The Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight
Medical Loss Ratio: Getting Your Money's Worth on Health Insurance
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, consumers will receive more value for their premium dollars because insurance companies are required to spend 80-to-85 percent of premium dollars on medical care and health care quality improvement, rather than on overhead costs. If they don’t, the insurance companies will be required to provide a rebate to their customers starting in 2012 for the 2011 reporting year. This policy is known as the “medical loss ratio” (MLR) provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Medical loss ratio applies to all health insurance plans, including job-based coverage and coverage sold in the individual market. However, insurance plans in the individual market often spend a larger percent of premiums on administrative expenses and non-health related costs, than job-based health plans.
Recognizing the variation in local insurance markets, the Affordable Care Act allows States to request a temporary adjustment in the MLR ratio for up to three years, to avoid disruptions to coverage in the individual market. This flexibility allows consumers to maintain the choices currently available to them in their State while transitioning to a new marketplace where they will have more options for coverage and more affordable health insurance through State-based Affordable Insurance Exchanges. This is one of many ways the Affordable Care Act is building a bridge from today’s often disjointed and dysfunctional markets to a better health care system.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has set up a transparent process for how States can apply for an MLR adjustment and what criteria will be used to determine whether to grant those requests. States must provide information to HHS showing that requiring insurers in their individual market to spend at least 80 percent of their premiums on medical care and quality improvement may cause one or more insurers to leave the market, reducing access to coverage for consumers. States must also show the number of consumers likely to be affected and the potential impact on premiums charged, benefits provided, and cost-sharing. All application materials are posted on the HHS website.
The Louisiana MLR Adjustment Application
The Louisiana Department of Insurance requested an adjustment of the MLR standard to 70 percent and 75 percent for the reporting years 2011 and 2012, respectively.
After reviewing Louisiana’s application, HHS has determined that no adjustment to the MLR standard in Louisiana is necessary.
The law provides that an adjustment should be granted only if there is a reasonable likelihood that the application of the 80 percent MLR standard will destabilize a State’s individual health insurance market. Louisiana’s application does not demonstrate that there is a reasonable likelihood that any issuers will leave the individual market and no issuers have provided notice of withdrawal. Evidence shows that all issuers in the Louisiana individual market either 1) already meet the 80 percent MLR standard, 2) are sufficiently profitable to absorb the impact of rebate payments under an 80 percent MLR standard, or 3) are adapting their business models in order to continue to achieve sustainable financial performance in the individual market.
Louisiana’s application was based on preliminary estimates indicating that it expected its non-dominant issuers’ aggregated MLR to be 67 percent for 2010. However, when Louisiana submitted more recent data, it showed that the aggregate MLR of the non-dominant issuers in Louisiana’s individual market in 2010 was 79 percent, just under the 80 percent MLR standard. Thus, it appears that the market will be able to meet the MLR standard beginning in 2011.
For these reasons, HHS has determined that no adjustment to the MLR standard in Louisiana is necessary.