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

Christus is joining Louisiana's exchange for 2020 — the first insurer entry to the state's exchange since 2015

Highlights and updates

Louisiana exchange enrollment overview

State legislative efforts to preserve or strengthen provisions of the Affordable Care Act

How hard is Louisiana fighting to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s provisions? Compare to other states’ efforts.

Louisiana uses the federally-facilitated exchange, so residents use to enroll in exchange plans. Enrollment in the exchange has dropped sharply since 2016, but that’s due in large part to the state’s late expansion of Medicaid, where enrollment has continued to grow (more than 450,000 people were enrolled in Louisiana’s expanded Medicaid program as of August 2019).

Premium subsidies grew significantly larger in 2018, due in large part to the fact that cost-sharing reduction funding was eliminated by the federal government, and the cost of cost-sharing reduction was added to silver plan rates for 2018. As was the case in 2017, premium subsidies grew in 2018 to keep pace with the cost of coverage, protecting more than 90 percent of Louisiana exchange enrollees from the brunt of the rate increase.

But for 2019, subsidies were a little smaller, because average premiums, including average benchmark premiums, are lower than they were for 2018 (the average subsidy amount was $525/month in 2018, and dropped to $497/month in 2019).

To stabilize the individual market and minimize future rate increases, Louisiana lawmakers considered legislation that would have implemented a reinsurance program, with federal funding contingent on the approval of a waiver proposal. Several states have already taken this approach, But the Louisiana bill that would have authorized state funding for the reinsurance program did not succeed. So although the state had already posted a draft 1332 waiver proposal, it did not end up being submitted to CMS.

HHS estimated that there were about 34,000 people in Louisiana who had off-exchange coverage in 2016, but who would be eligible for subsidies if they switched to on-exchange plans instead (subsidies aren’t available outside the exchange).

Insurers have proposed rate increases for 2020, but Christus is also joining the exchange

Open enrollment for 2020 individual market health coverage in Louisiana will run from November 1 to December 15, 2019, with all plans effective January 1, 2020.

Louisiana’s exchange has three insurers offering plans, although two are part of the same parent company. For 2020, however, Christus Health Plans will join the exchange in the Shreveport/Bossier, Lake Charles, and Alexandria areas (off-exchange plans will be available in the “entire western third of the state.” Christus already has “an established hospital and primary care presence” in these areas of the state, so the introduction of their health plans is anticipated to be a good fit in those areas. This will be the first time since 2015 (when UnitedHealthcare joined the exchange) that Louisiana’s exchange has had a new insurer join the market.

Christus Health Plans currently offers exchange plans in Texas and New Mexico, but they will stop offering coverage in New Mexico at the end of 2019, after failing to meet the state’s QHP certification requirements. So as of 2020, Christus plans will be available in Louisiana and Texas, but not in New Mexico.

For 2020, Louisiana’s exchange insurers have proposed the following average rate changes:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana (Louisiana Health Service and Indemnity Company): roughly a 10.7 percent increase, although it varies by plan.
  • HMO Louisiana (a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana): roughly a 12.3 percent increase, although it varies by plan.
  • Vantage Health Plan: roughly a 4.9 percent increase, although it varies by plan (Vantage’s filing indicates that they are planning to consolidate their plan offerings in 2020; they currently offer 5 bronze plans, 15 silver plans, 5 gold plans, and 2 platinum plans, but in 2020 they will have 3 bronze plans, 3 silver plans, and 1 gold plan).
  • Christus Health Plans: New to Louisiana’s market, so no applicable rate change.

At ACA Signups, Charles Gaba has calculated an average proposed rate increase of about 11.7 percent for Louisiana’s individual market. The rates are under review by the Louisiana Department of Insurance. As is the case in many states, Louisiana officials don’t have the authority to reject rate increases, they can only deem them justified or unjustified. The state conducts actuarial justification reviews for any proposed rate increases of 15 percent or more (this threshold was 10 percent prior to 2019). Rate filings are publicly available on the Louisiana Department of Insurance website.

Premiums decreased for 2019

In August 2018, the Louisiana Department of Insurance announced that average rates for individual market plans sold through Louisiana’s exchange would be 6.4 percent lower in 2019 than they had been in 2018.

That decrease came despite the fact that rates are still higher than they would otherwise have been if the GOP tax bill hadn’t repealed the individual mandate penalty as of 2019, and if short-term plans and association plans hadn’t been expanded by the Trump Administration (all of those factors serve to push healthy people out of the ACA-compliant health insurance market, leaving a sicker risk pool and premiums that are higher than they would otherwise have been). At ACA Signups, Charles Gaba estimates that premiums in Louisiana would have dropped by nearly 16 percent without those factors.

The following average rate changes were implemented for 2019:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana (Louisiana Health Service and Indemnity Company): roughly a 15 percent decrease, although it varies by plan.
  • HMO Louisiana (a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana): roughly a 6 percent decrease, although it varies by plan.
  • Vantage Health Plan: 4.25 percent decrease

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana earned a profit of $59 million on their individual market business in 2017, after losing more than $200 million between 2014 and 2016. Rates for 2019 were based in large part on performance in 2017, since the rate filings for 2019 were submitted in early-mid 2018. Their rate hike for 2018 was substantial, which explains why rates were able to drop for 2019. If it turns out that an insurer spent more than 20 percent of total premiums on administrative costs (including profits), enrollees will receive rebate checks in future years.

Earlier in the year, there was the possibility that rates for 2019 might be moderated by a state-based reinsurance program (details below), but the requisite legislation did not pass in the Senate, so the state did not seek federal funding for a reinsurance program.

Average rate changes in previous years

For perspective, here’s a look at how premiums have changes in Louisiana’s exchange since ACA-compliant plans debuted in 2014:

2015: Average increase of 12 percent. The Commonwealth Fund analyzed premiums and deductibles across all the metal tiers, differences in premiums between urban suburban and rural areas, and insurer participation in nearly all states. For Louisiana, the analysis showed premiums up 12 percent on average from 2014 to 2015. In contrast, the analysis showed a 0 percent change in premiums nationally.

2016: In the Louisiana exchange, two individual market carriers requested rate increases of ten percent or more for 2016: HMO Louisiana, and Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana). For both carriers, the rates were finalized as-requested (Louisiana Health Cooperative had requested rate increases of about 23 percent, but the CO-OP stopped offering coverage at the end of 2015). The Louisiana Department of Insurance published proposed and final rate changes for all of the carriers in their individual and small group markets, including on and off-exchange carriers. For the insurers that offered plans in the exchange in 2016, rate increases ranged from just over 4 percent for Humana, to 15-20 percent for BCBSLA.

2017: Average rate increases were steep for 2017, as was the case in most states. In Louisiana, BCBSLA increased premiums by an average of 41 percent, HMO Louisiana increased rates by 23-30 percent, Humana increased rates by an average of 29.5 percent, and Vantage Health Plan increased premiums by an average of 31.5 percent.

2018 rates much higher than they would have been if CSR funding had been appropriated

The following average rate increases were determined reasonable and implemented for 2018:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana (Louisiana Health Service and Indemnity Company): 35.46 percent for Blue Saver (7,613 members as of April 2017) and 31.1 percent for Blue Max (14,224 members as of April 2017). Total BCBSLA individual ACA-compliant membership was under 22,000 in 2017, down from more than 59,000 in 2016.
  • HMO Louisiana (a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana): 14.87 percent. HMO Louisiana had 54,437 members as of early/mid-2017.
  • Vantage Health Plan: 28.46 percent. Vantage Health Plan had roughly 16,000 members.

All three insurers based their 2018 rates on the assumption that cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) would not be funded by the federal government in 2018, and indicated that silver plan rates would be higher than they would otherwise have been, due to the uncertainty surrounding CSR funding. This was ultimately a good decision, as the Trump Administration eliminated funding for CSR in mid-October, despite months of consumer advocates, insurers, and governors (including Louisiana’s governor) calling on Congress to appropriate funding for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) in order to stabilize the individual insurance markets.

Somewhat ironically, the loss of CSR funding ended up being beneficial to many enrollees, as premium subsidies increased once the cost of CSR was added to silver plan rates.

It’s noteworthy that Vantage Health Plan’s actuarial memo indicated that they created four new silver plans that were only available off-exchange for 2018. They had slightly different benefits compared with the other silver plans that are available on and off-exchange. This allows people who don’t get premium subsidies to purchase a silver plan outside the exchange without the CSR load built into the premiums.

If Congress had committed to appropriating funding earlier in 2017, the proposed rate changes in Louisiana would have been much smaller for 2018. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis in April 2017 estimated that if CSR funding was eliminated, rates for silver plans in Louisiana’s exchange would have to increase by 20 percent. At ACA Signups, Charles Gaba notes that this translates to 14.2 percent across all plans, which is a significant portion of the proposed rate increase.

The anticipated lack of enforcement of the individual mandate was another factor that drove rates higher in 2018; if the Trump Administration had committed to enforcing the individual mandate, the rate changes for 2018 would also be more modest. Instead, Republican lawmakers ended up passing a tax reform bill (after the end of open enrollment) that called for the individual mandate penalty to be eliminated, albeit not until 2019.

On average, Louisiana rate increases would have been in the single digits (a little over 7 percent) if CSR funding had been committed (rather than eliminated) and the individual mandate was being strongly enforced. Instead, the average rate increase was more than 21 percent.

It’s important to note that premium subsidies have offset the rate increases for the vast majority of Louisiana exchange enrollees. 90 percent of Louisiana exchange enrollees were receiving subsidies as of February 2017, and those subsidies grew to keep pace with premium growth in 2018.

And because the cost of CSR has been added to silver plans, 2018 premium subsidies in Louisiana are larger than they would have been if the cost of CSR had been spread across all plans (a few states took that approach instead). People who purchased bronze or gold plans with the help of a premium subsidy may have after-subsidy rates are lower than they were in 2017, due to the larger premium subsidies.

Some states waited until CSR funding was officially eliminated before they allowed insurers to add the cost to premiums for 2018, and other states had back-up plans in place, given the uncertainty. But the Louisiana Department of Insurance confirmed in September 2017 that there was no contingency plan in place in Louisiana to allow insurers to refile new (lower) rates if CSR funding had been allocated. The rates that were filed were based on the (correct) assumption that CSRs would not be funded, and were slated to take effect (assuming the Department of Insurance deemed them justified, which they did) regardless of what might have happened with CSR funding.

The Department of Insurance noted that if CSR funding had ultimately been allocated in 2018 by the federal government (which did not happen), the situation would have been worked out via the medical loss ratio rebates. If CSR funding had been allocated, the rates for 2018 would have been too high in Louisiana, and would result in the insurers spending less than 80 percent of premiums on medical costs. To fix the problem, the amount that was overcharged would have been rebated to enrollees, although rebate checks based on 2018 coverage wouldn’t start to be sent to plan members until the fall of 2019 (rebates sent in the fall of 2019 would be based on insurers’ average medical loss ratios from 2016-2018).

Senate did not pass legislation to create reinsurance program in Louisiana, draft 1332 waiver proposal wasn’t submitted to CMS

Reinsurance is a system under which insurers are compensated for high-cost claims, and the result is lower premiums for everyone in the insurance pool. The ACA included a federal reinsurance program, but it was temporary and only lasted through the end of 2016. To mitigate rising premiums and stabilize their individual insurance markets, several states have since implemented reinsurance programs, and have seen either very small premium increases or premium decreases as a result.

Louisiana appeared poised to implement reinsurance for 2019 as well; the concept had bipartisan support in the legislature and was also supported by Insurance Commissioner James Donelon.

H.B.246, which passed and was signed into law in late May, authorized the state to seek a 1332 waiver to implement a reinsurance program. But H.B.472, which would have created the Louisiana Health Reinsurance Association and authorized the state to levy a fee on Louisiana health insurers to fund the state’s portion of the cost of the reinsurance program, passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

While the bills to authorize the reinsurance program and 1332 waiver were still making their way through the legislature, the Louisiana Department of Insurance had already drafted a 1332 waiver and opened it up for public comment, through May 9. But since the legislation to create and fund the state reinsurance program did not pass, the proposed 1332 waiver wasn’t submitted to CMS. It’s unclear whether the issue might be reconsidered in 2019, as it will likely depend on the state of the insurance market at that point. But for the time being, reinsurance isn’t going anywhere in Louisiana.

If lawmakers had passed H.B.472, the Louisiana Health Reinsurance Association would have sought federal funding for the reinsurance program with a 1332 waiver, and would have imposed a fee on health insurers in Louisiana (including those in the individual and group markets, as well as self-insurers and third-party administrators, but not on private Medicaid or Medicare insurers), of not more than $2.50 per member per month, and projected to be about $1.40 per member per month.

The federal funding, estimated at $100 million, would have been generated by the savings that the federal government would have realized due to the lower premiums that would have applied in Louisiana if the reinsurance program had been implemented. Since premiums would have been lower than they’ll be without the reinsurance program, premium subsidies (paid by the federal government) would also have been lower. Instead of having the federal government keep the savings, a 1332 waiver would have sought to allow the state to use the savings to fund the reinsurance program, as other states have done.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance projected that premiums would be an average of 17.3 percent lower with reinsurance. There would have been no significant change in net (after subsidy) premiums for people who get premium subsidies, but premiums would have been lower for people who have to pay the full premium without the help of premium subsidies. This would likely have resulted in more people enrolled in coverage, since coverage would have become more affordable for that population. The draft 1332 waiver noted that enrollment was expected to be up to 7.5 percent higher in 2019 if the reinsurance program had been enacted. All of this is a moot point now, however, since the state did not enact the legislation to create the reinsurance program.

Insurer participation in Louisiana’s exchange: 2014-2020

In 2014, plans were available in Louisiana’s exchange from Louisiana Health Service and Indemnity Company (LHSIC), HMO Louisiana, Louisiana Health Cooperative (an ACA-created CO-OP), Humana, and Vantage Health Plans.

UnitedHealthcare joined the exchange in Louisiana for 2015, bringing the total number of participating insurers to six.

But in July 2015, the Louisiana Health Cooperative announced that it would not participate in the 2016 period, and that existing policies would terminate at the end of 2015. Louisiana Health Cooperative was only the second CO-OP to fail (after CoOpportunity in Nebraska and Iowa), but ultimately ten more CO-OPs closed their doors by the end of 2015, and only four (out of an original 23) were still operational by 2019.

At the end of 2016, UnitedHealthcare also exited the individual market in Louisiana, as was the case in most states where United offered exchange plans in 2016 (United is continuing to offer off-exchange small group plans in Louisiana). United insured about 13 percent of the people who enrolled in exchange plans in Louisiana for 2016.

Humana announced on February 14, 2017, that they would exit the individual market nationwide at the end of 2017, so their plans were no longer available in Louisiana as of 2018. By 2018, coverage was only available from LHSIC, HMO Louisiana (both owned by the same parent company) and Vantage Health Plans. That continued to be the case in 2019, but Christus is joining the exchange for 2020, bringing the total number of insurers back up to four.

Enrollment in Louisiana’s exchange: 2014-2019

Here’s a look at how enrollment (during open enrollment) in private plans in Louisiana’s exchange has changed over time:

2014: 101,778 people enrolled.

2015: 186,277 people enrolled.

2016214,148 people enrolled.

2017: 143,577 people enrolled. The drop in enrollment was due mostly to the fact that Louisiana expanded Medicaid as of mid-2016. People with household income between 100 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level were eligible for premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies in the exchange during the 2016 open enrollment period, but they became eligible for Medicaid instead in July 2016, and did not need to enroll in private plans during the 2017 open enrollment period.

2018: 109,855 people enrolled. Open enrollment was only half as long for 2018 coverage, and federal funding for’s marketing and enrollment assistance was sharply curtailed. The result was lower total enrollment in most states that use But while the average enrollment drop was about 5 percent, enrollment in Louisiana’s exchange dropped by more than 23 percent — the largest drop in the country.

But enrollment in expanded Medicaid continued to grow, which was likely a big part of the reason that exchange enrollment declined sharply again for 2018. 305,000 people had enrolled in expanded Medicaid in Louisiana by the fall of 2016, and that had grown to more than 471,000 by April 2018. But it’s also likely that a significant number people who don’t get premium subsidies (ie, the population with income above 400 percent of the poverty level) have exited the exchange over the last two years, as premiums have grown considerably and there’s no mechanism to protect people from the rate hikes if they’re ineligible for premium subsidies.

2019: 92,948 people enrolled. Enrollment in Louisiana’s exchange is the lowest its ever been as of 2019. A significant chunk of the drop-off is likely related to the state’s implementation of Medicaid expansion, but enrollment declines in 2019 can also be attributed to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty (via federal legislation) and the expansion of short-term health plans (via Trump Administration regulations).

Legislation enacted to allow brokers to charge fees

In April 2017, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed H.B.407 almost unanimously, by a 94-3 vote. In May, the Senate passed it, 32-4, and the Governor signed it into law in early June. The measure allows insurance brokers in the individual market to charge fees — paid by consumers — in trade for their assistance. The practice of charging broker fees is currently banned under Louisiana law (as is the case in most states), because the general wisdom has long been that brokers receive adequate compensation via commissions from insurance companies.

But the ACA has resulted in sharply lower commissions in the individual market. This began in 2011 when the medical loss ratio rules went into effect, limiting individual market insurers’ administrative costs (including broker commissions) to no more than 20 percent of premiums collected. And in the years since insurers began offering ACA-compliant plans, plans have struggled to make a profit with the sicker-than-expected risk pool in the individual market, which is now guaranteed-issue, regardless of applicants’ medical history. Insurers have sharply scaled back broker commissions, and in some areas — like the entire state of Connecticut, for example — insurers no longer pay broker commissions at all for on-exchange plans (note that Connecticut’s state-run exchange is requiring insurers to pay broker commissions for 2018).

H.B.407 allows brokers to set their own fees, and does not limit them — lawmakers assume that the free market would do its work, with consumers gravitating to brokers that offer the best overall value in terms of service and fees. But brokers would have to disclose their fees to prospective clients, and would have to inform them that they could avoid the broker fee by using a navigator or (navigators are not licensed insurance producers, and are therefore not allowed to provide the sort of specific plan recommendations that brokers can provide; funding for the navigator program has also been sharply cut under the Trump Administration, and a week after the 2016 funding had run out, the reduced 2017 funding had not yet been distributed).

Legislation enacted to provide additional transparency for out-of-network charges

The Louisiana House of Representatives also passed H.B.435 in May, by a vote of 92-1, and sent it to the Senate, which approved it by a vote of 36-1. The Governor signed the legislation in June, and it took effect August 1, 2017. The new law helps to create transparency around the situation that arises when patients go to a hospital that’s in their insurance network, and are treated by health providers who aren’t in the patient’s insurance plan network. Many consumers aren’t even aware that this circumstance can arise at in-network hospitals, and the resulting “surprise balance bill” catches people off guard.

New York took steps in 2015 to protect insureds on state-regulated plans from being subject to surprise balance bills, but by and large, this is still a significant problem in most states. Louisiana’s H.B.435 is all about informing patients, but it does not protect them from receiving balance bills from out-of-network providers who perform services at in-network facilities.

The legislation includes disclosure language that must be provided to patients, along with a list of all the providers who perform services at the hospital. It is then up to the patient to confirm whether those providers are in-network. But in some scenarios, there’s no way to avoid being treated by an out-of-network provider — for example, if you need anesthetic for surgery, and the only anesthesiologist on duty isn’t in your plan’s network.

Medicaid expansion by executive order

Former Governor Bobby Jindal staunchly opposed Medicaid expansion under the ACA, and refused to accept federal funding to expand coverage to adults with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. As a result, Louisiana was among 20 states that were still refusing Medicaid expansion as of the end of 2015.

But in November 2015, John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana; he took office in January 2016. During the campaign, Edwards noted that one of his first priorities as governor would be Medicaid expansion, and true to his word, he signed an executive order on his second day in office, expanding Medicaid in Louisiana.

Louisiana passed House Concurrent Resolution 75 in 2015, which allows hospitals to generate revenue—via a new fee—to pay the state’s portion of the cost of expanding Medicaid. HCR75 gave Edwards until April 1, 2016 to propose a plan to expand Medicaid, but he did so much sooner than that.

The state expected about 375,000 people to gain coverage under expanded Medicaid, adding to the roughly 1 million people who already had Medicaid or CHIP coverage in Louisiana. Nearly 200,000 people in Louisiana were previously in the coverage gap – they had been locked out of Medicaid, and were also not eligible for subsidies in the exchange because their income was below the poverty level. That changed as of July 1, 2016, when Medicaid expansion took effect in Louisiana (enrollment began June 1, but the earliest coverage effective date was July 1).

Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals used SNAP (food stamp) data to auto-enroll an estimated 105,000 Louisiana residents in Medicaid when the new eligibility guidelines took effect. Several states have used SNAP data to automatically enroll people in expanded Medicaid, but Louisiana is the first state to obtain HHS approval to use SNAP data to verify eligibility for Medicaid automatically for both the initial enrollment and ongoing annual renewals (the other states have only used auto-enrollment for the initial enrollment).

As of May 2016, the state’s Medicaid program has been renamed “Healthy Louisiana.” Previously, Louisiana Medicaid was known as Bayou Health. By August 2016, Louisiana had enrolled 74 percent of the newly-eligible population. By February 2017, enrollment in expanded Medicaid had reached 398,193 — surpassing the state’s total projected enrollment in under eight months. And by August 2019, enrollment in expanded Medicaid stood at more than 450,000 people.

ACA and exchange implementation in Louisiana

Louisiana is among the 26 states that initially left all responsibility for its health insurance marketplace to the federal government. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal repeatedly rejected a state-run exchange and even returned a $1 million federal planning grant. He also refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, although Governor John Bel Edwards reversed Jindal’s position on Medicaid expansion, and eligibility was expanded in mid-2016.

Louisiana health insurance exchange links

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

Louisiana Department of Insurance, Office of Health Insurance
Assists consumers who have purchased insurance on the individual market or who have insurance through an employer who only does business in Louisiana.
(225) 219-4770 / Toll Free: (800) 259-5301