Rulemaking and legislative possibility space on Cassidy Collins

I chased my kids through a museum yesterday.  Part of the day had them go through a butterfly’s life cycle and there were parts where grown-ups were just too big for it.  So I stepped aside and thought about health policy.  Specifically the proposed rule that widens the actuarial value bands from +/-2 to -4/+2.  A Silver plan under that rule could range from 66% AV to 72% AV instead of 68% to 72%.

We’ve looked at the distributional consequences of that rule last week.  Now let’s think about the legislative consequences.  The major distributional improvement is that low utilizing people who are not subsidized get slightly lower premiums.  Most of the work of that rule will be increasing out of pocket maximums for either un-subsidized but expensive individuals or subsidized individuals.

In some markets (Indianapolis is a likely target), the premium of the second least expensive Silver which sets the subsidy benchmark will decrease as plans go from 68% AV to 66% AV.  In those markets the benchmark premium (which no one besides Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cares about) will decrease.  The federal premium tax credit subsidy is calculated as the gap filler between an individual’s capability to pay which is a function of the federal poverty line (FPL) and the benchmark premium.  A lower benchmark premium shrinks this gap.  This will lead to a lower CBO score for the same number of people covered.

Some of the lower premium tax credit payments will be counter-balanced by higher cost sharing reduction subsidies but on net anyone who is making between 250% FPL and 400% FPL and is receiving a subsidy will see a smaller subsidy.

Why does this matter for Cassidy Collins?

Their plan is to take the entire pool of ACA money that a state would have received from the ACA and take a 5% haircut.  From that smaller pool of money, states could elect to continue with an opt-in ACA as is or move towards an opt-out HSA high deductible and catastrophic plan system in their alternative methodology.

This administrative rule shrinks the CBO score for the pool of money that states would be eligible for so it shrinks the pool of money available for Cassidy Collins by a few percentage points.  This is critically true for the alternative methodology as their plan spreads the same amount of money (after the 5% haircut) over a much broader population (subsidized, un-subsidized and un-enrolled) so the baseline plans that can be paid for with either just the subsidy OR the subsidy plus the same ACA individual contribution are far skimpier with far higher deductibles.  This rule will increase the deductibles that Cassidy-Collins would have to charge by several hundred dollars more per person.

Distributional consequences of widening allowed Actuarial Value bands

One of the major proposals in the draft Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule that was released on the 15th is to increase the de minimas allowed actuarial value band.  Currently the regulation allows a plan to be included in a metal band if it is within two Actuarial Value (AV) points of the target band for normal bands, and within a point in either direction for the targeted Cost Sharing Reduction Silver plans.  So that means a standard Silver plan which should be a 70% AV could be anywhere from 68% AV to 72% AV.  The proposed modification would allow for a plan to qualify for a band if it was no more than four points below or two points above the target.  A Silver plan would be anywhere from 66% AV to 72% AV.

All else being equal, a lower AV means a slightly lower premium.  It also means higher out of pocket spending for patients. But all else is seldom equal so things can get messy.

This has significant distributional consequences.  And these consequences are not entirely straightforward as the individual market is a complex market.  Let’s start looking at the easiest scenarios and then build in complexity.  We will need to divide the analytical units into four groups.  The vertical split of a 2×2 grid are people who either have met their out of pocket limit or have not incurred sufficient claims to meet their out of pocket limit.  The horizontal split is between people who receive premium tax credits that are keyed to the price of the second Silver and people who are not receiving premium tax credits and thus pay the full premium out of pocket.

We will only look at individual beneficiary consequences.

The simplest scenario to analyze is a market that has converged with multiple carriers.  Indianopolis, Indiana is a good example.  There are two carriers that currently offer Silver plans with 68% AV with similarly narrow networks and very similar pricing.  The strategic logic of that situation will have both carriers offer Silver plans that would be near 66% AV as soon as they could.

That produces a nice simple outcome matrix:

Individuals who are receiving subsidies and have significant claims that matched their out of pocket maximum under a 68% AV Silver are indisputably worse off. They will face higher cost sharing. If all cost sharing is from deductibles (an oversimplification), they will go from having a $4,400 deductible to a $4,850 deductible. They do not benefit from lower premiums as the federal government is the risk bearer and reward recipient of lower premiums as the subsidy formula is based on the federal government filling in the gap between the calculated individual contribution as determined by income and the cost of the second least expensive Silver.

Individuals who have not met their out of pocket maximum and are subsidized for a 68% Silver will still not meet their out of pocket maximum and their post-subsidy premium will not change. They are indifferent.

Individuals who are not subsidized and who meet their out of pocket maximum are almost always worse off. They have a small gain in lower premiums (2% drop in AV leads to a 2.4% premium drop on first estimate) but higher cost sharing. There is a small sliver of individuals whose costs above current cost sharing is less than the premium drop. But this is a sliver of people whose total costs are within $100 of the current out of pocket maximum.

The big winners of this change from a beneficiary point of view are individuals who are not subsidized and who are under the out of pocket maximum. They have no incremental cost sharing and they have lower premiums. If the non-subsidized market is extremely price sensitive this will bring in more healthy individuals as prices will fall slightly.

This is the simplest scenario. This intuition should serve people well, but things will get complicated.
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More on Advance Care Planning in Medicare

This article starts with the Death Panel nonsense, reignited by a Republican Party official in Florida last week, but the second half of the piece is a fairly good discussion of the issues around Advance Care Planning that the Medicare program began paying for January 1, 2016. Some of our recent work shows that the comment period held during 2015 for this pending change was not particularly controversial.

Forget about the nonsense, and read the discussion of the policy reality at stake.

A snippet:

The CMS rule requires no specific diagnosis and sets no guidelines for the end-of-life discussions. Conversations center on medical directives and treatment preferences, including hospice enrollment and the desire for care if patients lose the ability to make their own decisions. The conversations may occur during annual wellness exams, in separate office visits or in hospitals. Nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants may also seek payment for end-of-life talks.

End-of-life conversations have occurred in the past, but not as often as they should, said Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a Florida nonprofit. Many doctors aren’t trained to have such discussions and find them difficult to initiate.

“For a lot of health providers, we hear the concern that this is not why patients come to us,” he said. “They come to us looking to be cured, for hope. And it’s sensitive to talk about what happens if we can’t cure you.”

Further on the impact:

Proponents of advance care planning cheered evidence of the program’s early use as a sign of growing interest in late-stage life planning. Being able to bill makes a difference, Malley said.

The new reimbursement led Dr. Peter Sutherland, a family medicine physician in Morristown, Tenn., to schedule more end-of-life conversations with patients last year.

“They were very few and far between before,” he said. “They were usually hospice-specific.”

Now, he said, he has time to have thorough discussions with patients, including a 60-year-old woman whose recent complaints of back and shoulder pain turned out to be cancer that had metastasized to her lungs. In early January, he talked with an 84-year-old woman with Stage IV breast cancer.

“She didn’t understand what a living will was,” Sutherland said. “We went through all that. I had her daughter with her and we went through it all.”

Death panel nonsense back?

A Florida county Republican Party official said there were “death panels for Medicare beneficiaries over age 74” yesterday at a town hall meeting. There are not. Watching the video, it is unclear if the fellow was just saying something to try and make it through a meeting, or if he really believes this. Both are bad.

Just last week in BMJ Palliative Care (bmjspcare-2016-001182-bhavsar), we published an analysis of the federal register comments for the proposed rule (now policy since Jan 1, 2016) that let Medicare pay physicians for Advance Care Planning in which they discussed wishes and preferences with patients and family members. Very few of the comments submitted were negative, and we entitled the piece “The Death of Outrage Over Talking About Dying.”

Maybe we spoke too soon….

Nrupen A. Bhavsar, Sara Constand, Matthew Harker, Donald H. Taylor, Jr. The Death of Outrage Over Talking About Dying.BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care 2017;early online, accessed February 12, 2017.

Potential impact of new ACA rulemaking

Politico evidently got their hands on a leaked draft rule making document for the insurance exchanges. There are a couple of significant tweaks in the rules. The most important thing so far is that the draft document accepts the ACA as it is and works on the margins. It is not an attempt to blow things up. But let’s look at the details:

The administration is also looking to slash the 2018 enrollment period in half. It would run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, rather than through the end of January 2018 as the Obama administration had proposed.

The logic of this rule is that a December 15th end date means every policy starts on January 1st. This will do two things. First it will add more paid member months in the pool as the current open enrollment period has both February 1 and March 1 start dates. Secondly and more subtly, it will shift the enrollment of the healthiest cohort on average from a March 1 start date to a January 1 start date. The paid premium pool will be slightly healthier.

This is not a bad idea. It would be similar to what happens in Medicare. I would tweak it slightly. I would try to line up the ACA open enrollment period with the Medicare open enrollment period so that we develop a national window where everyone worries about next year’s healthcare at the same time.

HHS is also considering tough new rules around special enrollment periods, which insurers complain have allowed some Obamacare customers to wait until they get sick before signing up for coverage. All individuals who sign up outside the standard enrollment window will be required to provide documentation proving they’re eligible before coverage takes effect.

The logic of this change is that there are some people who have attempted to go off-Exchange to get a policy during a Special Enrollment Period and were denied because they could not document the qualifying event. They then went on-Exchange and attested to their qualifying event and got covered. Insurers in Covered California believe that the higher cost SEP enrollment added two to three points of cost to their base policies. Some of that makes sense as it is a narrowly self-selecting pool of very motivated buyers. It is much like COBRA in that regard. But this is an anti-gaming rule.

The aim of the rule is to drive more healthy people into the pool during open enrollment and make the cost of going uncovered higher. It will lead to fewer people getting enrolled during a SEP.

These two rules could probably go into place without significant opposition. The other proposals below the fold will face significant public, political and legal opposition.

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An early estimate of the impact of the 1/20/17 ACA executive order

I’ve been playing a bit more with the 2016 and 2017 QHP data in an attempt to figure out the incremental cost of the Trump Executive order.  I think 4.25% is a good lower estimate.

My data is still here:

Data and Methods

I again excluded Kentucky and Louisiana.  Kentucky was switching from Kynect to while Louisiana had a mid-year Medicaid Expansion.  I wanted to isolate the effect of the executive order from whatever the general trend in enrollment was.  I used the CMS enrollment snapshot for 2016 and 2017 that contained January 14th.  2016 was goes through January 16 while 2017 only goes through January 14th.  The 2016 report contains two extra days worth of data and more importantly, 2016 contains a deadline day as people who buy coverage by the 15th would see their policy start on February 1st.  We know deadlines spur enrollment.

CMS recognized this problem:

More than 8.8 million Americans were signed up for 2017 coverage through as of January 14, 2017. This compares to about 8.7 million sign-ups as of January 14 last year, as Americans continue to demonstrate strong demand for 2017 Marketplace coverage.

So on the 14th of each year, 2017 was running slightly ahead of 2016.  My data due to timing constraints will show 2016 running slightly ahead of 2017.   This is fine as the known flaw in the data favors the argument that the executive order had no impact.

So the question is what was the deviation from 1/15 to 1/31? If the Executive Order and the dropping of advertising and potentially elite knowledge networks disseminating anti-enrollment messaging or more likely fear, uncertainty and doubt about PPACA being a good play?

Analysis and Conclusion

2017 using my known flawed data was running .96% behind 2016 on the January 14th inclusive update.  2017 ended up running 5.25% behind 2016 on states.  The increment (using favorable to the null hypothesis data) slowdown in pace that can be attributed to Trump Administration actions is 5.25-.96 or 4.29% of enrollment was lost due to the executive order and other Trump administration actions such as shutting down some outreach and advertising in the last eleven days of enrollment.

4.29% is a minimal level of enrollment loss.  Using the January 14th pace, 2017 was running 1.1% ahead of 2016.  Charles Gaba is collecting data from the state based exchanges.  The state based exchanges ran their own marketing campaigns that did not get shut off on 1/20/17.  He is showing at least a 1.5% enrollment increase.  So more aggressive baselines can credibly argue that the Trump Administration actively discouraged 6% of the market from signing up.

What Should Health Insurance Cover?

This is a basic health reform question, and one knock against the ACA has been that the benefits are too generous, which drives up the cost of premiums. This WSJ piece provides a good overview of the issue (and tradeoffs), and has a nice graph showing what proportion of individually sold insurance plans included benefits that are required by the ACA. Changes to the benefits required in the ACA could be made via rulemaking (the law describes categories of benefits that were detailed via rulemaking), Congress could reduce benefits in some “replace” or “tweak” of the ACA, or the issue could be devolved to the states, also via a replace or tweak bill. It is easy to criticize in health reform, but improvements are hard, because of the tradeoffs.