Originally published on Healthcare Dive.
CareSoure announced Thursday it will cover the last county at risk of having no Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans in 2018. CareSource will offer health insurance plans in Paulding County, Ohio, which the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) said was the only “bare county” left.
The Dayton, Ohio-based payer was also one of five insurers that recently announced they will cover 19 other bare counties in Ohio. Altogether, more than 11,000 Ohioans have ACA coverage in those counties.
All U.S. counties are now expected to have at least one ACA plan option. However, nearly one-quarter of ACA plan enrollees will only have one option, which means there is no competition in those areas.
In a statement from CareSource, the company said its decision to offer plans in bare counties “speaks to our mission and commitment to the marketplace and serving those who are in need of healthcare coverage.”
Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment said filling the bare counties has been a priority for her department. “There is a lot of uncertainty facing consumers when it comes to health insurance and these announcements will provide important relief,” she said.
The Ohio Department of Insurance said it is working with payers to finalize products and rates in the ACA exchanges next year. The department expects to complete review of insurer filings by early September, before payers must sign contracts with the federal government by late September to offer ACA plans.
Although she is pleased to have the bare counties filled for 2018, Froment said the move is only a “temporary solution and one that only applies to 2018.” She called on Congress to pass legislation to stabilize the individual insurance market. Congress is expected to take up the issue when it returns from break.
One area that is causing much unease is whether President Donald Trump will continue to pay cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies to insurers. The CSR payments help ACA insurers cover lower income Americans. Trump has threatened multiple times to stop CSR payments to insurers, but so far he has ultimately paid the subsidies. Without those subsidies, the Congressional Budget Office predicted ACA premiums would skyrocket another 20%.
“Insurers are still looking for predictability in the health insurance market. Now is the time for Congress to work on reforms that will strengthen our health insurance markets in ways that improve access and affordability,” said Froment.
There was a time not too long ago when healthcare and state officials fretted about dozens of potential bare counties in 2018. That included nearly all Nevada counties. However, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval announced last week that Centene agreed to sell ACA plans in the 14 bare counties in Nevada. Centene also recently filled the final county in Indiana.
The St. Louis-based insurer has been expanding its ACA footprint this summer, while other major payers are pulling back or completely out of the exchanges. Centene is also entering Kansas and Missouri and expanding its footprints in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas and Washington.
Filling in all of the counties is good news, but there is still the issue of competition. Nearly one-quarter of members in ACA plans will have only one choice and another one-quarter will have just two choices. There is also concern about large premium increases. Early rate filings have already shown the negative effects of uncertainty.
Opponents of the ACA plans say the market is in a “death spiral.” However, the KFF found in a recent report the individual health insurance market is actually stabilizing, and insurers are regaining profitability. KFF warned there are “more fragile” parts of the country and uncertainty coming from Washington could destabilize the market.
So, the question remains: Is 2018 a year of transition for the ACA market that is stabilizing? Or will political fighting continue to cause unease and ultimately topple the exchanges in some parts of the country? Congress could go a long way to stabilize the market by agreeing to fund the CSR subsidies long-term and take that decision out of the hands of the president.