Health Actuaries: Obamacare Rates Will Soar

  • Few aspects of the Affordable Care Act are more critical to its success than affordability, but in recent weeks experts have predicted costs for some health plans could soar next year.
  • A study published last month by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) predicting that, thanks to sicker patients joining the coverage pool, medical claims per member will rise 32 percent in the individual plans expected to dominate the ACA exchanges next year. In some states costs will rise as much as 80 percent, the report said.
  • Using predictive math, actuaries try to make sure insurers of all kinds don’t run out of money to pay claims. Many actuaries also work for consultants whose clients include insurance companies.
  • But health law supporters are pushing back, noting close ties between the actuaries making the forecasts and an insurance industry that has been complaining about taxes.
  • Even supporters of the health act worry about premium increases next year, when many of its provisions take effect. But the debate fits into a larger discussion about actuaries’ public role. Actuaries are self-regulated, which some say makes them unaccountable.

Undisclosed in the SOA report was the fact that about half the people who oversaw it work for the health insurance industry that is warning about rate shock. The chairman of society committee supervising the project was Kenny Kan, chief actuary at Maryland-based CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

Others on the committee work for firms with insurer clients. The report included committee members’ names but not their affiliations.

To perform the research, the society hired Optum, sister company of UnitedHealthcare, the country’s biggest private health insurer.

Society spokeswoman Kim McKeown said the project was overseen by credentialed actuaries “from a cross-section of industry organizations” and was “exposed for review and comment to the broad health care actuarial community.”

Their associations set conduct standards and investigate malpractice in confidential proceedings. During the previous two decades the Actuarial Board for Counseling and Discipline, which works with the Society of Actuaries, has recommended public disciplinary measures for fewer than two people a year, according to its annual report.

Yet actuaries play many public roles. By calculating the adequacy of employer pension contributions they affect the retirement of millions. And they’ll act as virtual referees for important aspects of implementing the health act.

While the Obama administration has developed a calculator plans must use for determining whether insurance plans meet the health act’s standards for benefits and value, recently finalized regulations give insurer-employed actuaries the power to override it by substituting one benefit for another.

Insurance company actuaries calculate rates when plans file with states, which act as the industry’s primary regulators. Charged with making sure the prices are justified, state insurance departments often have far less actuarial expertise at their disposal than the insurers.

Health-act supporters complained that that the actuary society’s study predicting a 32 percent increase in claims didn’t account for key factors, including the potential for competition to lower prices, the subsidies people will receive to buy the coverage and the fact that next year’s plans will be more generous than this year’s.
*Modified from a Everydayhealth.com and Kairer Health News articles.

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