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An Overview of Exchanges under the House and Senate Bill

Posted Jan 18 2010 12:00am

On January 8th, 2010, the Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund  co-sponsored and moderated a panel discussion on the health insurance exchanges that are being proposed in both the House and the Senate health reform bills. The panel consisted of Washington and Lee professor Timothy Jost, John Kingsdale of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, and Philip Vogel of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), which runs the non-profit CBIA Health Connections, a health insurance exchange for the state of Connecticut.

The co-sponsors have uploaded all of the event’s materials, including a webcast of the entire event, as well as all of the powerpoint slides and papers. All of this information can be found here.

Professor Jost and the Commonwealth fund created detailed charts comparing the differences between the two bills. Below is a reproduction of Professor Jost’s chart, which can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails.

Jost Chart Page 1

Jost Chart Page 1, Click on Thumbnail to View

Jost Chart Page 2

Jost Chart Page 2, Click on Thumbnail to View

Both the House and the Senate bills would create new health insurance exchanges that would help consumers and employers navigate the purchase of health insurance. Though the common thread of a regulated marketplace runs through both bills, all three panelists noted the stark difference in the vision and implementation of the exchanges under the respective bills.

Below are some of the key distinctions between the two bills.

The House Bill — Public Option with Opt-Out Possibility

The House’s bill, H.R. 3962 (click here for entire pdf) provides for a federal exchange that would essentially eliminate the individual marketplace for health insurance going forward. A public plan would be offered that would reimburse providers at negotiated rates between those of Medicare and commercial rates. The applicable section of the House’s bill is Title III, entitled Health Insurance Exchange and Related Provisions.

Title III of the House Bill would create the Health Choices Administration with a Commissioner who would oversee the exchange. Citing Section 301 and 308 of the Bill, Professor Jost notes on page 17 of his paper:

The exchange operates at the national level, established within a new Health Choices Administration. The Commissioner of the HCA can, however, permit individual states or groups of states to administer an exchange within their territory in place of the national exchange if specific requirements are met, subject to revocation if the state ceases to meet the requirements of the bill. Even if the HCA delegates exchange authority to a state, the Commissioner retains enforcement authority and can further specify functions retained by the Commissioner and not delegated.

Thus, the House’s bill would create an exchange system that is fairly centralized and regulated, but with added flexibility. If the states fail to implement their own exchange then HHS will implement an exchange for them. Only those policies considered “grandfathered” could be sold outside of the exchange, and such “grandfathering” can only occur in the individual market. (See Section 202). Insurance offered inside the exchange would fit into one of four tiers: basic, enhanced, premium, and premium plus. (See Section 303). These tiers would correspond to different actuarial values of the plans. Subsidies would be provided on a sliding scale that is determined by the purchaser’s income.

The House bill would also limit the medical loss ratio of plans offered in the exchanges to 85 percent, largely prohibit the rescission of contracts, eliminate lifetime coverage limits, eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, as well as require guaranteed issue and renewal of plans. Variations in premiums based on the age of the insured could only vary by a maximum of 2:1.

Not all of the panelists agreed with every provision. For example, Mr. Vogel took issue with the dependence on the medical loss ratio in regulating the market, instead arguing for a greater reliance on the “claim dollar” as a guide post.

Whether offered inside the exchange or grandfathered, all plans must meet certain requirements in terms of essential benefits, which would be determined by HHS, and would be based on the recommendation of the Health Benefits Advisory Committee–a public/private hybrid entity.

  • Click here to jump to section 223 outlining the Health Benefits Advisory Committee

These benefits would include hospitalization, outpatient care, prescriptions drugs, equipment, and a host of other benefits.

  • Click here to jump to the section 222 which details the essential benefits.

The House bill would also impose rules regarding the transparency of the plans offered in the exchange by requiring certain information about the plans to be disclosed.

The Senate Approach — No Public Option; Multistate Substitute Would Exist

For whatever reason, the Senate crafted a more complicated framework of exchanges.

A crucial point of divergence from the House bill is the Senate bill’s lack of a federally financed public plan offered through the exchange. However, as discussed below, part of the Senate plan attempts to act as a substitute. Another area of divergence is that existing individual and group plans may continue alongside newly created exchanges, in addition to any grandfathered plans. This is in stark distinction to the House bill that would eliminate some existing policies. Though as noted, the House bill would allow for some grandfathering.

The Senate’s exchange framework is based on section 1001 of the bill which provides that HHS will, with the help of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), craft standards regarding the minimum benefits and other aspects of the plans sold through the various exchanges.

In terms of the Senate’s framework for exchanges, it is as follows. The Senate bill will allow for a number of exchanges that would exist on variety of different governmental levels. Whereas the House bill envisions a more federal exchange system, the Senate bill would instead allow for state-based exchanges, multistate exchanges (i.e. regional), or substate exchanges.

  • Click here for a pdf version of Senate bill, as passed.

State-based Exchanges
For the individual and the small group markets, the Senate bill would require each state to create a American Health Benefit Exchange for individual purchasers of insurance, and a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) for small businesses purchasers. HHS would regulate these exchanges (See section 1321(a)(1)). These exchanges would be governed by regulations promulgated by HHS, unless the states adopt alternative standards that the HHS finds acceptable.

The state may combine the individual market exchanges with the small business (SHOP) exchanges. Additionally, states have the flexibility to establish regional exchanges or smaller subsidiary exchanges that target specific geographic areas within the state. (See Section 1311(f)). If the states do not create a system of either separate exchanges for individuals and small business, or some combination, HHS will establish an exchange or utilize a non-profit insurer to fill the void. See 1321(c).

The multistate exchanges are important, as they may mollify those who have been touting the idea of interstate health insurance offerings as a panacea for the woes of U.S. health insurance.

Regardless of how any states’ exchange(s) plays out, many of the important provisions of the Senate’s bill such as certain minimum benefits, the ban on lifetime or annual dollar limits, the ban on rescission, and medical loss ratio requirements would apply across the landscape of exchanges.

State Opt-Out Possible
Under the Senate bill, the states would be eligible in 2017 to opt-out of the federal requirements listed above if they can demonstrate that they are providing affordable coverage that is at least as affordable and comprehensive as the Bill requires. Alternatively, the state may be allowed to create a “public health plan” for those under 200% of the federal poverty level. Under this arrangement, the federal government would compensate the state for 95 percent of what would have been provided through premium tax credits as well as cost-sharing reduction payments. (See Section 1331).

Multistate plans: A Compromise?
One major amendment passed on December 24th was section 1334 which amended section 1333 which dealt with multistate exchanges. Under section 1334, The Office of Personnel Management (OPM)–the agency that governs the federal employees health benefit program (FEHB)–will enter into contracts with insurance carriers to offer at least 2 multistate plans through each exchange in each state. (See 1334(a)(1)). These plans will cover the individual and small group market. At least one of those plans must be a non-profit insurance plan, and must be in accordance with the general standards set forth for health insurance plans.

Though there would be a minimum level of benefits and protections required for all plans, the States would be entitled to offer multistate plans with more substantial benefits. However the state will have to defray the costs of the additional benefits.

Unlike the House bill which eliminates the state-based individual market, the Senate bill envisions exchanges that would co-exist with both the individual and small-group markets, and operate under the same rules. Though the Senate bill allows for flexibility, the subsidies provided by the federal government could only apply to insurance plans sold through the exchange.

One of the most important and controversial sections of the amended Senate bill is section 1334(a)(4), which specifies that, in administering the multistate plan, OPM will have the same bargaining power as they currently have for plans offered in the FEHB. Thus, OPM would be able to negotiate for a specified medical loss ratio and profit margin, as well as specified premium rates and any other terms in the “interest of the enrollees.” The goal is for these plans to be offered nationwide. Whether the OPM-run exchange will succeed is obviously yet to be determined, but some like Professor Timothy Jost are worried that the Senate’s plan to allow some plans to operate outside of the exchange complicates the federal government’s job in risk adjustment.

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