September 28, 2016
Wellmark announces individual ACA market changes in Iowa and South Dakota
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced today it will make changes in the individual Affordable Care Act (ACA) market in Iowa and South Dakota.
For the past two years, Wellmark members with individual ACA plans have endured double-digit increases. In addition, Wellmark has lost approximately $99 million over the same time period in the individual market in Iowa and South Dakota.
"Wellmark's mission is to create affordable health insurance for people to access quality health care. And, for the majority of the past 75 years, we've been able to achieve that," said Wellmark Chairman and CEO John Forsyth. "However, it's apparent that continuing to offer plans with broad networks, combined with the rich benefits of the ACA, is not consistent with managing continually rising costs. While we could seek additional premium increases to mitigate rising costs, this is not sustainable for our members' pocketbook."
In Iowa, Wellmark will narrow its product choices to offer plans that are lower priced and encourage health care delivery by Iowa providers. Specifically, Wellmark will no longer offer gold tier plans nor will the company promote individual under 65 plans that use its Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network in Iowa.
Wellmark will also continue its plans to introduce a new, simplified HMO plan called Blue Simplicity℠. This plan is like no other on the market today and is designed to help consumers understand the true value of care through simple copay plans – providing members with transparency and predictability of cost as they seek and use medical services.
South Dakota changes
In South Dakota, Wellmark will no longer offer individual Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans effective Jan. 1, 2017.
"Although the ACA has done many positive things, it has also had its challenges and those challenges vary by state," said Forsyth. "Fortunately, in 2017, the ACA gives states the ability to begin addressing those challenges with the goal of stabilizing the individual under 65 health insurance market. We look forward to working with Iowa and South Dakota policymakers on those solutions in the near future."
Comment by Don McCanne
The largest health insurer in Iowa, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, is discontinuing their more comprehensive gold tier plans and is discontinuing the promotion of its PPO plans with wider provider networks. They are also introducing a new HMO plan "designed to help consumers understand the true value of care through simple copay plans" (i.e., making them better shoppers by having to bear more of the costs). These changes are compounding the two problems plaguing insurance purchasers today: requiring higher out-of-pocket spending for health care, and narrowing the selection of health care providers covered by the plans.
This is a one-way path designed to keep insurance premiums as competitive as possible. As Chairman and CEO Forsyth states, "continuing to offer plans with broad networks, combined with the rich benefits of the ACA, is not consistent with managing continually rising costs." Insurers are not going to cover more out-of-pocket costs by increasing the actuarial value of their plans (percent of costs they will pay), and they are not going to expand their networks when they can negotiate lower prices by promising provider exclusivity.
Look, as long as we leave these people in charge, we can anticipate that they will engage in strategies that will protect and improve their own market advantage. If we had our own public program, our stewards who work for us would be engaging in strategies that would ensure our access to the health care that we need. There really is a difference. If only for selfish reasons, we should prefer the latter. The fact that it helps everyone else is a bonus.