MEDIA WARNS CONSUMERS THEY WILL HAVE LESS HELP SHOPPING FOR 2019 HEALTH INSURANCE

(BUT THEY DIDN’T ASK ALL PLAN MED QUOTE OF THE WOODLANDS, TEXAS)

Navigators in a boiler room

By D. Kenton Henry Editor, Agent, Broker
29 October 2018

The media is proffering all manner of good news when it comes to the Open Enrollment Period for purchasing 2019 individual and family health insurance, just three days away. The doors open this Thursday, November 1st and will remain so through December 15th. During this time you, the consumer, will be able to review your options and make a decision to renew your existing policy or select a new one to become effective January 1. Whichever, that policy will cover you the coming calendar year.

The feature article appearing below, states there will be ” . . . fewer sources of unbiased advice and assistance to guide them through the labyrinth of health insurance.” To wit, it cites, the budget for insurance counselors, known as navigators, has been cut by 80%, leaving over one-third of navigators in 2,400 counties served by Healthcare.gov, unfunded. Thank you very much, New York Times. Somehow, they neglected to consult with me and my agency, ALL PLAN MED QUOTE. Reading the article in full, one can infer they feel the only meaningful assistance can come from the government (at taxpayers’ expense) and fail to credit the private industry, which has provided counsel and enrollment assistance within the domestic insurance industry some two hundred years plus. One token sentence in the article acknowledges the private industry’s presence to assist the consumer with procuring health insurance. In my estimation, this reflects the media’s general opinion and thesis that the government is the end-all solution to every conceivable personal financial issue. Which, again, in the mind of this editor, is precisely the philosophy, the perpetuation of which got us into this fix in the first place. Moreover, what exactly is that fix?

Current pre-midterm election media coverage informs us premiums have stabilized and are, in many cases, going down in 2019. While that may be true in some localities, the recently released premiums in southeast Texas reflect increases of 20% or more. If you obtain a subsidy, wherein you get a tax credit for a portion of your premium, the subsidy itself may be larger, but the balance may be as well. Also, for those not obtaining a subsidy (the vast majority of us) the increase will be born entirely by ourselves. The situation has made healthcare the number one concern of Americans heading into next week’s midterm elections according to a Fox News Poll.

For the record, ALL PLAN MED QUOTE and I have never been subsidized by taxpayer dollars. As an independent, self-employed broker/agent I am compensated when I successfully enroll someone in health insurance. I am not compensated when I fail at such. That is fine by me. In spite of continual cuts in agent compensation. I prefer autonomy to bureaucracy. My advice and guidance are objective. My goal is to succeed it getting you enrolled in a policy which makes sure you have access to the care and treatment you need, when you need it and are not financially devastated in the process. All this for the lowest possible premium. I do not care which insurance company you contract with, as long as you are satisfied you have obtained the best coverage for your given situation and needs. Ideally, it would also provide you access to all the doctors and medical providers you choose to utilize. Regrettably, that latter objective has become my biggest challenge and is one every insurance agent and counselor faces. To say it can be overcome in every instance would be misleading but I do my best. All 2019 individual and family options are Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) policies, and this has been so since 2016. The HMO networks are narrow in comparison to what one may typically have experienced with employer-based HMO coverage. However, there are a very few plans (3 in my primary region) which operate very similar to a traditional Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) policy in that they do cover treatment at a provider outside the network. Benefits are paid up to a limited percentage, and there is no cap on your maximum annual out-of-pocket but―for someone who wants to be assured they can obtain coverage from the provider of their choice―it is better than no coverage whatsoever. If you feel you must learn more about this option, please contact me.

To assist me in these ends, I am appointed with every company providing Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance company doing business in Montgomery, Harris, Fort Bend, and Galveston counties. BlueCross BlueShield of Texas (to my knowledge) does business in every corner of Texas, and I have been appointed with them twenty-seven years. In addition to Texas, I am licensed in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

I offer short-term health insurance for those who do not get a subsidy and those who, whether they do or not, cannot afford credible health insurance. However, I do not represent it as covering pre-existing health conditions, as it does not. Nor do I represent it as a substitute for credible, compliant coverage. It is a short-term bridge to a long-term solution.

As always, the Open Enrollment Period will be a very busy and hectic time for anyone in my profession. To make things proceed more smoothly, I would appreciate you visit my quoting site to obtain spreadsheet comparison of your options from all the health insurance companies offering coverage in your county. Attempt to narrow your selection down to those plans you feel most closely approximate the coverage you need. You can search for in-network providers from the search button directly next to the premium quoted. If you are so confident a plan is right for you, please feel free to apply straight from the quote. However, many of you will have questions or appreciate my insight and experience with the plan details and application process. Those in need of a subsidy will find my assistance especially helpful. If this is you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Again, for quotes and applications, you may go to my website at Http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com and click on “Health” in the top menu.

Alternatively, you may go directly to my spreadsheet quotes and an application by clicking on this link:
https://allplanhealthinsurance.insxcloud.com
*(it is not necessary to log in or register to obtain quotes or apply)

If you already know your interest is a policy from BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, you may go directly to their quoting and application page by clicking here:
https://retailweb.hcsc.net/retailshoppingcart/TX/census?ExpressLinkedAgentId=2V0boERIKNxDSESKunpc/w==

**(if these links do not function from this text, please copy and paste or type in your browser and hit enter)

If you apply for coverage through these links, I will be your agent and available to assist and commit to providing the best of service throughout the year. I bring my entire thirty-two years in medical insurance to bear for this purpose. I look forward to hearing from you and assisting you. Regardless, I hope you succeed in obtaining health insurance which suffices until Congress puts their heads together and provides us with more reasonable options.

D. Kenton Henry                                                                                                              All Plan Med Quote                                                                                                    Office: 281.367.6565                                                                                                     Text my cell @ 713.907.7984                                                                                   Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com
For the latest in health and Medicare-related insurance, news go to Https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS:

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FEATURED ARTICLE 

The New York Times
By Robert Pear
Oct. 27, 2018

Shopping for Insurance? Don’t Expect Much Help Navigating Plans

Affordable Care Act navigators helping patients during an enrollment event in 2016 at Southwest General Hospital in San Antonio.CreditCreditEric Gay/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — When the annual open enrollment period begins in a few days, consumers across the country will have more choices under the Affordable Care Act, but fewer sources of unbiased advice and assistance to guide them through the labyrinth of health insurance.
The Trump administration has opened the door to aggressive marketing of short-term insurance plans, which are not required to cover pre-existing medical conditions. Insurers are entering or returning to the Affordable Care Act marketplace, expanding their service areas and offering new products. But the budget for the insurance counselors known as navigators has been cut more than 80 percent, and in nearly one-third of the 2,400 counties served by HealthCare.gov, no navigators have been funded by the federal government.
“There is likely to be a lot of consumer confusion about the various plan options that may be available this year,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “It will be a bit of a Wild West — buyer beware!”
“Obamacare health plans,” short-term plans and “Christian health sharing plans” are all displayed on the same page of some shopping sites like Affordable-Health-Insurance-Plans.org, which describes itself as a free referral service for insurance shoppers.
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Consumers may have difficulty sorting through their options after the administration sliced the budget last summer for insurance navigators to $10 million this year, from $36 million in 2017 and nearly $63 million in 2016.
“Navigators play a vital role in helping consumers prepare applications to establish eligibility and enroll in coverage through the marketplaces,” the Department of Health and Human Services says on its website.
But 797 counties served by HealthCare.gov will not have any navigators this year, according to a tabulation of federal data by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That is a sharp increase from 2016, when 127 counties lacked such assistance.
“If you are confused and you want somebody’s help to try to figure out what’s right for you — what’s junk and what is legitimate — there will be fewer people to help you in most states,” Ms. Corlette said.
Federal officials said they were not providing funds for navigators in Iowa, Montana or New Hampshire because no organizations had applied for the money in those states.
Cleveland, Dallas and large areas of Michigan and other states will also be without navigators.
Texas will be hit hard. The state has the largest number and the highest percentage of people who are uninsured, with 4.8 million people, or 17 percent of residents, lacking coverage, according to the Census Bureau.
“North Texas remains one of the most uninsured areas in the country,” said the chief executive of Dallas County, Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins. “The administration’s decision to defund all navigators across North Texas will hurt our ability to enroll individuals in health insurance and result in some working families losing coverage. Only 45 of Texas’ 254 counties have any navigator coverage.”
Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, defended the cuts.
After five years, she said, “the public is more aware of the options for private coverage” available through the marketplace, so “it is appropriate to scale down the navigator program.” In addition, she said, information and assistance are available from other sources, including insurance agents and brokers.
Consumers can sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act starting Thursday. Last year, 8.7 million people enrolled at HealthCare.gov, and three million more selected plans on insurance exchanges run by states.
Consumers can go without insurance next year without fear of a penalty, as Congress repealed the unpopular tax surcharge imposed on people who lack coverage.
Many health policy experts say that federal financial assistance is more important than the individual mandate in inducing people to buy insurance. Those subsidies will still be available to low- and moderate-income people for insurance that complies with the Affordable Care Act and is purchased through the public marketplace. The subsidies cannot be used for short-term policies.
The vast majority of the people we serve, over 90 percent, are motivated to have insurance because they want coverage for their family and themselves,” said Matthew Slonaker, the executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit. “It’s not because they otherwise would have to pay a penalty.”
Average premiums for the most popular types of insurance purchased by individuals and families will be relatively stable next year and, in some states, will actually decline, the administration says.
Under new standards issued by the administration, navigators this year are encouraged to inform consumers of the full range of coverage options, including short-term plans that do not provide all of the benefits and consumer protections required by the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump has promoted the short-term policies as an inexpensive alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he said those plans would be “much more widely available” as a result of an executive order he signed last year to overturn restrictions imposed by President Barack Obama.
Democrats have made health care a major theme in midterm election campaigns, and they say the short-term policies show how the Trump administration threatens protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Short-term policies, which can extend up to 364 days and then be renewed for two additional years, often provide no coverage for pre-existing conditions, prescription drugs, pregnancy, maternity care or the treatment of mental disorders and drug abuse.
Indeed, Mr. Trump said, the short-term plans are cheaper because they are “not subject to any very expansive and expensive Obamacare coverage mandates and rules.”
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But, said Kirsten A. Sloan, a vice president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network: “People may be attracted to short-term plans without understanding that the lower premiums come with less coverage. These plans may not cover the doctors and hospitals and drugs you need if you get sick.”
In another challenge this year, consumers may be deluged with robocalls offering cheap insurance.
Alex Quilici, the chief executive of YouMail, a company that offers software to combat robocalls, said he was seeing a huge increase in health insurance scams.
“Callers say ‘it’s open enrollment’ or ‘we can get you a better deal by looking at all the health insurance plans,’” Mr. Quilici said. “Callers ask for lots of personal information, and the unwitting consumer often gives their birth date, Social Security number and information for everybody in the family, in order to get a great deal. In reality, it’s identity theft or payment theft or both.”
Mr. Quilici’s company has recorded hundreds of robocalls. A typical call says that, with enrollment just “around the corner,” Mr. Trump has created short-term coverage options lasting up to three years, “so you and your family can get a great insurance plan at the price you can afford.”
It is difficult to identify the source of the robocalls, Mr. Quilici said, because callers often falsify information displayed on caller ID.
(A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 27, 2018, on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Shopping for Health Insurance: Many Options but Little Guidance. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe)

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

Email: allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

http://www.Allplanhealthinsurance.com

http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com 

Blog: http://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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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)

http://allplaninsurance.com

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

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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

 

CENTER FOR MEDICARE SERVICES DELAYS CUTS TO MEDICARE ADVANTAGE – OR DID THEY?

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE

In a surprise announcement today the Center For Medicare and Medicaid Services gave notice they are reversing planned cuts to Medicare Advantage Plans for 2015. But after all variables are factored in will the end result be an increase or decrease in reimbursements for Medicare approved procedures next year?

If implemented the cuts would have resulted in 2% lower payments to Medicare providers on top of the 6% cuts for 2014. Instead, the agency says, payments will instead be increased 0.4%. Still, with all variables in play, Aetna anticipates payment reductions and Humana estimates a funding decline of 3%. (See feature article from Reuters below.)

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE II

What is the end result of all this? 2014 reductions already saw the termination of thousands of providers from HMO and PPO Medicare Advantage networks. Further reductions are likely to result in more of the same along with probable increases in premiums and copays for medical procedures. And–if not now–certainly when they are ultimately implemented as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Which begs the question: If all these cuts to Medicare Advantage were for the purpose of financing the ACA, what is the long-term impact of delaying them on the financial solvency of the Act? Or was the latter really ever a concern of the administration? Or is it simply the case that concern over the effect of cuts on this fall’s election over-rides the need for the Act to be financially feasible? (In case you were naïve enough to believe feasibility was realistic in the first place.) In light of all the approximately 38 delays and changes in the law since its passage, it is apparent to this author that political expediency rules the day in Washington. In other words, “business as usual”.

– Admin. Kenton Henry

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FEATURE ARTICLE

U.S. insurers still expect cuts in 2015 Medicare payments

By Caroline Humer

Tue Apr 8, 2014 1:40pm EDT

(Reuters) – U.S. health insurers said on Tuesday they still expected cuts in government reimbursements for privately managed Medicare health plans for the elderly next year even after the Obama administration rolled back the steepest reductions.

The government agency that oversees Medicare said late on Monday that on average, reimbursements to insurers for private Medicare plans would rise 0.4 percent, reversing what it said was a proposed cut of 1.9 percent.

The insurance industry and advocates for the elderly had lobbied against the cuts, which were first proposed in February, saying they would reduce benefits for older people.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers had broadly opposed further cuts as well, adding pressure on the administration at a time when President Barack Obama’s healthcare law was also under attack.

After analyzing the final rate notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and comparing it with their own models, health insurers said on Tuesday that the 2015 Medicare Advantage payment rates represented a cut to payments from 2014 levels.

Humana Inc, which derives two-thirds of its revenue from administering Medicare Advantage plans, said it expected a funding decline of about 3 percent for 2015 plans from 2014, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This is slightly better than Humana’s initial forecast for a drop of 3.5 percent to 4 percent in those rates, based on the proposal issued on February 21.

Aetna Inc, which also provides Medicare Advantage plans, said it also anticipated a decline.

“Despite CMS’s actions, Medicare Advantage plans will still face rate decreases for 2015,” Aetna spokeswoman Kendall Marcocci said in a statement. The company is still evaluating the impact, she added.

CMS officials were not immediately available for comment on the insurers’ or analysts’ analyses.

Humana shares fell 1.7 percent on Tuesday. Aetna was little changed, and UnitedHealth Group Inc slipped 0.4 percent.

APPLES-TO-ORANGES

The comments from individual insurers echoed that of industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which said it was concerned about how the policy will affect the 15 million people who receive privately managed benefits. The balance of the more than 50 million older and disabled people who use Medicare are in a different program run by the government.

“The changes CMS included in the final rate notice will help mitigate the impact on seniors, but the Medicare Advantage program is still facing a reduction in payment rates next year on top of the 6 percent cut to payments in 2014,” AHIP President Karen Ignagni said in a statement.

Wall Street analysts saw an improvement of 2 to 3 percentage points in the government’s funding proposal, but they estimated about a 3 percent cut overall, not an increase of 0.4 percent.

They described an apples-and-oranges comparison between how they calculate the total impact of Medicare reimbursement rates versus how the government does so.

One difference may be that the government analysis did not reflect the 1 percent insurance tax that funds Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while some analysts included it.

Another factor, some said, is that CMS adjusted its estimates to reflect the worsening health of some Medicare members, while analysts did not.

Analyst Sheryl Skolnick of CRT Capital described the final funding announcement as being “less worse” than anticipated.

“The market was assuming that the final rate would be better than the proposal, and that’s what it got,” Skolnick wrote in a note.

Each year, the government releases its formulas for determining how it will reimburse the insurers for plan members’ procedures and doctor visits. Insurers use this information to decide on the markets where they will offer plans and what benefits they can provide.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Lisa Von Ahn)

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Obamacare Backers Quietly Destroying Their Own Creation

DR FRANKENSTEIN AND HIS MONSTER

Op-ed by Kenton Henry

The analogy is irresistible and the comparison inescapable. Dr. Frankenstein  experienced an epic epiphany when he realized his good intentions had gone awry and he was responsible for creating a monster which was a threat to the public’s health and welfare.  And now the same realization has dawned on  the White House and Democratic Senate. They ignored all the polls which have always indicated the majority of Americans are not in favor of Obamacare. They ignored the entreaties of the Republicans (not one of whom voted for the Act) to at first repeal; then later, to post-pone the individual mandate. Now, with November’s mid-term elections on the horizon, they are pressing the panic button and back-pedaling in an overtly political attempt to mitigate fallout at the polls. Last week they modified the individual mandate allowing those who like their non-compliant plan to keep their plan through 2016. But what went unnoticed and unreported by the media was their latest move (also last week) to destroy their own creation wherein they modified the hardship exemption. It now allows anyone whose health plan was canceled due to Obamacare to sign a form stating such–and that the act of purchasing ACA compliant coverage would be “hardship”– to opt out of a purchase with no financial repercussions.  The details of the exemption are outlined in our feature article in The Wall Street Journal which concludes the exemption is essentially available to anyone who wants one.

 

In reality, the Democrats are realizing they are falling on their own sword. What was already a case of adverse selection in terms of the risk funneled into the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant  policies, has now been made a case of adverse selection on steroids. This editor’s concern is that the insurance companies will not be able to sustain the new block of compliant policies and will fail minus another massive government bailout. Like banks, they will be deemed “too big to fail” by the administration. For now. Of course, in good time (after Democrats succeed in maintaining control of things), the safety net will be removed and the liberals will rejoice as the companies fail. And left leaning Democrats will have the single-payer system they have long admitted was their prize objective. An accomplishment so necessary for them to control one sixth of our nation’s economy. This in spite of the fact that every major social welfare program this country has implemented is on the fast track to insolvency.

 

As Dr. Frankenstein worked to destroy his own signature creation, the President now works to gut his. And as always . . . for the sake of politics.

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FEATURE ARTICLE:

The Wall Street Journal

ObamaCare’s Secret Mandate Exemption

HHS quietly repeals the individual purchase rule for two more years.

Updated March 12, 2014 6:58 p.m. ET
 

ObamaCare’s implementers continue to roam the battlefield and shoot their own wounded, and the latest casualty is the core of the Affordable Care Act—the individual mandate. To wit, last week the Administration quietly excused millions of people from the requirement to purchase health insurance or else pay a tax penalty. 

This latest political reconstruction has received zero media notice, and the Health and Human Services Department didn’t think the details were worth discussing in a conference call, press materials or fact sheet. Instead, the mandate suspension was buried in an unrelated rule that was meant to preserve some health plans that don’t comply with ObamaCare benefit and redistribution mandates. Our sources only noticed the change this week.

That seven-page technical bulletin includes a paragraph and footnote that casually mention that a rule in a separate December 2013 bulletin would be extended for two more years, until 2016. Lo and behold, it turns out this second rule, which was supposed to last for only a year, allows Americans whose coverage was cancelled to opt out of the mandate altogether.

In 2013, HHS decided that ObamaCare’s wave of policy terminations qualified as a “hardship” that entitled people to a special type of coverage designed for people under age 30 or a mandate exemption. HHS originally defined and reserved hardship exemptions for the truly down and out such as battered women, the evicted and bankrupts.

But amid the post-rollout political backlash, last week the agency created a new category: Now all you need to do is fill out a form attesting that your plan was cancelled and that you “believe that the plan options available in the [ObamaCare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your cancelled health insurance policy” or “you consider other available policies unaffordable.”

This lax standard—no formula or hard test beyond a person’s belief—at least ostensibly requires proof such as an insurer termination notice. But people can also qualify for hardships for the unspecified nonreason that “you experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance,” which only requires “documentation if possible.” And yet another waiver is available to those who say they are merely unable to afford coverage, regardless of their prior insurance. In a word, these shifting legal benchmarks offer an exemption to everyone who conceivably wants one.

Keep in mind that the White House argued at the Supreme Court that the individual mandate to buy insurance was indispensable to the law’s success, and President Obama continues to say he’d veto the bipartisan bills that would delay or repeal it. So why are ObamaCare liberals silently gutting their own creation now?

The answers are the implementation fiasco and politics. HHS revealed Tuesday that only 940,000 people signed up for an ObamaCare plan in February, bringing the total to about 4.2 million, well below the original 5.7 million projection. The predicted “surge” of young beneficiaries isn’t materializing even as the end-of-March deadline approaches, and enrollment decelerated in February.

Meanwhile, a McKinsey & Company survey reports that a mere 27% of people joining the exchanges were previously uninsured through February. The survey also found that about half of people who shopped for a plan but did not enroll said premiums were too expensive, even though 80% of this group qualify for subsidies. Some substantial share of the people ObamaCare is supposed to help say it is a bad financial value. You might even call it a hardship.

HHS is also trying to pre-empt the inevitable political blowback from the nasty 2015 tax surprise of fining the uninsured for being uninsured, which could help reopen ObamaCare if voters elect a Republican Senate this November. Keeping its mandate waiver secret for now is an attempt get past November and in the meantime sign up as many people as possible for government-subsidized health care. Our sources in the insurance industry are worried the regulatory loophole sets a mandate non-enforcement precedent, and they’re probably right. The longer it is not enforced, the less likely any President will enforce it.

The larger point is that there have been so many unilateral executive waivers and delays that ObamaCare must be unrecognizable to its drafters, to the extent they ever knew what the law contained.

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Cost of Obamacare Borne On The Back Of Seniors

SENIORS ANGRY 1

To say that President Obama is not an enthusiastic backer of the two Medicare programs that offer seniors private insurance options would be something of an understatement.

Over the years, Obama has repeatedly derided Medicare Advantage — the program that lets seniors enroll in subsidized, private insurance. He once called it “wasteful,” and said it amounted to “giveaways that boost insurance company profits but don’t make (seniors) any healthier.”

Obama has been equally harsh when it comes to Medicare Part D — the prescription drug benefit President Bush signed into law that relies on privately run plans.

In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama blasted the program, saying it “somehow managed to combine the worst aspects of the public and private sectors.” As president, he said it gave overly generous “taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies.”

Both programs, it turns out, have been wildly popular with seniors and, by most measures, big successes. But Obama nevertheless appears determined to undermine them with sharp cuts in payments and sweeping new regulations.

Started back in 1997 — and initially called Medicare+Choice — the Medicare Advantage program pays private insurers a set amount per enrollee to provide comprehensive benefits and anything else they can afford to offer.

The idea was that private insurers could better co-ordinate care and manage health costs than the old fee-for-service Medicare, and so provide more comprehensive benefits.

While enrollment in these private plans was flat for the first several years, it has skyrocketed since 2005, to the point where almost one in three seniors are covered by a private health plan. As long as it is affordable, this editor considers Medicare Supplement the ideal way for a Medicare recipient to be covered for medical expenses. Not because selection of Supplement Plan F or G will cover all or virtually all of your expenses but because ALL Medicare Supplement options allow you to visit any doctor, hospital or medical provider that sees Medicare Patient. This as opposed to Medicare Advantage Plans most of which have evolved to significantly limiting your choice of providers. This being said, Medicare Advantage has been a savior to those who simply cannot afford Medicare Supplement. And contrary to Obama’s claim, seniors selecting Medicare Advantage tend to get better quality health care than those in traditional Medicare.

Critics, however, point to studies showing that the government pays Medicare Advantage more per enrollee than it would cost if these seniors had enrolled in the old Medicare program.

Obama tried to remedy this by cutting Medicare funding by $716 billion over the next ten years with payments to Medicare Advantage totaling $200 billion. The purpose of which is to help pay for ObamaCare (while providing “bonus” payments to plans that score high on a quality rating). An official analysis from Medicare’s actuary concluded, however, that such cuts would drive millions seniors out of their Advantage plans and back into the government-run program.

Recognizing political risks of these payment cuts, the administration put them off until AFTER the presidential elections, shoveling $8 billion into a bogus “demonstration project” that offset almost all the scheduled Medicare Advantage cuts implemented in 2012.

Question: What are your thoughts about President Obama’s cuts to the Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Programs?

Admin. – Kenton Henry

http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com

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FEATURE ARTICLE:

THE HILL

February 25, 2014, 10:58 am

GOP leaders to HHS: Call off Medicare changes

By Elise Viebeck

Republican Senate leaders criticized the Obama administration Tuesday for proposed changes to Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D they say would weaken the two programs.

Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the lawmakers called on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage and reforms in Part D that would allow regulators to participate in negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies for the first time.

“Unlike ObamaCare, the Medicare prescription drug benefit is wildly popular and it has cost less than initial projections,” the letter stated.

“At a time when HHS is struggling on basic implementation tasks on many fronts, we cannot understand the logic behind the department’s interest in further undermining one of the few success stories under its purview.”

The administration argues that cuts in Medicare Advantage would reduce waste within the program and bring its per-patient funding in line with traditional Medicare, which currently receives less money on average.

In Part D, federal health officials say regulators need new authority to ensure the market for prescription drugs works well for seniors.

The proposed rules would also open drug plans’ preferred networks to a wider range of pharmacies, limit plan bids within a region and remove “protected class” designations for certain types of drugs.

But Republicans say the changes will harm Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and potentially raise premiums on Part D plans or force seniors out of their current coverage.

Both issues are rearing their heads in the midterm elections, as the GOP seeks to broaden its healthcare attacks to include more than ObamaCare.

Tuesday’s letter to Sebelius was signed by McConnell, GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas), GOP Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (Mo.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.).

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Facebook Posting Does Double Duty On This Healthcare Blog

Healthandmedicareinsurance.com followers – I spent enough time responding to the left on my facebook posting – I thought the effort could serve double duty on this blog.
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Before preparing for my trip, I would first like to respond to Kathy: No, I won’t be lobbying for an expansion of Medicaid in Indiana (or any other state for that matter) that has not already expanded it beyond 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. If Medicaid were expanded, it would be to include individuals up to and including those with an income of 133% of the FPL or a maximum income of $15,521 for 2014. Deserving or not aside – while these individuals currently do not qualify for Medicaid in Indiana or Texas – THEY DO qualify for a subsidy of approximately 88% of their health insurance premium. If they elect the plan recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services (“benchmark” plan) it will be the second lowest cost Silver Plan in their area. They are required to pay no more than $40.41 per month. No, I don’t feel sorry for them. They are certainly already receiving food stamps and government subsidized housing and Medicaid is already in financial trouble in most states without further expansion. (Of course I am aware financial feasibility and a balanced state or federal budget is not your concern.)

The person I feel sorry for is the poor working stiff who is making in the $50 – $60,000 dollar range and actually earning his or her income. They don’t qualify a health insurance premium subsidy. (Food stamps I’m not certain of because our government has made those available to virtually everyone including illegal aliens.) Because this responsible working person doesn’t qualify for a subsidy, they will be forced to pay 100% of the Silver plan premium–with an average annual cost of $4,113–entirely on their own. That amounts to 8% of their annual income (at $50k) before taxes which the entitlement person isn’t paying! That’s the person I feel sorry for! Then try providing them with a plan that has their doctor in the network and the benefits they would really like and their cost and that percentage soars! In summation – you keep lobbying for the entitlement class; I’ll keep lobbying for the working American.

Now to address Scott: Glad to see you are finally making a prediction which I feel is pretty much on target. As I’m the one on the front line signing people up for Obamacare, no one knows better the “adverse selection” (bad risk disproportionately selected for participation) than I. But I remember a few of my predictions you tried to dismiss. First – I said Barrack Obama would be elected in 2008. You said, “no”. In 2010 – I said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA for short) would pass. You said, “no way!”. Then, in June of 2012 – I said the Supreme Court is going to find a way to uphold the ACA as “constitutional”. You said, “not to worry!” God! I hate being right. (Almost as much as you hate being wrong!)
Anyway, I’m glad you are finally smelling the coffee which probably got to a stench with your latest health insurance premium increase. And, as such, this begs many questions – two of which I will address at this point:

(1) If the federal government cannot build a functional website, to insure the estimated 30 million uninsured, with 3 years lead time – How long is it going to take them to transition us to a “Medicare like” social welfare health insurance program that insures all 300 million plus Americans. And . . .

(2) If Social Security is on track to insolvency and Medicare is predicted to be insolvent by 2023 (nine years from now, people) – how the hell are they going to finance and subsidize healthcare for everyone? Redistribution. Because it wasn’t fair you’ve been so successful, Scott.

In my next blog post, I will address what I see as the specifics of why these things regarding the ACA are destined to transpire. In the meantime, I’m still going to Washington because the one thing we do know is – the person that never gets in the ring has already lost. The real issues I would like to confront our elected officials with are my suggestions for workable healthcare reform which guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions while being financially responsible and feasible; term limits (I know, I know – when hell freezes over); amnesty and targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. I know they’ll try to get me back on point (theirs) – but not until I’ve made them say, “next question!”