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Is The California Individual & Family Health Insurance Market In Critical Condition?

With the recent LA Times article and notifications to approximately 800,000 CA residents by Anthem Blue Cross of California, the future of individual & family health insurance coverage is looking bleak. Anthem announced a rate increase for March 1, 2010 ranging between 30-39% on many private health plans.

I received information just yesterday that Aetna has now laid off the IFP staff support for northern California (and I supposed SoCal as well). The last time Aetna laid off people in these positions, they exited the market in California.

First a look at some "interesting" numbers and how they relate to this issue.

California population (2009) - 36,900,000 (probably 37,000,000 by now)

# California residents covered by private health plans - 2,100,000
# California residents on average uninsured - 6,000,000
# California residents covered under Group/Medicaid/Medicare - 28,800,000

Those numbers tell us a lot about what is going on. IFP (Individual & Family Plan) represents an average enrollment of 6% of the total population, and 7% of the total insured population of California. 76% of the total population is covered under an employer-sponsored health plan, Medicaid or Medicare and 93% of the total insured population is covered under an employer-sponsored health plan, Medicaid or Medicare.

Sadly, the uninsured population is nearly three times as large as those who have private health insurance.

Group plans (employer-sponsored) flourish in California. The plans are heavily mandated by benefit and also represent a true actuarial "pool" of risk. Carriers require 75% of all eligible employees to participate, thereby spreading the risk across a large and balanced company population. I have heard over the years that actuarily, group plans tend to run 20% using major benefits, 30% using some benefits and 50% using no benefits in any plan year.

While group plans will certainly experience rate increases due to health care costs, they are often minimized by mandated participation. So long as the actuaries do their job, group tends to be more stable.*

Individual plans have few if any mandates and there is no participation requirement. As such, plans react to utilization of benefits and increases in health care costs on a more radical scale than employer-sponsored group plans.

Also, plan benefit levels are continuously being adjusted to keep the utilization in check. Lower deductibles give way to higher deductibles, first-dollar benefits give way to services under deductibles first, co-insurance splits continue downward (Health Net has plans 50/50),and so on.

When I first started in health insurance in California, then Blue Cross of California (now Anthem) had a very impressive set of PPO plans. $10, $20, $30 and $40 co-pay plans with no deductible, low out-of-pockets and 80%-90% coinsurance levels. They also covered all normal benefits including maternity. The $40 co-pay plan was so inexpensive that it became a loss-leader. The plans were retired around 2000 to make room for plans with lower co-insurance levels, deductibles and higher out-of-pockets. This trend has continued since.

The bottom line is that slowly but surely IFP will become undesireable to consumers and carriers. Carriers will bleed money on accelerating health care costs and consumers will hate the plan designs. Every year the IFP carriers introduce "new" plans, all of which are stripped-down from the preceeding plan designs. Carriers will continue to retire plans that are no longer profitable (see Anthem Share PPO plans and Blue Shield Spectrum PPO plans). At the rate things are going, IFP plans in a few years will be completely catastrophic coverage with little or no preventive care, generic only drug benefits and deductibles in the 10-20,000 range. Oh, and you can pretty much forget about maternity on PPO plans in a few years, too.

HMOs will continue to offer richer and stronger benefits (with access restrictions), however, they will eventually price so high as to be unaffordable for many consumers.

* the exception was the major rate increase in the Lumenos HSA plans a couple of years ago for group. This was due to an actuarial error in terms of anticipated benefit utilization. Lumenos group HSA plans offer free no-cost preventive medicine. The utilization by the traditional 50% who normally don't use benefits in a plan year as almost 100% which totally blew the curve. Rates were increase between 25-39% at the first Lumenos plan anniversary to compensate.


  1. As always, a very interesting take on our industry.

    I'm concerned about the seemingly impending death of IFP but if carriers cannot make a profit, they cannot continue to offer product.

  2. Nice ghoulish article … very fitting for the season and impressivly damn interesting.That was awesome! Probably one of the more interesting reads in awhile.

    Online Insurance Quotes

  3. This is amazing. You just don't know how happy I am to find this blog... I have been searching for something like it for the whole day and finally I was able to land into the right website. Thank you for composing the article and sharing it with us. I hope you all the best.


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