Membership Growth

Startups Oscar Health, Bright Health Exit Markets & Tighten Belts

Startup insurers Oscar Health, Inc. and Bright Health Group, Inc. have decided they will no longer sell individual and/or family plans in certain states after this year. Ari Gottlieb, a principal at consulting firm A2 Strategy Group, tells AIS Health that those are signs the companies are looking to stem large losses and shore up their businesses as their stock prices fall and raising additional capital becomes harder.

Gottlieb says he anticipates Cigna Corp, which invested in Oscar earlier this year, could buy the company as soon as the end of the year. The fate of Bright remains unknown, although Gottlieb does not see Oscar, Bright or the two other publicly traded startup insurers (Alignment Healthcare and Clover Health Investments Corp.) becoming profitable anytime soon. Gottleib says Cigna may buy Bright also.

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PHE Unwinding Delay Gives States, MCOs Time to Ease Transitions

With radio silence from HHS on May 16 — when states at the very latest had expected to hear whether the COVID-19 public health emergency would end in July — HHS at press time appeared to be gearing up for another extension of the PHE. This will give states, insurers and other stakeholders more time to prepare for the inevitable resumption of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations, which could cause millions of adults and children to lose health insurance coverage.

The PHE has been extended multiple times since the start of the pandemic and remains a moving target. As a condition of receiving enhanced federal funds during the PHE, states have been required to ensure continuous Medicaid and CHIP coverage for most enrollees by pausing eligibility redeterminations. And the Biden administration has promised to provide states 60 days’ notice before any possible termination or expiration. But without such notification, sources estimate the next end date could be Oct. 13. Bloomberg on May 16 reported that the PHE would be extended past mid-July, “according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Medicaid Rolls Soar to Nearly 89 Million Beneficiaries as Redeterminations Loom

Nationwide Medicaid enrollment has grown more than 22% since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, topping 88.7 million lives, according to the latest update to AIS’s Directory of Health Plans. But the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) — which at press time was likely to be extended beyond mid-July — could leave between 5.3 million and 14.2 million people without coverage when redeterminations resume, asserted a May 10 analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. A separate study from the Georgetown University Heath Policy Institute found that 6.7 million children stand to lose CHIP coverage at the end of the PHE. See a state-by-state overview of three years of pandemic-fueled Medicaid enrollment changes in the chart below.

Cigna Eases Investor Fears With Better Medical Cost, Membership

Cigna Corp. pleased Wall Street with its first-quarter 2022 financial results, touting a solid increase in commercial self-funded membership and a better-than-projected medical loss ratio (MLR) of 81.5%.

The insurer posted first-quarter 2022 net income of $1.18 billion ($3.68 per share) on revenue of $44.0 billion, up from net income of $1.16 billion ($3.30 per share) on revenue of $40.1 billion for the same period in 2021.

Cigna’s self-funded commercial membership rose 9% to 12.5 million through March 31, while insured commercial membership rose 2% to 2.2 million. In all, Cigna had 17.8 million medical members on March 31, 2022, up about 700,000 or 4% from Dec. 31, 2021, when it stood at 16.7 million.

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PHE Extension, Medicare AEP Boost ’22 Earnings Projections

Better-than-expected first-quarter 2022 earnings aided by Medicare open enrollment successes and the extension of the public health emergency (PHE) drove several insurers at press time to raise their earnings guidance for the year. Some, however, approached their projections with caution as variant-driven surges in the COVID-19 pandemic continue to create uncertainty around utilization.

Reporting first-quarter earnings on April 27, Humana Inc. said its results from the latest Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP) were slightly better than projected and it is making progress on a $1 billion value creation plan unveiled last quarter that will allow the company to further enhance its Medicare offerings. For the AEP that ended Dec. 7, improvements were “driven by higher sales and improved voluntary termination rates,” explained President and CEO Bruce Broussard during an April 27 conference call to discuss recent quarterly earnings. Broussard also provided a detailed update on Humana’s efforts to improve the sales experience through its various distribution channels.

Geographic Expansions Assisted 2022 AEP Winners’ Major Gains

Medicare Advantage membership has grown by 8.5% since February 2021 to top 28.6 million lives, according to AIS Health’s analysis of data that included enrollment during the 2022 Annual Election Period (AEP). While nearly two-thirds of all new enrollees selected a plan from market leaders UnitedHealthcare, Humana Inc. or CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna, several regional insurers performed well above average, driven largely by service area expansions, provider pacts and benefit enhancements. (Per AIS’s research methodology, the following figures do not include lives enrolled in CMS’s Financial Alignment Initiative demonstration plans serving about 451,000 Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibles or participants in Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.)

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Tops 28 Million in 2022 Annual Election Period

Approximately 2.2 million people enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan from February 2021 to February 2022, bringing the total MA population to 28.6 million medical lives. That’s an 8.5% year-over-year increase, according to AIS Health’s analysis of data that included enrollment from the 2022 Medicare Annual Election Period (AEP), down from 9.9% growth during the prior-year period. Nearly two-thirds (64.3%) of all new enrollees selected a plan from UnitedHealthcare, Humana Inc. or CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna, while Centene Corp.’s major market expansion paid off, garnering more than 30% enrollment growth for the insurer. Meanwhile, Florida Blue parent GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp.’s completed acquisition of Triple-S Management Corp., one of the largest MA insurers in Puerto Rico, allowed it to crack the top 10 for the first time. Anthem, Inc. also completed a Puerto Rico MA deal with its July 2021 acquisition of MMM Holdings from InnovaCare Health. On the state level, four states saw MA growth of more than 20% (vs. 10 last year), including Delaware and Vermont, which have historically low penetration rates.

ACA Exchange Enrollment Hits Record High

A record 14.5 million people enrolled in Affordable Care Act marketplace coverage from Nov. 1, 2021, through Jan. 15, 2022, including 10.3 million people who live in states using HealthCare.gov and 4.2 million in states with their own marketplace, according to CMS. Three states — Kentucky, Maine and New Mexico — transitioned to their own state-based exchanges for the 2022 plan year. Among the 33 states using HealthCare.gov, all but Hawaii saw an enrollment increase for 2022 compared with 2021, with eight experiencing signup surges of more than 30%.

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Humana Seeks to Calm Investors With EPS Outlook, $1B Value Plan

As publicly traded Medicare Advantage insurers begin to report fourth-quarter and full-year 2021 earnings, Humana Inc.’s recent disclosure of lower-than-expected individual MA growth for 2022 has raised questions among the investment community around the use of external sales channels and their impact on membership churn. But reports by UnitedHealth Group and Anthem, Inc. in late January seemed to assure investors that Humana’s experience was not reflective of an overall trend, while executives during Humana’s Feb. 2 earnings call vowed that the MA-focused insurer is making every effort to ensure its external partners appropriately convey what members are buying and confirmed its long-term growth outlook.

Potential 5-Star SEP Disruption Depends on Marketing Prowess

With 74 Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan contracts earning a 5-star rating for 2022, compared with just 21 such plans last year, an unprecedented number of MA-PD plans have the ability to market 5-star products throughout the year — thanks in large part to COVID-related adjustments to the star ratings that are not likely to reoccur. According to multiple industry experts, that anomaly presents a unique set of challenges for plans that weren’t expecting to be 5 stars and could create some unusual midyear enrollment shifts.

That all depends, however, on how aggressive 5-star plans are with their marketing and how many enrollees take advantage of the so-called 5-star special enrollment period (SEP). While MA insurers have the advantage of marketing their 5-star plans year round, enrollees who are in a service area where a 5-star plan is available may switch from their current Medicare plan to a 5-star contract one time between Dec. 8 and Nov. 30.