Insurers Write Baucus To Express Gratitude, Lay Out Concerns

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) President and CEO Karen Ignagni has penned a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), applauding the senator for proposing reforms that combine “insurance market reforms with the responsibility of individuals to obtain coverage and financial assistance for low- and moderate-income families and individuals.”

Ignagni agrees with the overall tenor of of the package, but lays out several top-line concerns. These are summarized below:

Insurers Oppose 35% Tax On ‘Cadillac Health Plans’: The industry has long argued that it would pass any new taxes to beneficiaries in the form of higher premiums. Ignagni argues that without adequate cost controls, a growing number of policies would be affected by the tax (which is indexed to inflation, and not health care costs) and some Americans could be priced out of the market. After meeting with Democrats who oppose the tax, Baucus has said that he would raise the threshold for expensive insurance plans that would be affected by a new tax. “Given this dynamic, raising the thresholds would only impact how quickly consumers would hit the cap,” Ignagni writes.

‘Government Created’ Cooperatives = ‘Slower March Toward A Government-Run Plan’: Ignagni argues that cooperatives will retain certain competitive advantages. The cooperative would receive start-up funds “it would not have to be repaid” and “the government would continue to act as a “player and referee” with the Secretary of HHS serving as Chair of the “advisory board.” However, despite insurers’ concerns of increased competition the bill’s ‘network of cooperatives‘ would be unable to compete in today’s concentrated health insurance markets. As the CBO has concluded, “the proposed co-ops had very little effect on the estimates of total enrollment in the exchanges or federal costs because, as they are described in the specifications, they seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payments.”

Benefit Flexibility To Allow Insurers To Design Policies That Attract Healthier Enrollees: “This means that benefit packages should give consumers flexible options to meet diverse needs and be aligned with the level of premium subsidies provided by Congress, and that the coverage requirement needs to avoid creating incentives for healthy people to forego the purchase of coverage,” Ignagni writes. The letter also expresses concerns about the new national benefit standards.

In other words, insurers want to design packages that attract healthier applicants and deter “enrollment by those in poorer health.” “For example, insurers could offer a benefits design that omits or severely limits services needed by people with serious medical conditions, while offering richer benefits in other areas such as vision care or health-club memberships.” Well-defined standard benefit packages could preclude the industry from slowly moving everyone into high deductible policies.

Retain Government Subsidy For Plans In Medicare Advantage: The Baucus bill would eliminate the 13% overpayment to private insurance plans that provide Medicare-like benefits at a higher rate, without improving quality. Under the bill, private insurers would have to submit to a competitive bidding process. “We have strong concerns about the proposed funding cuts in Medicare Advantage,” Ignagni wrote.

Ignagni expressed support for establishing a Medicare Commission (which would oversee Medicare spending) and system-wide payment reform.