Tell State Officials What You Think About Insurance Rates

 

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Across the nation, many insurance companies are asking for big rate increases this year – but in New York, you have the right to weigh in on whether they receive them.

Every year, health insurance companies that sell products in New York must ask for permission from the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to change their rates. This year, the companies that sell plans to individuals through the New York State of Health are asking for an average 22 percent increase. For small group plans, the average request is for a 16 percent increase. There’s a big range, including some requests to decrease premiums. Your insurance company is required to notify you of their request – so keep an eye out for their letter!

DFS carefully reviews the requests, balancing the need to keep premiums affordable for consumers with the need to keep insurance companies financially healthy. One of the things DFS weighs is comments from the public. It is important for state officials to hear from all types of consumers about the effect a premium change would have on their households or businesses.

Not every state asks consumers what they think about insurance rates – New Yorkers should take advantage of this public process! Last year, the rate review process resulted in a 3 percent lower premium rate, which translated to $430 million in consumer savings.

HCFANY carefully reviews the rate filings every year and sends our own detailed comments (you can look at our letters from last year here). We’ll post this year’s letters on our website when they are complete. But you don’t have to wait for that or do an in-depth review of the applications for your comments to be valuable.  You can simply go to this link and fill out the form provided by DFS. If you’d like some help thinking about what kinds of comments to write, you can look at our templates or look at comments written by other consumers last year. Those are available at this link, along with approved applications from last year and the pending applications for 2017. Comments are due by June 17.

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Today the New York State of Health Marketplace announced which health insurance carriers will be offering plans on the Marketplace for 2016. This encompasses Qualified Health Plans for both individuals and small businesses, the new Essential Plan, and stand-alone dental plans.

The 200,000 individuals who hold policies with Health Republic will have to go shopping for new plans when Open Enrollment begins on November 1st. The CO-OP is winding down operations and no longer issuing renewals. The good news is that sixteen carriers will offer individual QHPs in 2016, and eight for the Small Business Marketplace (SHOP). The definition of a small business is new for 2016: firms with 100 or fewer full time equivalent employees can use SHOP – up from 50 employees in 2015.

While insurers and consumers alike are new to the Essential Plan, there is a strong show of support with 13 carriers offering plans for 2016. Consumers can use this interactive map to see which plans are offered in their county. Some counties, like the Bronx, have eight plans on offer, while New Yorkers in other counties, like Putnam and Schoharie, will only have one plan option if they qualify for the Essential Plan.

The stand-alone dental market is largely the same as 2015, with 11 carriers offering plans, 3 of which offer plans in every county in the state. The maps for dental, individual, and small business plans are available here.

 

 

The majority of non-elderly Americans get their health coverage through employer sponsored plans, but the ways those plans provide financial protection is changing. According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, employers are increasingly relying on cost-shifting through high-deductible plans, higher premiums, and plans with larger co-pays. That means workers and their families have more to lose when healthcare costs spike.

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Tools such as price transparency calculators and employee wellness programs are growing in popularity as consumers are pushed to treat healthcare purchasing decisions more like other household expenses. It may pay to shop around and avoid unnecessary office visits or procedures, but healthcare costs are not like other household purchases. Price tags don’t always communicate value, and high quality care is not one-size-fits-all. For some consumers paying more to get the care that suits their needs is the only viable option. The rise of narrow networks, which offer few choices of providers and hospitals in an effort to curb costs to insurers, exacerbates the problems these consumers face.

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With wages increasing slowly, consumer advocates are on the alert for healthcare costs that prevent workers from seeking necessary, high-quality care. Nobody should forgo a trip to the doctor when they’re ill because they can’t meet their deductible or afford the copay. The American narrative of employer sponsor health insurance only works if employees aren’t impoverished the moment they need services.

The ACA makes insurance more affordable for people through a cost-sharing reduction (CSR) benefit. CSRs are available to consumers with incomes between 138% and 250% of the Federal Poverty Line ($27,311 to $49,475, for a family of three) who purchase Silver level plans. CSRs are sliding scale discounts on cost sharing, including deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance. New analysis from Washington D.C.-based Avalere Health of nationwide Marketplace enrollment for 2015 shows that only 73% of enrollees eligible for cost-sharing reductions chose Silver level plans. Thus 2.2 million consumers forfeited this benefit.

According to Avalere’s analysis, “consumers may not be aware that CSRs are available and the benefits they offer. ‘Additional consumer education and more sophisticated decision support tools are likely needed to ensure that all patients are accessing the benefits available under the Affordable Care Act,’ said Elizabeth Carpenter, vice president at Avalere. ‘Specifically, consumers need tools that highlight the tradeoff between monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs and demonstrate the benefits of cost-sharing reductions.’”

In New York, however, 78% of eligible enrollees chose plans that came with CSRs – 5% better than the national average. New York also saw a steep curve between the three CSR tiers: 97% of those eligible for the highest level of CSR subsidy – 94% actuarial value – enrolled in Silver plans; but only 62% of people eligible for the lowest level of CSR subsidy – 73% actuarial value – enrolled in Silver plans (see graph below). This suggests that New York consumers are making strategic enrollment decisions. New York’s 11,000 assistors, who disproportionately serve consumers with lower incomes, are likely a part of our success story.

CSR levels graph 2New York’s data also suggest that consumers eligible for the lowest level CSRs (CSR-III) – with a $1200 deductible – may still face affordability problems. These consumers may be choosing Bronze level plans to save money on premiums, or they may forgo CSRs altogether and “buy up” to Gold level plans.

Come 2016, consumers in the CSR-I and CSR-II bands will qualify for the Essential Plan (EP), which will have very low cost or no cost premiums and minimal cost sharing. This may underscore the affordability issues facing consumers eligible for the CSR-III subsidies, earning between $39,581 and $49,475, for a family of three.