HCFANY Lauds Cuomo Administration’s Insurance Rate Cuts

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It is a great day for New Yorkers. The Cuomo Administration announced that it has slashed insurance companies’ proposed rate hikes by over 50 percent for people covered through the New York State of Health Marketplace and in the individual and small group markets.

“This is great news for consumers and small employers alike,” said Elisabeth Benjamin, a co-Founder of Health Care for All New York and Vice President of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York. “The Cuomo Administration has effectively applied the law to control premium costs—and this translates into $1 billion in real savings for New Yorkers.”

New York’s carriers had sought an average 12.5 percent rate increase on the rates individual consumers pay, but the Department of Financial Services approved an average 5.7 percent increase – consistent with the 4.2 percent rate increase approved by the Cover California’s Marketplace. Likewise, the Department cut the average 13.9 percent increase sought by carriers in New York’s small group market to 6.7 percent.

“This news proves the value of an open and transparent rate review process,” said Mark Scherzer, Legislative Counsel for New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage and co-Chair of HCFANY’s Policy Committee.

To view a chart of insurers’ approved rates by region, please visit DFS’ website.

My Files

The New York State Department of Financial Services is currently reviewing insurance companies’ rates for the coming year, 2015. Overall this year, 11 insurers asked for rate increases and four asked for decreases. You can read insurer rate applications here. Members of the public have the chance to comment on the rates. HCFANY recently submitted seven letters about these plans:

Aetna Health

Empire HealthChoice

Excellus Health Plan

Health Republic Insurance of New York

Metro Plus Health Plan

Oscar Insurance Corporation

United Healthcare

2014 insurance rates on NY State of Health, our State’s health plan Marketplace, declined by 53%. These affordable rates were an important reason for the enrollment of over one million New Yorkers. The Department of Financial Services has an important role in ensuring that health plan rate increases are in line with actual medical cost changes, and that rates remain as affordable as possible for consumers.

HCFANY’s comments first discuss the broader context that the Department should consider and then additional specific carrier issues. In addressing the broader context, HCFANY notes:

  1. Health care costs have been rising at slower rates for the past several years, and have been under 10% for the last 12, according to National Health Expenditures data. The California Marketplace held health insurers to a maximum 4.2% increase for 2015.
  2. It’s reasonable to expect the 2015 risk pool will be healthier than 2014, because less healthy consumers are likely to have already enrolled.
  3. The ACA “risk” programs should mean lower risk for insurers and lower prices for consumers. The ACA includes special programs – risk adjustment, risk corridor, and reinsurance programs – to compensate insurers for any increased risk they take on as a result of new enrollees. The programs were designed specifically to ensure stable insurance rates for consumers.
  4. Insurers should have lower administrative costs as a result of the ACA. Significant money and energy is being put into marketing and outreach for health insurance because of the ACA, which means insurers can spend less time and money marketing their products.

The Department of Financial Services should post the final rates sometime in the early fall.

photo for monday rate review blog post 2Guest post by Kyle Brittingham, Director of Small Business Assistance Program, Community Service Society of New York

Yesterday the Department of Financial Services posted insurance rate applications on their website. These are applications that insurers submit to request a change in their rates as part of New York’s rate review or “prior approval” process. What is prior approval you ask? Below, Kyle Brittingham of Community Service Society gives us a rundown on the annual process, including how you can get involved either as a consumer or an advocate.

Each year, health insurance carriers want to change premiums (i.e. the monthly rates) they charge their customers for health insurance. Sometimes (but rarely), carriers may want to decrease the cost of premiums because it turns out that they have more healthy people enrolled in coverage than they expected. More typically, the carriers want to increase the premiums to keep pace with the rise in medical costs. In order to raise rates, the carriers request approval of their new rates by the government body set up to regulate them, New York State’s Department of Financial Services (DFS).  DFS has to approve all rates before they can go into effect for the upcoming year.  This approval process is called “Rate Review” or, here in New York, “Prior Approval.” And it’s just getting started for 2014.

The process is laid down by the legislature in the law, and it goes like this.  First, the carriers send out notices to their clients to let them know how much they are asking to increase the premiums. In 2014, many customers have already started receiving these notices from their plans. Notices will outline the current year’s premiums, the desired rate change, and the percentage increase or decrease that is being proposed. Next, the carrier will outline some of the reasons for this increase. Here is an example from one of the notices that has already gone out to consumers this year: “The age of the population that choose to enter the Individual market was older, and consequently more costly, than anticipated.” Finally, the notice will inform the consumer of their rights during this process. This is most important part because this is how consumers, and consumer advocates, can work with DFS to keep insurance rates as low as possible.

On DFS’s website, all carriers have to post their requested rate changes and give a detailed explanation of why the carrier thinks this is justified.  Advocates and consumers then get 30 days to respond to the DFS about why they think carriers should or should not be allowed to increase or decrease premiums by the amounts they’ve proposed.  Comments are accepted directly through the website. Comments can explain why the increase would hurt you or consumers in general, they can dispute the carrier’s explanations, or the simplest ones can say you disagree with the increase. Any comment, especially from consumers about their plan, is important.

Each year, HCFANY monitors the prior approval and submits comments to defend consumers in New York State and ensure and preserve affordability of health insurance. You can learn more about our past efforts and read past comments on our website. We hope you will join us this year! To learn even more about how rate review/prior approval works, take a look at this new blog series from our friends at Families USA.

photo for the cost-sharing blog post

Guest post by Yao He, Master’s Student in Public Health, Columbia University

Do high premiums discourage enrollment? Or, is a premium of any size a deterrent when it comes to seeking health insurance? How does cost-sharing (deductibles, co-insurance, etc.) play into whether people get the health care services they need? Does income level matter?

The web has been abuzz with talk of health care costs and how they affect our access to and use of health care services. Here’s a rundown on some of the more interesting pieces we’ve read of late:

It turns out that Medicaid premiums can cause enrollees to leave their plans. A new study looked at how income-dependent premiums prompted Medicaid disenrollment in Wisconsin. Medicaid beneficiaries in the state with incomes between 150-200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL) are required to pay premiums starting at $10/month. Premium amounts increase with income. The study found that the mere presence of a premium – no matter the amount – could increase the likelihood of disenrollment by 12 percentage points. These findings offer food for thought as our own state continues to expand public health benefits. The New York State Legislature recently authorized a Basic Health Program that would include a premium of up to $20/month for beneficiaries between 150-200 percent of FPL, the same income level as those in the Wisconsin study.

If premiums can cause people to leave plans or stay uninsured to begin with, what is the effect of cost-sharing (e.g. deductibles, co-insurance) on people’s health insurance habits? And how might cost-sharing have an impact on health care costs? The answer depends in part on whether a person is healthy or sick, rich or poor

A famous RAND Health Insurance experiment shows that the higher the cost-sharing in a plan, the less health care services people use – this makes people less costly for insurance plans to cover. But does this mean that higher cost-sharing plans result in health care savings? Not necessarily. More recent research shows that high-deductible plans with low premiums tend to attract healthier people who are naturally cheaper to cover. Moreover, the effect of high deductibles on health care cost reduction may not be sustainable. One study showed a remarkable 25 percent reduction in health care cost in the first year after the high deductible took effect, but reductions in following years were only around five percent.

The RAND study referenced above showed that lower use of care resulting from high cost-sharing does not have an adverse effect on most people’s health, especially if a person is generally healthy. However, this is not the case for those of us who are poor or sick. For people with chronic illness, cost-sharing can cause financial stress and may prompt some to skip recommended services, harming their health. If they happen to be older or live in low-income areas, they can be even worse off. Not surprisingly, less cost-sharing can ease the health and financial burdens on the chronically ill. For example, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), both public programs, allow those with chronic illness to get care more easily because these plans have very low levels of cost-sharing.

Finally, a new issue brief by the National Health Law Program provides a comprehensive look at how premiums and cost-sharing impact enrollment, service utilization, and health status in the Medicaid population. The brief leaves us with an important message: Medicaid can only serve its purpose to affordable coverage that meets the medical needs of the most vulnerable among us if it has the lowest possible premiums and cost-sharing. Since Medicaid beneficiaries have very low income, they are extra sensitive to the added burden of cost-sharing. At the same time, Medicaid beneficiaries are more likely to have chronic conditions and many health needs, which means unaffordable cost-sharing can force people to stop or delay using services that could improve health. This can bring bigger health issues in the future that cause more harm to people and require more expensive medical services.