Anthem to leave Wisconsin insurance exchanges

Thursday, June 22, 2017 8:08 a.m. CDT

UNDATED (Wisconsin Radio Ne2rk) – A major health insurance provider says it will reduce its individual plan offerings next year, as a result of continued uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield said Wednesday that uncertainty in the individual market is driving the decision to stop offering plans in 2018, outside of a one off-exchange medical plan in Menominee County. “The Wisconsin individual market remains volatile, making planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans increasingly difficult,” Anthem officials said in a statement.

Republicans were quick to argue the announcement is a further sign the Affordable Care Act is collapsing, and Congress needs to move forward with plans to repeal and replace the law. “Growing uncertainty in the health insurance market was created by Obamacare’s costly regulations and it is causing higher premiums and a lack of options,” said Governor Scott Walker in a statement. “If we do nothing, more companies will back out and more people will lose coverage.”

Democrats were quick to argue though that the uncertainty among providers is being caused by Republican efforts to disrupt the ACA marketplace.

“Instead of trying to increase access to health insurance, they continue to put up road blocks,” argued state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). “Continued threats by the GOP to eliminate insurance subsidies for working families have been what the insurance industry itself has called the ‘single most destabilizing factor in the individual market.’”

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Smallsats promoted as “insurance” for national security space systems

WASHINGTON — Advocates of small satellites argue that such systems could offer a much-need “layer of resiliency” for national security space applications for as little as one percent of current spending on such programs.

At a June 21 discussion about small satellites at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, developers of launch systems for small satellites in particular argued for increased investment in smallsat technologies that could provide an insurance policy of sorts for larger military satellites in the event of a conflict.

The current architecture of military space systems “was really built in an uncontested environment,” said Steve Nixon, vice president for strategic development at Stratolaunch. “It’s no longer resilient to threats and probably cannot operate through a contested military environment.”

Advances in small satellite technology, he said, offered a solution to this problem. “What we’re proposing is adding a layer to our architecture of small satellites that duplicate the functions of what the rest of the architecture is doing,” he said. That layer, he said, could deter attacks in the first place, as well as provide a surge capability in the event of a crisis.

“We believe that for just one percent of what we spend on national security space, you could add this layer, both in terms of satellites and launch systems,” he said. “One percent is your insurance or deterrent capability that preserves the rest of your architecture. It seems like a really good deal.” He later said that cost could be up to 2 percent of overall national security space spending, which he estimated at $30 billion a year across defense and intelligence agencies.

Not surprisingly, Nixon believed that his company’s launch system could support that effort. Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft, rolled out of its hangar for the first time last month, was originally sized for a much larger launch vehicle. Growth in the small satellite market, though, has led the company to instead use the aircraft for smaller rockets, starting with the Pegasus XL from Orbital ATK.

Stratolaunch’s aircraft will be able to carry up to 3 Pegasus rockets on a single flight. “We think there might be very strong attraction to that kind of thing in the national security market,” he said. “With one aircraft sortie, you could basically launch an entire architecture of satellites into multiple planes, assuming each launch carries multiple satellites.”

Richard Dalbello, vice president of business development and government affairs for Virgin Galactic, agreed. His company is also developing an air-launch system, LauncherOne, for small satellites. He said that it can be responsive and operate with minimal ground infrastructure, taking everything it needs on the Boeing 747 aircraft that will serve as the launch platform.

Dalbello called for some “small” investment now “to start replicating the capabilities that we have with this new generation of capabilities so that if anything does happen, we have the ability to exercise that and have the capabilities the warfighter needs in an uninterrupted fashion.”

He added this “paradigm shift” to small, responsive launch could benefit commercial customers. An example, he said, is Planet, the company that operates a constellation of remote sensing cubesats, rapidly iterating through more than a dozen generations of that spacecraft design. “Planet, although they’re incredibly creative as a company, are still stuck in the old launch paradigm where they’re waiting for years to get up into space,” he said. “What we want to do is revolutionize that, and that will have direct implications for both DOD and the commercial sector.”

Concepts of responsive launch are not new, but other panelists at the event argued what has changed is that small satellites have become increasingly capable, allowing them to do more at relatively low costs. “What’s happened over the last decade or so is a shift towards being able to build really capable systems in really small volumes,” said William Jeffery, chief executive of SRI International.

“In some cases, smallsats may seem to offer much less capability,” said Bhavya Lal of the Science and Technology Policy Institute. “But the interesting thing about smallsats, like any other disruptive innovation, is that they’re moving relentlessly up the capability curve.”

She cautioned, though, against getting caught up in the “hype” about smallsats and small launch vehicles, despite in some cases significant outside investment in those companies. “A lot of these capabilities are in the future,” she said. “There’s excitement in the community that I think we need to capture, but we just do need to know that investment is a sign not of success of the sector but of interest in the sector.”

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Frerichs pushes Rauner to sign insurance bill

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois needs to join New York, Florida and West Virginia in requiring that life insurance companies review their records dating back to 2000 for unpaid death benefits owed to families, State Treasurer Mike Frerichs said Wednesday in Champaign.

House Bill 302, approved by the Legislature last month, would do that. Now it needs Gov. Bruce Rauner’;s signature.

“It’;s pretty clear there is fierce opposition. The insurance companies fought us last year (on a separate bill) and the insurance industry doubled down this year and fought very hard. They took something that shouldn’;t be a partisan issue and they made it one,” Frerichs said.

The legislation cleared the Senate, 36-19, but got only one Republican vote. It passed the House, 65-47, with 3 Republican votes.

Insurance companies had objected to the cost of the program.

A spokeswoman for Rauner said Wednesday that the legislation is “under review.”

Frerichs said that his office had discovered through audits of more than 20 life insurance companies that the firms were holding onto about $550 million in benefits that should have been paid to beneficiaries.

Last year, he noted, Rauner signed legislation requiring insurers to review the Social Security Administration death master file “to see if any policyholders had died in the last year and if so they have to notify beneficiaries in a timely manner.”

This year’;s bill requires insurers to search their records back to the year 2000 for customers whose names are on the death master file, and to make payments to family members, churches and any other institutions or people designated by deceased policy holders.

Doris McGee of Savoy said she learned through a newspaper ad by Frerichs’; office of a life insurance policy that her late father, once at lieutenant colonel at Chanute Air Force Base, had taken out decades ago.

“It’;s very important that the families get the money that is due to them,” she said. “This money is not meant to be for the insurance companies to keep or for someone to have a golden parachute.”

Frerichs said so far, “Illinois is near the forefront” among states for requiring insurance companies to pay money owed beneficiaries. He said he hopes Rauner continues the progress.

“I hope he will do right. This should not be a partisan issue,” the treasurer said. “Death knocks on all doors, not just Democratic doors. I can tell you as I travel around the state that this is something that has overwhelming support.”

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The Hanover chooses Dublin

The Hanover chooses Dublin

US-based The Hanover Insurance Group is setting up a new specialty business in Dublin through its international member subsidiary, Chaucer.

The Central Bank of Ireland has approved the formation of Chaucer Insurance Company DAC – to be known as Chaucer Dublin – for international specialty insurance. Currently The Hanover underwrites business at Lloyd’s of London via Chaucer.

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Joseph Zubretsky, president and chief executive officer at The Hanover, said Chaucer Dublin will provide the firm with enhanced specialty capabilities. Meanwhile, Chaucer CEO John Fowle said the formation of Chaucer Dublin is a win for brokers and clients as it enables greater access to Chaucer’s underwriting talent.

“With the addition of this new platform, Chaucer offers its clients the benefits of both Lloyd’s and company market platforms, providing greater flexibility, and increases its access to business worldwide,” noted Zubretsky.

Chaucer Dublin will be headed by Michelle Moore, former managing director and chief operating officer of Markel Europe. Moore has more than 2 decades of experience in the international insurance and reinsurance markets.

Fowle said they look forward to providing new and innovative insurance solutions in Dublin, citing the strength of Ireland’s financial services capabilities, international outlook, regulatory capabilities, and proximity to London.

Related stories:
Hanover announces new specialist product
The Hanover Insurance Group announces strategy to grow agent channel

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What could change in your health insurance after Anthem, MDwise leave state exchange

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — 2 health insurance providers in Indiana announced Wednesday they will no longer offer options for people on the state health care exchange next year.

Those companies are Anthem and MDwise.

Estimates show nearly 80,000 Hoosiers will be left picking new insurance providers and there are a couple important points experts want you to know Wednesday night.

First, there are still 2 health care insurance providers in Indiana for the open market. Second, this takes effect in 2018, so there’s a lot of time for people to make these important decisions

“I would tell them to just shop around for those plans that best meet their family needs and their financial needs,” said Pamela Humes, the program director for Covering Kids and Families of Indiana, which helps sign up thousands of Hoosiers for health insurance on the state exchange.

The 2 providers to pick from now will be CareSource and Managed Health Services.

“We have 2. Some states only have one,” said Humes.

She added when a state only has one insurance provider, it creates a monopoly on the market and could cause prices to jump.

But some Hoosiers are wondering if prices could go north in Indiana anyway. So we asked.

“It’s a real possibility,” she said, and then added that every insurance plan is different from one another so it would depend.

Humes said you may have to change doctors depending on whether they accept your new insurance.

“A lot of people don’t want to change up — they’ve been going to this doctor forever — but sometimes in these situations that does happen and we just try to help the person get to the best possible situation,” said Humes.

But we’re very early in the process. Prices for next year haven’t been released, and any changes in federal law could cause a seismic shift in Indiana health care.

“If we go through some training today it could change tomorrow,” she said.

Humes said the changes make it that much more important to talk to a certified navigator if you have any questions because they have gone through more than 60 hours of training to help pick the healthcare plan best for you.

Open enrollment for next year starts in November.

It’s important to note that this change for Anthem and MDwise will only affect the marketplace exchange. Medicaid, Medicare and Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0 customers will not see any change.

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Uncertainty abounds about next year's individual health insurance market

The individual health insurance market covers an estimated 170,000 Minnesotans who don’;t get insurance through an employer or a government program. It’;s been plagued by skyrocketing premiums and insurer turmoil in recent years, and was only barely saved from total collapse in 2016.

Will it face more of the same? Most of the big questions remain unanswered.

“The message is ‘stay tuned,’; I guess,” said Phil Norrgard, chair of the board at MNsure, the state-run health insurance marketplace.

Here is what we know so far about the 2018 insurance market, and when we might get answers:

What impact will Congress have?

The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is debating the American Health Care Act, which if passed could be the biggest change to health insurance law since the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) was passed in 2010.

Exactly what impacts remain uncertain. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted the very different House version would lead to 23 million more people uninsured, lower budget deficits and higher premiums for some Americans and lower for others. As of Wednesday, June 21, the Senate had yet to release its version of the bill, which could be significantly different.

It’;s also possible Congress could fall short of the votes needed to pass any bill.

If Congress does pass a health care law, most of its major effects will likely take effect in 2019 or beyond, so would have no direct effects on 2018.

How much will insurance cost next year?

No one knows for certain. Insurers have until July 17 to propose premiums for 2018. Those proposals will be released to the public on July 31.

Rates could increase sharply again if insurers feel they’;re paying out more in claims than they’;re taking in in revenues. State experts expect at least a 5 to 10 percent increase due to medical cost inflation.

The release of proposed premiums on July 31 won’;t be the final answer. Insurance companies will be able to revise their proposals throughout August before final rates will be announced no later than Oct. 2.

More importantly, insurance companies won’;t be proposing a single premium in July. Instead, they’;ll likely be proposing 2: one with the effects of a new state program called “reinsurance” and one without.

Will reinsurance lower rates?

Responding to high rate increases, Minnesota lawmakers this year passed a “reinsurance” program using taxpayer dollars to pay for certain expensive medical cases. That means insurers don’;t have to cover those costs with higher premiums. The projected result: premiums 20 percent lower than they’;d otherwise be.

But the program comes with a big if: it requires approval from the federal government to take effect. No approval, no reinsurance.

The state formally asked for federal approval on June 1. Under law, the feds have 180 days to decide, but state officials hope they’;ll act well before Minnesotans begin buying 2018 plans.

“I cannot give you a date certain by which we will have a thumbs-up, thumbs-down approval,” said Assistant Commerce Commissioner Peter Brickwedde.

When will plans be available to purchase?

Last year, Minnesotans had an open enrollment period stretching 3 months from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31. Now the federal government is proposing cutting that in half: Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

Minnesota could implement a longer period but has yet to make that choice.

Insurers are pushing for a shorter enrollment period to stop people from waiting to buy health insurance until they get sick. Consumer advocates say a longer enrollment period makes it easier for more people to enroll.

An advisory committee to MNsure recommended open enrollment from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15, but MNsure CEO Allison O’;Toole warned that could be “difficult” to start that early given other unanswered questions.

MNsure’;s board could set the open enrollment period next month or wait into the fall to make a decision.

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California's Insurance Commissioner Upsets Coal Country

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Officials from Oklahoma and more than a dozen other states have sent 2 letters to California’s insurance commissioner, asking that he stop pressing insurance companies to publicly disclose fossil fuel investments and divest from the coal industry, saying it only confuses consumers and unnecessarily brings politics into the insurance market.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has said the investments may be risky due to a move from fossil fuels to renewable energy because of climate change.

“I think it’s an absurd and political response from attorneys general and one governor of oil, gas and coal states,” Jones said Wednesday. “In reading their letter, they’re quite explicit that the concern is about their oil, gas and coal industry.

“Many of them are climate change deniers,” Jones told The Associated Pres on Wednesday, in response to a letter from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, signed by 11 other attorneys general and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for Jones, said his response also applies to a letter from Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak and signed by insurance commissioners in 5 other states.

Hunter said he does not deny climate change and that Jones’ assertion about financial risk is wrong, threatens energy and insurance companies, thousands of jobs in those industries, and violates the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.

“He was trying to advance environmental policy at the expense of the companies he is tasked to regulate,” Hunter said.

“The whole idea is wrong-headed,” according to Hunter, whose letter dated Monday says renewable energy companies may be a greater financial risk.

“Nearly 100 solar companies have failed or gone bankrupt in recent years,” Hunter wrote, mentioning Solyndra, SunEdison, SolarWorld and Suniva.

Doak’s letter, dated Tuesday, said Jones’ concern over the potential risk of investments in coal is, at best, “mere speculation” and that coal will continue as a reliable and affordable energy source.

Hunter said he’s considering filing a lawsuit if Jones doesn’t put a stop to his request. Jones said that threat will not stop him.

“For those climate denying politicians … I will happily defend my obligation as California’s Insurance Commissioner to make sure insurers are addressing climate change related risks and to protect California consumers,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones’ directive was announced in January 2016. But Hunter said he learned of it earlier this month from Doak, and that the 2 have discussed the issue since then before writing the letters.

Doak spokeswoman Kelly Dexter said she did not know when Doak learned of Jones’ directive and that Doak is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Doak’s letter is signed by the insurance commissioners in Alabama, Montana, Kentucky, North Dakota and Indiana.

Hunter’s letter is signed by Kentucky Gov. Bevin, attorneys general in Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Utah, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Hunter spokeswoman Terri Watkins said Hunter consulted with energy and insurance officials about the impact of Jones’ request, but that the letter is his own.

TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewrit8. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Let Iowans buy into Medicaid as alternative to private insurance, Democrats say

Iowans who have trouble finding affordable health insurance on their own should be allowed to buy into the state’s Medicaid program, 2 Democratic legislators proposed Wednesday.

The idea was offered as an alternative to Iowa’s faltering market for individual health insurance, the kind people buy if they don’t have access to employer-offered policies or government programs.

“We’re trying to have a plan that’s affordable and works,” Rep. John Forbes of Urbandale told several dozen people gathered at Des Moines’ Central Library for a forum on health care.

Just one carrier has applied to offer individual insurance in Iowa for 2018. That company, Medica, has proposed raising premiums an average of more than 43 percent and has suggested that it still might pull out of the market.

Iowa’s insurance commissioner has proposed a stopgap plan to shore up the individual market for another year. Forbes and his colleague at Wednesday’s forum, Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines, said they favor that plan as “a Band-Aid,” but want a longer-term solution.

Under their plan, Iowans with moderate incomes could use Obamacare subsidies to help pay premiums for Medicaid as an alternative to private coverage.

McCoy said their proposal would include reversing Iowa’s 2016 decision to hire private managers to run the state’s Medicaid program. It would combine savings from that reversal with more than $300 million coming into the state annually in the form of Affordable Care Act subsidies to help moderate income Iowans buy private insurance, McCoy said.

“Then, you’ve got a lot of money to do a lot of good things with,” he added.

The idea would need approval from the Trump administration, which is actively trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It also would need backing from Republicans controlling the Iowa House, Senate and governorship.

That could be a tough sell.

“They’re in control. They’ve got the trifecta on us. Until 2018, that’s the reality,” Forbes told his Democratic-leaning audience.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, said earlier Wednesday that Reynolds would not take a stance on such a proposal before it’;s written into a bill.

“Giving all Iowans access to health insurance should not be about politics,” Smith wrote in an email to the Register.

However, the governor reiterated her support for Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen’s effort to shore up the current market for individual health insurance for 2018. Under that proposal, the federal government would spend about $80 million to set up a “reinsurance” program, which would help carriers shoulder costs of customers who use more than $100,000 per year in care.

Ommen’s proposal also would rejigger Affordable Care Act subsidies to give young people more help than they receive now and give older customers less help than they receive now. The goal would be to attract more young, healthy people to the pool. Iowa’s dominant health-insurer, Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield, has said it would re-enter the state’s individual market if Ommen’;s plan is enacted.

Smith said Reynolds hopes the federal government approves Ommen’;s stopgap plan. 

“The governor is also hopeful we will soon see a long-term solution that repeals and replaces Obamacare. The current system is unaffordable, unsustainable and collapsing right before our eyes,” she wrote.

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Centene expands 2018 ACA insurance Exchange participation

Centene Corporation announced on June 13 that it will begin offering insurance under the Affordable Care Act in 3 new states in 2018: Missouri, Kansas, and Nevada. It will also be expanding its offerings in 6 existing markets: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.               

Centene, headquarted in Clayton, Mo., increases the number of individual healthcare plan issuers in Missouri from 4 to 5, and from 3 to 4 in Kansas and Nevada. These plans, offered on the health insurance marketplace, allow individuals to purchase health insurance online. 

Between December 2016 and March 2017, the number of exchange members Centene serves grew from 537,200 to 1.2 million. Ninety percent of those customers are eligible for federal subsidies on their insurance. 

“Centene recognizes there is uncertainty of new healthcare legislation, but we are well positioned to continue providing accessible, high quality and culturally-sensitive healthcare services to our members,” stated Michael F Neidorff, president and CEO of Centene. 

Centene’s announcement stands in contrast to those providers who are decreasing coverage. It did not, however, state whether their Missouri insurance offerings will cover the 25 Western Missouri counties currently without an ACA insurer. 

Centene stated it is committed to working closely with regulators and policymakers to collaborate on the actions that stabilize the market and offer affordable and high quality coverage options. 

Centene’s announcement came 3 weeks after Blue Cross Blue Shield Kansas City announced it will no longer offer coverage on the Exchange in 2018, leaving 67,000 Missouri and Kansas customers uninsured.  

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