Health Care

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas to offer Affordable Care Act plans in 2018

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, headquartered in Topeka, will submit plans for the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, headquartered in Topeka, will submit plans for the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas said Thursday that the company will submit plans for the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018, providing the assurance that most of the state will have at least one choice to buy insurance through what is commonly called Obamacare.

“Our intent at this time is to continue our presence both on- and off-exchange in 2018,” spokeswoman Mary Beth Chambers said in an emailed statement. “In preparation for 2018, we have filed benefit plans with the Kansas Insurance Department that will allow us to continue in the ACA-compliant individual and small group markets.”

The participation of BCBS Kansas is important for Kansans in its territory, which covers every county of the state except for Wyandotte and Johnson. The only other insurer on the Affordable Care Act exchange in Kansas is Minnesota-based Medica, and Medica capped its ACA enrollment at 10,000. The state of Kansas as a whole has more than 100,000 people signed up for plans through

Medica officials have not said yet whether they will participate in the Kansas exchange next year.

Only Kansans who buy individual plans on are eligible to get federal subsidies to defray premium costs.

Wyandotte County and Johnson County fall under the territory of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, which also operates in 30 counties in western Missouri. Kelly Cannon, a spokeswoman for Blue KC, said via email Wednesday that that company was still undecided about its ACA offerings.

“As you know, 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. “We have been working with legislators to address our concerns and find solutions to help stabilize the market. As of this point, we have not made a decision regarding our participation in the 2018 ACA individual market.”

Proposed plan designs are due to the Kansas Insurance Department by Monday, but insurers have until July 14 to propose premium rates for those plans. Those rate requests could include hefty hikes, if past years are any indication.

In Missouri, Humana has already decided to pull out of the exchange, leaving only Blue KC and Cigna remaining. A Cigna spokesman said Wednesday his company was also undecided about 2018.

Insurers nationwide have been gun-shy about making pronouncements regarding the Affordable Care Act as they wait to see how Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress will change the law. The U.S. House passed a bill with major changes last week, but senators have said they plan to approach it deliberately.

Blue KC’s financial performance on the Affordable Care Act exchange has been better than that BCBS of Kansas so far. Blue KC spent less than 100 percent of its premium revenues paying for medical claims on ACA plans last year for the first time. BCBS Kansas improved over 2015, but still spent more than 113 percent of what it was taking in.

After heavy losses on exchange plans in years past, BCBS Kansas is trying something new this year: operating only HMO plans that provide no coverage for out-of-network care.

Chambers said the plans the company submitted to the Insurance Department for 2018 are similar.

Chambers said BCBS Kansas is driven by its “long tradition of serving Kansans” to stay on the exchange, but would like to know soon if Congress plans to pay out the subsidies as it did under President Barack Obama.

“Between now and that July 14 deadline, we are hoping to receive clarity from the federal government as to the status of cost-sharing reductions for 2018,” Chambers said. “It is imperative for insurers and consumers alike to know if these cost-saving features of the ACA, which many Kansas consumers rely on, will be available in 2018.”

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso