insurance

With Trump ‘shouting death spiral’ for Obamacare, TN insurance commissioner wonders who’s in charge

Tennessee’s commissioner of commerce and insurance and Sen. Lamar Alexander are both quoted in a New York Times article bearing the headline, “Trump, Shouting ‘Death Spiral,’ Has Nudged Affordable Care Act Downward.” An excerpt:

Frustrated state officials have ideas for stabilizing the individual insurance market, but they say they cannot figure out where to make their case because they have been bounced from one agency to another in the Trump administration.

“We have trouble discerning who has decision-making authority,” said Julie Mix McPeak, the Tennessee insurance commissioner and president-elect of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents state officials. “We reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services. They referred us to the Office of Management and Budget, which referred us to the Department of Justice. We reached out to the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.”

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Haslam, Alexander defend Insurance Commissioner McPeak

Gov. Bill Haslam has come to the defense of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, reports WTVF-TV, which earlier aired a report on her extensive travel on the job – 120 trips since Haslam appointed her to the position in 2011 with expenses paid by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

U.S.  Sen. Lamar Alexander also issued a statement supporting McPeak. Some of her travel has been to Washington, where she met with congressmen and testified before committees – including one chaired by Alexander.

From WTVF:

“Julie’s worked for me for six years. I am very convinced of her professional approach to this in terms of looking out for what’s the best interests of the state,” Haslam explained.

…The governor said someone in his office reviews all travel requests from commissioners. So someone there knew just how many trips McPeak was taking.

Said Alexander in a statement emailed by his staff:

“Julie McPeak has been very effective in working with Congress to solve a real emergency for nearly 200,000 vulnerable Tennesseans as she works to give them options next year and beyond. Unless Congress acts, these Tennesseans who have federal subsidies to purchase insurance in the individual market may have zero options for insurance next year. I’ve invited her to meet with me in Nashville, and at my invitation, she testified before the Senate health committee and again to brief senators.”

Note: Previous post HERE. The station reported McPeak was out of her office on trips for 117 days in 2015, 120 days in 2016.

TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, who is president-elect of of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has made more than 120 trips for conferences and meetings around the nation and world since taking office in 2011, reports WTVF-TV — and some say she’s spending “way too much time away from her office.”

McPeak told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “That (travel) absolutely is serving the taxpayers of Tennessee and our Tennessee consumers.” But, Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America wasn’t so sure.

“I think what happens as a result of these trips is less consumer protection, not more,” he said.

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BlueCross resuming health insurance in Knoxville region

Start of a Times-Free Press report:

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which withdrew its individual coverage under the health care exchange market in 2017 in Tennessee’s three biggest markets, said today it will resume selling individual insurance plans under the exchange market in the 16-county Knoxville area where Humana announced plans to withdraw from the individual market next year.

In a letter to state insurance regulators, BlueCross President J.D. Hickey said BlueCross is showing improved results in the ObamaCare health exchanges this year after suffering more than $400 million in losses in such markets during the first three years in which the insurer offered such plans statewide.

“Though still very early, our 2017 performance has improved due to a combination of better claims experience and a more sustainable rate structure based on the medical needs of the members we’re serving,” Hickey said in a letter to state regulators. “With this in mind, I want to confirm that BlueCross is willing to serve the Knoxville region in the 2018 individual Marketplace.”

State regulators welcomed the decision by BlueCross to ensure that the Knoxville market has at least one provider of individual plans under the exchange markets.

“This is very much a glimmer of hope for those on the individual exchange in the Knoxville area so that they will have an option for coverage using their tax subsidies and tax credits for 2018,” said Julie McPeak, commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Gov signs compromise in doctors-vs-insurance companies lobbying fight

Without fanfare, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a first-of-its-kind measure that places some restrictions on Tennessee health insurers when making mid-contract changes to doctors and other providers, reports the Times-Free Press.

The governor signed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, (SB437) in the upper chamber last Wednesday, according to the General Assembly’s website.

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Democrats urge Insure TN be reconsidered; Haslam says not now

With the Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare dead in Washington for now, at least four states that previously rejected Medicaid expansion – Kansas, Maine, North Carolina and Virginia – have moves afoot to reconsider the idea.

Tennessee Democrats would like to see the Volunteer State become the fifth, reports WPLN, but Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s too early. In 2015, Haslam proposed a Medicaid expansion plan, dubbed Insure Tennessee, that was killed by the Legislature.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he is not currently considering another legislative special session to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

“The sooner the better, so we can begin collecting and allowing up to 300- or 400-hundred thousand people to be covered under Medicaid,” says House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Fitzhugh proposes repealing a state law that requires the legislature to sign off on Medicaid expansion. That would free up Governor Bill Haslam to negotiate a plan with the Trump administration. (Note: It’s HB846, on notice for the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee next week.)

Haslam says he’s instructed TennCare officials to review their options. But it’s too soon to come up with a plan.

“I think it’s early. I mean, we literally just had, Friday, the country took a change of direction no one was expecting,” he says.

Haslam adds it’s probably too late in the legislative session to propose an expansion plan this year. Lawmakers are likely to adjourn around the end of April, and the administration has focused on passing the state budget and a road-funding plan.

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Corker, Alexander produce Obamacare backup plan

News release from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

WASHINGTON – Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today introduced legislation to rescue Americans with Affordable Care Act subsidies who have zero options for health insurance on the exchanges for the 2018 plan year.

“There are 34,000 Knoxville area residents who rely on an Affordable Care Act subsidy to purchase insurance, and after the one remaining insurer pulled out of the exchange for 2018, these subsidies are worth as much as bus tickets in a town with no buses running,” Alexander said. “There is also a real prospect that all 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on the exchange—approximately 195,000 with a subsidy—won’t have any plans to buy next year either, and millions of Americans in other states are facing the same dire circumstances.”

He continued, “This legislation would help those in Knoxville and across the country by allowing any American who receives a subsidy and has no insurance available on their exchange next year to use that subsidy to buy any state-approved insurance off of the exchange. Second, the bill would waive the Affordable Care Act requirement that these Americans, who have zero insurance options with their subsides, have to pay a penalty for not purchasing insurance.  And third, this legislation will help bring peace of mind between now and the beginning of next year to millions of Americans, some of the most vulnerable people in the country, who face having zero options of health insurance to purchase with their subsidy.”

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Study: GOP health care bill cuts subsidies in 4 TN cities; raises them in one

A WalletHub study has found that Chattanooga would face a bigger negative impact than all but four other cities in the nation under a Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare – a loss of $5,786 in federal premium subsidies per household.

On the other hand, the study covering 457 U.S. cities found that the average subsidy available to households in Murfreesboro under the proposal would actually be $924 higher than under Obamacare for Murfreesboro residents.

The review includes six Tennessee cities. In addition to Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, they are (with average subsidy change in parenthesis): Knoxville (-$2,116); Memphis (-$1,826); Clarksville (-$222); Nashville (-$15).

The Times-Free Press has a story focused on the Chattanooga results HERE. The full report is HERE.

Haslam helping congressmen seek GOP Obamacare repeal deal

Republican congressmen are hoping four Republican governors – including Tennessee’s Bill Haslam – will help them draft a deal for replacing Obamacare, according to CNN.

The governors are Haslam and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who serve in states where Medicaid was not expanded under the Affordable Care Act, along with the chief executives of two states that did expand Medicaid, John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandova of Nevada.

The discussions are likely to continue at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington this week, and as Kasich privately meets later this week with Trump at the White House.

The thinking is that if these four can cut a deal, it will help resolve an issue that GOP leaders say is currently the biggest hurdle in putting together a plan to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But they have a monumental task: resolving concerns from conservatives who want to turn Medicaid into a block grant program and alleviate fears from politicians who hail from states that accepted federal dollars to expand coverage for low-income adults under Obamacare.

“We’re going to have to find a solution that accommodates those concerns,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week.

Republicans are hoping to unveil a plan in March that could be voted on within the next several weeks. They are under a time constraint because they are using fast-track budget rules that will allow them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate and pass a repeal bill on a party-line vote.

The party is still divided over key issues — including how far to take the repeal bill. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus want to pass a full-blown repeal bill that mirrors a plan that Congress approved in 2015 — and Obama vetoed — which would also repeal the Medicaid expansion.

Yet top Senate Republicans privately say that such an approach would not pass their chamber.

TN insurance commissioner asks senators for more flexibility

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak urged Congress on Wednesday to give states more power to regulate their insurance markets, reports Michael Collins.

Testifying at a Senate hearing, McPeak stressed that congressional Republicans should return as much flexibility to the states as possible as they move forward with plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Additional flexibility would help states tailor insurance regulations to their own unique markets and could help provide stability in states like Tennessee, where the individual market is struggling, McPeak said.

“Tennessee’s experience, which is likely not unique, suggests a need for policy changes,” McPeak said.

McPeak was one of four witnesses who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about how to stabilize the individual health-insurance market as Congress plows ahead with plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Note: Text of the commissioner’s remarks is HERE. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s press release (he chairs the committee) is HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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