Department of Health and Human Services
Filed December 21, 2010
This document contains proposed regulations implementing the rules for health insurance issuers regarding the disclosure and review of unreasonable premium increases under section 2794 of the Public Health Service Act. The proposed rule would establish a rate review program to ensure that all rate increases that meet or exceed an established threshold are reviewed by a State or HHS to determine whether the rate increases are unreasonable.
Under this approach, if a proposed rate increase equals or exceeds a defined threshold, it would be considered “subject to review.” The review process would then determine if the increase is, in fact, unreasonable.
Rates above the threshold would not be deemed or otherwise determined to be unreasonable in advance of this review. As discussed below, for rate increases filed in a State on or after July 1, 2011, or effective on or after July 1, 2011 in a State that does not require a rate increase to be filed, the threshold for whether rates are subject to review would be whether the average weighted increase in the rate filing, alone or in combination with prior increases in the preceding 12 month period, is 10 percent or more.
In establishing the 10 percent threshold for determining which rates are subject to review, HHS has balanced the wide range of available data on rate and medical trend increases. Our review of the limited data available suggests that the majority of increases in the individual market exceeded 10 percent each year for the past 3 years.
These yearly increases significantly exceed some national measures of medical cost inflation, such as the medical component of the Consumer Price Index, whose inflation has typically ranged from 3.7 percent to 4.4 percent. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ National Health Expenditures (NHE) data is another measure of health care cost trends based on overall national health care spending. The five most recent years of available NHE data suggest that overall health care expenditures have increased at an annual rate between 4.4 percent to 6.9 percent. Some commenters suggested using these indices as thresholds for a review of rate increases. Another national index, the Standard & Poor’s Healthcare Economic Commercial Index, also measures insurance rate trends. The S & P Index measures trends in provider claims costs, which encompasses both unit cost and utilization changes; the trend in that index from September 2009 to September 2010 was 8.5 percent.
The 10 percent threshold established in this regulation exceeds these major indices and in doing so balances industry concerns that any threshold would be over-inclusive with the competing concern that it would subject to review too few rates that may be unreasonable. As we discuss below, when better and more specific data on trends in insurance rates in individual States can be collected, State-specific thresholds would be established.
This approach does not provide for the review of every proposed rate increase, no matter how small, to determine whether it is unreasonable. We recognize that the choice of any threshold makes it inevitable that unreasonable rate increases below the threshold will not be reviewed, and that a proposed increase of less than 10 percent would be unreasonable if the actuarial assumptions underlying the increase were invalid or unreasonable. In proposing this approach, HHS also has taken into consideration the fact that many States, as discussed below, conduct a rate review process for all rate increases without regard to the magnitude of the increase. We expect the number of States conducting such reviews to increase in light of additional resources provided under the rate review grants and passage of State legislation. Therefore, as a practical matter, in a growing number of States, there is even less likelihood that an unreasonable increase below the threshold would be implemented.
In establishing an initial 10 percent threshold for whether a rate increase is subject to review, as discussed below, HHS recognizes that rates, underlying costs, and health care trends vary from State to State.
As discussed below, the State-specific threshold would be based on the same analysis used to develop the initial 10 percent threshold, but would be based on data from the specific State, rather than the national data we analyzed in selecting the proposed 10 percent figure.
Applying this regulation to the large group market would result in a process that is not closely aligned with most State processes upon which the regulation is modeled. In addition, many issuers are not accustomed to submitting proposed rate increases for review in this market. Finally, purchasers in the large group market have greater leverage than those in the individual and small group markets, and therefore may be better able to avoid imposition of unreasonable rate increases. For these reasons, under this proposed regulation, rates in the large group market would not be subject to the rate review process we are proposing.
Proposed regulation (136 pages):
By Don McCanne, MD
Besides being sure that everyone is covered by a comprehensive system of financing health care, the other important goal of reform was to slow down the intolerable increases in health care costs. The token cost containment measures included in the legislation will likely have little impact, so attention was given to the false proxy of health care costs: the increases in insurance premiums. So how effective will the proposed regulations be in controlling the inexorable rise in insurance premiums?
To begin with, the regulations cover only the individual market, leaving out the much larger market of employer-sponsored health plans. Since the increases in health care costs have placed an undue burden on employers, and indirectly on their employees, this is a serious omission.
As far as setting a threshold for selecting the level of unreasonable premium increases which would be reviewed, Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided that plans with less than 10 percent premium increases would not be reviewed. That is a level well in excess of measures of medical cost inflation. Imagine compounded premium increases of 9.99 percent per year on top of premiums that are already unaffordable. It is true that the 10 percent threshold may be revised, but the change is to be “based on the same analysis used to develop the initial 10 percent threshold.”
Thus, in assuaging the insurance industry’s fears that “any threshold would be over-inclusive,” HHS has made a decision to allow the private insurance industry to keep jacking up its premium rates at unreasonable and intolerable levels. That is no surprise considering the inadequacy of the measures theoretically designed to control the health care spending that the insurers would have to cover.
We can go back and do it right. We can create a beneficent public monopsony that covers everyone with a financing system that slows health care inflation to a tolerable level: an improved Medicare for all. That has to be better than a 9.9 percent compounded increase in premiums that we would be mandated to pay to the perverse, intrusive private insurance industry.