We recently ran a poll on the best course of action to reduce adverse selection if the PPACA individual mandate is struck down by the Supreme Court. The number one answer was “use limited enrollment windows to reduce the occurrence of people joining a plan only when they become sick.”
The PPACA already requires that state health insurance exchanges provide an initial open enrollment period as well as an annual open enrollment period. The idea suggested by the report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on potential ways to increase voluntary enrollment is that more restrictive enrollment periods might be useful in the absence of a mandate.
In the absence of a mandate, open enrollment periods could be enhanced beyond the annual periods provided for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended (PPACA) by incorporating different open enrollment period frequencies and coupling them with various penalties for late enrollees who do not enroll when first eligible. Limiting access to coverage to only such periods is intended to reduce the likelihood that individuals would otherwise wait until they need health care to enroll.
Open enrollment periods could vary in their frequency. Generally, the less frequent they are, the less likely individuals will risk remaining uninsured until the next such period. While PPACA provides for annual periods, these could be extended to every 18 months, every 2 years, or less frequently—some suggesting as infrequent as every 5 years. Or the open enrollment period could be a one-time event in 2014 with subsequent special open enrollment periods only for individuals experiencing qualifying life events that change eligibility for coverage, such as giving birth or attaining adulthood, divorce, or changing jobs.
The report suggests that changing open enrollment frequency could be combined with financial penalties or restrictions on coverage for those who miss the window. Key concerns raised by the GAO include the following:
- Financial penalties might make coverage even more unaffordable for the low-income individuals the exchanges are designed to help
- Overly restrictive enrollment periods may run counter to the goal of increased coverage
- The additional inconvenience might influence the younger, healthier segments of the population to avoid enrolling
Interestingly, enrollment windows have been used to manage adverse selection related to the PPACA already. In 2010, Oregon implemented an enrollment window for child-only policies after two major insurers stopped carrying such policies in response to the PPACA’s elimination of preexisting conditions underwriting. Insurers were afraid that parents might wait to enroll until their children became ill.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempts to balance the adverse selection inherent in its guaranteed issue approach by enforcing an individual mandate to purchase insurance. This individual mandate will be at the heart of the Supreme Court proceedings later this month.
Media coverage of insurance industry practices such as recission have made many Americans sympathetic to the idea of guaranteed issue without regard to preexisting conditions. But guaranteed issue without a mandate of some kind may have some serious consequences.
So, how does the individual mandate in PPACA actually work, and how would it work in practice? Although the effects of any complex policy are difficult to predict, Milliman consultant Paul Houchens recently wrote a detailed treatment of the subject, Measuring the Strength of the Individual Mandate.
If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate, there are other policy options that could potentially achieve similar results. These were collected in a report by the Government Accountability Office based on interviews with industry experts:
- Modify open enrollment periods and impose late enrollment penalties.
- Expand employers’ roles in autoenrolling and facilitating employees’ health insurance enrollment.
- Conduct a public education and outreach campaign.
- Provide broad access to personalized assistance for health coverage enrollment.
- Impose a tax to pay for uncompensated care.
- Allow greater variation in premium rates based on enrollee age.
- Condition the receipt of certain government services upon proof of health insurance coverage.
- Use health insurance agents and brokers differently.
- Require or encourage credit rating agencies to use health insurance status as a factor in determining credit ratings.
Weeks of closed-door meetings with members of the Senate Finance Committee may be coming to a head this week. Apparently the public plan and an employer mandate are not in the Finance Committee’s compromise bill and co-ops and certain insurance market reform are in. The details regarding inclusion of an individual mandate are still unclear.
As the details come out—and finally there are some specifics from Kent Conrad—it may be worthwhile to review what we know about healthcare co-ops, specifically how they behave in the presence or absence of a mandate. This is excerpted from a recent Q&A with Milliman principal Jim O’Connor on the topic:
Q: How would co-ops be affected by the presence of an individual or employer mandate?
A: It is probably valuable to first clarify some language. An “individual mandate” is a requirement that everyone obtain health plan coverage. An “employer mandate” is a requirement imposed on employers. Neither should be confused with a “benefit mandate,” which requires that health plans cover certain types or levels of benefits.
Individual and/or employer mandates, if constructed correctly, would likely bring a positive impact on the healthcare market overall, compared to a guaranteed issue environment without any such mandates. Contrary to popular opinion, a proportionately large number of the uninsured are relatively healthy. Bringing all of these uninsureds into the market would not only result in a positive impact on insurers overall in a guaranteed issue environment, but also help redirect people to more appropriate and less costly healthcare provider settings (e.g., uninsureds would no longer need to go through a hospital emergency room to get to see a doctor for routine and non-urgent care). However, it should be noted that although the uninsured utilize considerably fewer healthcare services (partially because they tend to be healthy, but also because they defer treatment as long as they can), when they get coverage they are likely to utilize an increased level of services, at least temporarily. This additional utilization would need to be anticipated.
If open enrollment periods were required, a sound mechanism to pool high risks of the unhealthy would help stabilize the market and financial operations of both co-ops and traditional commercial insurers. This could be done through high-risk pools or through a risk-adjuster mechanism similar to that used by the Medicare Advantage program. Depending on the effectiveness of the risk-adjuster method, health plans might not need to increase rates in anticipation of biased adverse selection. A mandatory high-risk pool might have a similar effect, especially if consistent government support were used to help fund the pool. By contrast, a voluntary high-risk pool, funded only by the insurers participating, would likely not be as successful in lowering rates.
Read the entire interview