The Affordable Care Act (AFA) promised to provide affordable health care to all enrollees. Instead, many insurance companies have grown increasingly concerned with the high medical costs and low enrollment in the marketplace, and warn that Obamacare is unsustainable.
“Basically, many of
the enrollees in the marketplace or state exchanges are people with health
concerns that make them a bad risk, a risk that insurers would have otherwise
preferred to avoid,” Devon Herrick, senior
fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, told Patient Daily.
the way the AFA was supposed to overcome this was it expected younger,
healthier people to pay higher premiums to offset the high medical costs of
people more expensive to insure – a plan that doesn’t work very well, Herrick
one thing, people know when they are getting a bad deal," Herrick said. "Young people avoided
the exchange because even through their premiums were lower than, say, middle
aged or older people, they were still rather high compared to their expected
health needs. They were paying $200, even $300 a month.”
According to a study conducted by Blue Cross, the average medical
costs for a new enrollee in 2015 were “19 percent higher than employer-based group
members in 2014 and 22 percent higher in 2015.”
Herrick said middle-income people have shied away from the exchange because premiums
are too high and they are not getting any kind of subsidies.
basically the only people, or the people mostly like to flock to the exchanges
are low-income people who qualify for premium subsidies, for cost-sharing
subsidies and people with health conditions,” he said.
added that approximately 82 percent of enrollees in the exchanges are people
who qualify for some type of subsidy, and that research shows health is
correlated with income -- the more money people have, in general, the better
their health is.
shows that people who tend to flock to the exchanges are more likely to have chronic
health problems such as diabetes, HIV and hepatitis C,
factor is that many people are gaming the system.
they don’t bother to sign up and then they have a health concern," Herrick said. "At least
until this year they could sign up late using a special enrollment. There was
no policing of whether you qualified. You could get care provided, and then you could always just bail out of the market.”
Herrick said regulations forcing insurers to accept all applicants without
adjusting premiums based on health were attempted in the '90s, but after state
premiums skyrocketed, insurers left the market, forcing legislators in most of
the states that had adopted the regulation to backtrack.
is real tough, a very tough problem to basically take healthy people and make
them pay double of what their expected costs would be so that you can cross
subsidize people who are obviously not healthy,” Herrick said.
in health care involves charging higher premiums to one group of consumers in
order to subsidize lower premiums for another group.
I am telling people nowadays is that we can’t create an insurance policy that just
magically cross-subsidizes,” Herrick said. “We need to get better at treating
our most costly patients.”
Herrick doesn’t believe the current health care system will get better, unfortunately.
insurers were hoping it would stabilize at some point, which is why the
re-insurance programs were designed to be temporary," he said. "The issue is it is kind of
like a snowball effect. Initially the insurance company has some risk costs,
more than others, so they raise premiums."
problem with that approach, however, is the healthiest people are driven to
cancel their premiums because of frustration over ever-rising premiums.
next year your risk approval is even less healthy and so the insurance company
has to raise premiums," Herrick said. "And so, again, in the next round of healthy people again (they) say, ‘Good lord, this is costly,’ and they bail out. So pretty soon all you have left in the pool are the sickest
UnitedHealth Group, the parent of
UnitedHealthcare, the largest single health carrier in the country, will
reportedly only sell government-subsidized individual plans in a handful of
states in 2017.
The insurer announced its plan to exit
most Obamacare exchange markets due to weak enrollment and high medical costs.
Last year, the company
predicted substantial improvement in Obamacare business this year, but then realized
it needed to make drastic changes after it became abundantly clear that the
company could not sustain the medical costs of new customers.
Many, including Herrick, predict
other insurers will take similar action.
“Over time -- and that is
what happened to states that tried this in the '90s -- the risk pools
increasingly become sick pools," he said. "And sick pools have extremely high premiums
because they have riskier enrollees. So this may just be kind (of) the tipping
point where it goes from an unknown to downhill very fast."
Health care expert says Obamacare may be at a tipping point and going 'downhill very fast'