Risk Corridor, Healthcare Premiums, Companies Leaving the Exchanges, and Republicans

The Washington Post story “Rubio’s inaccurate claim that he ‘inserted’ a provision restricting Obamacare ‘bailout’ funds” is about a year old. Its relevance to the PPACA is in depicting how the Republicans undermined the PPACA causing many Co-ops to go bankrupt, insurance companies to leave PPACA exchanges, saddled insurance companies with $millions in debt, and is a reason for much of the premium increases. I am not pro-insurance; but, this effort to get even with Obama has set the stage for what will negatively affect millions of the insured.

I had written earlier about Rubio playing a part in cutting the funding for the Rick Corridor funding. He did play a not-so-critical part and while researching some additional information I ran across a better explanation.

The Risk Corridor program in the PPACA protects insurance companies from losses during the first three years if they did not estimate premiums properly which can happen in new markets with different characteristics. With the mandate to insure all with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on parents plans, the exchanges, etc.; the Risk Corridor program was put in place (besides two other safe guards) giving insurance companies and Co-ops a three year window to get it right. Besides looking at losses, the Risk Corridor also looked at the profits of companies who had estimated accurately, had excess profits as a result, and required them to pay a ratio of excess profits into the Risk Corridor fund to help underwrite the losses of other companies. Outside of a plus or minus 3% was the basis for whether you gave up a ratio of profits or received a ratio of funding from the Risk Corridor program. The Risk Corridor program is nothing new and was used successfully with Medicare Part D forcing the evil insurance companies to share profits with the government. It still is in place for Part D and “still” generates additional revenue for the government. I do not recall any Republicans complaining about funding for insurance companies then; but then too, Part D was Bush’s legislature while the PPACA legislation was Obama’s. Strictly politics and constituents will pay the price of it.

Depicting the Risk Corridor particulars rather than attempting to explain it in writing will give a better explanation. Click on the image to better read the chart. Please note the plus or minus 3% and then the different ratios of revenue sharing or funding from and to healthcare companies and Co-ops.

invisible hand So what happened? The Risk Corridor program works well for Part D, brings in revenue for the government, and is still in place. February 2014 found Rubio testifying to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on behalf of his bill. At the same time the CBO released their evaluation of the Risk Corridor program. Instead of being detrimental and a fiscal drag, the CBO projected the federal government would collect $16 billion from health insurers. Premiums would outpace claims, $8 billion would be distributed to the plans losing money, and $8 billion in additional revenue would be left for the federal government. Another House probe suggested initially there would be a shortfall with claims exceeding premiums.

The Republicans were not sitting idle and were investigating ways to derail the PPACA. As the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton came up with a plan to attack the legality of the Risk Corridor payments. They joined forces with the Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston whose panel funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department. Kind of get the picture so far?

Questioning whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly, the Appropriations Panel forced the HHS to make changes in how they appropriated funds allowing Congress to stop all appropriations. The PPACA could no longer appropriate the funds as they were subject to the discretion of Congress. The GAO issue an opinion on the legality of what the HHS was doing with funds.

GAO Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions. September 30, 2014: Discussion; “At issue here is whether appropriations are available to the Secretary of HHS to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). Agencies may incur obligations and make expenditures only as permitted by an appropriation. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 7; 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1); B-300192, Nov. 13, 2002, at 5. Appropriations may be provided through annual appropriations acts as well as through permanent legislation. See, e.g., 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984). The making of an appropriation must be expressly stated in law. 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d). It is not enough for a statute to simply require an agency to make a payment. B-114808, Aug. 7, 1979. Section 1342, by its terms, did not enact an appropriation to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). In such cases, we next determine whether there are other appropriations available to an agency for this purpose.”

Further down in the GAO letter, the GAO leaves the HHS an out of using other already available appropriations for the Risk Corridor payments to insurance companies. Classifying the payments as “user fees” was another way to retain the authority to spend other appropriations already made by Congress. Otherwise if revenue from the Risk Corridor program fell short, the administration would need approval for addition appropriations from Congress. As it was, the HHS could no longer appropriate funds to make Risk Corridor payments unless the funds were already appropriated by Congress or Congress approved new funds which was not going to happen with a Republican controlled House.

Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston put the final nail in the coffin by inserting one sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) which escaped notice. In the 2015 Appropriations Act, the sentence inserted said no “other” funds in this bill could be used for Risk Corridor payments.

Sec. 227. None of the funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–Program Management” account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111-148 (relating to risk corridors).

This action blocked the HHS from obtaining any of the necessary Risk Corridor funds from any other Congressional appropriated program funds.

Nothing was said by Sessions, Upton, or Kingston before passage on what they had managed to do. It was Rubio who issued a news release saying the provision was appropriate even though he had little to do with it. In the end, Rep. Jack Kingston’s one sentence purposely created a $2.5 billion shortfall in the Risk-Corridor program in 2015 as the HHS had collected $362 million in fees. Insurers who had misjudged the market sought nearly $2.9 billion in payments, many nonprofit insurance Co-ops failed, healthcare insurance companies began to raise premiums to compensate, and some healthcare insurance companies recognizing an untenable environment created by Republicans took their losses and left the market.

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