ON THE STATE OF OBAMACARE EXCHANGES AS 2017 OPEN ENROLLMENT APPROACHES

By D. Kenton Henry

As a health insurance broker the last thirty years, I have a vested interest in the state of the industry, and especially so since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) , commonly referred to as Obamacare, was passed in March of 2010. It has been a turbulent ride as I and my clients have struggled to adapt to each phase of the law’s implementation. This has been especially true, the previous three years, as I prepared―and now prepare again―for “Open Enrollment” (OE). OE is the period during which the Department of Health and Human Services allows people to acquire individual and family health insurance for the coming year. This year, it is scheduled to run from November the 1st through January 31st. I say “scheduled”, because they typically extend it in an effort to give people more time to enroll. And, apparently, the Department needs to give people as much time as possible because the latest numbers indicate Obamacare enrollment has fallen significantly short of expectations. (Refer to our feature article from The Washington Post below.)  As it explains, enrollment in the exchanges is less than half initially predicted. The success of the exchanges was predicated on the young and healthy enrolling in numbers sufficient to offset the sick and elderly who would naturally submit more and higher claims to the insuring companies. The young and healthy have largely declined enrolling―presumably and primarily because, well―they’re young and healthy. Had they enrolled, the theory was they would have diluted the claims (losses) with positive (no losses) premium dollars. Additional factors are that, unless someone qualifies for a subsidy, the premiums are high and, for the most part, going higher. The only cases where premiums seem to have gone down are where the insured members are forced into Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans where they find their providers and treatment rationed. Furthermore, the penalties (“Shared Responsibility Tax”) for not having insurance, relative to the premiums for having it, are so small as to be largely ignored. Yes, the penalties are increasing but not in proportion to the premiums. And word is, the premiums are only going higher in 2017.

*(CLICK ON THE GRAPHIC TO ENLARGE STATE BY STATE PROJECTED 2017 PREMIUM INCREASES.)

PREMIUM STATS 2017

As our feature article from the Wall Street Journal ( posted below) describes ―another factor detrimental to the success of the Act and the exchanges is decreasing competition among carriers. In spite of the high premiums they charge, insurers are experiencing losses too great to allow them to remain in the marketplace. As a result, they are dropping out in ever increasing numbers. These losses result, in part, because the government itself has cut the subsidies they originally promised insurance companies in order to offset the losses they anticipated. Obviously, companies have less money to pay the higher than expected claims they are experiencing. A Kaiser Family Foundation study, cited in the WSJ article, indicates exchange shoppers may have only one insurance company to choose from in 31% of the nation’s counties and the possibility of only two in another 31%. While many are quick to blame the “greedy” insurance companies, this editor feels the need to point out the reality that insurance companies are not charities. And even charities must operate in the black if they are to remain in existence. It is my opinion that only the government feels it is entitled to operate at a loss and, additionally, that, that is acceptable. Of course, when your are operating entirely with other people’s money―that is a much easier thing to do.

I will now put down my keyboard and go back to studying, testing and certifying to offer and provide the new Obamacare and Medicare related plans to both my clients and prospective clients for 2017. It amounts to an investment of many hours in order to remain informed and credible in an extremely complicated market. As in 2016, one key hurdle for those purchasing 2017 individual and family coverage will be to deal with the inability to find their doctors, and even their hospitals, in the HMO networks. I have developed a strategy for coping with this which I have utilized for myself. While it does not entirely eliminate the inconvenience of the aforementioned problem, it does soften the blow and in some cases―from a purely monetary standpoint―offset the loss in dollars a total and ideal solution would have cost.  Please call me at 281.367.6565 to discuss this and other strategies designed to minimize the difficulties and accompanying stress of identifying and acquiring 2017 health insurance.

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FEATURE ARTICLES

Wall Street Journal

Health Insurers’ Pullback Threatens to Create Monopolies

Analysis suggests ACA exchanges are likely to offer just one coverage option in 31% of U.S. counties

By Anna Wilde Mathews and Stephanie Armour

Updated Aug. 28, 2016 7:47 p.m. ET

Nearly a third of the nation’s counties look likely to have just a single insurer offering health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges next year, according to a new analysis, an industry pullback that adds to the challenges facing the law.

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THE WASHINGTON POST

Business

Health-care exchange sign-ups fall far short of forecasts

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

Business

August 27 at 8:10 p.m.

Enrollment in the insurance exchanges for President Obama’s signature health-care law is less than half the initial forecast, pushing several major insurance companies to stop offering health plans in certain markets because of significant financial losses.

As a result, the administration’s promise of a menu of health-plan choices has been replaced by a grim, though preliminary, forecast: Next year, more than 1 in 4 counties are at risk of having a single insurer on its exchange, said Cynthia Cox, who studies health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The debate over how perilous the predicament is for the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, is nearly as partisan as the divide over the law itself. But at the root of the problem is this: The success of the law depends fundamentally on the exchanges being profitable for insurers — and that requires more people to sign up.

In February 2013, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 24 million people would buy health coverage through the federally and state-operated online exchanges by this year. Just 11.1 million people were signed up as of late March.

Exchanges are marketplaces where people who do not receive health benefits through a job can buy private insurance, often with government subsidies.

Aetna, the nation’s third-largest health insurer, announced that it will pull back from Obamacare exchanges citing losses of more than $430 million since January 2014. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Aetna, the nation’s third-largest health insurer, announced that it will pull back from Obamacare exchanges citing losses of more than $430 million since January 2014. Aetna, the nation’s third-largest health insurer, announced that it will pull back from Obamacare exchanges citing losses of more than $430 million since 2014. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

“Enrollment is key, first and foremost,” said Sara R. Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that funds health-care research. “They have to have this critical mass of people so that, by the law of averages, you’re going to get a mix of healthy and less healthy people.”

A big reason the CBO projections were so far off is that the agency overestimated how many people would lose insurance through their employers, which would force them into the exchanges. But there have been challenges getting the uninsured to sign up, too.

The law requires every American to get health coverage or pay a penalty, but the penalty hasn’t been high enough to persuade many Americans to buy into the health plans. Even those who qualify for subsidized premiums sometimes balk at the high deductibles on some plans.

And people who do outreach to the uninsured say the enrollment process itself has been more complex and confusing than Obama’s initial comparison to buying a plane ticket.

“This exchange will allow you to ‘one-stop’ shop for a health-care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family,” Obama said in a speech in 2009. “You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package.”

In some markets, a shortfall in enrollment is testing insurers’ ability to balance the medical claims they pay out with income from premiums. In an announcement curtailing its involvement in the exchanges this month, Aetna cited financial losses traced to too many sick people signing up for care and not enough healthy ones.

The health-care law has been a political lightning rod from the beginning, and Republican legislators have used insurance companies’ withdrawals from the exchanges to reignite calls for the law’s repeal.

Kaiser tracks public data on insurer participation in the exchanges to project how many options counties will have, but the numbers are not final. This year, exchanges in about 7 percent of counties had just one insurer. Earlier this month, Aetna announced that it will pull out of 11 of the 15 states where it offers coverage on the health-care exchanges. Humana made a similar decision weeks earlier, planning to exit several states. And last spring, UnitedHealth Group said it would remain in three or fewer exchanges next year.

Obama has used the health-care law’s challenges to issue a new call for a public insurance option.

“Congress should revisit a public plan to compete alongside private insurers in areas of the country where competition is limited,” he wrote in an essay published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Adding a public plan in such areas would strengthen the Marketplace approach, giving consumers more affordable options while also creating savings for the federal government.”

Chicago resident Eva Saur, 32, is exactly the kind of healthy person insurers would like to have on their rolls. Saur hasn’t had coverage in nearly a decade, but she takes good care of her health. For the handful of times she’s been sick, a walk-in clinic at a pharmacy has been sufficient.

“I was raised — not against the system — but we had a doctor who would prescribe us herbs before a prescription” medication, Saur said. “For me, monetarily, it makes way more sense to do this.”

Saur’s tax penalty for being uninsured was a bit more than $600 last year, while the cheapest health plan she examined cost about as much for three months in premiums — and came with a $7,000 deductible.

The penalty for not signing up is increasing. Still, some policy experts insist it is not enough motivation to buy insurance.

“It was basically no stick at all. This is the classic case of where Johnny marked crayon on the wall, his mother said, ‘Don’t do that,’ and then slapped his hand a day later,” said Joseph Antos, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “The connection between the offense and the penalty is a little remote.”

The health-care law has had unequivocal successes. In some areas, lots of insurers compete on the exchanges, which helps keep premiums low. In Cleveland and Los Angeles, the average premium for a benchmark health plan actually declined in 2016. The number of uninsured Americans continues to shrink, hitting 9.1 percent last year — the lowest level ever.

The average premium for the people who receive tax credits – 85 percent of the people signed up through the exchanges — is just $106 per month. People who qualify for the income-based tax credits are largely sheltered from premium increases.

The first people to sign up for insurance through the exchanges were expected to be those with chronic diseases and high medical costs. Because insurers could no longer discriminate against those people, the law built in three mechanisms for the government to redistribute money from plans with healthier patients to those with sicker ones. Two of those programs expire at the end of the year. The third, called the “risk adjustment” program, transferred $4.6 billion between insurers in 2014.

Critics say there’s a fundamental problem with the system, and the risk-adjustment program needs to be fixed. But supporters of the law argue that the problem is temporary, the natural evolution of a nascent free-market system. Some of the first companies to enter the market made bad bets on how healthy customers would be, resulting in unprofitable health plans. Proponents say it’s natural for new entrants to replace them, with better information and more competitive plans.

Cigna, for example, has said it has filed to enter exchanges in three new states next year.

“There’s no bottleneck, this is just the natural growth pains of a new market,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “What happened is they set up this new market where insurers didn’t have experience; insurers made an estimate as to what people would cost and their estimate turned out to be too low.”

Supporters point to a recent government analysis that suggests the “risk pool” — the number of high-cost sick customers relative to healthy ones — is not worsening and could even be improving. Medical costs per enrollee in the marketplaces fell by 0.1 percent in 2015, while medical costs for people in the broader health-insurance market grew by at least 3 percent. In states with strong enrollment growth, there were greater reductions in members’ costs.

Everyone agrees that more healthy people need to sign up.

In June, the Obama administration unveiled its plan to target younger and healthier adults, including direct outreach to individuals and families who paid the penalty. It also released new guidance, encouraging insurance companies to communicate more with young adults being kicked off their family’s plan when they turn 26 years old.

Even older adults are taking their chances without health-care coverage.

Donte Fitzhugh, 55, of Charlotte was laid off last year from a job as a call-center operations manager. COBRA, which allows former workers to extend their employer-provided health insurance if they pay the full premium, was expensive, and Fitzhugh didn’t sign up for the exchanges for very human reasons: He figured he’d find a job faster than he did. He thought every penny counted when he was unemployed. He didn’t have major health problems, and he got a coupon to help cover the costs of his hypertension medicine.

As the window to sign up for health insurance passed without a new job, he kept procrastinating. Although health insurance from a new job will begin in October, he faces a penalty that will cost him hundreds of dollars.

“I believe in Obamacare. As an American, it’s my responsibility to have health insurance,” Fitzhugh said. “Since I didn’t have it, it’s going to impact me financially.”

Such are the barriers to insurance: Remaining uninsured can be more attractive or just easier than signing up to pay hundreds of dollars a month for something that many people don’t think they need.

Judy Robinson, a health insurance support specialist at the Charlottesville Free Clinic, has counseled hundreds of patients who are eligible for subsidized insurance on the exchanges but ultimately decide not to sign up. She said the subsidized insurance on the marketplace tends to be a good deal for those who make between 100 and 150 percent of the poverty level. But those who make more often are faced with large deductibles that don’t seem like a good deal to many people.

Beyond the sticker price, she said it can require a lot of paperwork to demonstrate the annual income required to qualify for tax credits if people are juggling multiple part-time jobs. And sometimes, people are simply mistrustful.

“There’s a lot of people that live sort of off the grid, sort of semi-off the grid and they just don’t go to the doctor,” Robinson said. “The hospital is the place where you go to die, and doctors are just going to try and make you do procedures and get money out of you. That’s how they think.”

There are also those who want insurance but are struggling — and find themselves trapped by the high cost of health care.

Donna Privigyi, 49, of Charlottesville has looked into insurance through the exchanges a few times. But over the past few years, much of her modest child-care salary and effort went toward trying to help support her adult son, Mark, who hadn’t been the same since the death of his younger brother. Donna was focused on trying to support her son. Health insurance — even rent — was an afterthought.

“With supporting my son, it didn’t matter,” Privigyi said. “I was just like, I can barely get by, just juggling the bills and taking care of him.”

Late last year, Mark died of a drug overdose, and Privigyi — consumed by grief — wasn’t thinking about insurance when the window to sign up opened and closed.

Then, in June, she got appendicitis. Her bills from two hospitals were $33,000.

The argument for having health insurance is the pile of bills she has been collecting — now with late fees added. The obstacle to getting health insurance is that same stack of bills.

“It’s such a gamble, you know, until I figure out what to do with these medical bills,” Privigyi said. “They’re just adding on late fees. How can I even afford to sign up?”

Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

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Medicare Part B Premiums Projected To Go Up For 2017 ― Insurance Companies Participating In Obamacare Going Down

By Kenton Henry, editor

A double whammy is expected to impact the medical insurance market for 2017. There is bad news for the consumer on both the Medicare and the Under Age 65 ends of the medical insurance spectrum.

One positive note ― more than 60 million Medicare recipients are projected to receive a cost of living adjustment in their Social Security Benefit! But if you’re part of this group … don’t spend all your new found increase in one place. It’s projected to be a minuscule 0.2 percent! What the government giveth . . .  (well, you can see this coming!) The flip side is, their monthly Part B premiums would go to $107.60 in 2017 ― a $2.70 increase.

On the other hand, 30% of recipients, which includes those new to Medicare in 2017; those who do not have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security Income Account in 2016; and those with higher incomes may see increases in premium to $149.00 for the lowest tax bracket; from $166.30 ― to $204.40 per month for the next; and from $380.20 to $467.20 in the highest bracket. Whether these projections―which amount to as much as a 22% increase for the highest income earners―are realized will not be known until October.

Part B premiums are extremely relevant when one has the option of remaining on one’s (or one’s spouse’s) company group health insurance beyond age 65 and into retirement and is weighing the cost of such against the cost of transitioning fully to Medicare Part A and B.

For guidance in this consideration please feel free to consult with the author / editor. *(see featured article from the Wall Street Journal below)

And for those still not age 65, or otherwise eligible for Medicare―and not covered by an employer’s group health insurance plan―your options for coverage are scheduled to diminish along with competition in the individual and family Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant insurance market. If realized, the  proposed mergers between Anthem and Cigna and between Aetna and Humana would reduce your options. This on top of Unitedhealthcare’s (America’s largest insurer) announcement it is pulling out of 90% of its current markets in 2017. Furthermore, BlueCross BlueShield Association announced they may also decline or diminish  participation in the marketplace. Lastly (until our next episode), to cast further doubts on what options will remain for the consumer, both Aetna and Humana have announced they may pull out of the majority of their individual and family markets regardless of whether their proposed merger is approved. Humana issued a statement just last week to the effect they would be limiting coverage to 156 counties this month compared the 1,351 they participate in currently. **(please refer to feature article on Humana below)

For these reasons, and because the majority of my individual and family clients have been forced to migrate to Health Maintenance Organization plans (where their providers and treatment are rationed) I have been advising those who are business owners to transition to group health insurance where they not only have more options relative to benefits but can still benefit from Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) coverage. With the PPO plans, they have the final say on their providers and, thereby, better control the quality of their treatment. Small Business (less than 50 employees) owners should take note that if they enroll during the Small Business Open Enrollment Period (November 15th ― December 15th) they will not have to meet the 75% full-time employee participation rate or the 50% of employee premium contribution requirement. The only requirement is that a minimum of 2 full time, W-2 employees be covered on the plan. This is an excellent opportunity for small, closely held companies who want to improve their family’s health insurance but cannot afford coverage for all employees.

Again, please feel free to contact our office for further insight and guidance on this issue.

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Feature Article #1

WALL STREET JOURNAL

By Anne Tergesen

Updated June 22, 2016 5:12 p.m. ET    

Nearly a third of all Medicare beneficiaries face a steep increase in their premiums next year, the result of a policy that in certain circumstances requires some beneficiaries, including higher earners, to shoulder the burden of rising costs.

The government health-care plan’s trustees projected in a report Wednesday that premiums would rise by as much as 22% for wealthier beneficiaries of Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and other types of outpatient care.

The projected increase results from an intersection of the rules governing Medicare and Social Security, said Tricia Neuman, senior vice president and an expert on Medicare at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the Social Security Act’s “hold harmless” provision, Medicare can’t pass along premium increases greater than what most participants would receive through Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment. That adjustment is expected to be just 0.2% in 2017 thanks to low inflation. As a result, Medicare couldn’t pass along any premium increase greater than the dollar increase in Social Security payments to the estimated 70% of beneficiaries who will qualify for hold harmless treatment in 2017, Ms. Neuman said.

Instead, Medicare must spread much of the projected increase in its costs across the remaining 30%. Those who are paying the standard $121.80 a month for Medicare Part B this year would be charged $149 a month in 2017 if the trustees’ predictions come to pass.

Higher earners would pay more. The trustees project individuals earning between $85,001 and $107,000 and couples earning between $170,001 and $214,000 would have their 2016 monthly premiums rise from $170.50 a person this year to about $204.40 in 2017. For those earning more than $214,000, or $428,000 for couples, the projected increase is to about $467.20 a month, from $389.00 in 2016.

This isn’t the first time there has been such a disparity in Part B premiums between Medicare recipients.

Last year, Congress staved off a 52% premium increase for Medicare beneficiaries not covered by the hold harmless provision via a deal in the budget agreement that raised premiums by 16% for them instead. Those covered by the hold harmless provision, in contrast, pay $104.90 a month—the same amount they paid in 2014 due to the fact that there was no Social Security cost-of-living increase in 2016.

The projected increase in Part B premiums affects several other groups of Medicare beneficiaries, including those who receive Medicare but have deferred or aren’t eligible for Social Security benefits. It also would apply to those who are new to Medicare in 2017 and lower-income Medicare beneficiaries whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs.

In the latter case, the increase would be paid by Medicaid, Ms. Neuman said.

Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the final Social Security cost-of-living adjustment won’t be known until October. If inflation rises by more than the trustees expect between now and then, it could “reduce the spike in the premium” for those who aren’t held harmless, he said.

Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt said at a news conference Wednesday, “We will continue to monitor the data and explore administrative options as needed.”

The Medicare trustees are projecting that the base Medicare Part B premium will reset for everyone at $124.40 a month in 2018, because they expect higher Social Security cost-of-living increases.

Medicare covered 55 million people last year, according to the trustees’ report. Part B covered nearly 51 million. In 2017 Medicare is expected to have 58.7 million total participants and 53.5 million in Part B.

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Feature Article # 2

Humana beats 2Q forecasts, details ACA-related scale back

Tom Murphy, AP Health Writer

Published 9:09 am, Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Humana beat second-quarter earnings expectations and reaffirmed its forecast for 2016, even as the health insurer set aside an additional $208 million to cover expenses in its individual, commercial coverage.

The company also said Wednesday it was scaling back that individual business for next year and would only offer it in 156 counties, compared to 1,351 this year. The insurer also said it will sell coverage on Affordable Care Act individual exchanges in 11 states next year, down from 15 this year.

Humana, based in Louisville, Kentucky, provides individual coverage for nearly 500,000 people through the exchanges. It covers an additional 200,000 individual customers off the exchanges, a small slice of its total medical membership of 14.2 million.

Other major insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Anthem also have recently detailed struggles with coverage they sell on the ACA’s state-based exchanges, which have helped millions of consumers gain insurance since they opened for enrollment in the fall of 2013. Aetna, which is trying to buy Humana, said Tuesday that it cancelled its exchange expansion plans for 2017 and was taking a hard look at the markets in which it is currently participating.

Insurers have been struggling with higher-than-expected claims on the exchanges and lower-than-expected support from government programs, among other issues.

Humana also is one of the nation’s largest providers of Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately run versions of the government’s Medicare program for people over age 65 or disabled. The company said Wednesday that its core businesses remained strong in the second quarter.

Overall, Humana earnings plunged 28 percent to $311 million compared to last year’s quarter, when it booked a $267 million gain from a business sale.

Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs and amortization costs, came to $2.30 per share.

Analysts expected, on average, earnings of $2.22 per share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

The health insurer posted revenue of $14.01 billion in the period, which topped the average Wall Street forecast for $13.63 billion.

The company also said Wednesday that it still expects full-year earnings to total at least $9.25 per share.

Shares of Humana edged up 52 cents to $170.09 Wednesday morning while broader indexes were flat.

Humana shares have decreased 5 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed 5.5 percent.

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The State of Health Insurance for 2017 (or “If It Weren’t For Bad News . . .)

HEALTH BLOG PIC 1

By D. Kenton Henry, editor

 

We are more than half-way through 2016 and three months away from the scheduled beginning of the 2017 Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual and family health insurance Open Enrollment Period (OEP). All of which finds this broker and many of his clients still reeling from the this year’s OEP which ended in February.

By last September, the rumor was health insurance premiums would not be inflating. That was quite encouraging to myself and to my clients who inquired as to such. However, what was unsaid―and to our shock―was what we learned with the commencement of OEP, November 1. Specifically, all carriers in southeast Texas (my major market) were eliminating Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans and forcing all new policyholders to accept Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans in their place. Anyone who knows anything about the latter knows that, with this type of plan, the patient must obtain treatment within the network or have no coverage whatsoever. For the young and bulletproof this seemed no great compromise. But to the middle-aged and older, whose health problems are moderate to very serious, it was a huge one. My existing PPO plan clients who were not grandfathered, including myself, were forced by the state’s largest insurance carrier (among others) to accept HMO coverage as a substitute or lose coverage altogether effective January 1, 2016. I scrambled to find acceptable replacement coverage for over 150 of my clients from the 2017 HMO plan options. This endeavor materialized into a “Mission Impossible” style nightmare as the HMO networks made available to them had nothing approaching the larger number of provider doctors and hospitals to which the employees and dependents of large employer plans had access. My clients learned they would be unable to utilize the providers in their current (and now former) PPO plans. It was mostly an exercise in futility attempting to find all of a person’s providers in any one network and, even if that person were so lucky, the inconvenience of getting their Primary Care Physician to refer them to a specialist was another cumbersome hurdle most considered an unwanted liability. After first enrolling in a higher cost Silver Plan offering doctor’s office copays, I myself, before the close of OEP, switched to a lower cost Bronze (non-copay plan) with another company. This after realizing it was virtually impossible for my physician to successfully maneuver the referral process.  I made the decision it was best to take the premium savings involved in the benefit downgrade and have it for the occasional doctor’s visit which I have found to average $150. I save much more than this by having gone with a Bronze plan and―so far―it has worked out for me.

Since the close of OEP my phone rings throughout the week with people pleading with me to get them out of their HMO plan and into PPO coverage so they may see the doctor of their choice. I have only one PPO medical plan I can refer them to. This plan made itself available after the close of OEP but it is a hospital system plan which requires the patient remain in the system or face high out-of-network expenses. Furthermore, if the prospect has not had what the Department of Health and Human Services and ACA call a “Life Changing Event” they cannot change to a new plan at this time and must wait until October to enroll for a January 1 effective date. To add personal insult to injury, the plan does not even allow brokers and agents to be appointed with them for the purpose of doing business. Any business we refer or submit to them is done strictly on a “pro bono” basis. The only good news to be had for the consumer is that premiums not only stabilized but, in the case of those forced to migrate to HMO coverage, may have even gone down. Of course. Why shouldn’t they? The forced migration took client/patients from a position of having the final say on who their provider was to a position of having their providers, and therefore, treatment rationed. Most do not consider the trade off a worthy one. I know I do not. Of all my clients on individual and family PPO plans, forced to exchange such, some were small business owners. Those that had the minimum two W2 employees were able to switch to “Group” (employer based coverage) and maintain a PPO plan and provider network. If you fit this profile, please contact me. I can assist you in acquiring group coverage at any time throughout the calendar year.

My clients ask me if I expect PPO plans to re-enter the individual and family market in 2017. I tell them we will have to wait until the beginning of the OEP October 15th. But I advise them not to bet the ranch on it. If insurance companies do reintroduce PPOs, it will be only to entice policyholders to make a plan switch which would require a new contract (policy) in which brokers and agents would be excluded from compensation. This would be done in an effort to wipe the insurance companies books clean of the liability for our compensation. Their rationale is they can now put a great deal of the cost of enrolling people on the American taxpayer by directing prospective enrollees to the state and federal health insurance exchanges. The lion’s share will be directed to Healthcare.gov.

But what of the financial health and solvency of the insurance companies and their plans? Today’s feature article, from the New York Times (below) describes the push to ration provider access and treatment. Of course, they do not use those words, choosing instead to describe it as a move to “curb” cost in an effort to stabilize premiums. In spite of such, the insurers, for the most part, still struggle for solvency. The article explains that companies overestimated the number of ultimate enrollees and underestimated the cost of providing all the mandated care. To exacerbate their generally thin to negative profit margin, they did not receive all the government subsidies originally promised. Like so many programs, it would appear they cannot approach solvency without tax-payer funded subsidies.

Given all this, most of the insurance co-ops have failed and even major carriers are announcing withdrawal from the market. UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurance carrier, has announced it will be pulling out of 90% of its current market in 2017. Anthem seeks to buy Cigna and Aetna seeks to merge with Humana. All this results in far less competition and . . . less competition means higher premiums for the consumer.

Stay tuned to see what the market offers us during this fall’s OEP. I will be focusing more and more on my “Medicare” clients who, much to my regret, were somewhat neglected during last fall’s scramble on my part to find new policies for 150 plus under-age 65 health insurance clients. Medicare recipients will be a priority this fall during their own OEP for Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Plans. I hope the market allows me to play an active role in assisting families in obtaining health insurance.  . . . We shall see. Predicting what is going to happen next in terms of what the general public refers to as “Obamacare” is a lot like walking into a swamp. You’re not quite certain if your next step will land in quicksand or on top of an alligator. Terra firma would be a welcome and unexpected change for the consumer and this agent / broker.

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*FEATURED ARTICLE

New York Times

Business Day

Health Insurer Hoped to Disrupt the Industry, but Struggles in State Marketplaces

By REED ABELSON JUNE 19, 2016

Oscar Health was going to be a new kind of insurance company. Started in 2012, just in time to offer plans to people buying insurance under the new federal health care law, the business promised to use technology to push less costly care and more consumer-friendly coverage.

“We’re trying to build something that’s going to turn the industry on its head,” Joshua Kushner, one of the company’s founders, said in 2014, as Oscar began to enroll its first customers.

These days, though, Oscar is more of a case study in how brutally tough it is to keep a business above water in the state marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act. And its struggles highlight a critical question about the act: Can insurance companies run a viable business in the individual market?

Oscar has attracted 135,000 customers, about half of them in New York State. And some of its efforts with technology have been successful. But for every dollar of premium Oscar collects in New York, the company is losing 15 cents. It lost $92 million in the state last year and another $39 million in the first three months of 2016.

“That’s not a sustainable position,” said Mario Schlosser, chief executive at Oscar.

Companies like Oscar were initially attracted by the potential of millions of new customers added to the individual market by the health law. But the reality has been far messier.

In an effort to attract customers, insurers put prices on their plans that have turned out to be too low to make a profit. The companies also assumed they could offer the same sort of plans as they do through employer-based coverage, including broad networks of doctors and hospitals.

But the market has turned out to be smaller than they hoped, with 12 million signed up for coverage in 2016. Fewer employers have dropped health insurance than expected, for example, keeping many healthy adults out of the individual market.

And among the remaining population, the insurers cannot pick and choose their customers. The law forces them to insure people with pre-existing conditions, no matter how expensive those conditions may be.

As a result, most insurers are still trying to develop a successful business model. Last year, only a quarter of the insurers appear to have made money selling individual policies, according to a preliminary analysis from McKinsey, the consulting firm. Giant insurers like UnitedHealth Group have stopped offering individual coverage through the public exchanges in some states. And most of the new insurance co-ops, which were founded to create more competition, have failed.

A few times a week, Oscar Health serves a catered lunch for employees. The company has attracted 135,000 customers, but it is losing money. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times

The heavy losses do not necessarily mean that the individual market is ready to implode. Some insurers, including large companies like Anthem, say they remain committed to the market, and some insurers have made money.

But the turbulence is certainly greater than expected. And it may well lead many insurers to seek double-digit percentage rate increases and tighten their networks.

“There was tremendous uncertainty that even the very established companies were flummoxed by,” said Larry Levitt, an executive with the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been closely following the insurers’ progress.

Over all, insurance companies continue to make profits. The dearth of profits from the individual markets, though, show how challenging it is to make insurance affordable when it is not subsidized by the government or an employer.

The troubles in the individual market also underscore how some of the law’s provisions meant to protect the insurers have not worked as well as desired. Insurers did not receive all the payments they were due under one of the law’s provisions, and another provision, meant to even out the risk among companies to protect those that enroll sicker individuals, has been described as flawed by many health care experts. Federal officials have said they would tweak those formulas.

The companies that have fared best so far are those that have kept the tightest control over their costs, by working closely with low-cost providers or a limited group of hospitals and doctors. Many have abandoned the idea of offering the kind of access available through many employer plans. The successful companies have also avoided the very low prices found in some of the co-ops.

For most of the insurers, though, the math has just not added up, which is the case with Oscar.

In New York State, where Oscar is based, the company recently filed eye-catching requests to raise rates by a weighted average of nearly 20 percent for 2017. Regulators will make a decision in August.

“The market is over all too low in price,” Mr. Schlosser said. “We, like everybody else, have priced in a very aggressive way.”

Many of the big insurers, like Anthem, can rely on their other businesses to generate profits while they wait for this market to stabilize. Oscar does not have that luxury; it is focused on individual marketplaces. (In addition to New York, Oscar operates in California, New Jersey and Texas.)

Other new insurers that sell plans to employers or under government programs like Medicare have been a little more insulated. When Northwell Health, the system in New York previously known as North Shore-LIJ Health System, entered the insurance market, it created a new company. That company, CareConnect, has 100,000 customers, most of them individuals insured through both large and small employers.

“If we only had the individual market, we would have taken undue risk because we would not have understood that market,” said Alan J. Murray, CareConnect’s chief executive. He said the company is close to turning a profit.

Oscar says it plans to begin offering coverage to small businesses, but Mr. Schlosser was adamant that individuals will eventually be buying their own coverage, rather than relying on employers. The company is also racing to incorporate plans with smaller networks.

Bright Health, another start-up, also plans to work closely with health systems to offer consumer-friendly plans.

While Oscar has had to use another insurer’s network in New York, the company’s goal is to form partnerships with systems to create networks that specialize in managing care. The company began experimenting with these networks this year in Texas and California.

“Oscar talks about narrow networks like no one has seen one before,” said Dr. Sanjay B. Saxena, who works with insurers and health systems at the Boston Consulting Group.

Oscar has received $750 million from its investors, and Mr. Schlosser insists that the company understood how long it would take for the new insurance marketplaces to develop, calling these “very, very early days.”

Oscar points to its technological edge as a way to manage patients’ health better than the established insurers. It has created teams, including nurses, who are assigned to groups of patients and can intervene when its data flags a potentially worrisome condition like a high blood sugar level.

Promoting itself as a consumer-friendly alternative to the other insurers also has its risks. While Oscar has loyal customers, others say they are disappointed to find the insurer behaving like everyone else. Cosmin Bita, a real estate broker in New York, switched to Oscar from an insurer that had given him the runaround about whether it would pay for blood tests as part of his annual physical. Although Oscar said when he enrolled that the tests would be covered, he said, he found himself fighting with the company over whether everything was covered.

“The exact same thing happened,” Mr. Bita said.

Oscar executives said the company works hard to keep customers satisfied.

But so far, it has not proved that it has created a better model than the rest of the industry.

As Darren Walsh, a principal at Power & Walsh Insurance Advisors, said: “They haven’t invented a new mousetrap.”

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MEDICARE RECIPIENTS DODGE A BULLET WHILE OBAMACARE INSUREDS PREPARE TO TAKE ONE!

By D. Kenton Henry

Perhaps a storm would be a better analogy but 2016 will deliver something more than a mild tropical depression to the coast of the “Individual and Family” health insurance market. At the same―the Cat 3 (minimum) hurricane projected to slam the Senior market of Medicare recipients appears to have been diverted. For now.

As we enter the third year of enrollment in health insurance plans compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the “Affordable” aspect of care or―more accurately―the cost of protecting oneself from the cost of health care―seems elusive and more and more a case of misrepresentation. As I have said many times in the past, if you qualify for a subsidy of your health insurance premiums you may find your options affordable. However, depending on where you live, you will surely be upset with the increasing cost of health insurance. 70% of all Obamacare members are enrolled in a Silver Plan. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), which oversees enforces the Act and oversees the health insurance industry, has designated the second lowest cost Silver Plan of any insurance company to be the default plan one must select in order to maximize the benefit of any subsidy. This could include a reduction in not only one’s premium but their deductibles and co-pays. As Fox News and the Washington Post report (see featured article below) the cost of these plans will rise by a national average of 7.5%. States such as Oklahoma will see an increase of 37.5%!

ACA ENROLLMENT 2016 2

In some states it is much worse.

ACA ENROLLMENT 2016 1

To add insult to injury many insurance companies, such as BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, have taken such losses―in spite of skyrocketing premiums―they have announced they are eliminating the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network option for their plans and member benefit. The only option will be to select a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) network option wherein the company can ration your providers and treatment. While the young or otherwise very healthy may find this option acceptable, those of us who are older or dealing with existing illnesses or injuries are certain to be upset by this development. The insurance companies seem to be in agreement on the viability of PPOs and explain any premium increase necessary to assure they even break even on a PPO policy would be beyond the increase limit set by Obamacare. As such, it would therefore not be approved by their state insurance commissioner. So the question remains: what will your personal network and benefit options be for 2016 and what will they cost?

Virtually all insurance companies are keeping the answers close to their vest until this Sunday, November 1, the first day of OPEN ENROLLMENT wherein one may choose a health insurance plan for 2016. Enrollment will remain open until January 31st. Those without a plan at that time will be locked out for the remainder of the year and will pay a penalty equal to the higher of two amounts:

2.5% of your yearly household income (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, about $10,150 for an individual in 2014, is used to calculate the penalty.) The maximum penalty is the national average premium for a Bronze plan

$695 per person ($347.50 per child under 18) The maximum penalty per family using this method is $2,085.

A banner follows which, as of Sunday, November 1st, you may click on and by simply entering your birth date, zip code and tobacco usage, obtain ALL your health insurance options from each and every insurance company issuing 2016 coverage in your state. It will also allow you to calculate what subsidy, if any, and enable you (if you choose) to log directly into the federal marketplace to acquire it and your insurance plan. If you have questions, as you most surely will, do not hesitate to contact me via my contact information via the link or below.

CLICK ON THIS BANNER TO OBTAIN 2016 HEALTH INSURANCE QUOTES:

Relative to Medicare recipients, it would appear a planned increase in the 2016 Medicare Part B premium and deductible has been taken off the table for the time being. The increase would have resulted in a huge spike in what higher income recipients and new enrollees in Part B Out-Patient coverage would pay in premium. The proposed premium increase would have been as presented here:

Income Limits, Medicare Part B Premiums for 2016

Single Married 2015 2016 Held Harmless 2016 Not Held Harmless
$85,000 or less $170,000 or less $104.90 $104.90 $159.30
$85,001 to $107,000 $170,001 to $214,000 $146.90 $223.00
$107,001 to $160,000 $214,001 to $320,000 $209.80 $318.60
$160,001 to $214,000 $320,001 to $428,000 $272.70 $414.20
Above $214,000 Above $428,000 $335.70 $509.80

The threat and legislation which averted this is described in detail in The Fiscal Times article below. As of today, it is still unclear to this editor whether the increase in the calendar year deductible has also been averted.

KENTON AT CAPITOL 2 (2)

Editor, Broker, Agent ― D. Kenton Henry

Office: 281.367.6565

Cell (call or text): 713.907.7984

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FEATURED ARTICLES:

Health & Science

THE WASHINGTON POST

26 October 2015

2016 Affordable Care Act insurance rates are climbing

By Amy Goldstein October 26

The prices for a popular and important group of health plans sold through the federal insurance exchange will climb by an average of 7.5 percent for the coming year, a jump nearly four times bigger than a year ago, according to new government figures.

The rate increase for 2016 compares with average growth of 2 percent, from 2014 to this year, in the monthly premiums for a level of coverage that serves as the benchmark for federal subsidies that help most consumers buying coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

A “snapshot” of insurance rates, released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services, also shows that the rate increases for next year vary substantially around the country. Although there are exceptions, more populous states and metropolitan areas tend to have more modest premium increases for the coming year than smaller areas. 

The changes for next year have a wide range — from premium increases averaging 35 percent in Oklahoma and Montana to a decrease of nearly 13 percent in Indiana.

The analysis is based on hundreds of health plans sold in local markets within 37 states that use HealthCare.gov, the federal online insurance marketplace. It excludes plans in other states that have created separate ACA insurance marketplaces. The rates reflect the prices of the second-least expensive health plan in each market for 2016 in a tier of coverage known as silver. ACA health plans are divided into four tiers, all named for metals, depending on the amount of customers’ care that they cover. Silver plans have proven by far the most popular. Officials at HHS issued the analysis as less than a week remains before the start on Nov. 1 of a third open-enrollment season for Americans eligible to sign up for health plans under the insurance marketplaces created by the 2010 health-care law. The exchanges are intended for people who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

In their analysis, federal officials contend that the health plans sold through the exchanges will be affordable to people willing to shop for the best rates. The cost to consumers, HHS officials emphasize, is cushioned by the fact that nearly nine in 10 are eligible for tax credits.

Taking the subsidies into account, nearly four in five people who already have gotten insurance through these marketplaces will have access for 2016 to a health plan for which they could pay no more than $100 in monthly premiums, the analysis found. The analysis does not address other costs to consumers, such as co-payments and deductibles, which tend to be more expensive in ACA health plans than in employer-based health benefits.

The figures in the analysis reinforce a theme that Obama administration officials introduced last year and have revived as the third sign-up period approaches: the usefulness of researching the best and most affordable coverage, even if it means switching insurance from year to year. “If consumers come back to the Marketplace and shop, they may be able to find a plan that saves them money and meets their health needs,” Kevin Counihan, the HHS official who oversees the health exchanges, said in a statement.

The new figures show that existing customers who went back last fall to HealthCare.gov and picked a different plan at the same level of coverage saved an average of nearly $400 in premiums over the course of this year. Slightly fewer than one-third of those who bought such coverage for a second time switched health plans, according to the analysis. During this open enrollment, Obama administration officials are striving both to attract existing customers again and to ferret out Americans eligible for the exchanges who remain uninsured even though the law requires them to have coverage. Although many consumers can be largely shielded from rate jumps through subsidies and shopping around, the increases ratchet up the government’s expenditures on the tax credits that the law provides, health policy analysts point out.

Analysts have expected that premiums for the coming year would grow more rapidly than they did for 2015. “This is the first year that insurers actually have a full year of experience with how much care people use,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy organization. “In the first two years of the program, insurers were essentially guessing.” In addition, Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, a health-care consulting firm, said that, as some health plans have attracted a significant share of customers, “the need to price really low diminishes a little bit.” Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, said that “averages don’t tell the whole story” and that insurance rates hinge on “location and the cost of providing care to individuals in particular markets.” In particular, Krusing said, last year was “a record-breaking year for prescription drug prices. That trend is likely to continue.”

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Seniors Exhale as Congress Blocks Huge Medicare Increase

By Eric Pianin October 27, 2015 3:17 PM

Responding to pressure from seniors’ and labor groups as the 2016 campaign season heats up, congressional leaders and the White House have blocked a huge, 50 percent increase in the Medicare Part B premium for nearly one third of the 50 million elderly Americans who depend on the program for health services.

The bipartisan solution will block all but a tiny fraction of the premium increase. It is contained in the two-year budget and debt ceiling bill negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the White House and that awaits ratification by the two chambers – likely by the end of this week.

Related: Millions Facing a Hefty Increase in Medicare Premiums in 2016

The threatened sharp premium increase – reported back in August by The Fiscal Times – was triggered by a quirk in federal law that penalizes wealthier Medicare beneficiaries, newcomers to the program and lower income Americans with complicated chronic health problems. It kick in any time the Social Security Administration fails to approve an annual cost-of-living adjustment – as will be the case next year.

Medicare Part B and the Social Security trust fund are interconnected, and most seniors on Medicare have their monthly premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. Because the federal law “holds harmless” about 70 percent of Medicare recipients from premium increases to cover unexpected increases in healthcare costs, the remaining 30 percent of Medicare Part B beneficiaries suffer the consequences by being made to pay higher premiums.

Without intervention by Congress, roughly 15 million seniors and chronically ill people currently claiming both Medicare and Medicaid coverage would have seen their premiums increase from $104.90 per month to $159.30 for individuals, according to Medicare actuaries. The actuaries also predicted an increase in the annual deductible for Part B of Medicare, from $147 in 2015 to $223 next year.

Related: Social Security Ruling Drives Up Medicare Costs for Millions

Estimates of the cost of legislation to blunt or block a premium increase have ranged from $7.5 billion to $10 billion. Under the budget agreement unveiled late last night, that cost will be covered by a loan of general revenue from the U.S. Treasury to the Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund.

In order to repay that loan, the 15 million people who are not subject to the “hold harmless” protection will be required to pay an additional $3 a month in premiums – a token amount — until the loan is repaid years from now, according to a House budget document describing the deal. Medicare beneficiaries who currently pay higher income-related premiums would pay more than $3, based on their income levels.

If there is no Social Security cost of living adjustment increase for 2017, this provision will apply again.

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MEDICARE PREMIUM AND DEDUCTIBLE INCREASES AND BLUECROSS PPO ELIMINATION SLATED FOR 2016!

cropped-the-medplus-messenger2.jpg

By D. Kenton Henry

Clients and Friends of Kenton Henry and ALL PLAN MED QUOTE,

It is that time again. We are approaching the end of the calendar year and I write to thank you for your business and for the trust you placed in me to represent your health insurance needs to the best of my ability. This month marks my 29th year in the industry and that would not be possible without you.

Because there are so many changes coming your way-not only for Medicare recipients but for my Under Age 65 clients-following me here will be the easiest way to be informed of vital information affecting your coverage as it becomes available to me. This is your one source for the good, the bad and the ugly of the Medical insurance market. I will be posting the good part later when I determine what that is. Happy New Year.

BREAKING NEWS FOR MEDICARE RECIPIENTS: On Thursday, October 15, the Social Security Administration announced that there will be no cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2016. At the same time, the Medicare Part B Premium and deductible is expected to increase significantly for some people next year. The Part B basic premium is expected to go from $104.90 to $159.30 per month Additionally, the Medicare Part B calendar year deductible is slated to also increase from $147 to $223! This latter increase would affect approximately the entire Medicare population of 17 million and will in turn trigger premium increases from the supplemental insurances such as Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage which pay that deductible for the insured person! Together, these increases could cause people to drop their Medicare Part B insurance resulting loss of coverage for doctors visits, diagnostic testing, lab work and out-patient surgeries. For more details and information on just who this affects please watch this video of a FOX NEWS LIVE report by Martha MacCallum video I recorded just today:

MEDICARE PREMIUM INCREASE 2016

https://youtu.be/9DVGiEa074E

  • Additionally, if you are Part D Prescription Drug Plan client of mine (or not) email me a list of your current prescription drug regimen (drug and dosage) and I will scan the market to identify your lowest total of pocket cost plan and make my recommendation. allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

UNDER AGE 65 INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY NEWS:

Most relevant at this time for individuals and families under the age of 65 is the elimination of BlueCross BlueShield of Texas’s “Individual and Family” Blue Choice PPO network which over 370,000, insured members (including myself) utilize. I informed all my clients (sharing this coverage) in a letter mailed via the US Postal Service just a few days ago. I also addressed this issue in my latest blog post entitled “BlueCross BlueShield of Texas Tells Clients ‘Say GoodBye To Your PPO Plan’”. (The more sarcastic side of me considered entitling it, “Take A Bite Of This Sandwich” but my more professional self intervened.) In the letter and post, I informed those who have HMO coverage their policy would not be affected other than an anticipated rate increase. It turns out that is not the case as I was just informed that many who have HMO coverage will also have to select another version. And so it seems that, with my assistance, many of you will be seeking alternative coverage for 2016.

This begs the question: What will our options be with other insurance companies? Unfortunately, like BlueCross, most companies are yet to reveal the details of their policies. Within the next few days, I hope to have a quoting link available to you from which-in the very near future-you will be able to obtain all your 2016 options, subsidy or no subsidy, on or off the Federal Marketplace otherwise known as Healthcare.gov. Regardless, I will be introduced to these changes over the remainder of October and these, along with the quoting link, will be posted on my blog in real time. Rest assuredwhatever your best options are for 2016I will have them. And you will be able to elect them with the beginning of OPEN ENROLLMENT (OE) November 1st―through the end January 31st.

Do not hesitate to call me as we prepare for these changes. And to assure you will be informed of the latest information relative to your coverage – please click “follow” on my blog as I post all coverage changes and preview the options you will have.

If you are currently a client—thanks once again for your business. It is greatly appreciated  as will readership of healthandmedicareinsurance.com!

Sincerely,

BUSINESS PHOTO FINAL FOR BLOG 10 15 2015

Kenton Henry  Blog Administrator, Broker, Agent

Office: 281.367.6565; Toll Free: 800.856.6556

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BlueCross BlueShield of Texas Tells Clients “Say Good-Bye To Your PPO Plan”

By D. Kenton Henry

Don’t worry. This doesn’t apply to you if you have coverage through an employer’s group plan. But if you (like myself) are one of 370,000 insured members with an individual or family health insurance plan―be prepared to choose your provider from a different menu. And rest assured it will be portion controlled.

BlueCross will continue to offer Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) Plans where you must elect and utilize a provider within their HMO network or you will have no coverage whatsoever. This is where rationing begins. With your provider. You can expect the number of doctors and hospitals to be significantly limited relative to the selection currently available to you in the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network where you may go in or out of the network at your discretion and still be covered. Although details are yet to be unveiled, these HMO plans will most likely require you to select a “Primary Care Physician” with whom all medical care must be initiated. If so, you will have to obtain a referral from that primary care provider in order to see a specialist. And that is where rationing of care continues. With your treatment. HMO providers have contractually agreed to accept a lower payment in return for providing you treatment in the first place. Referring you (away) to a specialist results in a total loss of payment.

BlueCross explains they paid $400,000,000 more in claims then they collected in premium from their PPO members in 2014. And they add (exclamation point mine) “that is unsustainable!” Their rationale is―the insurance company will be better able to “manage” the care we members receive and what we are charged for care, helping to reduce health insurance premiums. Those currently enrolled in a “grandfathered” (written prior to the March 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act) plan or HMO network policy will be happy to know you will probably be able to maintain your coverage option (deductible, co-pays) into 2016, assuming the premium remains affordable. Those, like myself, who want total discretion as to our providers are certain to be disappointed.

This begs the question: What will our options be with other insurance companies? Unfortunately, like BlueCross, most companies are yet to reveal the details of their policies. I will be introduced to these changes over the remainder of October and―rest assuredwhatever your best options are for 2016―I will have them. And you will be able to elect them with the beginning of OPEN ENROLLMENT (OE) November 1st―through the end January 31st. If you involve me, I will take into consideration your providers and do my best to find an affordable plan which allows you to continue to utilize them. If this entails you qualifying for and needing a premium subsidy from Healthcare.govI will assist you in navigating that process and serve as an advocate in your behalf. As I have done for 29 years this month, my objective is to ensure you obtain and maintain your best possible health care coverage at the lowest cost. Even in this age of increasing insurance premiums and less provider options.

Please refer to the featured article below and, lastly, to the Questions And Answers at the end of today’s post. Additionally, do not hesitate to call me or email me in order to prepare for these coming changes.

D. Kenton Henry (Editor, Agent, Broker)

AllPlanHealthInsurance.com

Office: 281.367.6565 or Toll Free: 800.856.6556

Cell: 713.907.7984

Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

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Blue Cross to drop PPO plan covering 367,000 Texans

SAN ANTNIOEXPRESS NEWS

By Peggy O’Hare

July 27, 2015 Updated: July 27, 2015 8:34pm

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas is eliminating in 2016 its…

Health insurance carrier Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas next year will eliminate a PPO health plan that 367,000 consumers statewide now depend on for health benefits.

The company’s decision to drop its Blue Choice PPO plan will affect only customers in the individual market — not those covered by Blue Cross PPO group plans through their employers. About 148,000 consumers whose PPO plans were grandfathered in 2010 also won’t be affected.

The change is being made because the insurance company paid out $400 million more in claims than it collected in premiums for its Blue Choice PPO product in 2014.

“We felt like the PPO was not going to be a sustainable option,” said Dr. Dan McCoy, chief medical officer and divisional senior vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.

The move will not interrupt customers’ coverage before the end of the year.

The insurance carrier expects to offer another product when open enrollment for 2016 begins Nov. 1 in the individual market. No details on that new product were available Monday since it still is awaiting federal approval. Consumers won’t be able to view and compare their options on the federal exchange until Oct. 10, the company said.

“A new product has been filed that we believe will give you a flexible choice for your clients,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas said in a communication to insurance brokers last week. “We will be able to share information about that product if and when it is approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services closer to open enrollment.”

The carrier has not yet started sending notices to customers affected by the change, aside from posting a general notice on its website, a spokeswoman said. However, they should receive notices by early October.

Only a small fraction of the carrier’s total 5.5 million customers in Texas are covered by individual Blue Choice PPO plans, but the product has proven popular with consumers who want flexibility on which doctors they can visit.

Loretta Camp, an independent health insurance agent at Davidson Camp Insurance Services and a member of the San Antonio Association of Health Underwriters, said she is bracing for a flood of questions from consumers.

“We pretty much expected there to be just a huge amount of feedback,” Camp said of Blue Cross’ announcement, “and we’ve gotten hardly any. I don’t think people have really grasped what that means.

“It‘s a huge impact to my client base,” Camp said, noting that 88 percent of her customers buying health plans for themselves or their families inside or outside the federal exchange selected PPOs — preferred provider organization plans that allow consumers greater freedom on which doctors to visit.

Customers with PPOs pay lower rates if they use doctors or hospitals considered to be “in network” and incur additional costs if they see providers “out of network.”

Such plans are generally pricier than the more restrictive HMOs — health maintenance organization plans that only cover care from doctors and hospitals “in network” and won’t cover services outside the network at all unless it’s an emergency.

“We have a number of clients that moved … to a PPO plan because they were having difficulty finding providers that would take the HMO plans,” Camp said.

In its communication to brokers last week, Blue Cross acknowledged there will be some physicians and providers no longer considered “in network” as a result of individual Blue Choice PPO plans being discontinued.

“The number of providers not in network due to the discontinuance may be greater in 2016,” said the notice to brokers. “We have ensured that we have an adequate network to provide the physicians and hospitals needed to serve our retail members in each market, and we continue to have discussions with additional providers.”

Keeping the individual PPO plans intact and raising the price would have forced the insurance company to raise everyone’s rates in the individual market.

Under the Affordable Care Act, “individual business is rated using a single risk pool, meaning all individual plans had to be looked at together,” the carrier said in its notice to brokers last week.

Like most carriers, Blue Cross was venturing into uncertain territory when the Affordable Care Act made health insurance available to everyone beginning in 2014, McCoy said.

“This is really a new era in American insurance,” McCoy said Monday. “And clearly we entered this marketplace with not a lot of information.”

That meant serving a large number of new customers and complying with the new federal law. “This was a group of people, many of which had never had health insurance before,” McCoy said of the new beneficiaries, “coupled with the Affordable Care Act that contained a lot of new provisions and additions to care.”

“You combine that with the fact that health care costs in the United States have continued to grow. So clearly the premiums were not enough to make up for the health care expenditures that occurred.”

Blue Cross officials sidestepped questions Monday about whether it will continue selling its Blue Advantage HMO plans in the individual market in Texas next year. The company also declined to say how many consumers now now covered by Blue Advantage HMO plans, calling that proprietary information.

However, the federal HealthCare.gov website shows the carrier requested a rate increase of almost 20 percent for its Blue Advantage HMO plans in 2016. That proposal is still under review by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Blue Cross officials wouldn’t comment.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas noted it was the only insurance carrier to offer a PPO product in all 254 counties in Texas during the first two years of open enrollment in 2014 and 2015. Company officials said they will continue to offer other options in all 254 counties both inside and outside of the marketplace.

pohare@express-news.net

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

What to Expect for Open Enrollment for 2016 Plans

Jul. 23, 2015

We’re getting ready for Open Enrollment for 2016. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) will offer individual coverage options in every market in the state, both on and off the exchange. If you have an individual health plan or are looking to buy one in 2016, here are some of the changes you need to know.

When is Open Enrollment?

Open Enrollment for individuals runs from November 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016. If you are looking to buy your own health insurance plan for 2016, you can do so during this time.

If you already have health insurance, this is also the time you can:

  • Look at other plan choices
  • Compare plans and prices
  • See if you can get financial help

You’ll be able to see what plans will be available starting in October, when the “window shopping” period begins. This will give you time to weigh your options, ask questions and decide what will work best for you – before it’s time to sign up.

What will be different for individual plans in 2016?

There are some changes in the plans we intend to offer in the individual market in 2016. We won’t be offering PPO insurance plans in the individual, retail market. However, we intend to continue to offer HMO plans. This change does not affect our employer group customers or the grandfathered PPO individual plan members.

Why is Blue Choice PPO going away?

BCBSTX was the only insurer to offer an individual PPO insurance plan across the state to individuals in 2014 and 2015. Since the Affordable Care Act began, the market has changed. We found that the individual PPO plan was no longer sustainable at the cost it was being offered. Because we want to make sure that our plans are affordable, we decided to not offer individual PPO plans in 2016.

Why couldn’t you just keep offering the individual PPO plans and raise the rate for them?

The law requires that we set our individual plan rates based on all of our individual members’ claims history. This means that if the costs of one plan are high, it will raise the rates of all other plans, not just the high-cost plan. If we kept the Blue Choice PPO, this would have raised the rates so much for all our other plans that most people wouldn’t be able to afford them. By dropping the PPO, we can still offer our other plans at reasonable rates.

I have a PPO plan. What will this mean for me?

If you have an employer group PPO plan, this will not affect you. If you enrolled in the individual Blue Choice PPO plan last year, you won’t be able to keep your PPO plan in 2016. We’re sharing this information well in advance of the required notification date so that you have plenty of time to research the plan options that best suit your needs. We will work with you and your doctors to lessen the impact of this change to your ongoing care.

My Blue Choice PPO plan is “grandfathered.” Is it being discontinued too?

No. If you have a grandfathered individual PPO plan, it will still be available in 2016. Grandfathered individual plans are plans that existed on March 23, 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law. If you don’t know if your plan is grandfathered, check your plan details or call the customer service number on the back of your BCBSTX member ID card.

Will I be able to keep my doctor and/or hospital if I switch plans?

Currently, we have two provider networks for our individual plans: Blue Choice PPO and Blue Advantage HMO. Some providers are only in the Blue Choice network, and some of them have decided not to join the Blue Advantage HMO network in 2016. So, with the Blue Choice PPO individual plans going away, these providers will no longer be an in-network option for most of our individual members. If you have a grandfathered plan, you will still have access to the Blue Choice network.

If your doctor is not in the Blue Advantage network, we will work with you and your doctor to lessen the impact of this change to your ongoing care.

When can I see 2016 plan details and rates?

Individual plan details and rates will be available in October 2015. Open Enrollment begins November 1, 2015

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AS YOU SLEEP THE FUTURE OF YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE SUBSIDY HANGS IN THE BALANCE

KENTONSBUSINESSWEBPHOTO

Op-Ed by D. Kenton Henry

While most Americans who receive a health insurance subsidy to offset the cost of the coverage they obtained from the federal website, Healthcare.gov, go quietly about their personal business―the future of that subsidy―and the very future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) or Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short―which gave birth to said subsidies―hangs in the balance. And, for the most part, these same Americans remain blissfully ignorant that the future of their health insurance protection hangs with it also. Apparently sleeping as its fate is to be decided by the 30th of this very month when the Supreme Court releases its decision on King vs. Burwell.

King vs. Burwell contests the financial help available to some enrollees on  the federal insurance exchange in 34 states on the basis that the PPACA was not written to allow for the existence of subsidies provided by the federal exchange. In fact, the plaintiffs argue just the opposite―that only those exchanges established by the states could provide such. Should the court rule in favor of the administration, it will mean the law has survived one more effort to derail it and its future may well be assured. However, If the plaintiffs prevail, that leaves the estimated 6.4 million recipients of the subsidies in the thirty four states which did not with illegally subsidized health insurance. And, without subsidies . . . health insurance reform starts to fall apart. The majority of the recipients will drop their coverage and only the sickest―who bring the most expensive claims to the insurance companies―will remain on their plans. This phenomena is know within the industry as “adverse selection”. In reality, it means that the youngest and the healthiest, regardless of age, will flee their plans like rats off a sinking ship. And the sinking ship will be Obamacare. The law itself. This is because it is estimated that insurance premiums for these 6.4 million will increase an average 256%. A result which will single-handedly insert the substitution “Unaffordable” into the Affordable Care Act―Obama’s signature landmark legislation― sending it into a classic death spiral.

And what does the Supreme Court’s decision hinge on? Four key words: “established by the state”. As in the subsidies are to be available only to income qualified recipients in those exchanges established by the state. The four words are contained in that portion of the law which details how premium subsidies are calculated for health insurance policies. Plaintiffs argue thirty four states never established an exchange. Ergo, how can subsidies be provided for their residents? They argue the wording was constructed to serve as an incentive for the states to create own exchange; the states called the federal government’s bluff and the feds willy-nilly pulled a rabbit out of their head and provided federal exchange subsidies for which no provision within the law was made. To follow their argument to its logical conclusion, the Internal Revenue Service has violated the law by providing tax credits to individuals in these states.

The administration argues that exchanges were created by the states when they effectively opted to let the federal government do it for them. Therefore, their inaction became their action. This allows subsidies to be provided their residents.

As a health insurance broker with twenty-nine years in the industry, I have survived the inevitable ups and downs of the small business owner. I, and my practice, have survived Hillary’s attempt in the early nineties at health care reform and the deterring effect of ever increasing health care costs; the resulting sky-rocketing insurance premiums and the general turbulence of an industry which attempts to manage the costs of a sector which comprises an estimated twenty percent of our nation’s economy. I have survived the Affordable Care Act’s resulting cut in my compensation and the loss of hundreds of clients who were forced off their policies because they did not comply with the law’s mandates. Policies with which, for the most part, my clients were happy. Had they not been, they would have dropped them on their own. I now survive the effect of premiums which have risen on average fifteen percent each of the last two years and, in many cases, much, much more for those clients who do not qualify for the subsidy. The bottom line is, “if you qualify for a significant subsidy, you are probably happy with this law. If you qualify for a relatively small subsidy―or none at all―you are most likely very unhappy with it.” It seems everyone is judging it from the perspective of their own personal welfare. And that is human nature, is it not? And I reluctantly admit, I am no exception. And it is not without guilt I do so.

Because, if the subsidies are revoked, by my estimates, I stand to lose approximately two thirds of the new business I have written in the last two years since ACA plans were forced on the public under threat of penalty. Just last month I experienced the first and slightest increase in income since the act’s passage in March of 2010. My income had been decreasing precipitously since then, mostly due to the “minimum loss ratios” imposed on insurance companies resulting in maximum losses to the agent and broker. But I accepted these; remained committed to my industry and business and have survived. If King v. Burwell is decided in favor of the administration’s adversaries, my clients will let their coverage lapse and the resulting personal effect will be “two steps forward and three steps back”. Hence, the guilt. The guilt born of knowing the worst aspects of this law (unknown to average person) are yet to be implemented and only a minute portion of the resulting costs are currently apparent. Those forthcoming will have a devastating effect on our nation’s treasury which is already eighteen trillion in debt and rising “with a bullet”. I know that progression of this law and its mandates is already forcing rationing of our health care providers and further progression is going to result in ever increasing rationing of health care treatment available to each of us. And yet, for my own sake, I don’t want to experience more losses.

Please do not think I do believe there was no need for health care reform. When two of every five health insurance applications I submitted on behalf of clients was declined due to pre-existing conditions and another not taken due to “waivers” of such (prior to the law’s enforcement) I experienced the angst of my clients and my own.

And so I sit, in front of my computer desktop, on the edge of my seat monitoring each post from SCOTUSBLOG.COM and each editorial from the most liberal to conservative journalist (who knows much less about this law than I) attempting to predict as to which way this imminently pending decision will go. The patriotic conservative within me says, “for the welfare of my nation’s economy, this law should fail.” While the agent, broker, small business man within me who likes to eat, pay his bills, maybe put something away for retirement and doesn’t want to see any more of his clients lose their very necessary and greatly appreciated health insurance coverage says―”Please, oh, please. Let the Supreme Court of this United States of America, in all their supremacy, rule that the authors of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act didn’t really mean what they wrote. Let the subsidies stand.”

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Related stories:

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Politics

Four Words That Imperil Health Care Law Were All a Mistake, Writers Now Say

By ROBERT PEAR MAY 25, 2015

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/us/politics/contested-words-in-affordable-care-act-may-have-been-left-by-mistake.html?ref=us

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MORNING CONSULT Burwell Draws Line On Health Subsidy Fix Jon Reid   |   June 10, 2015  http://morningconsult.com/2015/06/burwell-draws-line-on-health-subsidy-fix/

BULLETIN: Second Round of Obamacare Breaks From The Gate Starting Now!

HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS 2015

(Announcement by D. Kenton Henry and HealthandMedicareInsurance.com)

Who will end up the winner ― you ― the insured, the insurance companies or Uncle Sam?

As a health insurance broker of 27 years, I and my peers have waiting with baited breath all year to see two things:

First ― will enrollments in 2015 health insurance plans, which begin at midnight tonight, the 15th of November, go more smoothly than last year’s embarrassing debacle that was the glitch plagued Healthcare.gov website which floundered in the death throes of end-stage technology through the entire first year “open-enrollment” period?

Secondly ― what are 2015 premiums and benefits going to look like? By the time you read this, you are about to know. I hope you will be happy with the options available to you, however, I hate to say, I cannot guarantee that. Rumor has it that premiums will be going up at varying rates relative to each of the fifty states. In Texas they are projected to rise an average of 14%  above 2014 rates depending on your age. If this is the case and you have coverage you feel is adequate―along with the option of keeping it―that is exactly what you should do. But if you are like a great number of my clients, who have been told your current plan will terminate 12.31.2014,  your only options are to forego coverage and pay the penalty (excuse me “shared responsibility tax”) when you file your 2015 tax return. Or purchase one of the new compliant plans.

I cannot control the options you will have but I can present, simplify and guide you to your best value in 2015 health insurance coverage. My quoting link will not only determine if you qualify for and calculate the amount of your subsidy (utilizing the same algorithm employed by Healthcare.gov) but, in the event you do qualify, will allow you to seamlessly take advantage of the subsidy and apply for your health plan selection for the reduced (net) premium. It will illustrate all your options from every carrier both on and off the federal exchange.

I am certain that after reviewing your options you will have numerous questions. I encourage you to email or call me with them. I will answer them and once you have decided upon your best value, I can make the enrollment process go as smoothly and comfortably as possible. I intend to work all through the weekend and make myself available to be best of my ability.

It is currently 10 p.m. CST on the 14th. After midnight click on this link to begin exploring your options and know I greatly anticipate working with you and making this transition period in the health insurance consumer market go as smoothly as possible for you.

Sincerely,

Kenton Henry

Broker, Agent, Editor

Email: Quote@allplaninsurance.com

Phone: 281.367.6565

Toll Free: 800.856.6556

CLICK HERE FOR 2015 HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS: https://allplanhealthinsurance.insxcloud.com/my-quote/individual-info

*Please return to this page and give us your opinion of your options.

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FEATURE ARTICLES:

NEW YORK TIMES

14 November 2014

Cost of Coverage Under Affordable Care Act to Increase in 2015

By ROBERT PEAR, REED ABELSON and AGUSTIN ARMENDARIZNOV. 14, 2014

“Consumers should shop around,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the federal insurance exchange serving three dozen states. “With new options available this year, they’re likely to find a better deal.” She asserted that the data showed that “the Affordable Care Act is working.”

But Republicans quickly pounced on the data as evidence of the opposite.

“Last year, many who liked their plan were surprised to learn they couldn’t keep it,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, who is in line to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “This year, many who like their plan will likely have to pay more to keep it.”

The new data means that many of the seven million people who have bought insurance through federal and state exchanges will have to change to different health plans if they want to avoid paying more — an inconvenience for consumers just becoming accustomed to their coverage.

A new Gallup Poll suggests that seven in 10 Americans with insurance bought through the exchanges rate the coverage and the care as excellent or good, and most were planning to keep it.

In employer-sponsored health plans, employees tend to stay with the same insurer from year to year. But for consumers in the public insurance exchanges, that will often be a mistake, experts said.

Nashville illustrates the need for people with marketplace coverage to look closely at the alternatives available in 2015.

Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the federal health exchange. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

A 40-year-old in Nashville, with the cheapest midlevel, or silver plan, will pay $220 a month next year, compared to $181 a month this year, for the same plan.

The least expensive plan is offered by another insurer, Community Health Alliance, one of the so-called co-op plans created under the federal law. It offers coverage for a monthly premium of $194.

But the lower premium means that consumers will have to pay a much larger annual deductible, $4,000, rather than $2,000. A policyholder who becomes seriously ill or has a costly chronic condition could pay hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses.

In addition, different health plans often have different networks of doctors and hospitals and cover different drugs, meaning that consumers who change plans may have to pay more for the same medicines.

Another problem for consumers is that if the price for a low-cost benchmark plan in the area has dropped, the amount of federal subsidies provided by the law could be less, meaning that consumers may have to pay more unless they switch.

The data, released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicates that price increases will be modest for many people willing to change plans. In a typical county, the price will rise 5 percent for the cheapest silver plan and 4 percent for the second cheapest.

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NEW YORK TIMES

Estimate of Healthcare Enrollment Leaves Room to Grow

10 November 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday offered a surprisingly modest estimate of the number of people who would sign up for health insurance in the second round of open enrollment, which begins on Saturday.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, said she was working on the assumption that a total of 9.1 million people would have such coverage at the end of next year.

By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office had estimated that 13 million people would be enrolled next year, with the total rising to 24 million in 2016. In the past, the White House has used the budget office numbers as a benchmark for success under the Affordable Care Act.

This estimate appeared to be part of an effort by federal officials to lower public expectations, so the goal would be easier to meet and to surpass. In addition, the new number could indicate that administration officials believe it will be difficult to find and enroll many of the uninsured while retaining those who signed up in the last year.

“The number we are going to aim for this year is 9.1 million,” Ms. Burwell said on Monday during remarks at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and advocacy group.

Ms. Burwell’s estimate was at the lower end of the range suggested by health policy experts in her department. In a report issued earlier Monday, the experts estimated that, at the end of next year, 9 million to 9.9 million people would have coverage purchased through insurance exchanges, or marketplaces.

Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, said the administration was “trying to manage expectations and rewrite its definition of success ahead of the second open-enrollment period.” Administration officials said they were just being realistic, in the light of experience with other health programs.

President Obama announced in April that eight million people had signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Officials said Monday that enrollment had declined to 7.1 million after some people failed to pay their share of premiums and others were found to be ineligible because of unresolved questions about their citizenship or immigration status.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that enrollment, including renewals and new customers, would reach 10 million to 11 million by the end of the three-month sign-up period, which closes on Feb. 15.

However, if Ms. Burwell is right, the number would shrink to 9.1 million people at the end of next year. That would still be a 28 percent increase over the number believed to have marketplace coverage today.

Ms. Burwell’s estimate came as a surprise to insurance counselors, agents and brokers working with the Obama administration.

Anne Filipic, the president of Enroll America, a nonprofit group trying to expand coverage, said the goal of 9.1 million “seems reasonable.” She praised the administration for taking what she described as “a pragmatic, analytic approach” to setting a numeric goal.

Federal health officials said they had ended coverage for 112,000 people who could not demonstrate that they were United States citizens or legal immigrants entitled to insurance under the health care law.

In addition, they said, 120,000 households will lose some or all of the insurance subsidies they have been receiving because they could not adequately document their income. These households will face higher premiums.

In making their estimates, federal health officials said, they assumed that 83 percent of the people with marketplace coverage — 5.9 million of the 7.1 million people in “qualified health plans” — would renew their coverage.

The intense political debate swirling around the Affordable Care Act does not make the job of enrolling people any easier, officials said.

Republicans like Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Joni Ernst in Iowa won Senate races in which they emphasized opposition to the health care law, as did successful Republican House candidates like Mia Love in Utah and Ryan Zinke in Montana.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said that people were skeptical of the law and “aren’t signing up because they realize it’s not a good deal for them.”

The Supreme Court said on Friday that it would consider a case challenging subsidies paid to more than four million people who obtained insurance through the federal marketplace.

Ms. Burwell said Monday that she did not see the legal challenge as a serious threat to the Affordable Care Act. “As we go into open enrollment,” she said, “nothing has changed.”

Federal health officials said they believed that marketplace enrollment would grow more slowly than projected by the Congressional Budget Office, which sees the total holding steady at 25 million from 2017 to 2024.

Administration officials noted that uninsured people could also get coverage by enrolling in Medicaid or by finding jobs with health benefits.

In a brief analysis of coverage trends, the Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that “most of the new marketplace enrollment for 2015 is likely to come from the ranks of the uninsured,” rather than from people who previously bought insurance on their own outside the exchanges.

“Happy Anniversary Healthcare.Gov!” (Do We Want A Divorce?)

Op-ed by D. Kenton Henry

BIRTHDAY CAKE

 

Happy anniversary, Healthcare.gov! Today, October 1st, marks the first anniversary of the premier of the originally beleaguered Federally Facilitated “Marketplace” (FFM), the federal government website for the purchase of Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant health insurance plans in states which did not implement their own. And what of it now?

After a rollout, which was anything but smooth, and a current expenditure of approximately $2.1 billion dollars (after a winning bid of $90 million) the site seems to have solved the majority of its “front- end” issues. These involve opening an account; verifying identity and plan selection. But in light of notice that the time has run out for those who did not succeed in providing adequate proof of income for subsidy (“Premium Tax Credit”) purposes thereby resulting in their loss of coverage or―at least the subsidy―one is left wondering what if anything will change relative to this “back-end” issue for 2015. According to a September 15th article in the New York Times, approximately half a million insured face a forced plan change. “363,000 could lose their premium subsidies due to an inability to verify income, while 115,000 more could have their policies canceled because they have not proven their immigration status. Federal authorities have been working for months to resolve both backlogs.”

My BlueCross BlueShield of Texas clients who have “grand-mothered” plans just received notice dated today that “The health plan you now have will no longer be available and cannot be renewed”. Grand-mothered plans are those which have been modified in anyway, such as a change in deductible, but purchased prior to January 1 of this year when all new policies were required to be ACA compliant. Termination will be effective the end of 12.31.2014 and the client, insured will have until that date to enroll in a new plan for seamless coverage beginning January 1. These policyholders are instructed to log in starting November 15th to review their options and elect new coverage through BlueCross BlueShield. What will the benefits look like and what will be the cost? Well, we won’t know until November 15th. The consensus seems to be that premiums in all but a few locations will be increasing somewhat across the market compared to this year’s ACA compliant plans but at less than the average rate of medical inflation in recent years. (Call me skeptical.) But what about compared to their grand-mothered plan? No way. By the time you add in the additional cost of mandated coverage for benefits such as pediatric dental and vision, maternity and the rest of the “minimum essential health benefits” along with guarantee issue for pre-existing conditions, there is no way these policyholders are going to be pleased with the premiums their new options will cost. If they had thought the marketplace offered better options, they would have elected them for 2014. I am certain the words, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.” will be ringing in their ears as they peruse their new options.

On the upside, an estimated 25% additional insurance companies will be providing coverage for 2015 both in and out of the marketplace and state exchanges. This increased competition will give consumerd more options and will hopefully help offset some of the inflationary aspects of mandated coverage in future years.

On the downside, what of the “It’s a penalty … not a tax!” ― now known as the “Shared Responsibility Payment” ― for not having coverage in 2015? That increases to $325 per adult and $162.50 per child or 2% of household income ― whichever is higher. (Family maximum is $975.) It will increase every year hereafter, tied to the rate of inflation beyond 2016.

Additional variables remain to be seen such as “provider selection”. While pressure is being put on insurance companies to increase the number of in-network providers available to the insured, surveys seem to indicate more providers are electing not to join. They feel payments have dropped to low to make it worth their while to participate. Insurance companies are going have to find alternative ways to control costs and since they cannot control the risk they are forced to assume (elative to pre-existing conditions and the mandated “loss ratio”) they are going to ration our providers and our treatment.

On a final note, the enrollment period for 2015 plans will be half as long as for 2014 and will end February 15th. So get ready to be like the sheep, in the Wild Kingdom segment, passing through the anaconda. It’s going to be a tight squeeze! And once again . . . “Happy Anniversary to Healthcare.gov!”

By all means, please contact me if you feel I can make the celebration cake a little more palatable!

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FEATURED ARTICLE:

The New York Times

U.S. to End Coverage Under Health Care Law for Tens of Thousands

By ROBERT PEAR SEPT. 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said on Monday that it planned to terminate health insurance for 115,000 people on Oct. 1 because they had failed to prove that they were United States citizens or legal immigrants eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. It also told 363,000 people that they could lose financial aid because their incomes could not be verified.

The 115,000 people “will lose their coverage as of Sept. 30,” said Andrew M. Slavitt, the No. 2 official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the federal insurance marketplace.

Some of them may be able to have their coverage reinstated retroactively if they produce the documents that they were repeatedly asked to provide in recent months, Mr. Slavitt said.

At the end of May, the administration said, 966,000 people were found to have discrepancies in their immigration and citizenship records. Most sent in documents as requested. In mid-August, the administration sent letters to about 310,000 people who had failed to respond. They were supposed to submit documents by Sept. 5, but the 115,000 consumers failed to do so, Mr. Slavitt said.

Many consumers and lawyers who work with them said that they had tried to submit immigration and citizenship papers, but that they experienced problems transmitting documents through HealthCare.gov. Other people said they sent the documents by mail to a federal contractor in Kentucky but never heard back from the contractor or the government.

“We heard from lots of consumers who told us they sent in their documents multiple times or tried to upload them through HealthCare.gov,” said Mara Youdelman, a lawyer at the National Health Law Program, an advocacy group for low-income people.

Jenny Rejeske, a health policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, which represents immigrants, said: “It is unduly harsh to terminate coverage while there are still technical problems with the federal system for verifying citizenship and immigration status. And there has not been adequate notice to people who speak languages other than English and Spanish.”

Florida leads the list of states whose residents are losing coverage because of immigration and citizenship issues, with 35,100. Federal officials said they were ending coverage for 19,600 people in Texas, 6,300 in Georgia, 5,300 in North Carolina, 5,200 in Pennsylvania, 4,000 in Illinois and 2,400 in New Jersey. The numbers released on Monday are for 36 states using the federal insurance marketplace. They do not include terminations in California, New York and other states running their own insurance exchanges.

Federal subsidies for the purchase of private insurance are a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. More than eight out of 10 people who selected health plans through the exchanges from October through mid-April were eligible for subsidies, including income tax credits. But in many cases, the government could not verify the incomes people reported when they applied for subsidized insurance.

This does not mean that they provided false information or were ineligible for assistance. The government tried to verify incomes by checking 2012 tax return information, but consumers may have switched jobs or received pay raises since filing those returns. As a result, officials said, the information in their applications may not match the data in federal files or in sources available to the government.

Mr. Slavitt said that on May 30 there were roughly 1.2 million households (and a total of 1.6 million people) with “data-matching issues.”

Since then, the government said, it has closed cases for 467,000 households with data discrepancies, and 430,000 cases are “currently in the process of being resolved.”

“There are still about 279,000 households with unresolved income-related data-matching issues that haven’t sent in supporting information, representing 363,000 individuals,” Mr. Slavitt said. They will soon receive letters from the government asking for proof of income, and if they do not reply by Sept. 30, they may lose some or all of their subsidies.

They would still be eligible for coverage, but in many cases could not afford it. In some cases, they would also have to repay some or all of the subsidies they received.

It is also possible that some people could receive larger subsidies if their incomes are lower than what they expected when they applied.

(A version of this article appears in print on September 16, 2014, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. to End Coverage Under Health Care Law for Tens of Thousands.)

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HEALTH INSURANCE “OPEN ENROLLMENT” PERIOD 2014 – 2015: DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (AND THEN SOME)?

So you thought last year’s open enrollment period (the limited time frame in which an individual may enroll in a health insurance plan for the coming calendar year) was a fiasco? Consider the words of Kevin Counihan, head of the federal insurance marketplace who says 2015’s hurdles may outstrip 2014’s. “Part of me thinks that this year is going to make last year look like the good old days,” said Counihan in an interview with the New York Times. Now that’s a scary thought indeed.

No one expects the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace website, Healthcare.gov, to have all the technological problems it had last year. (Although this agent and editor experienced an exasperating number in attempting to enroll clients through the website just in the last six weeks.) Rather the problems will result from, among others, two things:

1) Price matters. And, in large part, premiums will not be going down. BlueCross Association plans, for instance, have requested steep increases in general, up to 17.6% for Florida Blue. Double-digit―up to 30% increases may be common among those competitive last year and others, previously not competitive, may offer equally lower premiums. In those states where prices will increase predominately, and the consumer does not qualify for a subsidy, affordability will be an issue and cost a deterrent to enrollment in spite of the penalty for not purchasing health insurance. The penalty will increase to 2% of family income or $325 per adult and $162.50 per child, whichever is higher. The reality is most insurers are filing their proposed 2015 health insurance premiums for approval now, even though claims experience for the current year remains unknown with four months remaining. Will premiums increases be warranted? Will decreases be mere wishful thinking? The good news is, the number of companies participating in the market is going up and there will be 1.6 times more plans to choose from.

2) The open enrollment period will be cut in half. Three months down from six to be exact. This period will run from November 15th to Febraury15th. What this means is, not only will all those who wish to enroll in a plan for the first time be attempting to navigate the system, but all those who wish to change plans will also. With the administration’s objective of signing up an additional 5 million subscribers this year, the process may end up resembling a stampede of cows all trying to enter the Fort Worth stock yard chute simultaneously. Let us hope the end result is more pleasant for the participants.

Actuarial concerns relative to the fiscal viability of the Affordable Care Act (of great concern to this editor) aside, the consumer can expect this fall, through February 15th, to present a host of challenges from knowing which plan is best for them to being able to afford it. All the more reason for the consumer to seek the counsel of an independent health insurance specialist who is licensed (passed their state’s insurance exam); maintains errors and omissions insurance for your protection; has met his or her state’s continuing education classes and may have (as in the case of this agent) decades of experience in the health insurance market. These qualifications as opposed to government enrollers or “navigators” for whom none of this may apply.

― D. Kenton Henry, editor, agent, broker

KENTON AT CAPITOL 2 (2)

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FEATURED ARTICLES:

The New York Times

Business Day |​NYT Now

Bracing for New Challenges in Year 2 of Health Care Law

By REED ABELSON SEPT. 2, 2014

The first year of enrollment under the federal health care law was marred by the troubled start of HealthCare.gov, rampant confusion among consumers and a steep learning curve for insurers and government officials alike.

But insurance executives and managers of the online marketplaces are already girding for the coming open enrollment period, saying they fear it could be even more difficult than the last.

One challenge facing consumers will be wide swings in prices. Some insurers are seeking double-digit price increases, while others are hoping to snare more of the market by lowering premiums for the coming year. At the same time, the Obama administration is expected to try to persuade about five million more people to sign up while also trying to ensure that eight million people who now have coverage renew for another year.

Adding to the complexity is the shorter time frame for choosing a new policy: three months instead of six.

“In some respects, it’s going to be more complicated,” said Kevin Counihan, the former chief executive of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s online marketplace, who was just named as the head of the insurance marketplaces for the federal government. Connecticut’s marketplace was among the most successful state-based exchanges, sharply reducing the number of uninsured in the state. “Part of me thinks that this year is going to make last year look like the good old days.”

Kevin Counihan, head of the federal insurance marketplaces, says 2015’s hurdles may outstrip 2014’s. Credit Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

No one expects to face last year’s technological hurdles, in which consumers sometimes could not navigate the federal or state websites to buy a policy. HealthCare.gov is running relatively smoothly, and the states have been working to address technical problems with their marketplaces.

“The exchange can’t work worse than it did last year,” said Dr. Peter Beilenson, chief executive of Evergreen Health Co-op, an insurer in Maryland, where a faulty state-run marketplace prevented many people from signing up.

But the upheaval in insurance markets, with new carriers entering and the price of plans changing significantly, may make the coming year no easier than the last. While federal rules allow people to renew their coverage automatically for the next year in the same plan, many customers, especially if they were eligible for federal tax credits, will want to resurvey the landscape.

Just as there was an uproar when some people found out last year that their policies had been canceled, individuals this year may be surprised to find that they could be asked to pay much more for the same plan because their carrier is raising its prices or the amount of the federal tax credit they will receive is changing.

People will be renewing at the same time that others are enrolling for the first time, starting a week and a half before Thanksgiving, on Nov. 15. To ensure that they have a new plan by the beginning of the year, those who renew will have to sign up by Dec. 15. Exactly how the renewal process will work has not yet been determined.

“We’re still waiting on the details of the process,” said Paula Steiner, chief strategy officer for Health Care Service Corporation, which offers Blue Cross plans in five states. “We haven’t gone through any testing yet of any changes to the system for 2015.”

“I think there’s a possibility that there’s equal or more confusion this fall,” she said.

Those responsible for the federal marketplace say they are working hard to make the process as easy as possible. “We’re putting in place the simplest path for consumers this year to renew their coverage,” said Andrew Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for Medicare, which oversees the insurance marketplaces. Those who prefer to stay with the same plan will be able to renew their coverage automatically, as many do with employer coverage. People can renew by doing “absolutely nothing,” he said.

The federal online marketplace is being continuously improved, according to Mr. Slavitt, who said the government was updating the website to allow renewals. “We’re in a very different position than we were last year,” he said.

Dunia Padrino, left, with her sons Rolando Vega and Hanoy Castellon, learning about insurance under the Affordable Care Act last November in Hialeah, Fla. Credit Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Compared with this year, from the 19 states for which information is available, 30 carriers have requested entrance into the marketplaces for 2015 and 1.6 times more plans are being offered, with prices for 2015 likely to remain varied, as they were the previous year, according to McKinsey & Company’s Center for US Health System Reform, which is analyzing the insurance filings as they become available. Prices are rising about 30 percent for some plans, while decreasing by the same amount for others, depending on the market and policy. “We are definitely seeing a lot of volatility in pricing,” said Erica Hutchins Coe, a McKinsey expert.

Some of the large insurers, like some of the Blue Cross plans, have requested steep increases. Florida Blue, for example, expects to raise its rates by an average of 17.6 percent for 2015. Others, like some of the co-op plans, have been keeping prices low or even reducing rates.

Molina Healthcare, a company that has traditionally offered Medicaid coverage and now sells exchange policies, says its renewal strategy for the coming year is to emphasize that its members need not be concerned that the plan they selected will be more expensive. “One thing you can count on is the rates are flat or down,” said Lisa Rubino, senior vice president of exchanges for Molina.

In California, the state exchange is trying to get a step ahead by allowing people to begin renewing their plans Oct. 1. But anyone who wants to switch plans will still have to wait until Nov. 15, and many individuals may well want to shop around. In the Sacramento area, for example, someone who selected an H.M.O. plan from Anthem for 2014 faces a possible increase of nearly 17 percent, compared with a 2 percent increase for an H.M.O. plan from Kaiser Permanente in the same area.

Consumer advocates and others say nearly everyone with coverage should review their options ( https://www.brokeroffice.com/quote/quoteengine.jsp?login=insurnet) as well as whether their federal tax subsidy is likely to shift — either because their income may have changed or because the cost of the benchmark plan used to calculate the tax credit has changed.

Experts like Sabrina Corlette, a policy expert at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, say persuading those who did not sign up for coverage during the last open enrollment period to get coverage for 2015 will also present a significant challenge. People in this group were unaware they could get assistance with the cost of their premiums, decided the coverage was not worth the cost or simply found the process of enrolling too challenging.

“Most people assume in the first year they got the low-lying fruit,” Ms. Corlette said. Insurers and others “do have to widen the net,” she said, targeting hard-to-reach populations with what in the second year will often be “fewer resources and less time.”

Dr. Martin E. Hickey, chief executive of New Mexico Health Connections, a co-op that will rely on low prices to continue to attract members, said it was “a lot easier to retain a consumer than chase a new one.” In his state, many individuals failed to take advantage of the subsidies that reduced the cost of coverage substantially. “We didn’t communicate the affordability,” he said.

Even in California, which enrolled nearly 1.4 million people in its first open enrollment, there is acknowledgment that more effort is needed.

“We have a heavy lift again,” said Dana Howard, a spokesman for the state’s exchange, Covered California.

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THE HILL

Home | Policy | Healthcare

HealthCare.gov CEO sees challenges ahead

By Elise Viebeck – 09/03/14 10:50 AM EDT

The newly appointed CEO of HealthCare.gov is predicting fresh challenges for the system’s second enrollment period this November. Kevin Counihan, former head of Connecticut’s exchange, cited concerns such as the shorter sign-up period for 2015 plans that could create problems for officials and consumers alike.

“In some respects, it’s going to be more complicated,” Counihan told The New York Times in an interview. “Part of me thinks that this year is going to make last year look like the good old days.” The comment highlights the heady task facing federal health officials as they work to prevent a repeat of last year’s first enrollment period. Last year, technical flaws at HealthCare.gov and other exchanges plunged the enrollment process into chaos and created an enormous political headache for the Obama administration. Counihan did not indicate that his fears related to the technology, which has undergone extensive repairs since last October. The 2014 sign-up period was six months long, but with just three months to enroll more consumers, this year’s process could prove a tough climb as insurers and the government seek to convince hard-to-reach populations to buy health plans.

Existing policyholders are likely to encounter changes in their premium prices that could also cause confusion.

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/216496-healthcaregov-ceo-sees-challenges-ahead