Tag Archives: Ron Harris

What is community rating?

What follows is excerpted from the new healthcare reform briefing paper by Tom Snook and Ron Harris, “Adverse selection and the individual mandate.”

Community rating refers to a health insurance premium rating structure with limited or no variation in the premium rates among insureds. Under community rating requirements, health plans have a reduced ability to vary premium rates so as to be consistent with an individual’s risk characteristics, such as age and gender. Current industry practice in the individual and small group markets is to develop premium rates commensurate with an individual’s actuarially expected costs; for example, younger people have lower rates than older people. A community rating requirement would limit the degree to which a carrier can do this. Limiting the range of rates means raising the lower end and reducing the top end of the rate scale, so that rates are no longer proportionate to expected costs. This creates a cross-subsidy where younger individuals pay more for health insurance to reduce the premiums for older policyholders. The fact that community rating requirements will make insurance more expensive for younger and healthier individuals could serve to undermine the efficacy of the mandate, especially if the mandate is not highly aggressive in terms of penalties for non-compliance.

Click here to see the full paper.

What is adverse selection?

What follows is excerpted from the new healthcare reform briefing paper, “Adverse Selection and the Individual Mandate.”

The purchasing or enrollment decision that an individual makes when deciding whether to obtain health insurance coverage and, if so, what plan of benefits to select, typically represents an exercise of consumer self-interest. It involves consideration of anticipated personal or family needs, price, doctors and hospitals available, other benefits or services, health plan reputation, and various other factors. Adverse selection is the natural process of individuals making insurance purchasing decisions that reflect their own personal circumstances and healthcare needs and desires. Such decisions are generally informed ones, leading to maximization of the cost/benefit tradeoff; and the decisions that maximize this tradeoff favorably for the individual consumer generally have the opposite impact on the insurance program (i.e., lead to higher costs relative to the premium level charged). In recognition of this informed consumer behavior, insurers have developed time-tested underwriting and rate-structuring techniques for mitigating and managing the resulting healthcare risks and costs.

A selection spiral is a worst-case result of adverse selection that can quickly make an insurance program insolvent. The dynamics of a selection spiral work like this: A health plan gets worse risks (higher-cost individuals) than it anticipated in its original rate setting, and so has to increase premium rates to provide adequate revenue to cover these higher costs. However, raising the rates changes the entire cost/benefit equation, and so the rate increase will cause some individuals to drop their coverage—and those who do drop are more likely to be the lower-cost individuals in the pool. As a result, the health plan winds up with a pool of risks even worse than the one it started with, with premiums that again need to be increased to cover the new, higher costs. This sort of spiral can quickly get out of control and lead to the collapse of the insurance pooling mechanism. 

Click here to see the full paper.

Adverse selection and the individual mandate

Several of the reform bills in Congress share a common theme: A move away from the rating and underwriting techniques that are used to manage adverse selection, and a move toward an individual mandate where all people are required to obtain health insurance. A new paper by Thomas D. Snook and Ronald G. Harris focuses on these reforms, and how adverse selection will impact premiums rates in the post-reform world.

Divergence in actuarial value

Different healthcare benefit plans have different actuarial values, which have been defined by some as the ratio of benefit costs to allowed cost (i.e., the cost of covered services, prior to member cost-sharing). In other words, the actuarial value (using that definition) represents the portion of the total cost of covered benefits that are paid by a health insurance plan.

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What role do reimbursement rates play?

What follows is excerpted from the new health reform briefing paper, Understanding Healthcare Plan Costs and Complexities.


Not all health plans pay providers at the same rates, creating another layer of complexity. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services can pay less for Medicare services than commercial insurers because of the strength that comes with its size (it is the largest payor in many if not all U.S. markets) and because of the fact that it is backed by the power of federal law. The same principles apply to state Medicaid programs, although the relatively low levels of reimbursement, even compared to Medicare, have led to problems in a number of geographic areas with access to certain types of providers. In private commercial healthcare plans, the largest insurers can generally negotiate better rates than smaller payors, and typically enjoy competitive advantages as a result.


The fact that large government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid generally pay lower rates than commercial insurance plans creates a pattern of differential revenue levels to providers, which can produce a variety of consequences. For example, hospital payment rates for Medicare and Medicaid are determined unilaterally by those respective public programs. By contrast, most private healthcare plan payment schedules are negotiated. Cost-shifting to nongovernment plans and/or other steps to balance revenue against costs occur because of the overall budget needs and revenue desires of individual hospitals—which vary based on such factors as their mix of patients, their underlying cost structure, and the efficiency of their operations.


There is no easy solution given the need for fair and adequate payment to providers and the need for improved efficiencies and lower costs that do not impair access or quality. Both the potential revenue shortfalls and the need for increased efficiency are real. This added layer of complexity overlays the other variables at work to create a sometimes confounding interplay that demonstrates the shortcomings of simple solutions.

How do differences in provider payment levels affect costs?

What follows is excerpted from the new health reform briefing paper, Understanding Healthcare Plan Costs and Complexities.


Network and provider choice is another dimension that is important in figuring costs. When employees (or individuals purchasing their own insurance) are choosing a benefit plan from a list of potential choices, price will be a factor, and depending on their socioeconomic status, it may be the main factor. But the doctors and hospitals in the plan’s network may also be a factor. Often in the employer group market, provider options must meet certain minimum standards for an employer to even offer a particular benefit plan to its employees. For example, Phoenix has a number of hospitals, but there are three prestigious, tertiary, relatively expensive hospital systems—these are the hospitals with a reputation for excellence in treating complicated conditions and for performing highly specialized surgeries. A plan serving the Phoenix market usually must include two of these three hospitals in its network or find itself at a strong disadvantage from a competitive standpoint.

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