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.