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Health premiums could rise 17 pct for young adults

CARLA K. JOHNSON (AP)

CHICAGO — Under the health care overhaul, young adults who buy their own insurance will carry a heavier burden of the medical costs of older Americans — a shift expected to raise insurance premiums for young people when the plan takes full effect.

Beginning in 2014, most Americans will be required to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. That’s when premiums for young adults seeking coverage on the individual market would likely climb by 17 percent on average, or roughly $42 a month, according to an analysis of the plan conducted for The Associated Press. The analysis did not factor in tax credits to help offset the increase.

The higher costs will pinch many people in their 20s and early 30s who are struggling to start or advance their careers with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years.

Consider 24-year-old Nils Higdon. The self-employed percussionist and part-time teacher in Chicago pays $140 each month for health insurance. But he’s healthy and so far hasn’t needed it.

The law relies on Higdon and other young adults to shoulder more of the financial load in new health insurance risk pools. So under the new system, Higdon could expect to pay $300 to $500 a year more. Depending on his income, he might also qualify for tax credits.

At issue is the insurance industry’s practice of charging more for older customers, who are the costliest to insure. The new law restricts how much insurers can raise premium costs based on age alone.

Insurers typically charge six or seven times as much to older customers as to younger ones in states with no restrictions. The new law limits the ratio to 3-to-1, meaning a 50-year-old could be charged only three times as much as a 20-year-old.

The rest will be shouldered by young people in the form of higher premiums.

Higdon wonders how his peers, already scrambling to start careers during a recession, will react to paying more so older people can get cheaper coverage.

“I suppose it all depends on how much more people in my situation, who are already struggling for coverage, are expected to pay,” Higdon says. He’d prefer a single-payer health care system and calls age-based premiums part of the “broken morality” of for-profit health care.

To be sure, there are benefits that balance some of the downsides for young people:

_ In roughly six months, many young adults up to age 26 should be eligible for coverage under their parents’ insurance — if their parents have insurance that provides dependent coverage.

_ Tax credits will be available for individuals making up to four times the federal poverty level, $43,320 for a single person. The credits will vary based on income and premiums costs.

_ Low-income singles without children will be covered for the first time by Medicaid, which some estimate will insure 9 million more young adults.

But on average, people younger than 35 who are buying their own insurance on the individual market would pay $42 a month more, according to an analysis by Rand Health, a research division of the nonpartisan Rand Corp.

The analysis, conducted for The Associated Press, examined the effect of the law’s limits on age-based pricing, not other ways the legislation might affect premiums, said Elizabeth McGlynn of Rand Health.

Jim O’Connor, an actuary with the independent consulting firm Milliman Inc., came up with similar estimates of 10 to 30 percent increases for young males, averaging about 15 percent.

“Young males will be hit the hardest,” O’Connor says, because they have lower health care costs than young females and older people who go to doctors more often and use more medical services.

Predicting exactly how much any individual’s insurance premium would rise or fall is impossible, experts say, because so much is changing at once. But it is possible to isolate the effect of the law’s limits on age-based pricing.

Some groups predict even higher increases in premiums for younger individuals — as much as 50 percent, says Landon Gibbs of ShoutAmerica, a Tennessee-based nonprofit aimed at mobilizing young people on health care issues, particularly rising costs.

Gibbs, 27, a former White House aide under President George W. Bush, founded the bipartisan group with former hospital chain executive Clayton McWhorter, now chairman of a private equity firm. McWhorter finances the organization. The group did not oppose health care reform, but stressed issues like how health care inflation threatens the future of Medicare.

“We don’t want to make this a generational war, but we want to make sure young adults are informed,” Gibbs says.

Young people who supported Barack Obama in 2008 may come to resent how health care reform will affect them, Gibbs and others say. Recent polls show support among young voters eroding since they helped elect Obama president.

Jim Schreiber, 24, was once an Obama supporter but now isn’t so sure. The Chicagoan works in a law firm and has his own tea importing business.

He pays $120 a month for health insurance, “probably pure profit for my insurance company,” he says. Without a powerhouse lobbying group, like AARP for older adults, young adults’ voices have been muted, he says. He’s been discouraged by the health care debate.

“It has made me disillusioned with the Democrats,” he said.

Ari Matusiak, 33, a Georgetown University law student, founded Young Invincibles with other Obama campaign volunteers to rally youth support for health care overhaul.

Age rating fails as a wedge issue because the pluses of the new law outweigh the minuses for young adults, Matusiak says.

“And we’re not going to be 26, 27, 33 forever,” Matusiak says. “Guess what? We’re going to be in a different demographic soon enough.”

Nationally representative surveys for the Kaiser Family Foundation have consistently found that young adults are more likely than senior citizens to say they would be willing to pay more so that more Americans could be insured. But whether that generosity will endure isn’t clear.

“The government approach of — we’ll just make someone get health care and pay for someone else — definitely NOT what I want,” says Melissa Kaupke, 28, who is uninsured and works from her Nashville home.

In Chicago, Higdon says he supports the principles of the health care overhaul, even if it means he will pay more as a young man to smooth out premium costs for everyone.

“Hopefully I’ll be old someday, barring some catastrophic event. And the likelihood of me being old is less if I don’t have a good health plan.”

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Summary of Health Reform Coverage Provisions

On March 23, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate on December 24, 2009 and by the House of Representatives on March 21, 2010. The House of Representatives also passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which made changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and has been sent to the Senate for consideration. References to the legislation here include both the health reform law and the changes made by the House of Representatives that are being considered in the Senate. The following summary explains key health coverage provisions of the legislation.

The legislation passed by the House of Representatives will do the following:

  • Most individuals will be required to have health insurance beginning in 2014.
  • Individuals who do not have access to affordable employer coverage will be able to purchase coverage through a health insurance exchange with premium and cost-sharing credits available to some people to make coverage more affordable. Small businesses will be able to purchase coverage through a separate exchange.
  • Employers will be required to pay penalties for employees who receive tax credits for health insurance through the exchange, with exceptions for small employers.
  • New regulations will be imposed on all health plans that will prevent health insurers from denying coverage to people for any reason, including health status, and from charging higher premiums based on health status and gender.
  • Medicaid will be expanded to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,404 for an individual and $29,327 for a family of four in 2009) for all individuals under age 65.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation will reduce the number of uninsured by 32 million in 2019 at a net cost of $938 over ten years, while reducing the deficit by $124 billion during this time period.

Individual mandate

All individuals will be required to have health insurance, with some exceptions, beginning in 2014. Those who do not have coverage will be required to pay a yearly financial penalty of the greater of $695 per person (up to a maximum of $2,085 per family), or 2.5 percent of household income, which will be phased-in from 2014-2016.

Exceptions will be given for financial hardship and religious objections; and to American Indians; people who have been uninsured for less than three months; those for whom the lowest cost health plan exceeds 8 percent of income; and if the individual has income below the tax filing threshold ($9,350 for an individual and $18,700 for a married couple in 2009).

Expansion of public programs

Medicaid will be expanded to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133percent of the federal poverty level ($14,404 for an individual and $29,327 for a family of four in 2009) based on modified adjusted gross income. This expansion will create a uniform minimum Medicaid eligibility threshold across states and will eliminate a limitation of the program that prohibits most adults without dependent children from enrolling in the program today (though as under current law, undocumented immigrants will not be eligible for Medicaid). Eligibility for

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for children will continue at their current eligibility levels until 2019. People with incomes above 133 percent of the poverty level who do not have access to employer-sponsored insurance will obtain coverage through the newly created state health insurance exchanges.

  • The federal government will provide 100 percent federal funding for the costs of those who become newly eligible for Medicaid for years 2014 through 2016, 95 percent federal funding for 2017, 94 percent federal funding for 2018, 93 percent federal funding for 2019, and 90 percent federal funding for 2020 and subsequent years.
  • States that have already expanded adult eligibility to 100 percent of the poverty level will receive a phased-in increase in the FMAP for non-pregnant childless adults.
  • Medicaid payments to primary care doctors for primary care services will be increased to 100 percent of Medicare payment rates in 2013 and 2014 with 100 percent federal financing.

American health benefit exchanges

States will create American Health Benefit Exchanges where individuals can purchase insurance and separate exchanges for small employers to purchase insurance. These new marketplaces will provide consumers with information to enable them to choose among plans. Premium and cost-sharing subsidies will be available to make coverage more affordable.

  • Access to exchanges will be limited to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. Small businesses with up to 100 employees can purchase coverage through the exchange.
  • Although there will not be a public plan option in the exchanges, the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, will contract with private insurers to offer at least two multi-state plans in each exchange, including at least one offered by a non-profit entity. In addition, funds will be made available to establish non-profit, member-run health insurance CO-OPs in each state.
  • Plans in the exchanges will be required to offer benefits that meet a minimum set of standards. Insurers will offer four levels of coverage that vary based on premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and benefits beyond the minimum required plus a catastrophic coverage plan.
  • Premium subsidies will be provided to families with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 to $88,200 for a family of four in 2009) to help them purchase insurance through the exchanges. These subsidies will be offered on a sliding scale basis and will limit the cost of the premium to between 2 percent of income for those up to 133 percent of the poverty level and 9.5  percent of income for those between 300 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.
  • Cost-sharing subsidies will also be available to people with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level to limit out-of-pocket spending.

Changes to private insurance

New insurance market regulations will prevent health insurers from denying coverage to people for any reason, including their health status, and from charging people more based on their health status and gender. These new rules will also require that all new health plans provide comprehensive coverage that includes at least a minimum set of services, caps annual out-of-pocket spending, does not impose cost-sharing for preventive services, and does not impose annual or lifetime limits on coverage.

  • Health plan premiums will be allowed to vary based on age (by a 3 to 1 ratio), geographic area, tobacco use (by a 1.5 to 1 ratio), and the number of family members.
  • Health insurers will be prohibited from imposing lifetime limits on coverage and will be prohibited from rescinding coverage, except in cases of fraud.
  • Increases in health plan premiums will be subject to review.
  • Young adults will be allowed to remain on their parent’s health insurance up to age 26.
  • States will be allowed to form health care choice compacts that enable insurers to sell policies in any state that participates in the compact.
  • Waiting periods for coverage will be limited to 90 days.
  • Existing individual and employer-sponsored insurance plans will be allowed to remain essentially the same, except that they will be required to extend dependent coverage to age 26, eliminate annual and lifetime limits on coverage, prohibit rescissions of coverage, and eliminate waiting periods for coverage of greater than 90 days.

Employer requirements

There is no employer mandate, but employers with more than 50 employees will be assessed a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee (in excess of 30 employees) if they do not offer coverage and if they have at least one employee who receives a premium credit through an exchange. Employers that do offer coverage but have at least one employee who receives a premium credit through an exchange are required to pay the lesser of $3,000 for each employee who receives a premium credit or $2,000 for each full-time employee.

  • Employers that offer coverage will be required to provide a voucher to employees with incomes below 400 percent of the poverty level if their share of the premium cost is between 8 percent and 9.8 percent of income to enable them to enroll in the exchange. Employers that offer a free choice voucher will not be subject to the above penalty.
  • Large employers that offer coverage will be required to automatically enroll employees into the employer’s lowest cost premium plan if the employee does not sign up for employer coverage or does not opt out of coverage.
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AHIP President Hopes That’s Light In The Tunnel

WASHINGTON BUREAU — The health insurance industry has agreed to give the Obama administration detailed data on what a health reform bill must do to reduce the skyrocketing cost of health care.

The data will be available “very shortly,” a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said today.

AHIP President Karen Ignagni promised to provide the data Wednesday during AHIP’s annual National Policy Forum.

She made her comments after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told health insurers that continued health insurance industry opposition to health reform and continued escalation of premiums will ultimately hurt the industry.

In response, Ignagni said she hoped that providing the data and Sebelius’s appearance will mark the “beginning of a change” in the tone of the health reform debate.

In comments at the conference Tuesday, Ignagni had decried the “vilification rather than problem solving” that now marks the debate over health reform legislation.

In her comments, Sebelius said that opposition to the Democratic legislation “won’t work in the long run for the American people or our healthcare system.”

Her concern, she said, is that if insurers continued to oppose Democrats’ health legislation, premium increases would continue and more small businesses would drop health coverage for their employees.

“You can continue your opposition to reform,” Sebelius said. “If you do, and reform goes down to defeat, we know what will happen.”

In response, Ignagni said after Sebelius’ comments that “insurers have been concerned that the current legislation will make the current system more expensive and not more affordable.”

Her specific concern is that health coverage mandates in the current versions of health reform legislation do not provide enough incentives to buy health insurance are not strong enough.

If enough young, healthy individuals choose not to buy insurance, “the people in the pool will be the oldest ones and the ones with the highest health problems,” Ignagni said.

At the same time, the White House issued a memorandum to all government departments calling for them to use “payment recapture audits” designed to curb waste and fraud, presumably primarily in the Medicare and Medicaid system.

This would give incentives to private auditors to examine government payments and report fraud to the agencies.

This was designed to adopt a key Republican proposal on health reform, curbing fraud and abuse in government programs.

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HEALTH LEADERS CRITICIZE OBAMA PLAN TO CREATE FEDERAL AUTHORITY OVER HEALTH INSURANCE RATES

Kaiser Health News –

Feb. 23: State insurance regulators said President Barack Obama goes too far with his proposal Monday to give the federal government new power to reject health insurance rate increases.

Three veteran state insurance commissioners said in interviews that states are in a better position to judge insurers’ premium proposals. But two of the commissioners, Sandy Praeger of Kansas and Kim Holland of Oklahoma, said they’d welcome federal advisory help. Pennsylvania’s commissioner, Joel Ario, said the federal government could also help set standards for states to use in reviewing insurance rates.

States regulate health insurance, although they vary widely on the minimum level of coverage they require of insurers and financial solvency requirements. More than half the states allow insurers to implement rate increases without first obtaining state approval.

Ario said if states and the federal government try to share the responsibility it could pose a problem because it would be unclear who has the ultimate authority. “It could end up as a ‘who’s on first and what’s on second’ problem,” he said.

He was appointed by Democratic Gov. Edward Rendell. Holland, a Democrat, and Praeger, a Republican and former president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, were both elected.

Obama’s proposal to create a Health Insurance Rate Authority was included in his 11-page health plan that attempts to merge the health bills passed by the House and Senate last year and restart legislative efforts to pass overhaul legislation. His proposal said the authority would “provide needed oversight at the federal level and help states determine how rate review will be enforced and monitor insurance market behavior.”

Under the plan, “if a rate increase is unreasonable and unjustified, health insurers must lower premiums, provide rebates, or take other actions to make premiums affordable,” the proposal said.

Obama’s plan lacked details about how the federal rate authority would work, or for how long. Under the House and Senate health bills, individual health insurance would be sold through exchanges, marketplaces that would set standards for plans and oversee rates. The president’s plan sided with the Senate version that calls for state-based exchanges instead of one large national exchange as in the House bill. The exchanges would not start until 2013.

The new federal authority goes beyond what’s contained in either the Senate or House bills. In the past two weeks, Obama administration officials have tried to build public outrage over recent insurance rate hikes in the individual health insurance market, especially a 39 percent increase sought by Anthem Blue Cross of California, the largest for-profit health insurer in that state. Last week, the insurer agreed to postpone the increases until May 1.

Efforts to pass legislation stalled a month ago after the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate with the election of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurers’ major lobbying group, said Monday the White House is spending too much time focusing on premium increases in the individual insurance market, which affects seven percent of those with private coverage. The group said blocking rate increases doesn’t do anything to resolve their underlying cause: rising medical costs and increased use of medical services.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said, “This new agency, which creates a highly politicized federal review process, would divorce premium review from the state regulators’ responsibility of assuring that health plans have enough funds to pay future policyholder claims, potentially leading to multi-plan insolvencies across the country.”

Praeger and Holland said creating a federal rate authority would not deal with the problems driving higher premiums. “If you want to keep costs under control, it’s not about managing health care premiums,” Praeger said, “it’s about managing the underlying health care costs.”

Holland defended state regulation of insurance. “Health insurance is very localized and states already have a number of tools to monitor rates,” she said. “Overall, I think state regulators do a good job.”

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