Health Care

Blue KC requests ‘flexibility’ from regulators amid Affordable Care Act uncertainty

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City has “requested flexibility” from the Kansas Insurance Department on a deadline to file plans to sell on the Affordable Care Act exchange next year.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City has “requested flexibility” from the Kansas Insurance Department on a deadline to file plans to sell on the Affordable Care Act exchange next year. amarso@kcstar.com

A spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City said Monday the company has “requested flexibility” from the Kansas Insurance Department on a deadline to file plans to sell on the Affordable Care Act exchange next year.

The company’s decision not to file by Monday’s midnight deadline casts uncertainty on 2018 “Obamacare” coverage options for people in two eastern Kansas counties and 30 western Missouri counties.

“We are continuing to work closely with the departments of insurance in both Kansas and Missouri, as well as lawmakers at all levels to identify ways to stabilize the individual ACA market,” Blue KC spokeswoman Kelly Cannon said via email.

“As we’ve cited in the past, the continued instability of this market makes this decision-making process more complex. We expect to make a decision regarding our participation in the individual ACA market in the near future.”

When asked whether Blue KC had requested an extension, Cannon said, “We asked for flexibility due to the changing healthcare landscape.”

Large insurance companies have been looking at leaving the Affordable Care Act marketplaces amid financial losses and uncertainty about whether the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump will change the law.

Policy experts say hundreds of counties — and even the entire state of Mississippi — might be without any plans next year on the exchanges, which offer federal subsidies based on income to help individuals buy health insurance.

Blue KC operates in Wyandotte County and Johnson County. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, which covers the state’s other 103 counties, had already announced last week that it was sticking with the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Blue KC’s financial performance on the Affordable Care Act exchange has been better than that BCBS of Kansas so far. Last year for the first time, Blue KC spent less than 100 percent of its premium revenues paying for medical claims on ACA plans.

BCBS Kansas improved over 2015, but still spent more than 113 percent of what it was taking in.

By Monday’s state filing deadline, it appeared that Kansans in all counties would at least have one choice.

Minnesota-based Medica, which joined the Kansas exchange last year after UnitedHealthcare dropped out, reported that it plans to stay on the Kansas exchange in 2018.

“We are filing today, and it’s statewide,” Medica spokesman Greg Bury said via email.

Medica has capped its Kansas enrollment at 10,000 Affordable Care Act plans so far, which is less than 10 percent of the total number of people in the state who rely on the exchange. Bury said the company had not yet decided whether that would change. That decision will come in July, when Kansas insurers will also be required to submit requested premium rates. That’s also when the first deadlines for Missouri plans arrive.

Consumers northeast of Kansas City are watching Medica closely. It’s the last remaining Affordable Care Act insurer in Iowa, and company officials have said they’ll pull out of that state as well unless state or federal officials act to provide more stability in the marketplace.

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso

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