✦ After being confirmed by the Senate, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure was sworn in as the new CMS administrator on May 27 by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Chiquita Brooks-LaSure’s historic appointment and confirmation as the first Black woman to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services further demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to bringing diverse perspectives and seasoned leaders to drive and improve the U.S. health care system,” Becerra said in a statement. Brooks-LaSure, whose past roles include deputy director for policy at CMS’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, House Democratic staffer and managing director at the professional services firm Manatt Health, is a longtime Affordable Care Act champion.
✦ In 2021, the average benchmark premium for Affordable Care Act exchange plans fell 1.7% year over year, a slightly larger decline than the declines of 1.2% and 3.2% in 2019 and 2020, according to a new analysis from the Urban Institute. “The stability of Marketplace premiums in recent years likely owes to both market-level factors and state policy decisions,” including states’ implementation of reinsurance programs, the report says. While the majority of states saw declines ranging from 0% to 10% (34 states) or small increases of less than 6% (seven states), 10 states saw double-digit declines in their benchmark premiums in 2021. Only one state saw a large increase in benchmark premiums in 2021: North Dakota with 23%. Insurers’ exchange participation in 2021 also increased for the third year in row, with an average of 4.3 insurers participating per rating region. In addition, the analysis suggests that its data “do not reveal a substantial increase in Marketplace enrollment” tied to COVID-19, but it says the pandemic “may have contributed toward the decline in premiums for 2021” since many insurers experienced significant surpluses due to the steep drop in routine and elective care.