Very Busy Week In Individual Health Insurance Reform

If you’re keeping score, three federal judges have now ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) while two have ruled against it. The latest to weigh in was a federal judge in the District of Columbia who last week upheld the constitutionality of the health reform law. The decision reinforces the divided opinion the lower courts have toward the law, which is expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision sometime in the next year or two. Predicting an outcome, many analysts agree, will not be easy.

Group customers offering Medicare Advantage and prescription drug coverage got some good news from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week. Last November, CMS announced that group customers would no longer be allowed to offer a Medicare Advantage-only plan alongside a stand-alone prescription drug plan and that as of January 2012 the customer would have to offer an integrated Medicare Advantage-Prescription Drug Plan (MA-PDP). This set off a scramble to get ready for 2012, which would have been a very difficult, if not impossible, timeframe. Aetna health insurance began working with employers and trade groups to reverse or delay the CMS rule. Last week, CMS issued a favorable ruling to suspend indefinitely its November 2010 decision and not require an MA-PDP as the employer’s only option.

There were two important court developments last week related to health care reform and the constitutionality of the PPACA’s individual health insurance mandate, with more to come in the next week or two. First, a federal judge in Florida two weeks ago invalidated the mandate, striking down the whole statute with a declaratory judgment but stopping short of issuing an injunction directing the conduct of the parties. At the same time he said the declaratory judgment was the “functional equivalent” of an injunction.  The plaintiffs (many of the states) have publicly stated that the law no longer applies to them while the defendant (the federal government) has stated that nothing changes until appellate review is complete.  Last week, the Florida judge ordered legal briefs on this issue and is expected to rule shortly on the impact of his prior ruling on the parties involved.  Second, early last week, as expected, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of the PPACA’s individual mandate, making it the third court to so rule. But the score is 3-2, and this is a best of seven series that won’t be settled before at least one Circuit Court decision and an essential Supreme Court opinion are rendered. Both could be well down the jurisprudential road.

A California health insurance bill that would bring state tax law into conformity with new federal tax rules governing the health coverage of adult children passed the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee by a unanimous vote last week. This conformity is important to employers, plans, and families because it exempts employee contributions toward covering certain adult children from state personal income taxes. It would also reduce a potential administrative burden for employers. Aetna insurance worked with its trade associations and joined a diverse group of interested parties, including labor, to help achieve a bipartisan outcome. The bill is expected to be fast-tracked and may be heard in Assembly Appropriations in the coming weeks.

In Colorado health insurance the newly released 2010 Annual Health Insurance Report of the Commissioner of Insurance contains a wealth of information — much of it collected from the insurance industry for 2009 — about the cost of health insurance and the factors that drive individual and group premiums in the state. The report notes that an estimated 15.7 percent of Coloradans had no health insurance in 2010, which is a slight improvement over 2009. More than 61 percent of Coloradans were covered by either commercial health insurance or a self-insured employer plan, compared to 54 percent in other states nationwide. Roughly 84 percent of premiums collected in 2009 by carriers went directly to the cost of providing health care services; 13.87 percent of premiums was used for administrative expenses and producer commissions. Not all coverage is regulated by the state — just over 40 percent of Coloradans had coverage regulated by the division of Insurance.

The Colorado Trust, a private grant making foundation, has issued a brief called The Economic Impact of Health Reform in Colorado that projects, as a result of national health care reform, insurance premiums will be nearly $2,000 less per year for individuals and nearly $4,000 less for family coverage by 2019. The projections are in part due to slower health care cost growth. Indeed, costs are expected to grow 5.5 percent to 17 percent less in Colorado by 2019 than without reform. Even after accounting for the costs of financing health care reform, this research projects that the state’s economic output will be nearly 1 percent more in 2019 than without reform, and 19,000 new jobs would be added as a result of coverage expansion.

The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange Planning Committee held its first meeting under the new Administration of Governor Malloy last week.  Jeannette DeJesus, Department of Public Health Deputy Commissioner and the Governor’s Special Advisor on Health Care Reform led the meeting and stated that Senator Crisco’s insurance exchange legislation is the Administration’s proposal, based largely on the NAIC model act. Speaker Chris Donovan also has introduced an exchange bill in the House. Both proposals call for the establishment of a quasi public governing structure but differ on some timelines and board representation. DeJesus said the Administration would work with the House and solicit input form residents and stakeholders around the state to resolve the differences. Passage of a consensus bill is critical to the state’s ability to access Level II federal funding by June 30th. If legislation is not passed, DeJesus said that Connecticut will fall behind in its planning process. The state recently was awarded a $35.6 million federal grant aimed at helping New England states develop a state-of-the-art, online gateway to health insurance options. While Connecticut and other New England states are directly participating, the project is centered at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, supported by the non-profit New England States Consortium Systems Organization. The first meeting of that group will be in March.

Illinois health insurance advocate Governor Pat Quinn signed into law an Aetna-sponsored piece of legislation relating to insurer payments to certain non-participating providers. The bill applies to individual or group accident and health insurance carriers. Effective on June 1, 2011, when an enrollee utilizes a network hospital or ambulatory surgery center and an in-network provider is unavailable for radiology, anesthesiology, pathology, neonatology or emergency department services, the carrier is to ensure that the enrollee shall not incur greater out-of-pocket costs than for participating providers. The enrollee cannot be balance billed by the provider past the insurers’ in-network rate for these non-participating provider services. In addition, the insurer may pay the billed amount or attempt to negotiate the reimbursement with the out-of-network provider. In the event that the insurer and physician cannot agree on a reimbursement amount, either party can initiate binding arbitration within 30 days of receipt of an explanation of medical benefit. The bill is a major victory for consumers.

Kansas health insurance as a result of budget shortfalls, greater political attention is being paid to the significant cost of state Medicaid programs, and Gov. Sam Brownback has said he wants to get rid of the fee-for-service model. The governor has made redesigning Medicaid a priority in his proposed budget, Dispensing with the fee-for-service model would mean using marketplace tools, such as pharmacy benefit managers, to negotiate lower dispensing rates at pharmacies and communicate with physicians about generics. The Kansas Medicaid program could save $62 million in the next decade by using pharmacy benefit managers and other market-based tools, according to a recent study by The Lewin Group. Missouri could save $282 million. Bryan O’Neal, the assistant director of pharmacy at The Kansas Hospital, recently testified that the real opportunity for savings is getting clinical data and cost of medications in front of doctors at the time of prescribing. He recommended using electronic prescription systems, which allow doctors to see patients’ current medications and drug allergies as well as cost and clinical data. More than 500 pharmacies and 2,400 clinicians in Kansas use e-prescribing systems. But some have said legislation working its way through the Kansas and Missouri Senates could undermine the states’ e-prescribing systems by limiting information and discouraging physicians from using them. The bills would establish a separate set of standards for Medicaid and prohibit the use of “intervening parties” or pharmacy benefit managers. The Kansas bill came under fire during a Feb. 10 committee hearing. The lone proponent of the bill at the hearing was a pharmacy representative.

Michigan health insurance In his first budget, Governor Rick Snyder has proposed that the state’s current HMO-use tax on Medicaid plans be replaced by a 1 percent assessment on paid health claims to raise approximately $400 million. The paid claims would be an obligation on insured and self-insured entities. Details regarding this budget proposal, including operational issues and effective date, are unclear at this time. But the  Michigan budget is predicated on the implementation of this provision. If it fails, then the remaining options will be reductions in Medicaid, largely in provider rates and health plan premiums.

A Missouri health insurance bill that would create a health insurance exchange has been introduced by Representative Chris Molendorp, a Republican and chair of the House Insurance Committee. Despite input from a wide range of stakeholders, the complex bill is not likely to sail through the legislative process quickly or easily. It would 1) establish a health benefit exchange to facilitate the purchase and sale of qualified health plans and qualified dental plans in the individual market, and 2) provide for the establishment of a small business health options program to assist qualified small employers in facilitating the enrollment of their employees in qualified health and dental plans.  The bill would still allow for sales of plans outside the exchange. The exchange would be funded by assessments or user fees charged to health carriers and health benefit plans. The bill would establish the exchange as a quasi-governmental agency within the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration (DIFP) and under the direction of a 13-member board of trustees. The governor would appoint five members of the board, including a member from a licensed health insurance carrier. The exchange would also require each health carrier seeking certification as a qualified health plan to submit a justification for any premium increase before implementing that increase. Premium rates and contract language would have to be approved by the director of DIFP. The bill would exempt individuals from the federal PPACA mandate if there is no affordable qualified health plan available through the exchange or the individual’s employer. We expect the bill will be heard in Committee this week, after which drafting and negotiations will continue.

Two North Carolina health insurance exchange bills were filed last week. The bill that will likely move closely mirrors the National Association of Insurance Commissioner model legislation and is expected to be passed as a placeholder for legislation to come in 2012.

The Tennessee health insurance Department of Commerce and Insurance announced its legislative package last week, and it included a rate review bill. The bill is broadly written and gives the Commissioner authority to deny any rebates when the solvency of the company is in question.

The Department of Texas Health Insurance announced last week that it is in the process of reviewing and preparing for implementation of the PPACA MLR and rate review rules. They have invited stakeholders to participate in an informal work session on March 2 to obtain input on these topics. Additionally, since insurance carriers are not required to file rates for small group coverage in Texas, Department staff members are seeking input regarding the best and most efficient method of obtaining premium rate information for the small group market.

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