Health Plan Weekly

ACA Marketplaces See Robust Enrollment, So Far

Nearly 4.6 million people have enrolled in Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage since the start of the 2024 open enrollment period on Nov. 1, a 36% increase compared to the same point during the 2023 OEP, according to CMS. This year’s open enrollment season will last from Nov. 1, 2023, to Jan. 15, 2024, in most states and longer in some state-based marketplaces (SBMs).

More than 4 million people have enrolled through in the 32 states that use that platform, and another 501,962 have enrolled across 18 states and the District of Columbia, which use their own marketplaces. Most states are seeing significant membership growth in 2024 compared with the same period last year. Mississippi reported a signup surge of almost 114%.


News Briefs: Trump Revives ACA Repeal Talk

Former President and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump posted on TruthSocial on Nov. 25 that he is “seriously looking at alternatives” to the Affordable Care Act. He added that the failure to overturn the ACA during his presidency “was a low point for the Republican Party, but we should never give up!” Following Trump’s comments, Citi analyst Jason Cassorla wrote in a note to clients that “we got the sense that the Trump headline didn’t have as much of a dampening impact in comparison to the headlines from back in 2017 when the repeal/replace rhetoric was in full swing and Republicans offered alternative such as block grants and other considerations.” Cassorla added that “as the 2024 election rhetoric heats up, we remain watchful of any momentum change on this front.”

CVS Health Corp.-owned Aetna has reversed course on a previously announced telehealth coverage change, Politico reported. The insurer had planned on ending virtual coverage for intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization program care on Dec. 1, but an Aetna spokesperson told Politico that Aetna would no longer go through with that decision. Groups such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the Consortium Representing Eating Disorders Care raised concerns about the proposed change.


Regulators Aim to Crack Down on Cross-Market Hospital Deals

Hospitals, buoyed by stabilized finances, have resumed a robust level of transactions. Those deals have drawn more frequent antitrust action by the Biden administration and many state governments, which view hospital mergers and acquisitions as an omen of high health care prices — and augur tough rate negotiations for health insurers.

An increasing number of those transactions involve so-called “cross market” partnerships, in which hospitals from different markets — and often different states — tie up to avoid antitrust scrutiny from state regulators. State antitrust officials often have more leeway to block hospital transactions, since federal regulators are not allowed to investigate either most intrastate deals or interstate deals with combined revenues of under $111 million.


Copay Accumulators Get a Reprieve: Commercial Plans’ Use Will Not Be Restricted by CMS – Yet

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants clarification from the federal court that recently ruled against the agency’s interpretation of the law when it comes to commercial insurance plans’ use of copay accumulators before it revises its current policy on such programs.

The Health and Human Services Department filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Nov. 27 seeking an explanation for the court’s late September decision that the policy, which allows plans to use copay accumulators broadly, must be set aside and remanded back to CMS because of the agency’s contradictory reading of the same statutory and regulatory language.


Medicare Part D Coverage for Humira Biosimilars Has Inspector General’s Attention

The HHS Office of Inspector General will evaluate the extent and quality of Medicare Part D plan coverage for biosimilars to AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab) and expects to issue a report on the study in 2025, according to a recent update to the OIG’s work plan.

The study could provide fodder for reforms to pharmacy benefit manager rebating practices and for changes in Part D coverage policy that could help boost the uptake of biosimilars. Stakeholders and policy makers have viewed adalimumab biosimilars as a test case for the viability of the biosimilar model.


News Briefs: Nearly 4.6M People Have Enrolled in ACA Exchange Plans for 2024

Nearly 4.6 million have enrolled in Affordable Care Act exchange plans for 2024 since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, including 919,900 people who did not have exchange plans this year. The data captures sign-ups through Nov. 18 for people in the 32 states that use for enrollment and through Nov. 11 for people in the 17 states and Washington, D.C., that have state-based marketplaces. CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a press release that “we have seen an increase in plan selections and a significant increase in the number of new enrollees year over year.” The open enrollment period runs through Jan. 15, 2024, for states using the website, while deadlines for state-based marketplaces vary.

The Biden administration on Nov. 16 released reports outlining steps it is taking to address social determinants of health and emphasizing the need to improve individuals’ social circumstances. The documents include the U.S. Playbook to Address Social Determinants of Health, the Call to Action to Address Health-Related Social Needs and a Medicaid and CHIP Health-Related Social Needs Framework. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release that “it is clear that the health of our people does not exist in a vacuum, but it is affected by our access to stable housing, healthy food and clean air to breathe.”


Elevated Outpatient Care, No Recession: 2023 Has Surprised Analysts

Three quarters into 2023, Moody’s Investors Service says the predictions it made at the start of the year for the health insurance sector — namely, earnings growth in the mid-to-high single digits — have largely proven accurate. However, while financial results were consistent with the credit rating firm’s expectations, analysts said in a new report that the reasons for those results were not exactly what they predicted.

“Our outlook was premised on reduced membership as a result of Medicaid redeterminations and the impact of a possible recession on commercial membership,” the analysts wrote in a report released on Nov. 20. “However, with no recession this year, commercial membership has been better than expected, but its growth has been offset by higher-than-expected MA [Medicare Advantage] utilization.” Additionally, “although Medicaid redeterminations are underway, their impact so far has been relatively small.”


Nurse Practitioners, Urgent Care Take Center Stage as Patient Trends Shift

Fewer people with employment-based health plans visited primary care practices, while more have turned to telemedicine and urgent care clinics since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Using claims data from 2013 to 2021, researchers found that primary care office visits at a family/general practice, internal medicine practice or with a medical doctor dropped during that time. The share of visits with a nurse practitioner, however, increased significantly, from 4% in 2013 to 16% in 2021.


Decline in Primary Care Use Presents Challenge for Payers

A new report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) confirms that primary care for commercially insured patients is in the midst of a significant transformation. In a study of claims data from 2013 to 2021, EBRI found that fewer patients have a primary care practitioner (PCP), more non-physician practitioners deliver primary care than ever, and sites of care are changing. And the author of the report says he believes the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift.

EBRI’s findings are a mixed bag for payers. On the one hand, the report confirms that the size of the workforce able to deliver primary care is likely growing, and more patients may have better access to a variety of primary care options: 95-97% of all primary care visits were in an office setting prior to 2020, but that share declined to 86% in 2020. Seven to eight percent of primary care visits went to telemedicine that year and 3-4% went to urgent care clinics. However, the report also found that primary care costs have not gone down despite broader access.


While Insurers Tout Value-Based Wins, Wide Adoption Remains Elusive

Across the U.S. in 2022, 24.5% of health care payments involved two-sided financial risk reimbursement arrangements, according to an analysis published on Oct. 30 from the Health Care Payment Learning & Action Network (HCPLAN). That is up from 19.6% in 2021 and 17.9% in 2020.

While the upward trend is encouraging for those interested in shifting away from a fee-for-service model, health policy experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that more needs to be done to encourage providers to embrace value-based care. They add that adoption varies based on the payer, with Medicare leading the way and private commercial plans lagging.