Obsessed With Adverse Selection

In case you haven’t heard, self-insurance is the gateway to adverse selection in the health insurance marketplace. Federal and state regulators have been sending up warning flares on this subject, but not surprisingly, their aim misses the mark.

This discussion has heated up as policy-makers look ahead to 2014 when state insurance exchanges are slated to come on-line and they try to predict market conditions and that time. For PPACA supporters, there’s a lot riding on making sure the exchanges work as promised so they are taking aim at any real or perceived obstacles. Adverse selection drivers are at the top of the list.

We saw this first in the HHS Report on the Large Group Market, which was published in March. In the report HHS commented that if low attachment point policies in the reinsurance (read stop-loss) market become more widely available by 2014, a significant number of fully-insured employers with “low risk” employees will switch to self-insurance, therefore creating adverse selection in the marketplace.

This section of the report concludes that “these results highlight the importance of closely monitoring the availability and pricing of reinsurance (stop-loss insurance) and closely monitoring decisions made by small employers to self-insure.”

A working draft of a recent NAIC white paper on the subject of adverse selection also points the finger at self-insurance as contributing to adverse selection. The NAIC writes: “Employers with favorable risk demographics have an incentive to self-fund while those with less desirable risks would tend to opt for fully-insured plans either through the exchange or in the outside market.”

Neither HHS nor the NAIC acknowledges one very important fact as part of their analysis, which is that most companies with fewer than 100 employees simply do not know if their group is a good risk because claims data is generally not available to them. In this regard, their “premeditation” argument is compromised.

Now it’s true that employers that switch to self-insurance can often improve the aggregate risk profile of their groups over time, regardless of the baseline at the time of transition, through wellness programs and other innovative plan design strategies, but shouldn’t that be the objective of all group health plans?

Let’s also recognize the importance of the HHS comment about “closely monitoring” the stop-loss market as way to guard against adverse selection. As described in my previous blog posting, Treasury Department Gets Schooled on stop-Loss Insurance, federal regulators now have a keen interest in stop-loss insurance for a variety of reasons.

This new federal attention combined with the ongoing desire by state legislators to expand their authority over self-insured health plans creates a very uncertain environment for future legislative/regulatory activity that could affect the ability of small and even mid-sized companies to self-insure.

There’s one last development on this subject worth mentioning. Some key House Republican staffers have indicated a renewed interest in introducing association health plan (AHP) legislation, but are holding back because of anticipated criticism that self-insured AHPs would contribute to adverse selection. So the education process continues on multiple fronts.

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