By Shelby Livingston
Modern Healthcare, May 17, 2019
The health insurance inflation rate hit a five-year peak in April, possibly because managed care is rising.
The Consumer Price Index for health insurance in April spiked 10.7% over the previous 12 months—the largest increase since at least April 2014, according to a Modern Healthcare analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unadjusted monthly Consumer Price Index data.
In contrast, the other categories that make up the medical care services index—professional services and hospital and related services—rose 0.4% and 1.4% in April, respectively. The CPI for medical care services in April rose 2.3%, while overall inflation increased 2% year over year.
Because of the way the BLS calculates the health insurance index, the change year over year does not reflect premiums paid by customers, but “retained earnings” after paying out claims. These earnings are used to cover administrative costs or are kept as profit.
The likely reason health insurance inflation is rising is because of growth in managed care, including Medicare Advantage, Medicaid managed care and commercial insurance, according to Paul Hughes-Cromwick, an economist at Altarum. He noted that added administrative costs increase insurance price growth.
Hughes-Cromwick said the increase in the health insurance index could also be driven by the fact that insurers’ medical loss ratios may be decreasing as high premiums, particular in the individual health insurance exchanges, exceeded anticipated claims.
The eight largest publicly traded insurers posted net income of $9.3 billion in the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 29.9%. They made a combined $21.9 billion in profits over the course of 2018.
By Don McCanne, M.D.
For a dramatic representation of the point made in this article, click on the link and look at the graph depicting a very sharp rise in health insurance prices compared to prices for health care services. As the author explains, this does not reflect the premiums paid, but rather it reflects the retained earnings, i.e., administrative costs and profits.
This waste is what the single payer Medicare for All model is designed to get rid of. It looks like the insurers are making a run for egregious profits while they still can (even though they will have to pay rebates because they couldn’t hide all of their their excesses in the medical loss ratio).
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