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Maine Waiver Expected to Increase Insurer Pressures on States

HHS’s bellwether decision of last week to grant the State of Maine a three-year waiver from the medical loss ratio provision of the ACA may lead to new efforts by insurers across the country to persuade states to demand similar waivers.

The HHS decision on Maine was not unexpected. The ACA language clearly allows for waivers when imposition of the MLR 80/85 percent threshold penalties would lead to disruption of a state’s insurance market. Maine, a state with very few major employers, has a higher than average percentage of small group and individual policies which typically provide higher out-of-pocket costs—and consequently higher administrative percentages. HealthMarkets, one of the two dominant insurers in Maine, had threatened to abandon the state’s individual market unless a waiver was granted. (According to a Bloomberg report, HealthMarkets, which is majority-owned by two large investor funds, was recently sued by the City of Los Angeles for selling policies with provisions that allegedly effectively eliminated needed coverage.)

Three other states (Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Nevada) have already filed waiver requests with HHS, and an additional eleven states are reported to be preparing waiver requests.

Almost certainly, every insurer with significant business in the small group and individual markets will be eying the Maine waiver decision with a view to applying pressure to those state insurance regulators who are not yet preparing waiver requests. While Maine appears to have had an unusually strong case for a waiver, the absence in the ACA of any specific measures for “market disruption” may make it difficult for HHS to reject such requests.

Roger Collier was formerly CEO of a national health care consulting firm. His experience includes the design and implementation of innovative health care programs for HMOs, health insurers, and state and federal agencies.  He is editor of Health Care REFORM UPDATE.

Laboratories of Democracy, Part 2

Experimentation in how states would move toward universal health care coverage was written into the DNA of the Affordable Care Act. The law allowed any state to petition for a waiver that would enable it to enact its own brand of reform — including versions that did not include an individual mandate to purchase coverage or penalize employers who didn’t provide it – as long as their plans met the basic criteria of the law in terms of covering most people, providing comprehensive coverage, being affordable, and not increasing the federal deficit.

President Obama yesterday offered to move up the date for states that want to pursue their own visions of reform from 2017 to 2014. Stories in today’s press billed this as an effort by the administration to assuage conservative critics who’ve filed suit against the law and governors from both political parties who fear its economic impact. Medicaid expansion accounts for about half of the newly covered people under reform. Even with the feds picking up 90 percent of the tab, many states in today’s fiscal environment are wary of any new obligations — even one where they’re only on the hook for 10 percent.

As I wrote last month, leaving states to implement reform provides Americans with a classic example of federalism in action, one that may or may not lead to a common system across the U.S. In the early part of the 20th century, states began setting up unemployment and workers compensation insurance systems. The former became a shared federal-state responsibility with common features across the U.S. The latter remained unique to each state. Ohio, for instance, has a single-payer workers compensation system and insurance companies are prohibited from selling policies in the state.Continue reading…

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