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Kansas health insurance marketplace: history and news of the state’s exchange

Almost 99k enrolled; Medica, BCBSKS, and Sunflower/Ambetter will offer plans in 2018, Blue KC exiting

  • By
  • contributor
  • October 9, 2017

Highlights and updates

Kansas exchange overview

Kansas uses the federally run exchange at, but with a marketplace plan management design that leaves plan oversight to the state.

98,780 people enrolled in coverage for 2017 through the Kansas exchange during open enrollment. For perspective, enrollment in 2016 was 101,555, so the 2017 total represented a decline of 2.7 percent.

That was smaller than the overall average decline across all states, but it’s notable that states running their own exchanges saw a slight increase in enrollment for 2017. The drop in enrollment in states is attributed to several factors, including higher premiums, insuer exits from the exchanges, uncertainty about the future of the ACA, and the Trump Administration’s decision to cut advertising and outreach for in the final week of open enrollment.

Looking ahead to 2018: Medica and BCBS of Kansas remaining in; Centene joining; Blue KC out

There are three insurers offering plans in the Kansas exchange in 2017: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions (in all but two counties), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC, in Johnson and Wyandotte counties), and Medica.

For 2018, there will still be three carriers (and two carrier options in every county), but there will be some changes. Plans will be available from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, Medica, and Sunflower/Ambetter/Centene.

May 15 was the deadline for insurers to file plans with the Kansas Insurance Department if they intend to offer coverage in the state’s individual market (including the exchange) in 2018. However, insurers had two additional months — until July 14 — to file rates to go with those plans.

Blue KC did not file plans by May 15, but didn’t indicate at that point that they would exit the exchange, instead requesting “flexibility” from the state insurance department, amid concerns about market stability. But on May 24, Blue KC announced that they will exit the ACA-compliant individual market at the end of 2017, and will no longer offer ACA-compliant plans on or off the exchange in Kansas or Missouri (this exit does not impact Blue KC employer-sponsored plans, short-term plans, student health plans, Medicare Advantage plans, Medigap plans, or any of their grandmothered or grandfathered individual market plans). Blue KC noted that they have lost more than $100 million in the ACA-compliant market through 2016, a level that they deemed unsustainable.

Blue KC’s exit will have a bigger impact in Missouri, where Blue KC plans are currently offered in 30 counties. But it will have a significant impact in Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, where Blue KC currently offers coverage. Between the two states, roughly 67,000 people will have to secure new coverage during open enrollment (November 1, 2017, through December 15, 2017).

At that point, the only other option for 2018 coverage in the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area was slated to be Medica, which has filed plans for statewide availability in the Kansas exchange in 2018. Medica first joined the Kansas exchange in 2017, and has a 10,000 member enrollment cap. They have not said whether that enrollment cap will continue in 2018; that decision will be part of their rate filing process, which will happen in July. If the enrollment cap does remain in place in 2018, it would have created a substantial enrollment block in the Kansas City area, as there are 32,000 ACA enrollees just in Johnson and Wyandotte counties alone in 2017.

But on June 13, Centene announced that they would enter the exchange in Kansas and Missouri, along with Nevada. Centene already offers Medicaid managed care coverage in Kansas under the name Sunflower State Health Plan, but 2018 will be the first year that they’ve offered private plans for sale in the exchange. Sunflower State Health Plan (Ambetter from Sunflower Health) will offer plans in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, filling the gap left by Blue KC’s exit.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas also filed plans to remain in all of their current counties (everywhere except Johnson and Wyandotte counties), but the Kansas Insurance Department notes that they will be offering all new plans for 2018. Their products will be EPOs, rather than the HMO Solutions products that were offered for 2017.

Proposed rates for 2018

There are no platinum plans available in the Kansas exchange for 2018, but there will be a total of 11 plans available in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, and 12 plans available in the rest of the state. All plans offered in the exchange must also be offered off-exchange, and there are no insurers in Kansas that offer only off-exchange plans.

Insurers have filed the following rate and plan changes for 2018:

  • Medica: 29 percent, based on assumption that cost-sharing reduction (CSR) funding will not continue (the additional cost to cover CSR has been added to silver plans). Medica has 7,574 members in 2017. Plans will be available state-wide in 2018, which includes an expansion into Johnson and Wyandotte counties, where Medica doesn’t offer coverage in 2017. A total of seven plans will be available, but they will be EPOs in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, and PPOs throughout the rest of the state. Medica capped enrollment at 10,000 for 2017, but confirmed that the enrollment cap will not apply for 2018.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas: No applicable rate increase because BCBSKS is offered all new plans for 2018. The plans that were offered in 2017 were called Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions, and they were HMOs. For 2018, they’re being replaced with EPOs from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. Plans will be available in all counties except Johnson and Wyandotte; a total of five plans (all EPO) will be offered.
  • Sunflower State Health Plan/Ambetter from Sunflower Health (Centene): No applicable rate increase because Sunflower is new to the individual market in Kansas. Plans will be available in Johnson and Wyandotte counties; a total of four plans (all HMO) will be offered.

The Kansas Insurance Department has published an overview of changes consumers can expect in the 2018 ACA-compliant market, including the individual and small group markets. They confirmed that they don’t have any additional information, and that actual rates won’t be available until they’re available on (most likely, November 1 or possibly slightly earlier).

So for people who currently have Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions HMO plans, there’s no information available in terms of how the rates on the new BCBSKS EPO plans will differ from the current rates. Enrollees whose current plans are ending will be guided towards similar new plans, but will also have the option to pick from any of the available plans during open enrollment (November 1 – December 15, with all plans effective January 1, 2018).

Premium subsidies will grow to keep pace with average benchmark (second-lowest-cost silver plan) premiums. 86 percent of Kansas exchange enrollees are receiving premium subsidies, and those individuals will be protected from the bulk of the rate increases as long as they take the time to compare the various options available during open enrollment and select the one that represents the best value. People with off-exchange coverage are encouraged to compare on-exchange options as well, as the exchange is the only place where premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies are available.

Kansas exchange and the Trump Administration

HHS estimates that 137,000 people in Kansas gained health insurance coverage from 2010 to 2015, as a result of the ACA. But the future of the ACA is very uncertain.

Congress passed a budget resolution in mid-January instructing four congressional committees to draft legislation to repeal the ACA. The result was the American Health Care Act (AHCA) which the House passed in early May. The legislation then went to the Senate, were several versions of the legislation failed to pass. The clock ran out on budget reconciliation for 2017 on September 30, so the Trump Administration switched instead to what some have dubbed “stealthy” or “sneaky” repeal — repeal via executive orders, intentional chaos, reduced funding for enrollment outreach and assistance, etc.

Kansas hasn’t expanded Medicaid under the ACA, so the state has not taken full advantage of the ACA’s provisions and would thus not feel the impact of ACA repeal as strongly as states that are fully utilizing the federal funding that was made available by the ACA. There are currently an estimated 56,000 people in the coverage gap in Kansas. Most are currently uninsured. Lawmakers in Kansas passed a bill to expand Medicaid in 2017, but Governor Brownback vetoed it and lawmakers didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.

Brownback has been nominated by President Trump to be the US Ambassador at large for religious liberty, and several candidates — with varying views on Medicaid expansion — are vying for the governor’s seat. If Brownback is confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be replaced in the governor’s office by current Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (who is one of the candidates running for governor in  the 2018 election), who is opposed to Medicaid expansion.

2017: 42% average increase for benchmark premiums = much larger subsidies

According to HHS data, the average benchmark plan (second-lowest-cost silver plan) in Kansas are 42 percent more expensive in 2017 than they were in 2016. But 82 percent of Kansas exchange enrollees were receiving premium subsidies in 2016, and those subsidies are tied to the cost of the benchmark plan.

So the sharp increase in benchmark plan prices means that subsidies have also increased sharply, keeping premiums at an affordable level for enrollees who are subsidy-eligible.

HHS has estimated that there were 28,000 people in Kansas who had off-exchange coverage in 2016 but who would be eligible for subsidies if they switched to the exchange. Open enrollment is your chance to enroll in a new plan (on or off-exchange, the same open enrollment schedule applies), and it continues through January 31, 2017. After that, enrollment will only be available for people who experience a qualifying event (Native Americans can enroll year-round, as can anyone eligible for Medicaid or CHIP).

Carrier changes for 2017

UnitedHealthcare exited the individual health insurance market in Kansas at the end of 2016, both on and off-exchange. For 2016 coverage, UnitedHealthcare had competition from three other carriers in the Kansas exchange, but they all operated under the Blue Cross Blue Shield umbrella: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions (offered in 103 of the 105 counties in Kansas), and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City (only available in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties – ie, the Kansas City area).

With United’s exit, Kansas would have been left with only Blue Cross Blue Shield options in the exchange in 2017. But the situation continued to evolve.

The Kansas Insurance Department announced in mid-May that two additional carriers—Medica Insurance Company and Coventry (Aetna)—had filed proposals to sell plans on and off the exchange in Kansas for 2017. Then in early August, Aetna announced that they were putting the brakes on their plans to expand into five additional exchanges—including Kansas—in 2017. As a result, the proposed Coventry plans did not become available in the Kansas exchange for 2017.

In the 2017 rate filing memo submitted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the carrier indicated that they would not offer on-exchange plans in 2017. A June letter from the Kansas Insurance Department confirmed that only two BCBS entities would offer plans in the Kansas exchange in 2017. The following average rate increases were approved for Kansas exchange plans:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions: 47.41 percent
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City: 28.1 percent
  • Medica: new to the exchange for 2017, enrollment capped at 10,000 members

There has been considerable shifting in the exchange landscape in Kansas over the last few years. Coventry previously participated in the exchange in Kansas, but exited the exchange at the end of 2015. They continued to offer off-exchange plans in Kansas in 2016.

UnitedHealthcare did not participate in 2014 and 2015, but joined the exchange for 2016, and is exiting the entire individual market in the state at the end of 2016.

Kansas now allows network-only plans

Kansas passed legislation (HB2454 – signed into law in April 2016) that allows health insurance carriers to offer EPO plans, and to allow those plans to include a “gatekeeper” requirement similar to HMOs.

EPOs don’t cover any out-of-network care except for emergencies, and they typically don’t require a referral from a primary care doctor (ie, gatekeeper) to see a specialist, as long as the specialist is in the plan’s network. In Kansas, carriers can offer HMOs, but they have to pay an HMO privilege fee, which lawmakers increased in 2015.

Now that HB2454 has been signed into law, carriers can offer EPOs with narrow networks and gatekeeper requirements. The plans could be functionally very similar to HMOs, but wouldn’t be subject to the HMO privilege fee. The bill had support from Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, and passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Narrower networks are one of the ways that carriers can curtail costs and create plans with lower premiums. They also tend to be popular among healthy applicants – who are more concerned with premiums than with the scope of the plan’s network.

But for 2017, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City (only available in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties) is the only carrier — on or off-exchange — offering EPO plans . They also offer HMOs. For the other two exchange carriers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas Solutions is offering only HMO plans, and Medica is offering only PPO plans.

2016 enrollment

During the 2016 open enrollment period, 101,555 people enrolled in private health plans through the Kansas exchange, including new enrollees and renewals. The 2016 enrollment total is about 5 percent higher than the enrollment total at the end of the 2015 open enrollment period (96,197).

By March 31, 2016, effectuated enrollment in the Kansas exchange stood at 89,566. That’s about 4.7 percent higher than the 85,490 who had effectuated coverage through the exchange at the end of March 2015.

Open enrollment for 2016 – both on and off-exchange – ended at the end of January, although applicants who experience a qualifying event can still enroll in a health plan for 2016. Native Americans or Alaska Natives can sign up for private coverage throughout the year, and enrollment for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is also open all year long.

The penalty for being uninsured is significantly higher in 2016 than it was in 2014 and 2015, so uninsured residents who experience a qualifying event should make sure they enroll in a plan during their special enrollment period. The next general open enrollment period will begin in November 2016, for coverage effective January 2017.

2016 rate changes

Across the full individual and small group market in Kansas (including both on and off-exchange plans), proposed rate changes varied from a decrease of 0.4 percent, to an increase of nearly 38 percent. The Kansas Insurance Department warned that rate increases should be expected for 2016, but the rates that were approved were a little lower on average than the rates that carriers proposed. The average final rate changes across all five existing carriers range from a 9.4 percent increase to a 25.4 percent increase.

But those approved rate changes were finalized long before Coventry announced their exit from the exchange. The rate hikes for Coventry no longer apply, but more than half of the exchange enrollees in Kansas had to select a new plan for 2016.

The majority of exchange enrollees in Kansas receive premium subsidies, which offset a significant portion of the rate increases in 2016. This is contingent on consumers being willing to shop around during open enrollment however, as subsidies can change from one year to another if the price of the second-lowest-cost silver plan changes.

Statewide, the average price for the second-lowest-cost silver plan increased by 16.1 percent in 2016. That’s more than double the national average, and it means average subsidies have increased significantly in Kansas for 2016 – but not by enough to offset some of the higher rate hikes on Kansas plans, highlighting the importance of shopping around during open enrollment.

Subsidies safe for 66,000

The much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on King v. Burwell was announced in June 2015, with the Court upholding the legality of premium subsidies for millions of Americans in states – like Kansas – where the federal government is running the exchange (  As of late June, there were 67,733 people receiving premium subsidies in Kansas; their coverage would have become unaffordable without subsidies.

Even those who pay full price for their health insurance would have seen dramatic rate increases if subsidies had been eliminated. The American Academy of Actuaries estimated that rates in the entire individual market in states would have increased by about 35 percent if the King plaintiffs had prevailed. And the Urban Institute put the figure even higher, predicting 55 percent rate increases market-wide if subsidies had been eliminated. And those are just the rate hikes that would have resulted from the elimination of subsidies… they would have been in addition to the normal annual rate increases based on medical cost growth.

2015 enrollment

Health and Human Services (HHS) reported 96,197 Kansans selected private health insurance through during 2015 open enrollment. According to estimates by Kaiser, about 39 percent of Kansans who were eligible to enroll via the marketplace in 2015 actually selected a health plan. The final 2015 open enrollment report shows that 52 percent of Kansas enrollees were new consumers. Twenty-six percent of Kansas enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34; in all states, 28 percent of enrollees fell into the 18-to-34 bracket.

But by the end of March, the total number of people with in-force coverage through the Kansas exchange had dropped to 85,490, and it fell slightly lower by the end of June, to 84,872. Attrition is a normal part the individual health insurance market, as not all enrollees pay their initial premiums, and some insureds cancel their coverage for one reason or another (sometimes simply because they receive an offer of coverage from an employer instead).

Of the Kansas residents whose exchange coverage was in-force on March 31, just under 80 percent qualified for premium subsidies compared to 83.7 percent nationwide.

How much did insurance cost in 2015?

2015 premiums on the Kansas marketplace were up just 4 percent from 2014 rates, according to a comprehensive study completed by The Commonwealth Fund. Nationally, rates were flat. However, the zero percent average increase masked 10+ percent increases in 10 states and 10+ percent decreases in 14 states.

Below average enrollment in 2014

During the first open enrollment period, 57,013 Kansans enrolled in qualified health plans and nearly 14,000 people qualified for either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under existing eligibility criteria according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In all, about one in five of those Kansans eligible signed up for private insurance — lower than the national average of 28 percent.

Among Kansas residents selecting a QHP, 85 percent qualified for financial assistance. Nineteen percent of Kansans selected a bronze plan (20 percent nationally), 60 percent selected a silver plan (65 percent nationally), 16 percent selected a gold plan (9 percent nationally), 2 percent selected a platinum plan (5 percent nationally) and 4 percent selected a catastrophic plan (2 percent nationally). Thirty-one percent of Kansas enrollees were between the ages of 18 and 34.

Kansas is the only state with a reported increase in the percentage of uninsured individuals between 2013 and 2014. The uninsured rate in Kansas rose from 12.5 percent to 14.4 percent  according to a Gallup-Healthways poll. But both the full-year results and a mid-2014 poll that showed an even larger increase have been questioned by both Gallup and Kansas insurance experts. And by the first half of 2015, the Gallup data showed that the uninsured rate had ticked downward to 11.3 percent.

No Medicaid expansion

Kansas has not expanded its Medicaid program, which is called KanCare, despite a December 2013 poll that found 72 percent of registered Kansans voters favored expansion. While other Republican governors proceeded with Medicaid expansion, Gov. Sam Brownback remained opposed — as did the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which didn’t act on Medicaid expansion in 2014.

An Urban Institute report shows Kansas missing out on $5.3 billion in federal funding and hospitals losing $2.6 billion in Medicaid reimbursement.

The Kansas Hospital Association continues to advocate for expansion, touting a “Kansas solution” that includes cost-sharing provisions, high-deductible plans, health savings accounts (HSAs) and other provisions that have been proposed or implemented in other conservative states.

Hospital officials have testified during state legislative committee meetings to explain the financial toll of the state’s decision against Medicaid expansion. Rural hospitals in particular are struggling because the Affordable Care Act is partly funded through a reduction in hospital payments from Medicare. In October 2015, Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kansas shut down, becoming the first Kansas hospital to close in nine years; the hospital’s demise has been linked to the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion.

In states that expanded Medicaid, the Medicare reduction is offset by the increased number of people who are insured (either through private coverage sold on the marketplace or Medicaid). In states that don’t expand Medicaid, the uninsured rate remains higher and hospitals continue to struggle with higher levels of uncompensated (charity) care.

A Medicaid expansion bill, HB 2319, was introduced in the 2015 session and got a hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee. The acting secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment testified that expansion would cost the state $2.4 billion between 2016 and 2025, and the committee didn’t act on the bill.

Brownback seemingly reversed course on Medicaid expansion in 2015. During a speech to Missouri legislators, Brownback said he would most likely sign off on Medicaid expansion if it were budget neutral. Yet despite renewed calls to expand Medicaid with the news of Mercy Hospital’s closure, Brownback’s position was that the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid.

How Kansas approached marketplace implementation

Kansas opted to use rather than implement a state-run marketplace. The decision against a Kansas-run exchange came despite the efforts of Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger and some initial support from Brownback. Brownback, while critical of the Affordable Care Act, initially supported Praeger’s exchange planning efforts.

However, Brownback grew less and less supportive over time. In August 2011, Brownback returned a federal grant intended to help the state develop technical infrastructure for running the exchange. The return of the grant effectively quashed a state-run exchange, so Praeger began recommending state-federal partnership as a way for the state to retain some control.

In November 2012, Brownback announced that the state would default to a federally operated exchange, issuing a statement that said in part, “My administration will not partner with the federal government to create a state-federal partnership insurance exchange because we will not benefit from it and implementing it could costs Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars.”

During the 2014 legislative session, Kansas lawmakers debated a bill (SB 362) that would have subjected anyone who wanted to serve as a navigator to requirements above and beyond those at the federal level. Kansas navigators would have been subjected to criminal background checks, been fingerprinted, required to disclose their credit histories, and charged an annual $100 registration fee. The bill would have also prohibited navigators from recommending a specific insurance policy for a consumer. The bill passed the Senate, but failed to clear a House committee.

Kansas health insurance exchange links

State Exchange Profile: Kansas
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of Kansas’ progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.

Kansas Insurance Department, Consumer Assistance Division
Assists consumers who have purchased insurance on the individual market or who have insurance through an employer who only does business in Kansas.
(800) 432-2484 / Local: (785) 296-7829