Employer Sponsored Insurance Rate Remains Stable

Since 2009, employer-sponsored insurance has been on the decline in California. A key question around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was whether the reforms would further erode employer-sponsored insurance coverage. A recent survey by the California HealthCare Foundation finds that employer-sponsored insurance in the state has remained stable from 2013 to 2015. Worker eligibility for employer-sponsored insurance also remained stable, and even increased among some groups. However, the percentage of eligible workers who chose to enroll in employer-sponsored insurance declined from 86.4% in 2013 to 80.2% in 2015, bringing California closer to the national average take-up rate of 79%. This decline could be caused by the availability of alternative coverage options through Medi-Cal and Covered California.

HMOs Beat PPOs on Cost and Quality

HMO

California’s commercial HMOs outperform commercial PPOs on most clinical quality measures. They also consistently provide less costly care. The average yearly cost is $4,245 per HMO enrollee versus $4,455 per PPO enrollee, according to the California Regional Health Care Cost & Quality Atlas. The report comes from the Integrated Healthcare Assn., the California Health Care Foundation, and the California Health and Human Services Agency. Differences in benefit designs don’t explain the cost variation since the total cost of care includes enrollee cost-sharing (deductibles and coinsurance) as well as insurance payments to providers.

HMOs may be performing better because they rely on integrated care networks, which generally accept capitation (fixed per-member, per-month payments). So they are accountable for the patients’ health and are generally rewarded for it, according to the report. So why is HMO enrollment declining? PPOs are often less costly for employers since they reduce premiums with higher enrollee cost-sharing, such as deductibles and coinsurance. But employers should look at the whole picture since HMOs produce superior results when you consider quality and the total cost of care, according to the report.

Quality of Care
California’s commercial HMOs perform better than their national counterparts on every clinical quality measure except asthma medication management. At the same time, California’s commercial PPOs perform worse than the national average on five of the six measures.

When Kaiser Permanente is removed from the analysis, the difference in clinical quality between HMOs and PPOs is cut by about half. Also, the performance difference on risk-adjusted total cost of care narrows substantially, but HMOs still outperform PPOs.

Quality is highest in Northern California, solid in Southern California, and weakest in Central California. The study reveals these regional differences is quality:

  • Northern California outperforms Central and Southern California on clinical quality.
  • Central California falls below the statewide average on key clinical measures for cancer, diabetes, and asthma.
  • The lowest performing region is the Eastern region 13, which includes Central California counties Mono, Inyo, and Imperial.
  • The highest performing region is Contra Costa County region in Northern California.
  • Clinical quality scores vary significantly on some measures. For example, 33% of commercial enrollees with diabetes in Alameda County region six have poorly controlled blood sugar, compared to 75% in the Eastern region 13.
  • In Southern California, San Diego County region 19 is the highest performing region, outperforming Northern California regions: San Mateo County region eight and San Francisco County region four.

If all commercially insured Californians got the same quality of care as top-performing regions, nearly 200,000 more people would have been screened for colorectal cancer and 50,000 more women would have been screened for breast cancer in 2013. If care is provided to all Californians at the same cost as in San Diego, the cost of care would decrease 10% for commercially enrolled people. Many factors contribute to regional performance, including socioeconomic characteristics and the availability of medical services.

Medicare Advantage
The quality and cost of care varies widely for seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage. For example, in North Bay counties, 91% of women have gotten appropriate breast cancer screening compared to 70% in the Eastern region 13. The average annual per-enrollee total cost of care for Medicare Advantage enrollees ranges from $11,500 in San Diego County to $14,500 a year in Los Angeles region.

Cost of Care
Geographic variation in cost of care is dramatic—a difference of $1,800 in the average annual per-enrollee total cost of care between the most costly and least costly regions. With one exception, all Northern California regions have higher annual per-enrollee costs than the statewide commercial average of $4,300 while all Southern California regions fall below the statewide average. Central California regions show mixed results on cost. HMOs have a lower average total cost of care than do PPOs in 12 of the 18 regions. More tightly managed care in HMOs may contribute to a lower cost of care. Yet, inpatient bed days and readmission rates are similar for HMOs and PPOs. Emergency department visit rates are actually higher for HMOs. The statewide average annual per-enrollee cost of care for commercially insured Californians is $4,300. Kern County is the least costly HMO region. It’s $1,800 per enrollee, per year less than in Santa Clara County, which is the costliest HMO region. The least costly PPO region is Los Angeles at $2,400 less than San Francisco County, which is the costliest PPO region.

Response to DOJ’s Move To Block Mergers

The Justice Dept. is suing to block two proposed mergers between major health insurance companies, saying the deals violate antitrust laws. The lawsuits argue that a $37 billion merger between Humana and Aetna would lead to higher health-insurance prices, reduced benefits, less innovation, and worse service for over a million Americans. The DOJ also says that the $54 billion acquisition of Cigna by Anthem would be the largest merger in the history of the health insurance industry. California insurance commissioner Dave Jones said, “I urged the DOJ to prevent these health insurance mergers, which would result in a highly concentrated, less competitive health insurance market doing irreparable harm to consumers and businesses. During the public hearings I convened, I questioned executives from Anthem, Cigna, Aetna and Humana. None of the companies were able to substantiate their claims of savings associated with the mergers. Not one company executive was willing to commit to pass along alleged cost savings to consumers through lower premiums. Bigger is not better when it comes to health insurance mergers. History has shown that health insurance mergers result in higher prices, fewer choices, and lower quality of care.”

Dr. Merrill Matthews of The Institute for Policy Innovation said, “The Obama administration is attempting to block the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers because it wants more competition, but if compounding financial losses force these companies to drop out of the exchanges, there won’t be any competition. Two larger health insurers are better than none. Health insurance company mergers started shortly after the ACA passed in order to survive the new environment of high costs and government regulations…For example, Arizona’s Maricopa County was once praised as a center of robust competition with eight insurance companies competing in its ACA exchange. But in just a few years, that number will drop to only three insurers, two of which are Aetna and Cigna. If Washington stifles these same companies’ attempts to stay afloat in the exchanges, Maricopa County and other areas could see only a single insurer available in its marketplace—if any at all…If the Department of Justice’s stonewalling is successful, those insurers will likely join many others and pull out of the Obamacare exchanges, leaving even less competition and higher prices. And that will force the administration to devise even more excuses for why health care costs are exploding.”

Home Care Costs Rise Again in California

The cost of long-term care from a home health aide has increased in California and nationally, according to a Genworth study. Long term care costs are up in all care settings in California from 2015. Home is where most Americans get long-term care. “Although home care costs are much less expensive than those in facility-based settings, the costs can add up to as much as $54,912 per year in California, which is why it’s imperative for consumers to begin planning now for how they will pay for that care should they need it,” said Tom McInerney, president and CEO of Genworth. He noted that at least 70% of Americans 65 and over will need some form of long-term care and support. The following are key trends in California’s major metropolitan areas:

  • The cost of care in a semi-private nursing home in Los Angeles is 8.8% less than the state average, at $6,935 per month.
  • Home health aides cost 18.52% more in the San Diego metro area than the national average, at $4,576 per month.
  • The cost of private nursing home care in San Francisco is $15,193 per month, which 97.36% more  than the national average.

Moving Medi-Cal Forward

California is a national leader in extending Medicaid to low-income people. But the program has not kept pace with dramatic changes in the Medi-Cal population, according to a report by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). Medi-Cal is now the largest single source of health insurance in the state. But Medi-Cal has also become a complex patchwork due to the its relationship with the counties, how care is delivered and financed, marketplace developments, and multiple initiatives that have been adopted throughout the years. This patchwork has had mixed results in quality of care, access to care, care coordination, and patient satisfaction. California is looking to reforms to drive timely access to high quality, coordinated, and cost effective care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has triggered a shift toward value-based purchasing in the commercial marketplace as well as in Medicare and Medicaid. These reforms are challenging in any environment, but the structural underpinnings of California’s Medicaid program make such changes all the more difficult to address.

Medi-Cal has accomplished a great deal in a short time, including a significant expansion of coverage, and important delivery system innovations in communities throughout the state. With Medi-Cal’s expanded role and the new Medi-Cal 2020 waiver recently launched, there is an extraordinary opportunity to reform the delivery system. To do so, California needs a plan to deliver better care and promote better health. The California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) retained Manatt Health to consider the current state of the Medi-Cal program and delivery reform, focusing particularly on Medi-Cal managed care.

Many states are developing ways to reform their Medicaid care delivery systems. For example, Oregon established locally driven regional coordinated care organizations, which bear full risk and are considered managed care organizations under federal rules. They have flexibility in designing their systems of care and, to some degree, choosing the services they will provide while meeting statewide quality and cost metrics. Massachusetts and New York are moving to require health plans to contract with accountable-care organizations or adopt alternative payment methods with a large portion of their providers. Colorado does not rely on managed care plans, but contracts directly with accountable care organizations. To get the report, “Moving Medi-Cal Forward on the Path to Delivery System,” visit chcf.org.

Bill Would Eliminate Medicare Advocacy Services

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved the FY17 Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations bill, which would eliminate funding for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). It’s called the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) in California. It is the only program that provides free, unbiased, one-on-one Medicare coverage and benefit counseling for beneficiaries, family members, and caregivers. According to California Health Advocates, “This dangerous bill aims to eliminate this important, effective program that helps millions of beneficiaries nationwide better understand and navigate the increasingly complex Medicare program.”

DMHC Approves Aetna’s acquisition of Humana

The California Department of Managed Health Care (DHMC) approved Aetna’s acquisition of Humana under these conditions:

  • Aetna will keep premium rate increases to a minimum for HMO small group.
  • The DMHC will have increased oversight on rates.
  • Aetna will keep key functions and operations in the state, such as medical decision making and
  • enrollee grievance and appeals systems.
  • Aetna will improve quality of care measured through rating and oversight programs under the National Committee for Quality Assurance and Office of the Patient Advocate.

Over the next three years, Aetna will make several community investments to educate at-risk populations on their health care rights, increase access to care for low-income and underserved communities, and improve California’s health care infrastructure:

  • $6 million to support consumer assistance programs to help seniors and people with disabilities understand their health care rights.
  • $3 million to provide dental services in low-income and/or underserved communities and scholarships for dentists to be trained to serve young children (ages 0-3).
  • $23 million to strengthen and support the health care industry in the economically distressed community of Fresno through the expansion of a service center.
  • $1 million to expand telehealth services to increase access to mental health care and reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.
  • $16.5 million in California’s health care infrastructure to support accountable care organizations and pay for performance programs.

Commissioner Urges DOJ to Block Anthem/Cigna Merger

CIGNA-AnthemMerger

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is urging the Dept. of Justice to block the merger of Anthem and Cigna. The merger, which is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion, would make Anthem the nation’s largest health insurer. Anthem’s market share would exceed 50% in 28 California counties and 40% in 38 counties. Jones said that the merger would reduce access to quality care, and reduce health insurance affordability. Under California law, the commissioner does not have direct approval authority over the Anthem and Cigna merger since Cigna is domiciled in Connecticut.

At a public hearing on March 29, Anthem executives claimed that the merger would result in $2 billion in savings. But Jones said that Anthem provided only vague and speculative assertions when asked to back up that claim. At the hearing, Anthem would not commit to pass any savings onto consumers through lower prices.

Jones said, “More competition in California’s consolidated health insurance markets is needed, not less. Competition helps restrain prices, provides choice, and improves quality. The Anthem and Cigna merger reduces competition in a market that is already dominated by just four health insurers. It will likely result in reducing consumers’ choices, increased prices, and lower quality care,” he said. Jones provided the following statistics about California in 2014:

  • The four largest insurers controlled 85% of the market.
  • Four insurers controlled 82% of the large group market statewide.
  • Four insurers controlled 88% of the small group market.
  • Four insurers controlled 93% of the individual market.
  • In Covered California, the four largest plans controlled 95% of the individual market in 2014 and 91% of the market in 2015.

California Employer Health Benefits: Workers Pay the Price

The percentage of employers offering coverage continued to decline in California, according to a report by the California HealthCare Foundation. Only 57% of employers say they provided health insurance to employees in 2015, down from 69% in 2000. Twenty-seven percent reduced benefits or increased cost sharing, and 41% said they were very or somewhat likely to increase employees’ premium contribution in the next year. This trend will have major implications for household budgets. The report also finds the following:

  • 42% of  firms that had  many workers earning $23,000 or less offered health coverage in 2015 compared to 18% in 2014.
  • Health insurance premiums for family coverage grew 4.5%, which is a slower growth rate than in recent years. Family coverage premiums have seen a cumulative 216% increase since 2002, compared to a 37% increase in prices.
  • The average monthly health insurance premium was $573 for single coverage and $1,554 for family coverage in California, including the employer contribution. It was significantly higher than the national average.
  • 40% of workers in small firms faced an annual deductible of at least $1,000 for single coverage, compared to 10% of workers in larger firms.

New Law Voids Life Insurance Suicide Exclusion for Terminally Ill

dignity

The End of Life Option Act, Assembly Bill X2-15 (Eggman) is now in effect. Under the new law, if a terminally ill Californian, who meets the criteria in the law, takes medication to end their own life, it is not considered a suicide, so life insurance policy exclusions for suicide do not apply. Under the Death with Dignity law, patients of sound mind who who have a terminal illness and meet certain qualifications can request aid-in-dying medication. Commissioner Jones said, “Terminally ill patients in California now have a choice when facing end-of-life decisions and do not have to worry that the choice will cause them to lose their life or health insurance or annuity policy…This law will make it possible for those who meet the protections in the new law to have the option to get a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug from their physician.” Consumers and their families with questions about the new law or its application are encouraged to contact the department online or 800-927-4357. 

Last Updated 10/09/2019

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