Typical individual major medical insurance enrollees may have been a little sicker in 2016 than in 2015.

Officials at the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services have published preliminary 2016 risk-level information in a new batch of data. CMS published the data to help insurers estimate how much cash they might get from, or pay into, the Affordable Care Act risk-adjustment program for 2016.

CMS had comparable program data for 20 states for 2015 and 2016.

The average monthly individual major medical premium in those states increased 11% between 2015 and 2015, to $417.

The “state average plan liability risk score” for plans in those states, or predicted enrollee risk level, increased to 1.525 in 2016, from 1.5 in 2016.

That small score increase translated into a risk level increase of just 1.7%.

When CMS posted similar information for 2015, for a slightly different list of states, it found that the average premium had increased about 4% between 2014 and 2015, to $380. The average “plan liability risk score,” or enrollee risk level, fell 6.3%.

Health insurers have been hoping that consumers’ growing familiarity with the ACA exchange system would help reduce enrollee risk levels by pulling healthier, younger people into plans.

The ACA imposes a penalty on many people who lack what the government classifies as adequate coverage for enough of the year. Insurers have been hoping fear of the penalty would push other young, healthy people into the market.

 

How ACA Risk-Adjustment Program Numbers Change Between 2015 and 2016
   AVERAGE MONTHLY PREMIUM   AVERAGE PLAN LIABILITY RISK SCORE
  2016 2015

 Change 

  2016 2015 Change
Alaska 869 626 39%   1.315 1.476 -10.9%
Arkansas 369 358 3%   2.046 1.989 2.8%
Colorado 375 336 11%   1.206 1.244 -3.0%
Connecticut 439 431 2%   1.505 1.444 4.2%
District of Columbia 324 325 0%   1.322 1.309 1.0%
Iowa 406 357 14%   1.557 1.508 3.3%
Illinois 368 330 12%   1.374 1.539 -10.7%
Indiana 409 434 -6%   1.612 1.623 -0.7%
Kansas 342 290 18%   1.480 1.502 -1.5%
Kentucky 357 341 5%   1.697 1.685 0.7%
Minnesota 386 301 28%   1.307 1.291 1.2%
Missouri 398 353 13%   1.653 1.621 2.0%
North Dakota 427 379 13%   1.356 1.315 3.1%
Nebraska 401 353 13%   1.438 1.358 5.9%
New Hampshire 364 402 -9%   1.560 1.309 19.2%
New Jersey 484 471 3%   1.504 1.433 5.0%
New York 475 448 6%   1.728 1.583 9.2%
Oregon 356 302 18%   1.288 1.350 -4.6%
South Carolina 409 368 11%   1.729 1.545 11.9%
Tennessee 389 312 25%   1.832 1.891 -3.1%
AVERAGE     11%       1.7%
Source: CMS 

 

The members of Congress who wrote the ACA added the risk-adjustment program to help insurers cope with ACA rules that took effect in January 2014.

Before January 2014, health insurers in most states could protect themselves from high medical claims by shutting out people with health problems, or charging people with health premiums higher premiums. Insurers could also adjust benefits to hold down claims.

The ACA eliminated most of those defenses. The ACA drafters did try to protect insurers from taking on more than their fair share of health risk by developing three risk management programs.

A temporary ACA risk corridors programs was supposed to use cash from ACA exchange plan issuers that did well in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to provide cash to help exchange plan issuers that did poorly in those years. That program has collected enough cash from thriving issuers to pay only a small portion of what it owes for 2014.

A second program, a temporary ACA reinsurance program, used a broad fee imposed on all commercial coverage issuers to compensate issuers of ACA-compliant individual major medical coverage for catastrophic individual health claims that arrived in 2014, 2015 and 2016. That program apparently has paid most of what it was supposed to pay for 2014 and 2015.

The third program, the ACA risk-adjustment program, is supposed to be a permanent program. Participating insurers use age information, claim information and other information to give each enrollee a health risk score. Issuers in the individual and small-group market with lower-than-average risk scores must pay cash into the program, and issuers with higher-than-average risk scores get cash out.

The ACA risk-adjustment program is similar in some ways to an older risk-adjustment program in use in the Medicare Advantage market.

CMS has already been making risk-adjustment program payments, but it is still tinkering with that program. Some insurers have argued that the adjustment formula program managers use discriminates against plans with unusually low average premiums, and against new, rapidly growing plans with little information about their enrollees.

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