Friday, September 5, 2014

Challenge: Find the hidden rates

When I saw the Americans for Prosperity news release blaming Sen. Kay Hagan for health insurance rate hikes,  my first reaction was:  Bad use of good information.

I'm not quibbling with their right to hold Hagan accountable for results of the Affordable Care Act.  Nor do I doubt rates are going up in 2015.  But the original release  (it has now been updated)  used data that contradicted its own source link and exaggerated the data it had.

What intrigued me was that someone had apparently found public information on proposed 2015 insurance rates that I'd been told were hidden from the public.  All states review rate requests.  Some make the proposals public and even invite public comment.  Not North Carolina.

But here was a map from PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute, reporting data on North Carolina's 2015 rate proposals.  It said it came from state insurance department filings and public reports.

I was stoked.  Ceci Connolly,  a senior official with the institute, recently spoke in Charlotte. She's sharp.  A former Washington Post reporter,  she helped write a book on the Affordable Care Act that I've been using as a primer.  The institute is generally regarded as a good source of data,  so I could believe Connolly's crew had found a back door to hidden data.

I asked for guidance,  and an institute spokeswoman steered me to SERFF,  a state electronic filing system.  Yikes! It's daunting and I was stumped.  I thought I was good to go when the insurance department gave me tracking numbers on all the filings and instructions on calling them up  --  but spokeswoman Kerry Hall assured me the numbers wouldn't be in there.  I tried again and came up dry.

Meanwhile,  the PWC spokeswoman kept telling me everyone,  including Connolly,  was too busy to talk to me or walk me through it,  but assuring me the rate information is there and accessible to the public.

I asked Gavin Off,  our database expert,  to take a crack.  He got nothing.

I found a similar tracking effort by McKinsey on Healthcare.  It lists North Carolina as not releasing information.

I lobbed the challenge to Cynthia Cox with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Adam Linker with the N.C. Justice Center.  Cox had been researching this very topic and found nothing on North Carolina.  Linker specializes in North Carolina health policy and had wondered about the rate-hike number when Thom Tillis used in Wednesday's Senate debate.

"Can you hack this insurance site?"  I emailed them,  only partly tongue in cheek.  I gave them everything I had and waited.

Cox was initially hopeful.  North Carolina had added filings since she last checked.  "I can walk you through how to get the rates if you give me a call,"  she replied.  But by the time I finished dialing,  she had realized that specific rate information was redacted,  just as state officials had said it was.

Five minutes later,  Linker made the same assessment:  It's not there.

I see three possibilities.  One is that PWC's researchers got it wrong.  One is that they got their data from a nonpublic source.

And the third is that it's actually buried deep in the bowels of SERFF.  So here's today's challenge for data geeks and insurance experts:  Go to the site and see what you can find.  The second button,  for a search by tracking number,  seems to be the best bet.

Tracking numbers are:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield: BCNC-129550932,  BCNC-129565484,  BCNC-129550256,  BCNC-129570603,  BCNC-129568402 and BCNC-129602842.
Aetna/Coventry:  AETN-129556418 and AETN-129603020.
UnitedHealthcare: UHLC-129609305 and UHLC-129574676  (this last document is almost as long as the Affordable Care Act).

Happy hunting!


Anonymous said...

wow, if this much effort was expended on validating claims by Democrats...!

Cornelia said...

Here's betting PWC''s data is not wrong. As to how they got it, that 's another story. I notice that NC did not deny the figures; just said they had not been released to the public. Which begs the question, wjy should figures that affect many taxpayers not be available to them before they blindly cast their votes? Oh, wait!

WeLikeItThatWay said...

Then lets do this backwards. Most if not all the people that are here,have paid health insurance for the past 5 years.

Why don't we open an email account or a fax line.

We can all fax you our redacted insurance bills. Along with that we can add the premiums payments, and don't forget your deductible increases.

Once we gather a good sampling of data, we can then look at the % increase.

I am telling you right now that the government and business are anything but predictable in their application of tax rates and insurance rates.

Those would give us a safe approximation as to what the jump is going to be in 2015

Just an idea how about a little investigative journalism, and work with the victims of "Affordable Health Care"