowest cost) you need per capita HCE. And knowing those costs at the county level would help a lot. However, county estimates generally don’t exist. They didn’t in Washington State until a client needed cost estimates for our 39 counties. To supply those estimates I used a regression approach resulting in this model:
percaphce = +0.1*percapinc + 247*pctage65 + 0.71*percapmedaid + 10.5*pctrural – 1349
Washington State Context
Before discussing model rationale and county HCE estimation, here’s some context about Washington State and its counties. You might view Washington as a microcosm of the nation. It has mountains, forests, deserts, rivers and lakes, vast rural areas, major cities, diverse populations and industries, and a varied climate. It is distinguished by active volcanoes and a coastal border. There is a wide range of political, social and economic clusters. In 2010 King County, where Seattle is located, median annual household income was about $67 thousand (the U.S. median was roughly $50 thousand) yet there are state counties where one in three children live in poverty. The total population is approximately 7 million with half of those people living in just three of the 39 counties.1 At the other end about a third of the counties have populations of 30 thousand or less.
An Aside about Seattle Weather
You may have been told that it rains all the time in Seattle. I live in Seattle and can tell you that’s a myth. Seattle’s average annual rainfall is less than New York City’s. However, during a good part of the non-summer months Seattle, and Puget Sound generally, is grey and cloudy. I once heard a story about the original settlers who landed in November, 1851, at Alki near present-day Seattle. The story is they were there for months before the weather finally cleared and they saw Mt. Rainier for the first time. I don’t know if that story is historically true, but as a Seattleite it’s believable. Regardless, Seattle is a summer paradise. Seattle summers, like most of Puget Sound, are characterized by pleasant sunny days, cool nights and no mosquitoes.
Background for the County HCE Estimates
Last year Empire Health Foundation of Spokane, Washington, asked me to estimate HCE for the 39 counties in the state. The purpose was for an upcoming meeting of policy types such as county commissioners, members of various health organizations, and other stake holders. A theme would be Donald Berwick’s Triple Aim, so cost estimates were wanted for benchmarks and context. The CMS2 Office of the Actuary had recently developed state HCE.3 If I could build a reasonable regression model on state-level data to predict state HCE, and there were similar variables at the county level, I could use the state model to estimate county HCE. That’s the approach I took. A caveat is my understanding was that acceptance—believability and reasonableness of the estimates to a lay audience—were as important as accuracy.
Continue reading “Letting the Data Speak: Estimating County Health Care Costs In Washington State”
Filed Under: Economics
Tagged: Costs, Economics, Frank de Libero, health care expenditures, The States, Washington state
Nov 6, 2013
… and a call to action. This case study is based on my meeting with the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) in my home state. CHIA is an all payers claims database, a massive collection of diagnoses, locations, dates and prices for all of your health services across all of your providers and insurers. Whether it’s claims or health records, almost every state and many private clearing houses are setting up to monitor you.
Your information can be used by business to manipulate prices for maximum profit, or by you to inform your choice of health insurance plans and health care providers.
Unfortunately, business can get your information but you can’t. This reflects an industry strategy to obstruct the market-based features of the Affordable Care Act. I hope you will take this case study, edit it, and file it with the Attorney General and Governor in your state to ask for your data as a consumer protection issue. That’s what I’m about to do.
My state is #1! Go Massachusetts! My state is #1 in health care costs. It’s also #1 in implementing a health insurance exchange (Romneycare 2006) and a leader in state surveillance with the 2012 cost containment law known as Chapter 224. Chapter 224 mandates various state surveillance mechanisms including a health information exchange that monitors encounters and an all payer claims database called “the center”.
The cost containment law also includes some consumer protections. Line 1909 states:
“To the maximum extent feasible, the center shall also make data available to health care consumers, on a timely basis and in an easily readable and understandable format, data on health care services they have personally received.”
Although the state surveillance is in place, and the price fixing that keeps us #1 is ongoing, the consumer protection part of the law is not implemented. So, I took the opportunity to meet with the executive director of CHIA and their chief legal counsel and get the scoop on why the state is not following the law. To paraphrase their explanation: “It’s too hard.”
Continue reading “State Surveillance Endangers the Affordable Care Act: A Case Study”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Adrian Gropper, Center for Health Information & Analysis (CHIA), Consumer Directed Healthcare, Health Insurance Exchanges, Health Plans, Massachusetts, Pharma, The Affordable Care Act, The States
Oct 18, 2013
On the day that Covered California went live — the very moment that Executive Director Peter Lee declared the exchange “open for business” — staff debuted a video celebrating the launch.
The video features photos of cheerful, ethnically diverse people — spliced between scenes of California — holding up signs written in English, Farsi, Korean and other languages that all translate to “open.” (You can watch Lee unveil the video, beginning at the 10:40 mark.)
One week later, Covered California brought the video back; once again, clips of grinning men and women toting signs that read “Ya abrimos” filled time before a webinar on Tuesday where officials shared updates on the exchange’s progress.
The smiling faces and multilingual message illustrate one of California’s major challenges in rolling out the ACA: The state is arguably the most geographically and demographically diverse in the union. Expanding health coverage to seven million uninsured residents will take time and a unique strategy.
But you can also forgive Covered California officials for wanting to remind the public that their exchange is live. During much of the first week, the site often sent a different message.
What Went Wrong
Covered California’s launch was supposed to be different. The state had spent years gearing up for the exchange’s rollout on Oct. 1. It had enlisted dozens of groups to help perform outreach. It had equipped some staffers with “Keep calm and go live” t-shirts.
But a triumphant debut turned out to be an oft-frustrating one. In California, like in most of the nation, most launch day stories didn’t center on the people signing up for coverage through the new exchanges, but on all the people who couldn’t.
Continue reading “What Covered California Got Right–And What Other States Did Better”
Filed Under: Health Plans, Uncategorized
Tagged: Covered California, Dan Diamond, Health Insurance Exchanges, The States
Oct 10, 2013
We may be getting a better idea why the federal exchange and so many state exchanges aren’t working.
An article in Saturday’s Baltimore Sun, regarding Maryland’s problems, provides insight I have not seen elsewhere:
Problems began immediately after the exchange launched Tuesday, as people tried to create accounts and log onto the site.
State officials blamed the account creation process, in which people were routed to a federal questionnaire to verify their identity. The system, they said, became overwhelmed when so many people tried to access it.
So, it appears all of the exchanges are facing the same bottleneck at the federal level–the identity verification software the feds are running for themselves and the state exchanges.
Then the Sun article provided more insight:
Requiring people to create accounts to access the system may be one of the problems, said Jonathan Wu, co-founder of consumer finance website ValuePenguin, who has a computer science background. Some states, including Kentucky [which as been about the only state running well], let people browse insurance plans without an account, which was only needed to purchase insurance. Kentucky did not have as big a backlog, he said.
“It’s kind of an architectural and software issue,” Wu said. “You are not accounting for how people want to use the system.”
With personal accounts, the computer system has to work harder, storing information about everyone who accesses the website, he said. It also has to repeatedly confirm the identity of the person, which also can bog down the system, Wu said. He noted that all the functions on the website that don’t require an account have run smoothly.
“It has to match your account every step you make,” Wu said. “This causes extra overhead.”
Continue reading “How Identity Verification Caused Chaos on the State and Federal Exchanges”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Health Insurance Exchanges, Healthcare.gov, Robert Laszewski, Tech, The Affordable Care Act, The States
Oct 6, 2013
How did it go? Unavoidably, that will be the big question come Tuesday.
But there will be much more to it than that.
A 180-Day Open Enrollment––Not a One-Day Open Enrollment
What happens on the first day, for good or bad, will constitute only a tiny percentage of the open enrollment period. Consumers will likely visit the new websites many times before they make any decisions, and that is exactly as it should be.
Many of the health plans touted as being low-cost plans are going to be very limited access plans. It won’t be easy for consumers to compare one plan’s provider network to the other. In the best of circumstances, consumers will be confused by what is being offered for some time and will have to make a major effort to make sense of it for themselves.
Let’s not forget, they will be buying something that will cost thousands of dollars––their money or the government’s––and that kind of purchase will never be as simple as going to Amazon and buying a book.
I will suggest that if the local press wants to be helpful they will waste less time asking how things went the first day and more time doing stories on the quality of the various health plans in their local communities––particularly over provider access, which will be the only major product differentiator between health insurance companies.
Will There Be Administrative Problems With the Exchanges?
There already are. And, there will be lots more.
During the last 24-hours I have been told that the information technology testing between insurance companies and the federal government, particularly around the government telling insurance companies who they will be covering, continues to be a real mess.
But whatever obvious problems there are at launch, there will likely be more problems and more serious problems behind the scenes in the lead-up to January 1, the initial problems will be worked out in a few days or a few weeks. Operational expectations are now so low for Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges a small disaster will be considered a political victory.
Continue reading “Will Obamacare Survive? Nine Key Questions”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Benefit shock, Exchanges, Massachusetts, Obamacare, Open Enrollment, Rate Shock, Red states, Robert Laszewski, The States, White House
Sep 29, 2013
Back in 2010 — before two elections, before the Supreme Court ruled, before the word “crisis” stopped following the words “California budget” — Kim Belshé settled on a guiding principle: “2014 is tomorrow.”
And now, it almost is.
The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate takes effect in less than 100 days. The nation’s health insurance exchanges go live next week.
And for nearly a year, Belshé — secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — was at the center of California’s efforts to begin implementing those Obamacare provisions and many others.
I interviewed Belshé, Schwarzenegger, and nearly a dozen other ex-officials and experts about whether California’s quest to lead the nation on ACA implementation actually paid off — and what it brought the state.
Why California? Why Not?
Every expert suggested that the ACA’s rapid implementation in California could be traced back to Schwarzenegger’s efforts in 2007 and 2008 to enact universal health care.
(And in some cases, even older efforts at reform. “We learned a lot from the 1990s,” says Belshé, noting that failed attempts to create purchasing cooperatives in California helped set the foundation for designing insurance exchanges more than a decade later.)
Although the Schwarzenegger plan ultimately failed, many of its components — from big elements like the exchanges to smaller pieces like guaranteed issue — ended up in the ACA. And because state leaders had already done much of the foundational work, they were better positioned to speedily roll out the national law.
Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the California Endowment, says that Schwarzenegger’s efforts were a preview of the national ACA battle to come — which meant that many stakeholders in California had already made peace with the law’s key provisions by 2010.
“We’d had our big fights over the individual mandate here” in 2007 and 2008, says Zingale, a former health care aide to Schwarzenegger. “Democrats and labor groups had been through it [and] were ok with it.”
“But the nation hadn’t been through that yet.”
Still, California’s support for Obamacare was hardly assured. As late as January 2010, Schwarzenegger wavered on the ACA — but by April that year, he was the first Republican governor (and one of the first governors in the nation) to throw his support behind the law and begin crafting a framework for implementation.
“It gave us a bit of a head start,” Belshé acknowledges.
Continue reading “Did We Get It Right? A Behind the Scenes Look at California’s Healthcare Strategy”
Filed Under: Health Plans, THCB
Tagged: California, Dan Diamond, The States
Sep 25, 2013
October 1st marks the first ever public exchange open enrollment season. This means some of the speculation around consumer awareness and understanding, enrollment/uptake, premiums, and payer participation (not to mention the technical readiness of the exchanges) will finally subside and give way to a clearer picture of the PPACA’s initial success in mandating individual health coverage.
Despite this approaching level of clarity, however, several very significant “blind-spots” will continue to persist, principally for the health insurance carriers that choose to participate by offering PPACA compliant plans in the exchange.
This is due to the law’s guaranteed issue mandate prohibiting health carriers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. As a result, the traditional enrollment process which consists of a comprehensive assessment of each applicant’s health status and risk cast against the backdrop of time-tested underwriting guidelines is completely thrown out.
What takes its place is an extremely limited data set (i.e., the member’s age, tobacco/smoking status, geographic region, and family size) from which carriers can determine pre-approved premiums and variability therein. To use an analogy, health insurance companies no longer have a “bouncer at the door” turning people away, or a sign reading No shirt, No shoes, No service at the entrance.
In other words, everyone, regardless of their risk profile, must now be welcomed in with open arms and with very limited risk-adjusted rates.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the enrolling population comprised a well understood risk pool representing a true cross-section of the population. The reality, however, is that a predominantly unknown and potentially unhealthy population will flood the individual health insurance marketplace in a two weeks just as most states quickly phase out their high-risk pre-existing condition pools and shift them into the exchanges.
Continue reading “State Insurance Exchange Blind Spots: Unknown Risks and Unintended Consequences”
Filed Under: The Business of Health Care
Tagged: ACA, Aetna, Cigna, Health Insurance Exchanges, Premiums, risk, risk pools, Seth Kellner, The Affordable Care Act, The States, TripleTree, United Health
Sep 23, 2013