Largest Kansas Health Insurer To Offer ACA Marketplace Plans In 2018

May 12, 2017

With a Monday deadline approaching, it isn’t clear whether all of the health insurance companies now participating in the Affordable Care Act marketplace in Kansas will continue in 2018.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s largest health insurer, has made a preliminary decision to continue and has filed initial paperwork with the Kansas Insurance Department, said Mary Beth Chambers, a company spokeswoman.

“We have the intention of continuing both on and off the exchange in 2018 for both individual and small group plans, but at this time we have not yet filed rates,” Chambers said. “We will ultimately make our final decision in August or September.”

The company’s final decision may depend on whether the U.S. Senate rewrites the ACA replacement bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, BCBS Kansas is concerned about the House bill’s elimination of cost-sharing subsidies that help policyholders earning less than $30,000 a year cover out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and copayments.

“We know that the federal government has assured insurers and consumers that the (premium assistance) tax credits will be available for those that want to purchase insurance in 2018, but we really need clarity with regard to the cost-sharing reductions,” Chambers said, adding that a “large number of Kansans” depend on them.

BCBS of Kansas operates in every county except Wyandotte and Johnson, which are covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.

Kelly Cannon, a spokeswoman for Blue KC, which also covers 30 counties in western Missouri, said the company has not decided whether to continue offering plans on the ACA marketplace.

“Like many insurers across the country, we have concerns about the sustainability of the individual market under the Affordable Care Act in its current form,” Cannon said in a prepared statement. “We have been working with legislators to address our concerns and find solutions to help stabilize the market.”

The only other company now offering plans on the Kansas marketplace, Minnesota-based Medica, also is considering its options, said spokesman Gary Bury.

“We haven’t made any decision about Kansas at this point,” Bury said.

However, concerns similar to those expressed by BCBS Kansas and Blue KC are prompting Medica officials to consider withdrawing from the individual marketplace in Iowa.

“Our ability to stay in the Iowa insurance market in any capacity is in question at this point,” said Geoff Bartsh, a Medica vice president, in a statement released May 3 to Iowa media.

Read the Medica statement on Iowa marketplace plans.

Medica entered the Kansas marketplace last year at the urging of state Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer but capped its ACA enrollment at 10,000.

To date, slightly more than 100,000 Kansans have purchased ACA coverage. Open enrollment for 2018 will be shorter than previous years. It will begin Nov. 1 and continue through Dec. 15, 2017. 

Monday is the deadline for insurers to file ACA “plan designs” with the Kansas Insurance Department. They have until mid-July to file proposed rates.

Clark Shultz, deputy insurance commissioner, said while the department will work to hold premiums down, it must allow companies to cover their costs.

“There is no doubt there will be premium increases,” Shultz said. “The question is what can we do to keep them as low as possible?”

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.