Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Badly Obamacare Beat Up On the Health Insurers, and What Does It Mean for the Individual Market

D.C. deals with health insurers
As Disease Management Care Blog readers are aware (for example, here and here), Obamacare forces health insurers to spend at least 80% (small group) to 85% (large group) of their premium income on health care, leaving only 15% for "other," including administrative overhead and profits. If that 80%-85% "medical loss ratio" (MLR) threshold is not met, insurers have to rebate the difference to their customers.

 While the White House has been happy to extoll the millions of dollars that were repaid to consumers (even though the individual checks were hardly eye-popping and then there is the risk that they're taxable), the DMCB is interested in what actually happened to the commercial insurers.  Did they game the system and garner even higher profits?  Or, have they gotten their comeuppance, are now losing money and have to pursue other lines of business, like covering zombie attacks?

This article in the latest Health Affairs looked at that impact of the law when it went into effect on January 1, 2011.  The authors used NAIC data to examine the impact on the individual (N=1,219), small group (N=804) and large group market (N=750) insurers.

Individual, small group and large group numbers are broken out below. If there is a *, the change is statistically significant.

In the individual market, from 2010 to 2011:

Median medical expenses, as a percent of premium, increased      by 5.5%*.
Administrative expenses, as a percent of premium, decreased            by 2.6%*.
Profit (otherwise known as "operating margin" or the bottom line) decreased by 1.3%*. "For profit" insurers fared even worse, with a decline in operating margin of 2.2%* vs. their nonprofit competition with a decline in 0.8%.

2011 operating margins were overall negative:

Individual overall -0.1%.
Nonprofits:  -3.5%.
For profits:  0.4%.

In the small group market:

Median medical expenses increased by 0.7%.
Median administrative expenses declined by 1%*.
The bottom line increased by .5%. Nonprofits saw an increase of 1.2%* vs. the for profits having a small decline of .3%.

2011 operating margins were positive, ranging from 2.8% to 3.8%  across the non and for profits, respectively.

In the large group market:
Median medical expenses declined by 0.7%.
Median administrative expenses declined by 0.9%%*.
Profit increased by .7%*. Nonprofits saw an increase of 0.1%* vs. the for profits having a increase of 1.2%.

2011 operating margins were positive, ranging from .7% to 2.6%  across the non and for profits, respectively.

The DMCB's take:

Obamacare had a single digit impact on health insurersMore was spent on health care and less was spent on administrative costs.  While the shifts were relatively small, those changes represent swings of hundreds of millions of dollars to the bottom line in an already thin margin business. If the purpose of Affordable Care Act was to beat up on the health insurers, it was more of a push than a shove.

Small and large group profitability increased and operating margins were positive, while the individual market struggled. As readers may recall, the inability of individuals to obtain coverage at any price was a big factor in the eventual passage of the Affordable care Act. While the future individual market may eventually benefit from an influx of healthy young "invincibles" armed with an accompanying bolus of insurance subsidies, Obamacare ironically hurt the individual market in 2011. If health care utilization didn't go down in 2011 as a result of the economy, it could have been a lot worse.

That tells the DMCB that, contrary to the insurers' reports of doom and gloom, the 80%-85% MLR rule hasn't been a catastrophe.  On the other hand, it hasn't been good news for the individual market.  If the young invincibles don't 1) respond to the individual mandate, 2) use functioning insurance exchanges and 3) sign up, it could portend further stress on that sector of the health care economy.  No wonder the Obama Administration is pushing that so hard.

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