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Monday, October 18, 2010

Riots in the Asylum: Part 3 of the End of Pre-Existing Conditions for Children

When we last left this series of health reform implementation gone wildly badly, it looked like the inmates had built a roof top hot tub and organized a spa day. The state insurance divisions appeared to be overwhelmed trying to set up a system to ensure that insurance carriers would provide insurance for those under 19 without denying coverage to anyone with pre-existing conditions. This is also call guaranteed issue for children.

Insurance carriers had been defining their own rules or not participating. It had gotten even worse as insurance carriers started introducing perfectly legal ways to charge people even more money for insuring children in response to this legislation. This new method was to change the "underwriting tier" or how they classified the price based on the type of family unit that was applying. Most insurance carriers have a family tier that is the same whether a family has 1 child or 12. Only 5%-10% of families have even more than 2 children so it's not like John and Kate + Eight are getting a free ride. However, insurance carriers announced that they would no longer offer a family tier but would now charge families per child. When one thinks of Jon and Kate + Eight or OctoMom, this doesn't sound like a bad idea. However, for a family with 5 children this could triple the amount of money they pay for health insurance.

Regence Washington announced this change and attributed it to health reform. While nothing in health reform was related to underwriting classifications, it did cause insuring children to become more expensive. As a result, insurance carriers are moving away from any pricing strategy that makes it attractive to provide insurance to children. This probably represents the peak of the inmates' control over the asylum and showed just how many perfectly legal strategies they could deploy to not support guaranteed issue for children.

However, the insurance divisions sent in the riot squads, cut the electricity, drained the hot tubs, and poured out the exfoliating cremes and cucumber wraps from spa day. In response to Regence's Washington decision to stop selling child only policies, the Washington Insurance Division charged them with age discrimination. The California and Maryland state legislatures have introduced legislation to require insurance companies to offer child only plans. It's gearing up to be a siege on the asylum.

However, given how easily insurance carriers have short-circuited this legislation, I am not optimistic that the guards will regain control. The hole in the logic of any of the state insurance divisions or legislators, especially Washington's, is that the child only plan was an invention of the insurance industry. When insuring children was an attractive prospect, insurance companies developed new ways to insure them. A child only policy is not an inherent right of citizenship (except in Ohio, New York, and Virginia where this was mandated into state law a while ago) but a private sector innovation.

When the courts would probably rule in favor of the inmates, the Obama administration might need to rethink it's health reform implementation approach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, insurers invented the child-only market when they could use tools like underwriting to keep from losing money, which is not the same as making money.

Here's the problem: absent a coverage mandate, guarenteed issue = guarenteed losses. Anyone remember the "asylum" that was the individual market in Washington in the 1990s? Premera and Regence alone lost more than $100 million. They stayed in the market the longest, while other carriers bailed on the state altogether, most never to return.

Nonprofits aren't obligated to lose members' money, are they? hard to see that's in anyone's longterm interests. -- Killroy71

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