Health Plan Weekly

MCO Stock Performance, May 2024

Here’s how major health insurers’ stock performed in May 2024. Elevance Health, Inc. had the highest closing stock price among major commercial insurers as of May 31, 2024, at $538.48. Humana Inc. had the highest closing stock price among major Medicare insurers at $358.12.

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© 2024 MMIT

AHIP 2024: Execs Say Health Disparities Persist Despite Higher Awareness

Ever since racial justice activism swept the country in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, racial disparities in health care have become a focus in the health care industry. Perhaps even more than in recent years, health equity was one of the most-discussed topics at the AHIP 2024 conference in Las Vegas.

But presenters at the conference made clear — as have their counterparts at other industry meetups — that health equity is a work in progress. Awareness of racial health disparities may be at an all-time high, but tangible progress is as elusive as ever.

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What Happens If Enhanced Premium Tax Credits Expire?

If enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies are extended past 2025, 17.4 million people would receive subsidized coverage next year, compared with 10.2 million if only original advance premium tax credits (APTC) are in place, a recent Urban Institute analysis shows. Meanwhile, four million more uninsured people will be covered in 2025 if the subsidy enhancements are extended.

The enhanced APTCs — which were initially passed as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act and extended as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — resulted in lower premiums for ACA marketplace enrollees at all income levels and allowed many low-income enrollees to access $0-premium plans. If Congress doesn’t act, the credits will expire at the end of the 2025 plan year.

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Blue Shield-CalPERS Deal Could Alter Employer-Plan Landscape

CalPERS, the California state agency that administers state and local government employees’ benefits and retirement programs, on June 12 selected Blue Shield of California to administer the agency’s statewide PPO plan, which is projected to have about 400,000 members when the contract starts in the 2025 plan year. The size of the contract makes the deal notable, as does the fact that Blue Shield (which already administers a CalPERS HMO with approximately 175,000 members) will take CalPERS’ PPO business away from incumbent Elevance Health, Inc.

But the structure of the contract itself is what has the health insurance business abuzz. In the new deal, Blue Shield will take on both upside and downside risk based on the plan’s rate of medical cost growth. According to a CalPERS press release, Blue Shield in 2029 stands to gain $31 million in additional fees if it can cut spending growth by 5.5% annually — but Blue Shield would have to pay the agency $61.5 million if it hits “observed trend compared to benchmark” of 5.5%.

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ICHRAs: Poised for Major Growth or Overhyped ‘Niche Market’?

During Oscar Health, Inc.’s recent Investor Day presentation, CEO Mark Bertolini declared that “ICHRA’s time has come,” referring to Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements, which the insurer said it believes is the key to expanding its presence in the individual insurance market. However, some industry experts and two much larger health insurers aren’t convinced that these alternatives to traditional employer-sponsored plans are poised for their big break.

“They’ve done a really good job getting a lot of attention on something that’s really a non-issue,” Ari Gottlieb, principal of health care consulting firm A2 Strategies, says of Oscar’s ability to generate headlines about the ICHRA’s market potential.

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Elevance Execs Dish on ACA Exchange, Commercial Segment Strategies

Although improving Medicare Advantage margins has been the hottest topic recently in managed care, executives at Elevance Health, Inc. at a recent investor conference made some noteworthy comments about the firm’s commercial and Affordable Care Act exchange businesses — both of which insurers are talking more glowingly about amid government-business headwinds.

Regarding the company’s ACA exchange business, “we certainly aren’t looking for membership over margin,” Morgan Kendrick, president for the insurers commercial and specialty health benefits segment, said during a June 12 question-and-answer session at the Goldman Sachs Global Healthcare Conference.

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Since 2010, Some Minority Groups’ Uninsured Rates Have Dropped by Half

Uninsured rates among Black, Latino, Asian and Native American communities plummeted from 2010 to 2022, as more people gained health care coverage through federal health care programs and employer-sponsored plans, according to reports released by HHS.

The uninsured rate for Black Americans under age 65 dropped from 20.9% to 10.8% between 2010 and 2022, and the rate dropped from 32.7% to 18.0% for Latino Americans during that time. Meanwhile, the uninsured rate went from 16.6% to 6.2% for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI), and from 32.4% to 19.9% for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN).

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As Insurers Are Sued Over AI Use, Regulators Aim to ‘Get Ahead’ of the Issue

Three major health insurers have denied allegations brought against them in lawsuits pertaining to the use of artificial intelligence in coverage decisions. While The Cigna Group, Humana Inc. and UnitedHealth Group may succeed in getting the cases dismissed, those companies and other payers could continue to face scrutiny over their use of AI, according to Ileana M. Hernandez, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

“The staggering volume of claims and complexity of claims that insurance plans need to review on a daily basis make insurance reviews an attractive target for using AI,” said Hernandez, who spoke on June 12 during a Manatt webinar. “However, the use of algorithms for review of coverage issues has resulted in questions, concerns, investigations and now lawsuits.”

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News Briefs: CMS Reportedly Plans to Redo MA Star Ratings

In light of recent court rulings, CMS said in a memo released on June 13 that it plans to recalculate the 2024 quality ratings of Medicare Advantage plans. Earlier this month, SCAN Health Plan won a legal challenge to CMS’s calculation of the 2024 Star Ratings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That same court also ruled that CMS must recalculate Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia’s MA Star Ratings. Elevance Health, Inc., the parent company of the Anthem Georgia plan, disclosed in March that CMS had updated its original ratings, which will lead to an additional $190 million in revenue for plan year 2025. In its memo, CMS wrote that it has recalculated the 2024 Star Ratings — which determine 2025 quality bonus payments (QBP) — using the published 2023 Star Ratings cut points. “We have assigned all contracts the recalculated 2024 overall and/or summary Star Ratings if those recalculated ratings result in higher QBP Ratings than what was previously assigned based on the contract’s overall and/or summary 2024 Star Ratings that were released in October 2023,” the agency said.

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‘We Don’t Need to Do M&A,’ Cigna Chief Financial Officer Says

Months after rumors of a brewing deal with Humana Inc. generated a spate of headlines, The Cigna Group’s chief financial officer is signaling clearly that the company isn’t eager to jump into the mergers and acquisitions game until the conditions are just right.

“We continue to view inorganic activity through the lens of, it needs to be strategically attractive for the company,” CFO Brian Evanko said during a question-and-answer session with analyst Nathan Rich during the Goldman Sachs Global Healthcare Conference on June 11.

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© 2024 MMIT