Is Healthcare Reform dead? Maybe, but the President promises to sign Exec Orders allowing for health plans to be offered through Associations. It could be that now is a good time to discuss selling cross state lines.

It sounds as though President Trump may sign executive order(s) this week or next that would permit the forming of association health plans (AHPs) that would provide plans for employers and/or individuals. Years ago we called them Multiple Employer Trust (MET) or Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) and so forth. They provided affordable competitive alternatives that could be easily sold across state lines.

If AHPs, METs and MEWAs are well managed then why not give employers more alternatives to lower cost and improve benefits? We’ll discuss AHPs in more detail next week after President Trump signs and releases the details of his Executive Orders allowing for AHPs.

The President states that his Order will allow for selling cross state lines which is the topic of today’s post.

When discussing the prospect of selling health insurance cross state lines, during the heat of HCR earlier this year, there were objections to this idea, some reasonable. Now, given the status of HCR in Washington DC and the probability of no significant reform, maybe we should kick this around a bit, and debate the reasonable objections.

One objection, to selling cross state lines, was a fear that sub-standard benefit plans might be offered which if sold to unsuspecting employers could lack benefits, ;eave people hanging with large medical bills and cause problems. Clearly, some folks have gotten comfortable with the pre-set benefit designs of ACA even with their increase cost and inflexible nature of only having 4 “flavors” from which to choose.

The opponents of selling cross-state lines were/are afraid that carriers would build plans in one state with stripped-out benefits and lower cost then sell those plans in another state. The purchaser might think they are buying a “gold or silver” plan but under closer scrutiny would be getting something less.

The goal of lowering cost and providing alternatives to the rigid expensive metallic plans is appealing but one must admit than when more alternatives are available the potential for confusion is there.

The opponents other reasonable objection is that if lower cost plans are offered cross-state lines that it might imperil the financial stability of in-state plans. Examples of in-state plans could be plans associated with the Blue Shield and Blue Cross organizations but one could add many HMOs which tend to be landlocked so to speak. These in-state plans often have large market share and wield political clout within their state’s legislature.

If plans with large market share, such as the Blues or HMO, experience group migration to lower cost plans, offered by AHPs or plans from other states, then their revenues could be reduced. But, would their profitability be impaired? The fact is that well designed, properly presented and purchased lower cost plans could pull groups away from large in-state plans. In business that’s called competition, isn’t it?

Another obstacle, maybe the biggest, cited by opponents is that you have 50 independent state insurance commissioners most of which don’t want to relinquish any control over the plans in their state. It’s a turf thing. Some of these Insurance Commissioners, especially ones from large liberal states, do not want to see any plans compete with their state’s ACA Exchange. They will resist AHPs and selling cross state lines.

Shouldn’t we consider the idea of selling across stateliness as a chance to increase competition and lower cost? Clearly, it would allow smaller insurers, that are excellent companies but not household names, compete with the huge carrier names we all recognize.

One step that would be easy and helpful is to expand the ERISA Preemption which would allow small employers to get access to great self-funding plans.

Self-funded plans are regulated by ERISA and managed by the Department of Labor. Insurance commissioners only get to rule over the “fully insured” insurers in their states so ERISA plans will be largely free from the heavy burdens many states put on fully insured plans.

However, many states have recently enacted bills to “kill” self-funded plans and prevent smaller employers, with 100 or fewer employees, from getting access to these plans. These state by state “option killing” rules would need to be addressed.

For example, California established arbitrary rules, under Senate bill 161, that mandate how self-funded plans can be priced. Proponents of SB161 admitted that the purpose of this stifling legislation was to prevent smaller employers access to stop-loss plans by making the prices too high thus forcing smaller employers to buy the Exchange.
It was a double blow to employers however because employers did not go to the Exchange because it is not competitive yet were/are blocked from competitively priced self-funded plans.

ERISA and its State Preemption capabilities could be expanded to make it easier for fully insured plans to market across state lines. It could reduce the burdensome processes and long approval times by insurance commissioners and allow more flexibility.

We have all heard the statistics that 1/3 of the counties in the United States have only one insurer offering plans. Expanding ERISA could give the folks living and working in those counties some well deserved relief.

How could insurers offer lower cost fully insured plans yet still offer benefits comparable or richer than the benefit mandates of Platinum, Gold, Silver, etc.?
It’s easy and affordable. It should have been done already and could be accomplished tomorrow with the right vision.

Next week we’ll discuss the details of the President’s Executive Order concerning AHPs and just how to make these affordable (lower cost) alternatives compliant!

Let me know your ideas for selling cross state lines OR your reservations about doing so. I’d love to get your input.

We might as well air this option out a bit because we’re all in this together.
Until next week.

Mark Reynolds
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

 

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