From Senator Jack Johnson - Senate Committees worked at
“full steam” this week as state senators examined the budgets of 11
agencies and departments of state government and approved a number of
important bills. The budget hearings, which will continue through March
16, are part of the process of reviewing how taxpayer dollars are spent
to examine whether taxpayer money is being used efficiently and
effectively to meet the state’s goals. They also provide lawmakers with
an opportunity to talk with state officials about a wide variety of
important state issues.
Among agencies appearing before Senate committees this week were the Tennessee Division of Health Care Finance and Administration, which administers the state’s TennCare program, and the Department of Commerce and Insurance, which regulates the state’s health insurance industry. Both agencies talked about the changing national landscape as Congress and President Donald Trump consider measures to revise, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare.
The federal government has steadily increased requirements on states in regard to populations and services that must be covered by TennCare, which serves the state’s Medicaid population. These federal regulations block or severely limit a state’s ability to innovate and make changes designed to control costs or promote personal responsibility.
Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak told members of the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee that Congress should return as much flexibility as possible to the states to address their respective marketplace needs as they consider revisions to the ACA. In the meantime, she stressed the need to stabilize the state’s individual markets by focusing on key areas that can provide immediate assistance like rating factors, essential health benefits, special enrollment periods and grace periods.
As President-elect of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, McPeak could weigh in on proposals pending in Congress as she recently testified before the U.S. Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions.
McPeak also stressed the need for Congress to remain transparent and to engage stakeholders to minimize surprises in the regulatory system. She said markets need clarity so that carriers do not exit markets in mass because they do not have an idea of what to expect in terms of regulation over the next several years.
Tennessee has seen rates steadily increase since Obamacare was implemented. Approved rate increases ranged from seven to 19 percent in 2015, up to 36 percent in 2016 and have increased substantially for 2017. In addition, a Co-op that provided coverage from 2014 to 2015 had to be placed in receivership due to its instability to provide health coverage to enrollees.
Even with rate increases, Tennessee’s individual insurance market continues to struggle, McPeak said. Presently, the state has three insurance carriers, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna, and Humana, offering policies on our Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM). However, the future of Humana is in question after the insurer announced last week that it plans to stop selling insurance on the FFM in 2018. The move particularly impacts the greater Knoxville area where no other insurers are present on the exchange. McPeak said she is continuing talks with Humana in an effort to get the company to continue coverage.
In 73 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, particularly the more rural areas of the State, Tennesseans only have one insurer option. This is down from 2016 when the state had two carriers offering policies in all Tennessee counties.
The highlighting in the above is that of the editor.