On March 8, the White House encouraged Congress to pass stabilization legislation that would not authorize the reimbursement of cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) made by health plans in 2017, as reported by Modern Healthcare. This move comes almost five months after the Trump Administration’s announcement in October that it would discontinue CSR payments effective immediately. The legislation, if passed, would preclude the government from paying CSRs for the 2017 year and would allow CMS to claw back surplus money that plans have received from the federal government and applied towards CSRs. Continue Reading White House Proposes Language to Congress Eliminating CSR Reimbursement for 2017

On Thursday, March 8, the Trump Administration rejected Idaho’s plan to sell health plans that do not include the consumer protections required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The rejection came in the form of a letter touting adherence to current law, though in many ways the letter was written by an apologetic Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wanting to appease Idaho Republicans.

Earlier this year, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed an executive order that allowed some Idaho health insurance plans to drop certain ACA requirements. For example, plans would not need to cover maternity care, mental illness, or other essential health benefits; insurers could charge higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions; and insurers could deny people coverage if they had failed to maintain continuous coverage. Insurers who sold such “junk” plans would be required to also sell at least one ACA-compliant option over the exchanges. Gov. Otter’s actions seemed to test just how far Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would go to support the “state experimentation” Mr. Azar himself advocated for under the exchanges, as discussed in our earlier post. The answer, for Idaho, is not far enough. Continue Reading Trump Administration Rejects (Nicely) Idaho’s Attempt to Skirt ACA

Alex Azar assumed office as HHS Secretary on January 29, 2018, and has hit the ground running.  Among discussions on stabilization bills (see blog post discussion here and how these proposals further the Administration’s efforts on Trump’s Inauguration Day Executive Order here), Secretary Azar has been a vocal advocate for, in his own terms, “state experimentation” under both the Medicaid and health insurance exchanges (“Exchanges”).

Secretary Azar has not provided detail as to what type of experimentation he would like to see from states, but in his remarks at HHS headquarters on Tuesday, February 20, he stated that he was working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator, Seema Verma, to give states “a menu of options” to decrease the restrictions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  In particular, Secretary Azar noted that he was exploring ways to allow states greater flexibility through federal waivers.

Continue Reading Will Secretary Azar Waive(r) Away the ACA?

On Tuesday, February 20, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced that the agency intends to expand access to short-term, low-cost insurance policies. On Wednesday, HHS published its proposed rule, which promises to reduce restrictions on such limited-duration policies. The short-term insurance plans have fewer benefits and more limited consumer protections as compared to those proscribed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). While such short-term plans currently can only be carried for 90 days, the new proposal would extend that maximum coverage period to one year.

The proposed rule is in response to President Trump’s Executive Order from October 12, 2017, which called for HHS to expand access to low-cost insurance plans. The Executive Order asked the agency to explore the possibility of extending the maximum duration of such short-term, limited-duration plans in order to increase options for consumers. The short-term insurance plans are contemplated for individuals who are unemployed, between jobs, or otherwise looking to reduce premium costs for up to one year. The plans do not have to meet ACA requirements. Notably, they do not have to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions and they do not have to cover prescription drug plans. The plans offer more limited coverage for consumers, but impose less immediate financial burden through reduced premium cost. Insurers who sell the short-term plans would need to include clear statements on applications and plan documents that the coverage does not meet ACA requirements.

The proposed rule continues the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the ACA and minimize its economic burden and comes just over a year after the president issued an Executive Order laying out that goal. It comes on the heels of earlier rules from the administration geared at stabilizing the individual and small group insurance markets. It also follows the signing of the new tax reform bill, which repeals the individual mandate of Section 5000A of the Tax Code and eliminates the shared responsibility payment for failure to obtain health insurance starting in 2019.

Continue Reading Azar Rolls Out Expansion of Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance Plans

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule  to stabilize the individual and small group markets to entice issuers to continue participation in the exchanges in 2018 despite continued uncertainty surrounding repeal and replacement proposals for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposed rule, published today, would make the following changes to the individual and small group markets:

  • Open Enrollment: The proposed rule would shorten the Open Enrollment period from November 1, 2017 – January 31, 2018 to November 1, 2017 – December 15, 2017. This would align open enrollment for exchanges with both the employer market (including the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program) and Medicare Advantage open enrollment periods. CMS hopes that the modifications in enrollment period will mitigate adverse selection by requiring individuals to enroll in plans before the benefit year begins and pay premiums day 1 of the benefit year rather than allowing individuals who learn they will need services in late December and January to enroll at that time.
  • Special Enrollment Period: In response to perceived abuses of special enrollment periods (SEPs)—which allow individuals to enroll outside of the open enrollment period when there is a special circumstance (e.g., new family member)—the proposed rule would require verification of an individual’s SEP eligibility 100% of the time beginning in June 2017. Currently, eligibility for an SEP is verified only 50% of the time. Under pre-enrollment verification for new customers, consumers would submit their information and select a plan but their enrollment would be “pended” until completion of the verification. Consumers would have 30 days to submit information to verify their eligibility. The start date of the coverage would be (as it is today) the date of plan selection, but it wouldn’t be effective until the “pend” had been lifted following verification. The rule is limited to pre-enrollment verification of eligibility to individuals newly enroll through SEPs in marketplaces using the HealthCare.gov platform. The proposed rule would also limit certain individuals’ ability to switch to different levels of coverage during an SEP. The SEP provisions of the proposed rule may offer the most significant relief of all the proposed changes. Continue Reading HHS Proposes New Regulations Aimed At Stabilizing the Individual Market