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The American Journal of Managed Care December 2014
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Did They Come to the Dance? Insurer Participation in Exchanges
Jean M. Abraham, PhD; Roger Feldman, PhD; and Kosali Simon, PhD
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Did They Come to the Dance? Insurer Participation in Exchanges

Jean M. Abraham, PhD; Roger Feldman, PhD; and Kosali Simon, PhD
This study analyzes the factors associated with insurer participation in the initial year of individual market exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.
Objectives
An important feature of the Affordable Care Act is the creation of insurance exchanges, which are organized marketplaces through which individuals could begin to shop for and purchase coverage beginning in 2014. This study analyzes the decisions of new insurers and incumbent insurers already operating in a major market within a state to participate in state and federally facilitated exchanges.

Study Design
Utilizing secondary data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners* and government websites, we describe each state’s insurance market in 2012, summarizing the number of incumbent insurers by size and operations in the individual market segment. Next, we investigate the organizational, market, and policy-related factors associated with incumbent insurers’ participation decisions. Finally, we discuss the entry patterns of new insurers and briefly assess their potential impact on the market.

Methods
We use multivariate regression analysis to identify the organizational, market, and policy-related factors related to insurer participation in exchanges.

Results
Only 10% of incumbent insurers are participating in exchanges in 2014, although considerable variation exists across states. Participation is more prevalent among larger insurers, local and regional insurers, and those with prior experience in other market segments in the same state. The entry of newly formed organizations, such as cooperatives (co-ops), and of existing insurers into new states is modest.

Conclusions
Robust participation of insurers is an important prerequisite to ensure competition in health insurance markets. Exchange administrators will need to better understand the strategic or operational reasons why insurers chose not to participate in the individual market exchanges in 2014.

*The NAIC does not endorse any analysis or conclusions based upon the use of its data.

Am J Manag Care. 2014;20(12):1022-1030
Using data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and government websites, our analyses of insurer participation in individual market exchanges reveal:
  • Ten percent of incumbent insurers are participating in exchanges; entry by newly formed organizations is modest.
  • Participation is positively related to insurer size and prior experience in other market segments; it is not significantly lower in markets with a dominant insurer.
  • States’ decisions related to exchange creation, Medicaid expansion, or active purchasing do not significantly affect participation.
  • Robust participation is important for insurance market competition. Exchange administrators need to better understand both the facilitators of and barriers to insurer participation.
The creation of health insurance exchanges, through which individuals and small employers could begin to shop for and enroll in coverage in 2014, is a key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).1 While an underlying objective of exchanges is to strengthen competition in health insurance markets, exchanges may miss this goal if health plans do not participate. While much has been learned from the Massachusetts Health Connector regarding exchanges, the issue of plan participation remains unexplored. In the absence of empirical evidence, advice on exchange design abounds.2 The insurance industry supports unrestricted plan participation in ACA exchanges, while consumer groups and advocates recommend empowering exchanges to “keep out bad actors” and ensure value.3

This study analyzes insurers’ decisions to enter state and federally facilitated individual market exchanges. We begin by describing the insurance market in each state in 2012, summarizing the number of insurers incumbent in the state by size and insurers’ presence specifically in the individual market segment. Next, we investigate the organizational, market, and policy-related factors associated with incumbent insurers’ participation decisions. Finally, we discuss the entry patterns of new insurers into exchanges and briefly assess their potential impact on the market.

Findings of this analysis provide a clearer understanding of the extent to which incumbent and new insurers found exchanges to be an attractive opportunity. Results also reveal how factors such as health insurance market structure, exchange governance related to qualified plan determination, and insurers’ size, group affiliation, and profit status affect participation. Findings could point to problems, but also to opportunities to improve the design of exchange governance and to encourage more robust insurer participation.

METHODS

Data and Measures

We used 3 sources of data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to identify insurers operating in each state in 2012 (the most recent year for data).4 The first source is the Supplemental Health Care Exhibit (SHCE). Starting in 2010, insurers selling coverage subject to new ACA regulations (eg, medical loss ratio regulation) filed this exhibit. The SHCE includes information on insurers’ enrollment, premiums, claims, and other information by state and market segment (eg, individual, small group, large group). The second source is the Annual Statements of Health Insurers’ Exhibit of Premiums, Enrollment and Utilization, also known as the “state page.” It complements the SHCE by documenting insurers’ activity in segments not clearly captured by the SHCE. Specifically, insurers with at least 95% of their business in health insurance file detailed information about their operations in Medicaid managed care, Medicare Advantage, Medigap, and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP).

Although the NAIC database is the most comprehensive source available to characterize insurers and insurance markets, it has some limitations, the most notable being incomplete representation of insurers in California. For example, several health plans in California do not file NAIC information (eg, Chinese Community Health Plan, Contra Costa Health Plan, Valley Health Plan, Western Health Advantage, Alameda Alliance for Health, Sharp Health Plan, Molina Healthcare, and L.A. Health Plan).

NAIC also provides company-level measures of insurers’ ownership status, national group affiliation (eg, Aetna, Humana), and whether the insurer is a health maintenance organization (HMO). From these databases, we calculated insurers’ enrollment and scope of operations across market segments within states (individual, group and/or FEHBP; Medicaid; multi-segment), as well as measures of state-level market competition.

To measure potential demand for subsidized coverage through exchanges, we augmented the NAIC data with the number of uninsured in each state earning less than 250% of the federal poverty line (FPL) estimated from the 2012 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. Although premium subsidies continue until 400% FPL, the chosen threshold is the point at which cost-sharing subsidies phase out. To capture the policy environment, we utilized state-level information from the Kaiser Family Foundation on exchange type (eg, state, federal, or partnership), active purchaser status whereby state-based exchanges may contract with selected health plans and/ or negotiate premiums with plans, and states’ decisions to expand Medicaid in 2014.

We searched the websites of state agencies that oversee insurance regulation and state exchanges to identify insurers participating in individual market exchanges in 2014. These searches identified insurers offering plans in state-based exchanges (see the online appendix for the list of state websites). We obtained insurer participation in federally facilitated and partnership exchanges from the plan information provided by HealthCare.gov (2014), the official federal exchange website (https://www.healthcare.gov/health-plan-information). Next, we linked 2014 participants to the 2012 NAIC data using the insurer’s name, state, and, in some instances, NAIC company codes. We used Web searches to obtain information on 2014 exchange insurers that did not link to the 2012 NAIC data, including type (eg, co-op), and the year the organization was formed.

Empirical Approach

The unit of observation is an insurer-state (ie, if Insurer X operates in State 1 and State 2, this represents 2 observations: Insurer X-State 1 and Insurer X-State 2). Incumbent insurers are defined as insurers operating in the state in 2012 with enrollment in at least 1 of 3 market segments: individual, group/FEHBP, or Medicaid. We did not consider incumbent insurers to be insurers that operated only in Medicare Advantage, supplemental Medicare insurance (Medigap), dental/vision, or third-party administrative services in 2012. At the broadest level, there are 3199 insurer-state observations with activity in any insurance segment and of any size as documented in the NAIC filing data. Of these, 2439 have operations in at least 1 of the following segments that classify them as an incumbent insurer in that state: individual, group/FEHBP, or Medicaid. We consider new entrants to include insurers with existing operations in other states in 2012 that entered a state’s exchange in 2014, as well as organizations that were newly formed in 2012 or 2013.

We use a set of organizational, market, and policyrelated factors to model an incumbent insurer’s decision to participate in an exchange. The organizational attributes we examine are operations in different market segments in the same state (individual, group/FEHBP, or Medicaid), operations in multiple segments, and size. We measure size using the insurer’s combined enrollment across the aforementioned segments in a state and then recoded it into quartiles (1 = smallest enrollment quartile, 4 = largest enrollment quartile). Given significant economies of scale of offering insurance and building provider networks, we hypothesize that insurers with a larger presence in the state will be more likely than small insurers to participate in exchanges. We also consider whether for-profit insurers, HMOs, health insurers (ie, life, property/casualty, or fraternal), and multi-state insurers (operating in 2 to 10 states or more than 10 states, relative to single-state insurers) are more likely to participate. Finally, we include 5 binary indicators for insurers that are part of a larger, typically national, group of insurance companies (eg, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Cigna, Humana, and Aetna) because insurers’ decisions to enter particular states may be influenced by the national company. In May 2013, Aetna bought Coventry Health Care. We treat these entities as separate groups.

Both the demand for insurance and the extent of market competition are expected to affect an insurer’s decision to enter an exchange. We consider just one demand factor: the potential volume of new business in the market as measured by the estimated number of uninsured with incomes below 250% of the FPL. While individuals may be eligible for premium subsidies up to 400% of the FPL, recent evidence suggests that demand for individually purchased plans is price-sensitive.4 Those under the 250% threshold may be most likely to take up insurance since this is the only group to receive cost-sharing subsidiaries and therefore face lower out-of-pocket costs.

We use 2 market competition measures to investigate whether insurers in a more dominant position in 2012 are likely to enter exchanges: (1) an indicator for whether an insurer is a "dominant" player in the state (more than 50% market share); and (2) whether an insurer is a competitor of a dominant insurer. Insurers competing against a dominant firm may be at a disadvantage given economies of scale and bargaining power in provider contracting; therefore, they may be less likely to participate. On the other hand, nondominant insurers may perceive exchanges as opportunities to compete for new customers on a more even playing field, even if there is a “big dog” insurer in the market.

We also consider whether decisions by state policymakers affected insurer participation. Specifically, does the state run its own exchange, use a partnership exchange, or rely on the federally facilitated exchange? One might expect higher insurer participation in states that run their own exchanges because of better rapport between those developing exchanges, state regulators, and insurers.Also, in states with their own exchanges, administrators could choose to actively negotiate with insurers seeking to sell coverage. We hypothesize that states adopting this “active purchaser” model will have lower probability of insurer participation.

Finally, we compare insurer participation in states that chose to expand Medicaid prior to open enrollment for plan year 2014 compared with those that did not. The predicted effect is ambiguous: in states choosing not to expand Medicaid, individuals with incomes between 100% and 138% of the FPL are eligible for subsidized coverage in exchanges, leading to potentially greater demand. However, if these individuals have worse health status and use more healthcare services, insurers may be uncertain about their ability to predict premiums and less likely to participate.

We use bi-variate methods (ie, χ² tests, z tests for the difference of 2 proportions, and t tests for the difference of 2 population means) to evaluate differences in attributes between exchange participants and nonparticipants. Additionally, we estimate a binary logistic regression to examine the independent associations between each organizational, market, and policy-related factor and an incumbent insurer’s decision to participate in an exchange.

RESULTS

The Insurance Market in 2012


 
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