The Arkansas Insurance Department (AID) will release 2015 rates for the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace — the health insurance exchange created by Obamcare — in a week to ten days. The state has already released information regarding the overall trends — 2015 premiums are going down by 2.2 percent (weighted average based on 2014 market share). This new release will give rates for each individual plan, so consumers can begin to look at their options. Originally, AID planned to wait until the rates were finalized by federal approval (which will come by Nov. 3 at the latest, but could come sooner). The expedited release is no doubt prompted by the fact-challenged letter from the Arkansas congressional delegation requesting that AID hurry up and release the rates.
“With the caveat that those rates and plans are not final until HHS certifies them, Gov. [Mike] Beebe has asked us to inform you today that he has directed the Department of Insurance to expedite the release of the rates,” Marketplace Director Cindy Crone testified today before the Joint Public Health Committee. Crone said information would be released in a week to ten days; the rates are currently in a coded form for actuarial review and the raw data will be transferred into a user-friendly format. Crone cautioned that plan information could change slightly after they’re finalized by the feds, but said that any changes would be minor. Open enrollment begins November 15, so the early release of the rates will give consumers a little more time to window shop.
“We’re confident that you and your constituents will be pleased with the way the rates have come in for this year,” Crone said. I asked Crone why the governor had asked for the earlier release. “I think it’s important to him that it’s not perceived as a political issue and that’s been questioned. He wants to give people as much time and accurate information for shopping as possible.”
The release of the rates as soon as possible is a good thing. Giving people more time to think about the prices of plans is a good thing. So this is a perfectly happy ending. The letter from the Arkansas congressional delegation — Congressmen Rick Crawford,Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton — was nonetheless ludicrous. Embarrassingly, the congressmen showed themselves to be hopelessly confused about the way the insurance market is functioning in Arkansas (the letter suggested a wave of cancellations for non-compliance with Obamacare this fall; in fact, non-compliant plans can be kept in Arkansas through the fall of 2017 — see here for more details). It must be particularly humiliating for Cotton, currently running a tight statewide race for Senate, to reveal that he gets his information from national advocacy groups rather than paying attention to the facts on the ground in Arkansas.
Once the AID commissioner explained the facts in his reply, the Congressmen seemed to shift gears. The letter claimed that they were looking out for consumers who might have to shop for a new place after a cancellation. Well, no plans are being cancelled for non-compliance with Obamacare this year, so instead, Griffin told the D-G (which barely acknowledged the Congressmen’s original goof), this was all about politics:
We want to make sure that there are no politics involved here. I don’t know that there is, but we certainly don’t want there to be. Any time anything significant like this, particularly when it could be potentially bad news, is occurring the day before an election, when it could occur 43 days before the election, I think it’s just good practice to [do] it 43 days before the election.
It’s almost like he’s rooting for “potentially bad news”!
State Rep. David Meeks (R-Conway) echoed the congressman:
“Unfortunately, I think some politics are being played into it. And that shouldn’t be the case,” he said. Politically, “If there’s bad news with the rates, you would want to wait until very close to the election so it wouldn’t have as much of an impact or a reflection on a particular candidate. I agree with our delegation that it needs to come out sooner rather than later.”
But here’s the thing. It’s one thing to demand individualized rates for consumers to be able to look at options. But if we’re instead talking about the big-picture news, the sort of thing that might have some political heft, we already know the answer! This may be a bummer for Griffin and Meeks, but the news is very, very good. Marketplace premiums are going down next year.
Cotton and co. can move on to the next grandstanding stunt.