Legislation to Repeal Health Insurers’ Antitrust Exemption Won’t Increase Competition or Lower Premiums

This week, in addition to voting on the American Health Care Act, the House of Representatives will also be voting to repeal the insurance industry’s antitrust exemption. The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act of 2017 seems to have bipartisan support, probably because eliminating collusion between insurance companies sounds like a good thing; or at least it does if you don’t understand the history and purpose of the anti-trust exemption.

What The Antitrust Exemption For Health Insurers Means from NPR and Kaiser Health News (dating back to 2010 when Congress tried to pass similar legislation) provides a primer on the anti-trust exemption and explains why repealing is unlikely to increase insurer competition or lower prices.

But many antitrust experts say that ending the exemption — by repealing the 1945 McCarran-Ferguson Act — wouldn’t significantly increase competition or reduce premiums.

“This is just barking up the wrong tree for health insurance,” said Scott Harrington, a professor of health care management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While many lawmakers are eager to pass some kind of health care bill, they “don’t have a clue how the antitrust exemption works. It might sound good, but I can think of very few things in the bill that would be less consequential for consumers of health insurance.”

Here is a short primer on the issue:

What is the antitrust exemption?

Insurers are among a handful of industries, including Major League Baseball, that have a special exemption from federal antitrust laws.

The McCarran-Ferguson Act gives states the power to regulate the “business of insurance,” granting insurers a limited exemption from federal antitrust scrutiny. Insurers, for example, under the federal antitrust exemption may be able to meet, share information and agree on pricing for premiums, but experts say that most states prohibit that practice.

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The High Cost of Being Uninsured—Even if You’re Young and Healthy

Uninsured_Flowchart

As we explained in a previous post, Visualizing the U.S. Healthcare Delivery System, Before, During, and After the Affordable Care Act, insurers are at the center of the healthcare delivery system in the United States. In this post we explain what that means for those outside this system—the uninsured.

U.S. Healthcare Delivery System Before ACA

If you’re young and/or healthy, going without insurance might seem like a reasonable gamble—after all, under current law (and proposed legislation) you can’t be turned down if you need insurance later. Under the ACA, you can’t even be charged more, and even the proposed AHCA only allows insurers to add a 30% surcharge for a coverage gap.

But if you’re not part of the managed care system, you lose out on its benefits. You pay more for medical care and expose yourself to unlimited economic loss in case of medical catastrophe.

Insurance provides the following benefits:

  •  Negotiated Discounts: Under managed care, insurers and managed care organizations negotiate prices with healthcare providers within their networks. When you see an in-network provider you are charged the lower negotiated price, even if you are paying out of pocket. That’s why even a high deductible plan still saves you money on healthcare.

  • Preventative Healthcare: The ACA requires insurers to cover certain preventative healthcare (like a yearly checkup or mammogram) at no cost to the insured. This care is provided for free even if you haven’t met your deductible. But to enjoy it, you need to have coverage.

  • Out-of-Pocket Annual Maximums: Insurance caps your annual out-of-pocket costs. In 2016, the out-of-pocket limits for plans on the ACA marketplace were $6,850 for an individual and $13,700 for a family. This means that once you’ve reached the maximum (through paying your deductible and co-insurance) insurance covers the rest. Without insurance, an illness or injury can have catastrophic financial consequences. A hospitalization can easily run into the $100,000s. Such medical bills may take years to pay off, and failure to pay can ruin your credit. Medical debt is a major cause of bankruptcy.

Whether or not you believe health insurance should be mandated, participating in the managed care system could be in your best interest. In addition to the personal benefits, Insurance has a myriad of societal benefits—from increased public health to less uncompensated care (which costs everyone through higher medical prices and/or taxes). Not to mention, a larger, more diverse insurance pool can bring down premiums for everyone.

Infographics Part II: ACA Medicaid Expansion vs. AHCA Per Capita Caps

NYT CBO

Medicaid beneficiaries stand to lose the most under the American Health Care Act (AHCA). According to the new Congressional Budget Office Report, Medicaid recipients would make up a disproportionately large share of 24 million people expected to lose health insurance coverage by 2026 if the GOP legislation becomes law.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 32 states expanded Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line (about $34,000 for a family of four). The AHCA, as currently written, continues expansion for three more years before cutting federal funding to state Medicare programs through a per capita cap, limiting coverage to those enrolled before 2020. Vox recently provided a good explanation of per capita caps as does the Kaiser Family Foundation.


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Many of the best Medicaid infographics predate the release of the AHCA, but they still remain relevant to the current discussion. The KFF website includes a large collection of data on Medicaid expansion, including maps (like the image above) and detailed Medicaid State Fact Sheets.


The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) produced the following charts estimating the costs to states of the per capita cap.

Medicaid Cost Shift CBPP

MEdiciad Cuts Growth OVer Time CBPPCBPP also created a series of fact sheets illustrating the effects of Medicaid cuts in nine different states. Here is the fact sheet for Pennsylvania:

PA Fact Sheet CBPP.jpg


Images in the slideshow below appear in The New York Times article “Republicans’ Changes to Medicaid Could Have Larger Impact Than Their Changes to Obamacare”

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See Part I: Tax Credits vs. Premium Subsidies

Coming Soon:

Part III: Individual Mandate vs. Penalty for Break in Coverage

Part IV: Cost Comparisons

The Best Infographics Comparing the GOP’s Healthcare Plan with the Affordable Care Act

Part I: Tax Credits vs. Premium Subsidies

Infographics

In the week since the Republicans unveiled their Obamacare replacement plan multiple news outlets have  reported on what’s in the legislation, how it compares to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), who stands to benefit or lose, how much it will cost, etc.–many illustrated with helpful infographics.

Even if you follow the healthcare debate closely, the quantity of tables, graphs, and charts can quickly get overwhelming. After a while they all seem to look the same (actually, many are the same, or rely on the same data sources).

Want to know what’s in the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and how it might affect you and your community? We’ve compiled some of the best infographics from around the internet to help you make sense of it all.

Part I: Tax Credits vs. Premium Subsidies

One of the most significant changes in the GOP legislation is the replacement of premium subsidies (based on age, income, and geography) with age-and income-based tax credits, with no geographic variation. Several graphs from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) show how people of different ages and incomes fare under tax credits depending on where they live.(If you aren’t already familiar with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation you should check out their website now.)

Their Interactive map provides county-and-state level comparisons of of ACA vs. AHCA tax credits  based on age and income level.

Note: To try it out, click on the picture below to go to the KKF site. Once the new page opens, scroll down a bit to find the interactive map.

KFF interactive

A related KFF report, How Affordable Care Act Repeal and Replace Plans Might Shift Health Insurance Tax Credits, includes the following charts, illustrating the effects of the GOP plan’s tax credits on individuals and families in different age and income groups in high and low cost states.

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Many prominent news outlets cite KFF as a source for their illustrations. For example, last week,  both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times used similar graphics (in different colors) based on KFF data.

NYT maps_slideLATimes Graphics_Slide


Another good set of illustrations of how the GOP plan might affect individuals at different income levels is provided in an analysis by The Century Foundation.


For a state-by-state comparison, the waterfall graph (below) from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows the difference between the average ACA subsidy and the proposed AHCA tax credit.

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Part II: Medicaid Expansion vs. Per Capita Cap

Coming Soon:

Part III: Individual Mandate vs. Penalty for Break in Coverage

Part IV: Cost Comparisons

 

Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines

Did President Trump just call for federal regulation of the health insurance industry?

In his first address to Congress, President Trump enumerated his healthcare reform priorities. These include protecting coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, tax credits, health savings accounts, giving states more flexibility on Medicaid, and bringing down prescription drug prices. Then he said this:

…the time has come to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines…

This last line is the one we should remember. Allowing insurers to sell across state lines will require uniform regulations and will inevitably move us toward a system of federal health insurance regulation. Whether he intended it or not, Trump just succeeded in undermining the state regulation of insurance.

Interstate insurance sales have long been a component of Republican healthcare legislation and part of an ongoing debate about state vs. federal insurance regulation.

The Empowering Patients First Act (H.R. 3400) first introduced in 2009 and sponsored by then Rep. Tom Price (now Secretary of Health and Human Services) contains the following:

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Many of the current plans for repealing the Affordable Care Act contain similar provisions. From a draft proposal circulated in mid February:

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Speaker Paul Ryan is a big supporter of interstate insurance sales. A policy paper he released last summer lists it as a key recommendation.

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But we question whether Ryan really understands the conflicting policy implications of such a recommendation, because the same paper also contains the following:

States have been in the business of regulating health insurance for decades. They should be empowered to make the right tradeoffs between consumer protections and individual choice, not regulators in Washington. The federal role should be minimal and set a few broadly shared goals, while state governments determine how best to implement those goals in their own markets.

Sorry Speaker Ryan (and President Trump), you can’t have it both ways.  Allowing insurance sales across state lines will inevitably lead to federal regulation of the insurance industry.

 

Visualizing the U.S. Healthcare Delivery System, Before, During, and After the Affordable Care Act

Before they act to repeal, replace, or repair the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration and GOP legislators should understand how the U.S. healthcare system currently works.

This is what our healthcare delivery system looks like today:

U.S. Healthcare Delivery System Under ACA
Adapted from: E. Baranoff, D. Baranoff, T. Sager, and B. Shi, “What US Health Insurers’ Data Show for ACA ‘Repealers,’” The American Journal of Accountable Care (September 2016).

This is what it looked like before the ACA:

U.S. Healthcare Delivery System Before ACA
Adapted from: E. Baranoff, D. Baranoff, T. Sager, and B. Shi, “What US Health Insurers’ Data Show for ACA ‘Repealers,’” The American Journal of Accountable Care (September 2016).

And how it might look in the future:

post-aca

Notice what all three graphs have in common?

Health Insurers as Financial Intermediaries

Health insurers are at the center of the U.S. health care system, a position they are likely to maintain under any repeal/repair/replace scenario. Health insurance companies serve as the system’s financial intermediaries, meaning they act as the middlemen between those who seek healthcare and those who provide it. Money flows from consumers/patients/employers/governments to health care providers through health insurers.

Many people think the main role of health insurers is to act as gatekeepers to the health care system. Health insurance companies do manage access to health care services through their ability to approve or to disapprove payment for services (based on approval guidelines which may be dictated by private contracts or government regulation). But this secondary managed care role has grown out of the their primary role as financial intermediaries.

Health Insurance Markets

The U.S. health insurance marketplace is actually five different markets, each covering a different segment of the insured population.

In future blog posts we will delve into each of these segments in greater detail.

They are:

  • Group Health Insurance / Employer Coverage

  • Federal Employee Health Insurance

  • Individual Health Insurance (includes ACA Marketplaces)

  • Medicare

  • Medicaid

The first three markets (Group, Federal, and Individual) are administered almost entirely by health insurance companies (this includes third-party administrators of self-insured group plans). But health insurers can also act as intermediaries in the Medicare and Medicaid markets. While Medicare is considered a single payer system, Medicare beneficiaries can choose to be covered by a  Medicare Advantage plan (also called Medicare+Choice or Medicare Part C), with premiums paid by the Medicare Administration. Medicare Advantage plans are primarily managed-care plans, like HMOs and PPOs, administered by private health insurers. Medicaid beneficiaries may also receive coverage through managed care plans. Medicaid managed care providers (insurers) contract with state Medicaid agencies to provide care for a set amount per member per month, with the premiums covered jointly by the Federal and State governments.

State Regulation

In the U.S., insurance regulation is primarily the purview of the states. How the states came to regulate the insurance industry will have to be the subject of a future post. You can also see what we wrote about the subject way back in 2003. State insurance regulation includes licensing, financial oversight, consumer protection, and rate-regulation. Before the passage of the  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010, aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, the federal government had made limited headway into insurance regulation. Federal oversight of the insurance industry expanded with the passage of  PPACA, along with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. But state governments still serve as the primary regulators of insurers operating in their states.

The consequences of state regulation are pretty obvious. Today, despite federal requirements for who and what services health insurers must cover, insurance companies still have to be licensed separately in every state where they operate. They cannot sell insurance across state lines (as some ACA replacement plans would like  to allow them to do). Under the ACA, some states set up their own  health insurance exchanges, while others (often for political reasons) chose to provide coverage through the federal marketplace. At this point we actually have four different types of ACA marketplaces (See below).

state-health-insurance-marketplace-types-healthreform2

How well each of these state insurance markets operate is similarly varied. The steep premium increases (cited repeatedly by House Speaker Paul Ryan), affect some states much more than others. Likewise, the number of insurers offering marketplace plans vary by state. Next, add Medicaid expansion (32 states participate as of Jan. 2017) to this kaleidoscope of coverage.

current-status-of-the-medicaid-expansion-decisions-healthreform