Monday, January 11, 2016

Obamacare CO-OPs - the NeverEnding Story?

News came last September of the collapse of Health Republic New York, the nation’s biggest nonprofit CO-OP health insurer created by the Affordable Care Act.  It was “ordered to shut down as is reels toward insolvency, disrupting coverage for more than 200,000 New York State residents.”  But the disruption in coverage is only part of the story.  Health Republic’s collapse has also created financial domino effects across the state, for hospitals and doctors - and for other insurers.

Hospitals and doctors told New York Senators Wednesday [January 6th] they’ve got $200 million or more in unpaid bills because of last year’s financial failure of insurance cooperative Health Republic,  and they want the state to step in.”

"UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, said its rates for Obamacare plans in NewYork may be too low because the failure of a competing insurer last year might lead to shortfalls in payments designed to stabilize Obamacare markets – payments they counted on when setting their 2016 premiums. "

Additional serious losses in NY in 2016 increases the likelihood that United will pull out of the State Exchange for 2017. Of course United's participation in all other Exchanges for 2017 is in doubt and the doubt just got bigger.  United’s CEO Stephen Hemsley now says that participating in the Obamacare individual Insurance Exchanges “was for us a bad decision

Most NY insurers, not just United, say that the New York State rate-review process failed.  The New York State Insurance Department disagrees.

UnitedHealth requested a 22 percent rate increase for individual Obamacare plans. Instead, state regulators allowed the company to boost rates by 1.65 percent. The company also sells business under the Oxford brand, which requested a 5.32 percent rate increase,and was forced instead to cut rates by 12.25 percent.

But Health Republic was able to lock in rates much lower than its competitors, NY's Depatment of Financial Services health insurance honcho Troy Oechsner claims that “we did the right thing at the time, given the uncertainty of the market.”

Was this simple regulatory failure?  Or could it have been deliberate political maneuvering of rate approvals to show that Obamacare really reduced medical insurance premiums?  And to help Health Republic capture significant membership so this leading Obamacare CO-OP would be hailed as a “success?”

If it turns out political maneuvering is even a little bit true, my guess is that there are political influence peddlers from Washington to New York (and insurance dept officials in New York, too) who should lawyer up and start worrying about significant prison time.

Note:  there are two other co-ops sharing the "HealthRepublic name" - in New Jersey and Oregon - but they're not affiliated with New York's version and aren't affected in this particular instance.

However: all three were set up by the Brooklyn-based Freelancers Union, about which we've written extensively - if not favorably - in the past.
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