A contingency plan for King v. Burwell
On May 1, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania has a contingency plan to create a state-run exchange if the Supreme Court rules that subsidies cannot be provided via the federally facilitated marketplace (Healthcare.gov). Pennsylvania is one of 37 states currently using Healthcare.gov, and subsidies hang in the balance for millions of enrollees in those states.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision in King v. Burwell in June, and there has been a general lack of consensus in terms of what should be done if the Court rules that only state-run exchanges can offer subsidies. Pennsylvania is the first state to officially announce that they’ll create a state-run exchange if necessary in order to protect subsidies in the state. About 382,000 people in Pennsylvania are receiving subsidies in the federally-run exchange.
2015 enrollment data
472,697 people enrolled in private plans through the Pennsylvania exchange during the 2015 open enrollment period (through February 22, including the week-long extension). HHS had projected 410,000 enrollees, so the exchange ended up with 115 percent of the projected total.
Of the people who selected a plan during the 2015 open enrollment period, 41 percent are new to the exchange for 2015, and 81 percent are receiving premium subsidies.
An additional 126,853 people enrolleed in Medicaid or CHIP through the exchange between November 15 and February 22. Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid (under the Healthy PA program) in 2014, and newly-eligible resident were able to begin enrolling on December 1 (prior to December 1, people could still enroll if they were eligible under the old guidelines).
Enrollment in Medicaid continues year-round, and the state reports that as of early January, more than 101,000 households had applied for Healthy PA coverage, including those who are enrolling directly through the Healthy PA program instead of Healthcare.gov. At that point, just over 31,000 people had enrolled in Medicaid through Healthcare.gov, so the majority had enrolled directly through Health PA.
Open enrollment for 2015 is over, but there’s a special enrollment period (March 15 to April 30) for people who didn’t know they would owe a penalty for being uninsured in 2014. Enrolling during the special enrollment period means those people can avoid paying another – steeper – penalty for all of 2015 as well. Otherwise, you can only purchase a plan for 2015 – on or off the exchange – if you have a qualifying event. The next open enrollment period begins on November 1, but coverage won’t be effective until January 1, 2016.
More choices for enrollees in 2015
Pennsylvania’s federally-run exchange has 15 carriers offering plans for 2015. Three carriers that participated last year left the exchange, but four more – including giants Assurant and United Healthcare – have joined the exchange, making Pennsylvania among the many states where consumer choice is increasing for 2015.
15 insurers puts Pennsylvania’s exchange near the top in terms of the total number of participating carriers, but in some cases the total represents multiple affiliates of a single parent company. And most of the carriers focus on a single region rather than the whole state, so local competition will vary from one area to another. Nearly all regions of the state had at least three carriers available in 2014, and the overall trend is towards more consumer choice in 2015.
The ongoing story of PA Medicaid expansion
On August 28, 2014, Pennsylvania became the 28th state (including DC) to expand Medicaid under the ACA in an agreement reached with HHS after many months of discussion. Eligible enrollees were able to begin enrolling on December 1, for coverage effective January 1, 2015. Interest in the program was very high in the early days of enrollment. In the first two days alone, 41,500 people enrolled (30,000 of them did so through HealthCare.gov). And in the first week, 27,000 households (probably at least 49,000 people) enrolled.
Governor Tom Corbett’s office announced the details of the approved Healthy Pennsylvania program, and HHS released an extensive explanation of how the state’s Medicaid waiver will work (a waiver is required if a state is doing anything other than straight Medicaid expansion as laid out in the ACA). There are three plan options under Healthy PA: one for healthy enrollees, one for sick enrollees, and the third for the newly-eligible population with incomes up to 138 percent of poverty (as opposed to the single Medicaid program for all enrollees that the ACA’s straight Medicaid expansion uses)
But then on November 4, Democrat Tom Wolf defeated Corbett in the election, and took over as Governor in January 2015. Wolf has long been an advocate of fully expanding Medicaid under the ACA, without any state-specific waiver or modifications. It was unclear initially how the transition would play out, but Wolf said he will abandon Healthy Pennsylvania in favor of straight Medicaid expansion, and Democratic state lawmakers urged him to move quickly in doing away with Healthy PA and replacing it with straight Medicaid expansion under the ACA.
In February, Wolf began the process of moving away from Healthy Pennsylvania. The new system, HealthChoice, is the managed care system that Pennsylvania has used for years, although the benefits have been modified. But instead of three different plan designs, the new system has a single benefits package for all Medicaid enrollees. In late April, the state began transitioning people off of Healthy PA and onto HealthChoice, although the change will officially take effect on June 1.
Enrollees who were already on Pennsylvania Medicaid prior to the launch of Healthy PA, as well as new applicants, will be in the first group of people transitioning to HealthChoices. The rest of the Healthy PA enrollees will receive notification of the transition this summer, and their switch to HealthChoices will be effective September 1.
No penalty for families who had CHIP Buy-in
After it was determined that Pennsylvania’s CHIP Buy-in plan did not meet the ACA’s minimum essential coverage requirements, Governor Tom Wolf and Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller worked with federal officials to ensure that families whose children had been covered under the CHIP Buy-in plan would not face a tax penalty for 2014, and would have an extended special enrollment period during which they can find new coverage for their children. The special enrollment period runs through April 15.
Consumers win when carriers compete
UPMC lowered its rates in Western Pennsylvania by a whopping 41 percent for 2015, meaning they are the lowest priced carrier in the western part of the state. UPMC is expected to retain most of their 2014 enrollees and also gain market share in 2015 because of their competitive premiums.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield garnered a third of the market share during the first open enrollment period (Highmark had 104,324 exchange enrollees, plus an additional 43,679 enrollees outside the exchange) and were priced significantly lower than other carriers in 2014. But Highmark has increased premiums by about 10 percent for 2015, and their network will be narrower.
In 2014, rates for coverage in the Pennsylvania exchange were lower than the national average. As of early November, across 13 carriers, PricewaterhouseCooper was reporting an average premium increase of 10.4 percent in Pennsylvania for 2015. And a Commonwealth Fund analysis published in December found an average rate increase of 12 percent in the Pennsylvania exchange, across all plans and metal levels, for a 40 year-old non-smoker.
Although automatic renewal for 2015 was possible for the majority of 2014 enrollees, it was generally a better choice to shop around and compare options during open enrollment. Ultimately, however, almost 161,000 people in Pennsylvania had their coverage auto-renewed for 2015.
The NY Times put together an analysis of how enrollees in the 2014 benchmark plan (second lowest cost silver plan) will fare for 2015, depending on whether they opt to renew their coverage or switch to the new benchmark plan. In Pennsylvania, there’s a range of results, with enrollees in some areas eligible for rate decreases if they shop around. Letting the benchmark plan automatically renew will result in a rate increase in all areas of the state though, so it’s definitely in your best interest to shop around.
In a similar, but more specific analysis, the Kaiser Family Foundation looked at the average cost of the benchmark plan for a 40 year old enrollee in a major metropolitan area in each state. In the Philadelphia area, the average premium was decreasing by 10.7 percent.
Andrew Sprung, writing at Xpostfactoid, is predicting that Pennsylvania will have a lot more people selecting Bronze plans in 2015 compared with 2014, and his explanation makes a lot of sense. While the difference between the cheapest Silver plan and the cheapest Bronze plan in most areas of the county was usually at least $50 to $100 per month, in southeast Pennsylvania – the Philadelphia area – the difference was only $20 in 2014.
So people who were eligible for cost-sharing subsidies if they purchased Silver plans were more able to do so than in other parts of the country where there were Bronze plans that were very attractive because of their premiums, despite the fact that they didn’t include any cost-sharing subsidies. But for 2015, the difference in price from Bronze to Silver is much greater in the Philadelphia region, because there’s no longer a Silver plan priced well below the benchmark (second-lowest-cost) Silver plan.
2014 enrollment numbers
By April 19, 318,077 Pennsylvania residents had completed their private plan selections in the exchange, nearly double the number who had enrolled by March 1. By the end of the 2014 open enrollment period, private plan Obamacare enrollment in Pennsylvania was the fourth highest out of the 36 states where HHS is running the exchange (trailing Texas, Florida, and North Carolina).
Enrollment has continued throughout the summer due to qualifying events that trigger special enrollment periods; HHS will release an updated enrollment total in November, which is when the 2015 open enrollment period will begin.
In contrast with the national trend, Pennsylvania had more uninsured residents in 2012 than in 2011 – an increase of 156,000 people. But thanks to the ACA, the uninsured rate declined – albeit only slightly – during the first half of 2014. A recent Gallup poll found that the uninsured rate in the state was 11 percent in 2013, and had declined to 10.1 percent by mid-2014.
Prior to the first open enrollment period, Families USA estimated that almost 900,000 Pennsylvania residents would be eligible for tax credits to help them pay for coverage purchased through the health insurance exchange. During the 2014 open enrollment period, more than 257,000 people received tax credits (81 percent of the total exchange enrollment) in Pennsylvania.
Although expanded coverage didn’t take effect until 2015, 42,335 exchange applicants had been found to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP under the state’s existing 2014 guidelines by mid-April 2014. There is no open enrollment window for Medicaid; enrollment continues year-round.
Pennsylvania allowed insurers to extend existing 2013 policies into 2014 following the policy cancellation compromise that President Obama offered in mid-November. Prior to the President’s announcement, a quarter of a million Pennsylvania residents – about one third of the individual market in the state – had received cancellation notices. By the end of November, two Pennsylvania carriers had agreed to extend some existing policies – including one guaranteed-issue, limited benefit plan for low-income residents – for at least the first few months of 2014.
Despite the fact that policies slated for cancellation were allowed to be extended, and the fact that nearly 160,000 people had enrolled through the exchange by March 1 – and another 42,500 off-exchange through just one carrier – Gov. Tom Corbett continued to criticize Obamacare, focusing on the fact that supposedly, 250,000 people “are losing their health coverage due to the ACA.” Corbett has been opposed to the ACA from the get-go, and continues to rely on his Obamacare opposition as he works to win reelection in PN.
Pennsylvania is among the states that allowed pre-2014 plans to be renewed again and remain in force in 2015.
Community Blue, UPMC network controversy
During the 2014 open enrollment period, Highmark BCBS enrolled a total of 148,003 members in Pennsylvania, and 80 percent of them – about 120,000 people – chose a Community Blue plan. 33 percent of the total private plan enrollment within the exchange in Pennsylvania was with Highmark, and the majority of them selected a Community Blue plan.
There was some confusion surrounding the Community Blue network, as the new plans do not include UPMC providers. Community Blue offered insureds a transition period to have one final visit with a UPMC provider, or to complete (out-of-network) appointments that were scheduled before the end of December 2013.
In early March, the transition period ended, and Community Blue plans no longer provide coverage for UPMC facilities or providers. If you have a UPMC provider and a new Community Blue policy, be sure to check with your carrier and your provider to make sure that you know what providers are in your network.
This issue has caused considerable consternation in Pennsylvania this year. The state Senate decided in late June to allow senators, staff and retirees in 29 western Pennsylvania counties to opt for either a UPMC policy or a Highmark plan so that they can continue to receive care at a UPMC facility if that’s their choice.
In December 2012, Gov. Corbett announced Pennsylvania would use the federal health insurance exchange rather than implementing a state-run exchange. Corbett said the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services had failed to provide adequate information, making it irresponsible for the state to proceed on its own. Thus HHS is running the exchange in Pennsylvania. You can use Healthcare.gov to get quotes, compare plans, determine subsidy eligibility and enroll in coverage.
Leading up to the December announcement, Corbett had repeatedly indicated his administration preferred a state-run exchange, and feedback gathered by a consultant showed broad-based public agreement. Corbett’s administration proposed establishing several, regional exchanges. However, consumer groups and legislators did not support the concept.
Although the state government has not involved itself in promoting the exchange, $7 million in federal funds went to various organizations around the state that served as navigators to assist people during open enrollment, which ended on March 31. The 2015 open enrollment period begins on November 15, 2014.
Pennsylvania health insurance exchange links
State Exchange Profile: Pennsylvania
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Pennsylvania’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.
Operated by the Pennsylvania Health Department
Health Care Section, Office of the Attorney General
Serves Pennsylvania consumers with health-related problems.
(717) 705-6938 / Toll-free: 1-877-888-4877 (only in Pennsylvania)
Pennsylvania Consumer Assistance Program
Assists people with private insurance, Medicaid, or other insurance with resolving problems pertaining to their health coverage; assists uninsured residents with access to care.
(877) 881-6388 / firstname.lastname@example.org