The Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in

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The
COMMONWEALTH
FUND
Realizing Health
Reform’s Potential
MARCH 2015
The Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule:
Implications for Consumers in Year 3
Michael J. McCue and Mark A. Hall
The mission of The
Commonwealth Fund is to
promote a high performance
health care system. The Fund
carries out this mandate by
supporting independent research
on health care issues and making
grants to improve health care
practice and policy. Support for
this research was provided by The
Commonwealth Fund. The views
presented here are those of the
authors and not necessarily those
of The Commonwealth Fund or
its directors, officers, or staff.
Abstract For the past three years, the Affordable Care Act has required health
insurers to pay out a minimum percentage of premiums in medical claims or
quality improvement expenses—known as a medical loss ratio (MLR). Insurers
with MLRs below the minimum must rebate the difference to consumers. This
issue brief finds that total rebates for 2013 were $325 million, less than one-third
the amount paid out in 2011, indicating much greater compliance with the MLR
rule. Insurers’ spending on quality improvement remained low, at less than 1
percent of premiums. Insurers’ administrative and sales costs, such as brokers’
fees, and profit margins have reduced slightly but remain fairly steady. In the
first three years under this regulation, total consumer benefits related to the
medical loss ratio—both rebates and reduced overhead—amounted to over $5
billion. This was achieved without a great exodus of insurers from the market.
OVERVIEW
For more information about this
brief, please contact:
Michael J. McCue, D.B.A.
R. Timothy Stack Professor
Department of Health
Administration
School of Allied Health Professions
Virginia Commonwealth University
[email protected]
To learn more about new
publications when they become
available, visit the Fund’s website
and register to receive email
alerts.
Commonwealth Fund pub. 1808
Vol. 6
One of the consumer protections granted by the Affordable Care Act
(ACA) is the regulation of health insurers’ medical loss ratios, or MLRs. A
key financial measure, an MLR shows the percentage of premium dollars a
health insurer pays out for medical care and quality improvement expenses
compared with the portion allocated to profits, administrative costs, and
sales expenses. For instance, if an insurer uses 80 cents of every premium
dollar to pay its customers’ medical claims and carry out activities to
improve the quality of care, it has a medical loss ratio of 80 percent.
To reduce overhead and ultimately lower the cost of insurance to
consumers and the government, in 2011, the ACA set minimum MLRs of
at least 80 percent in the individual and small-group markets and of at least
85 percent in the large-group market.1 Insurers that pay out less than these
percentages on medical care and quality improvement must rebate the difference to their members.
Previously, we reported that health insurers that failed to meet
MLR requirements paid out more than $1 billion in rebates to consumers
2
The Commonwealth Fund
for insurance sold in 2011,2 and $513 million in 2012.3 In addition, insurers reduced overhead (i.e.,
administrative costs and profits) by over $350 million in 2011, and by more than $1 billion in 2012,
in part to reduce the rebates they might owe. In both years, insurers reported spending less than 1
percent of their premium revenues on improving the quality of care.
This issue brief revisits these measures in year 3 of the new law to determine the continued
impact of the MLR regulation. In 2013, rebates continued to drop, falling to $325 million, which
indicates even greater compliance with the MLR standard. Insurer spending on quality improvement
remained low, at less than 1 percent of premiums. In year 3 insurers increased overhead by $1.6 billion, but still this was $0.9 billion less than the amount allocated to overhead in 2011. Summing the
savings achieved in each year we find that insurers showed a cumulative savings in overhead costs of
over $3 billion over these first three years. While it is not known exactly how much of the reduced
overhead can be attributed to the new MLR regulation rather than market competition, it is fair to
conclude that total consumer benefits related to the MLR amount to more than $5 billion in the first
three years due to savings of over $3 billion and almost $2 billion in rebates.
NUMBER OF INSURERS
When the Affordable Care Act was enacted, some critics predicted it would cause an exodus of insurers from the market.4 To assess this concern, we measured changes in the number of active insurers,
either inside or outside the new marketplaces. In this analysis, we only included insurers with 1,000
or more members in a market segment.
From 2011 to 2013, there was a modest contraction but still a substantial number of insurers
actively competing (Exhibit 1). Throughout the country in 2013, there were still roughly 500 insurers in each of the individual, small-group, and large-group markets. These numbers reflect modest
Exhibit 1. Number of Credible Health Plans, by Market Segment
Insurers with 1,000 or more members, by market
2011
2012
2013
700
600
500
555
547
487
483
584
524
589
586
509
400
300
200
100
0
Individual market
Small-group market
Large-group market
Source: Authors’ analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services medical loss ratio and rebate data.
Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3
3
About This Study
Medical loss ratio data were collected from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) for 2011 through 2013. In
computing 2010, we used 2010 National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) filings
since CMS did not collect MLR data in 2010. Data were collected from health insurers in 50 states
and Washington, D.C., but not from the territories. The key financial measures were calculated
consistent with the NAIC Supplemental Health Care Exhibit.
CMS requires only insurers with “credible” actuarial experience to calculate MLRs and pay
rebates. For MLR and rebate analysis, we followed the approach used by CMS, which bases credibility on a three-year aggregate. For simply counting the number of active insurers, however, we
included only insurers that had 1,000 members in the particular market segment in order to have a
more consistent study sample across mul­tiple years. In calculating financial measures, we included
insurers with 100 members or more, in order to capture the experience of insurers that were less
active and possibly exiting these markets. We excluded plans with negative or zero values for net
premiums earned or net medical claims. Exhibit 3 shows the resulting study sample for the MLR
and rebate analysis. For financial measures, we had the following study sample: 1,827 insurers in
2011, 1,589 in 2012 and 1,496 in 2013 (individual market); 1,030 insurers in 2011, 932 in 2012,
and 894 in 2013 (small-group market); and 930 insurers in 2011, 846 in 2012, and 854 in 2013
(large-group market).
decreases from 2011 in the individual and small-group markets, where the number of insurers with at
least 1,000 members declined 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively.5
Some degree of market consolidation is to be expected. The number of insurers has declined
steadily for more than a decade as the industry consolidates either through acquisition and merger or
because smaller insurers have difficulty competing.6 Therefore, a modest reduction in the number of
insurers does not appear to be strongly related to the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, the ACA’s subsidized insurance marketplaces are credited with bringing a significant number of new insurers into the
individual market.7
CONSUMER REBATES
Overall, the amount of total rebates that insurers paid to consumers dropped by more than two-thirds
from 2011 to 2013—from $1.1 billion to $325 million dollars (Exhibit 2). The reduction is attributable primarily to a decline in the average size of rebates owed in the group markets, rather than a
reduced total number of insurers owing rebates (Exhibit 3). In 2011, median rebates ranged from $99
to $116 per member across the three market segments. By 2013, median rebates remained at $100
in the individual market, but dropped to $29 and $61 in the small- and large-group markets, respectively. There was only a modest reduction of between 2 and 7 percentage points in the number of
insurers owing rebates (Exhibit 3).
In the individual market, insurers paid $128 million in rebates in 2013, amounting to less than
one-half of 1 percent of collected premiums. This is a decline of more than two-thirds from 2011,
when they paid out $400 million. Between 2011 and 2013, the median adjusted MLR increased 2.4
percentage points from 82.5 percent to 84.9 percent, indicating that insurers in the individual market
are paying out a greater portion of their premiums for medical claims and quality improvement.8
4
The Commonwealth Fund
In the group markets, the median adjusted MLR has held steady since 2011. Despite this
stability in the middle, we see a substantial decline in the amount of rebates owed by insurers that fell
below the minimum loss ratios. Total small-group rebates dropped 60 percent from 2011 to 2013,
Exhibit 2. Rebates by Market Segments, 2011–2013
Dollars in millions
2011
2012
2013
1200
1076.8
1000
800
600
400
513.1
399.5
388.2
324.9
289.1
201.4
117.7
200.4
128.2
200
111.3
79.0
0
Individual market
Small-group market
Large-group market
Total market
Source: Authors’ analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rebate data.
Exhibit 3. Medical Loss Ratios and Rebates
by Insurance Market Segment, 2011–2013
Individual market
2011
2012
Small-group market
2013 Change 2011
n=548 n=655 n=747
2012
Large-group market
2013 Change 2011
2012
2013 Change
201320132013n=562 n=622 n=667
n=587 n=663 n=697
2011
2011
2011
Median adjusted
82.5% 84.5% 84.9%
MLR
2.4%
Percent of
credible insurers
owing rebate
38%
35%
31%
-7%
20%
18%
18%
-2%
18%
15%
13%
-5%
Median rebate
per member
$108
$95
$100
-$8
$116
$86
$29
-$87
$99
$57
$61
-$38
84.6% 85.3% 85.0% 0.4% 89.2% 89.6% 89.3%
Total rebate paid
$399.5 $200.4 $128.2 -$271.3 $289.1 $201.4 $117.7 -$171.4 $388.2 $111.3
(in millions)
0.1%
$79.0 -$309.2
Note: Insurers with actuarial “credibility” are those with enough enrollment to be subject to the MLR rule. Adjusted MLRs are defined in
note 8 on page 10.
Source: Authors’ analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services medical loss ratio and rebate data.
Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3
5
from $289 million to $118 million. Total large-group rebates dropped 80 percent, from $388 million
to $79 million. In the small-group market, the proportion of insurers owing rebates has remained
steady but the rebate amounts have dropped, indicating that insurers below the MLR minimums are
coming closer to being in compliance. In the large-group market, we see declines in both the size of
rebates and the number of insurers owing rebates (Exhibit 3).
Insurers’ Financial Performance
We next analyzed how key financial performance measures for insurers changed from 2011 to 2013.
Previously, we reported that between 2010 and 2011, the first year of the MLR rule, insurers’ nonmedical overhead dropped by about $350 million, owing to reduced administrative costs and reduced
profits, mainly in the individual market.9 As shown in Exhibit 4, this initial gain in consumer benefits
was retained in the second and third years of the MLR rule. Overall, the amount of premium devoted
to medical claims and quality improvement has remained at about 88 percent, meaning nonmedical
overhead has been at about 12 percent each of the past three years.
Small percentage changes in nonmedical overhead produced substantial benefits for consumers. The drop in nonmedical overhead of half a percentage point between 2011 and 2012 amounted
to a consumer gain of about $2 billion in reduced profits and administrative spending. This is in
addition to the consumer gain already achieved in 2011. In 2013, nonmedical overhead increased
$1.6 billion. Still, administrative expenses remained $500 million below the 2011 level. The total
reduction in overhead reported for 2011, 2012, and 2013 amount to $3.7 billion cumulatively over
the three years the MLR rules have been in effect (Exhibit 4). It is impossible to know how much of
this reduced overhead is attributable strictly to the new regulation. Nevertheless, the consumer gains
related to medical loss ratios amount to over $5 billion dollars, including rebates of almost $2 billion
and reduced overhead of over $3 billion.
Exhibit 4. Cumulative Rebate and Nonmedical Overhead Reduction, 2011–2013
Dollars in billions
Change in nonmedical overhead
3.00
Rebate
2.00
1.00
1.1
0.00
1.9
1.6
-0.35
-1.00
-2.8
-3.7
-2.00
-3.00
-4.00
2011
Premium $300.6
2012
Premium $299.0
2013
Premium $303.4
Source: Authors’ analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services medical loss ratio and rebate data.
6
The Commonwealth Fund
Quality Expense and Overhead Components
The MLR rule regards expenses for quality improvement as being part of medical claims rather than
part of administrative expenses. In 2013, these quality improvement expenses (see Glossary for definition) remained at just under 1 percent of premiums.
We also looked at insurers’ expenses for brokers as a component of administrative costs. This
issue is significant because some industry observers expect that increasing MLRs will cause insurers to
reduce the role of—or compensation for—independent brokers. But broker expenses, which generally
amount to about 3 percent of premiums, have dropped only slightly—by 0.2 percentage points overall since 2011 (Exhibits 5 and 6).
Exhibit 5. Components of Insurance Premiums, 2011–2013
All markets
2013–2011
(in $ billions and % of premium)
2011
2012
2013
Net premium
$300.6
$299.0
$303.4
Net medical claims
$261.3
$261.5
$264.4
86.9%
87.5%
87.1%
Quality improvement
Nonmedical overhead*:
$2.2
$2.4
$2.4
0.7%
0.8%
0.8%
$37.1
$35.0
$36.6
12.3%
11.7%
12.1%
Broker expense
$8.7
$8.4
$8.3
2.9%
2.8%
2.7%
Other admin. expense
$21.0
$19.9
$21.3
7.0%
6.7%
7.0%
$7.4
$6.8
$7.0
2.5%
2.2%
2.3%
Underwriting gain/loss
% pt. change
0.2%
0.1%
–0.2%
–0.2%
0.0%
–0.2%
* Nonmedical overhead percentage equals sum of broker expense, other admin. expense, and underwriting gain/loss percentages.
Note: Overhead consists of profits plus administrative and sales costs.
See the appendix on page 9 for analysis by markets.
Source: Authors’ analysis of National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
medical loss ratio and rebate data.
Finally, insurers’ operating profit margins (also known as underwriting gains) have declined
only slightly overall—by 0.2 percentage points since 2011 (Exhibits 5 and 6). Modest profit margin decreases in the individual market, where underwriting losses increased from 1.4 percent to 3.8
percent, have been partially offset by modest increases in the small- and large-group markets, where
profit margins have risen modestly but remain at about 3 percent (see Appendix).
Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3
7
Exhibit 6. Overhead Components, 2011–2013, by Market
Dollars in billions
25.0
Underwriting gain (loss)
Broker expense
20.0
Other admin. expense
15.0
10.0
5.0
0.0
1.3
1.4
3.4
1.3
3.4
4.0
-0.4
-0.7
-1.2
2011
2012
2013
2.4
2.2
2.4
3.9
3.8
3.7
5.8
5.2
5.3
2011
2012
2013
5.7
5.4
5.1
3.4
3.4
3.3
11.8
11.3
12.1
2011
2012
2013
-5.0
Individual market
Small-group market
Large-group market
Note: The appendix on page 9 provides total premium and overhead for each column. Overhead consists of profits plus administrative
and sales costs.
Source: Authors’ analysis of National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
medical loss ratio and rebate data.
CONCLUSION
The new federal regulation of health insurers’ medical loss ratios continues to provide substantial consumer benefits in the third year of operation. Total rebates to consumers dropped by two-thirds, from
over $1 billion in 2011 to $325 million in 2013, reflecting greater compliance with the MLR rule
and meaning that insurers are spending a larger percentage of premium dollars on medical claims.
To meet the legal minimums, insurers also reduced their administrative costs without substantially
increasing their profits, producing a net reduction in overhead that cumulatively amounted to more
than $3 billion over three years. Combined with the total of almost $2 billion in rebates, consumer
benefits related to the MLR rule were more than $5 billion in the first three years. Insurers’ spending
on quality improvement has remained low, at less than 1 percent of premiums, even though the new
law allows insurers to count these expenses toward meeting their required minimums.
These consumer gains have not come at the cost of substantially reduced competition or
choice among insurers. Although there has been a modest reduction in the number of insurers in the
market, this appears to continue a decade-long trend of consolidation. Roughly 500 insurers appear
to remain active in both the individual and the group markets across all states. Federal regulation of
MLRs appears to be producing significant consumer benefits without causing any substantial harm to
the insurance markets.
8
The Commonwealth Fund
Glossary
Quality improvement costs are all expenses related to improving the quality of care and include
activities in the following categories: improving health outcomes, preventing hospital readmissions,
improving patient safety and reducing medical errors, increasing wellness and promotion, and
implementing health information technology. Quality improvement expenses are included along
with medical expenses in the numerator of the MLR for purposes of calculating rebates owed under
the federal regulation.
Overhead refers to the component of premium that is not spent on medical claims or improving
quality. It equates simply to the sum of administrative and sales costs plus profit margin.
•
Agent and broker expenses are usually reported as part of administrative expenses. In this
brief we separate out this element.
•
Other administrative costs are all administrative expenses other than those for agent and
broker fees. Included are internal sales expenses, claims adjustment costs, and salary and
benefit expenses, as well as all other general corporate overhead costs.
•
Profit margin is also known as the underwriting gain or loss. It is calculated by subtracting
all medical and administrative costs from net premium earned. As such, it does not include
profit or loss from investments or taxes on investments. A negative profit margin indicates
that medical and administrative costs exceeded premiums.
Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3
9
Appendix: Components of Insurance Premiums, by Markets, 2011–2013
Individual market
Small-group market
Large-group market
2013–
2011
2013–
2011
2013–
2011
(in $ billions)
2011
2012
2013
% Pt
Chg
2011
2012
2013
% Pt
Chg
2011
2012
2013
% Pt
Chg
Net premium
$29.1
$29.8
$31.3
$74.9
$73.4
$73.0
$196.6
$195.7
$199.1
Net medical claims
$24.5
$25.5
$26.9
$62.2
$61.6
$61.0
$174.6
$174.4
$176.5
84.2%
85.6%
85.9%
1.7%
83.0%
83.9%
83.6%
0.6%
88.8%
89.1%
88.6%
-0.2%
$0.2
$0.3
$0.3
$0.6
$0.6
$0.6
$1.4
$1.5
$1.5
0.7%
1.0%
1.0%
0.3%
0.8%
0.8%
0.8%
0.0%
0.7%
0.8%
0.8%
0.1%
$4.4
$4.1
$4.1
$12.1
$11.2
$11.3
$20.6
$19.8
$21.2
15.1%
13.8%
13.1%
-2.0%
16.1%
15.3%
15.5%
-0.6%
10.5%
10.1%
10.6%
0.1%
$1.4
$1.3
$1.3
$3.9
$3.8
$3.7
$3.4
$3.4
$3.3
4.8%
4.4%
4.2%
-0.6%
5.2%
5.2%
5.1%
-0.1%
1.7%
1.7%
1.7%
0.0%
$3.4
$3.4
$4.0
$5.8
$5.2
$5.3
$11.8
$11.3
$12.1
11.7%
11.4%
12.8%
1.1%
7.7%
7.1%
7.3%
-0.4%
6.0%
5.8%
6.1%
0.1%
Quality improvement
Nonmedical overhead*:
Broker expense
Other admin. expense
Underwriting gain (loss)
($0.4)
($0.7)
($1.2)
$2.4
$2.2
$2.4
$5.4
$5.1
$5.7
-1.4%
-2.0%
-3.8%
-2.4%
3.2%
3.0%
3.3%
0.1%
2.7%
2.6%
2.9%
0.2%
* Nonmedical overhead percentage equals sum of broker expense, other admin. expense, and underwriting gain/loss percentages.
Source: Authors’ analysis of National Association of Insurance Commissioners and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid medical loss ratio and rebate data.
10
The Commonwealth Fund
Notes
1
The small-group market currently consists of employers with 50 or fewer workers, but in 2016,
this market segment will expand to include groups of up to 100 workers.
2
M. J. McCue and M. A. Hall, Insurers’ Responses to Regulation of Medical Loss Ratios (New York:
The Commonwealth Fund, Dec. 2012).
3
M. J. McCue and M. A. Hall, The Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in
Year 2 (New York: The Commonwealth Fund, May 2014). In this study, we report an even greater
reduction in nonmedical overhead for 2012, based on a more consistent measure of premium
revenue.
4
For instance, R. Epstein, “Unmanageable Competition,” Forbes, Nov. 24, 2009.
5
In this snapshot, we did not investigate whether these enrollment drops were large or miniscule
for each insurer or whether these insurers remained somewhat active in the market or withdrew
entirely. Also, note that some changes in insurer counts, both increases and decreases, can occur
simply because an insurance holding company with various subsidiaries either consolidates or
increases the number of subsidiaries. Also, since 2012, new insurers have entered the individual
market in several states as part of their new insurance exchanges. See C. Cox G. Claxton, L. Levitt
et al., An Early Look at Premiums and Insurer Participation in Health Insurance Marketplaces, 2014
(Menlo Park, Calif.: Kaiser Family Foundation, Sept. 2013). Therefore, our coarse measure does
not perfectly reflect the level of effective competition in a state. Nevertheless, it gives a rough indicator of any major changes nationally.
6
J. C. Robinson, “Consolidation and the Transformation of Competition in Health Insurance,”
Health Affairs, Nov. 2004 25(6):11–24; U.S. Government Accountability Office, Concentration of
Enrollees Among Individual, Small-Group, and Large-Group Insurers from 2010 through 2013 (Dec.
2014); and D. Andrew Austin and T. L. Hungerford, The Market Structure of the Health Insurance
Industry (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2009).
7
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Plan Choice, Premiums and Affordability
in the 2015 Health Insurance Marketplace (Washington, D.C.: DHHS, Dec. 2014); McKinsey
Center for U.S. Health System Reform, Emerging Exchange Dynamics: Temporary Turbulence or
Sustainable Market Disruption? (New York: McKinsey and Company, 2013); and J. Holahan,
R. Peters, K. Lucia et al., Cross-Cutting Issues: Insurer Participation and Competition in Health
Insurance Exchanges: Early Indications from Selected States (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute,
July 2013).
8
In calculating the MLR for rebate purposes, the federal rule allows insurers to make various
adjustments. Insurers with fewer than 75,000 members and those that have high deductibles (i.e.,
greater than $2,500) may increase their calculated MLR under a formula that takes into account
greater actuarial predictability for smaller pools and lower claims for high-deductible plans. In
addition, we only included rebates from insurers within 50 states but not U.S. Territories, so there
may be slight underreporting of rebates.
9
McCue and Hall, Insurers’ Responses to Regulation of Medical Loss Ratios, 2012.
Federal Medical Loss Ratio Rule: Implications for Consumers in Year 3
11
About the Authors
Michael J. McCue, D.B.A., is the R. Timothy Stack Professor in the Department of Health
Administration in the School of Allied Health Professions at Virginia Commonwealth University.
He received his doctorate in business administration from the University of Kentucky with a concentration in corporate finance and has conducted several funded studies with Robert E. Hurley,
Ph.D., on the financial performance of publicly traded Medicaid health plans.
Mark A. Hall, Ph.D., is the Fred & Elizabeth Turnage Professor of Law and Public Health at
Wake Forest University. One of the nation’s leading scholars of health care law and policy and bioethics, he is currently engaged in research in the areas of health insurance regulation and reform,
consumer-driven health care, and safety-net access for the uninsured. Hall regularly consults with
government officials, foundations, and think tanks about health care public policy issues.
Editorial support was provided by Deborah Lorber.
The
COMMONWEALTH
FUND
www.commonwealthfund.org

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