WHAT MAY BE THE MOST CONVENIENT MEDICARE ADVANTAGE PLAN TO DATE!

By D. Kenton Henry editor, agent

26 April 2022

There is good news in the SE Texas Medicare Advantage Market! It announces a new Medicare insurance plan which provides what is likely the greatest access to medical providers to date. It allows a member may go to any provider that sees Medicare patients. This equates access to that of the Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans I typically encourage my clients to enroll in. And the out-of-pocket expenses are $0! There is not even the Part B annual out-patient deductible of $233 which applies to the most popular Medigap Plan G!

Additionally, it provides the convenience of Medicare Advantage Part D Drug (MAPD) plans because it includes Part D Prescription Drug coverage. This means one need not pay an additional premium for a standalone drug plan to accompany their medical coverage because your medical and drug coverage is included under the cover of one policy.

*(The details of this plan are described by the insurance company in the Feature Article below.)

FOR WHOM IS THIS PLAN BEST SUITED?

In my opinion, it is best suited for the older Medicare recipient for whom their Medigap and Part D drug plan premium now exceeds $215.40 – the monthly premium for this Medicare Advantage Plan. Someone who has just turned age 65 will find their Medigap premium combined with a low-cost Part D drug plan competitive for quite some time. However, as they get older, the total cost can greatly exceed the premium for this Advantage plan. Additionally, unless they have Medigap Plan F, they remain responsible for the annual Part B deductible noted above.

As we age, many of us acquire moderate to significant pre-existing medical conditions. In Texas, and most states, when their Medigap premium becomes burdensome, Texans cannot enroll in a new, and lower cost, Medigap plan and be guaranteed approval. They must go through underwriting and risk being declined due to their health history. With Medicare Advantage plans this cannot happen as approval is guaranteed during the eligible enrollment periods.

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF THIS MAPD PLAN?

First, as implied above, if someone is a relatively younger Medicare recipient – with little in the way of brand name drug usage – their combined premium for medical and drug coverage can be considerably lower than the premium for this MAPD plan.

Furthermore, because this plan combines one’s drug plan with their medical plan – one is tied, or captive to, its Part D drug coverage. Coverage which may not be the best drug coverage available to them in the Part D market.

Lastly, Medicare Supplement Plans (Medigap) are created by and standardized by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). They can only be changed by legislation. If legislation would result in a change in their benefits, the insured member would most likely be “grandfathered” or, otherwise, allowed to keep their existing coverage.

With this new “Flex PPO” plan from a major health insurance company, the company could decide to eliminate it in any new calendar year. CMS is not going to mandate an equivalent benefit Advantage Plan. And if none is available – the member is likely to find themselves with an alternative offering less access to providers and with out-of-pocket expenses. Or a member could move to a new area where equivalent coverage is not available.

These are all considerations that must be made before transitioning from Medigap – or another Medicare Advantage plan to this Advantage Plan. Regardless, unless one is just qualifying for Medicare due to age or disability – or losing access to another Medicare Advantage Plan – they will not be allowed to enroll in this new plan until this year’s Annual Election Period October 15th – December 7th.

When that time comes, do not hesitate to contact me for assistance in determining if this option is in your best interest and assistance in enrolling.

D. Kenton Henry

Office: 281-367-6565

TEXT my cell 24/7 @ 713-907-7984

Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

Https://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com

Https://Allplanhealthinsurance.com              

Https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

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FEATURE ARTICLE 1

**(Due to compliance concerns the company will not be identified at this time. You may contact me for that information as well as all details of the plan. The following is their notice to agents and brokers.)

We want to remind you of our new Medicare Advantage Flex (PPO)SM plan that’s currently available for Medicare age-ins or those eligible for Special Enrollment.  

Features include: $0 Copay/coinsurance, $0 deductible, no out-of-pocket costs – and it’s open access. Members can visit any provider nationwide who accepts Medicare. And it includes prescription drug coverage! 

NOTICE DATED 04.25.2022 FROM:

Important Information Regarding Your Provider Plan Coverage Thank you for enrolling in the Medicare Advantage Flex (PPO)SM plan.

With this plan you can:

• See any provider accepting Medicare whether inside or outside the plan service area.

• See any health care provider, at no additional cost, when traveling nationwide.

• Access care from any provider who accepts Medicare assignment and bills Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

• Find providers by going to http://www.medicare.gov/care-compare. A few things to keep in mind:

• You are not required to obtain authorization for out-of-network services, however, services must meet medical necessity criteria to be covered.

• We also offer a traveler benefit for members leaving the service area for six months or less. If you plan to travel and be away from home for up to six months, contact customer service. SAVE THIS Below is a provider notification card for you to keep and present when seeking care from a provider. This will ensure your medical claims are processed in a proper and timely manner. If you have any questions, please call the number on the back of your member ID card.

• Write your name and member ID number on the front of the provider notification card

• Carefully remove and fold card

• Keep this card with your member ID card

• Take both cards to all health care provider appointments Thank you for being a Medicare Advantage Flex (PPO) plan member. Carefully punch out and fold this card

Dear Provider:

• As a provider, you do not need to be a Medicare Advantage Flex (PPO)SM contracting provider to see and treat this member.

• Members can see any provider who accepts payment from Medicare.

• If you are a provider with any of our MA networks, authorization requirements apply.

• The member’s coverage level is the same whether or not a provider is in the network for the Medicare Advantage Flex (PPO).

• At a minimum, eligible claims will be reimbursed at the Medicare Allowed Amount.

WILL MEDICARE RECIPIENTS FINALLY GET A BREAK? . . . WHY MARKETPLACE INSURED PROBABLY WON’T

By D. Kenton Henry Broker, editor 19 April 2022 

While inflation has costs for necessities, such as gas and food items, skyrocketing to an average of 8.5% in March and much higher for the aforementioned items – Social Security saw fit to only increase the Income Benefit to SSI recipients to 5.9%. Seniors, many of whom are subsisting on fixed incomes, might be able to cut their need for gasoline, but I do not know any who can get by without food, shelter, and electricity. Many are struggling to pay their bills already, and inflation shows little sign of abating.  

This was only until 09/2021, at which time, apparently only apples inflated lower than our current rate of inflation. 

But how about the argument that all this inflation is due to Putin and the war in Ukraine? Russia launched a full-scale assault on Ukraine February 22. One month after the end of the timeline in the chart below. 

When was our current president inaugurated? . . . Answer: January 20, 2021. Take a look at the green line above charting the Consumer Price Index on that date. (I will leave it at that.) 

To add insult to injury, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) increased Part B (outpatient care) premiums by 15% to a base premium -for those with an annual income of less than or equal to $91,000 – to $170.10 per month. Thank you very much!  

However, as described in Feature Article 1 below, due in part to a 50% cut in the cost of a $56,000 Part D covered drug, CMS is considering reducing that Part B Premium. My experience is that the government seldom gives back what they are already receiving . . . but one can only hope. 

For those involved in Marketplace medical coverage – health insurance for individuals and families under the age of 65 – the opposite action on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services may occur. Specifically, the extended enhanced premium tax credits made available by the American Rescue Plan, which enabled an additional 3 million Americans to receive a subsidy lowering their net monthly premium to as low as $0, are set to expire at the end of the year. As described in Feature Article 3 below, it is estimated 4.9 million more people will go uninsured if enhanced benefits are not extended. Never mind it is estimated the extension of such would increase the federal deficit by $305 billion dollars. Of course, the Treasury can simply print more money, further increasing inflation and diminishing the buying power of one’s paycheck or Social Security Income. 

Lastly, medical expenses are no exception to inflation. If you wonder why health insurance premiums or out-of-pocket costs for healthcare are being affected, refer to article 3 below. They start high and increase as one goes from a doctor’s office to an Urgent Care facility to a hospital emergency room. Avoid the latter unless it is a true emergency because it will cost an average of $444 for low to moderate severity treatment. Heaven, forbid you have an overnight stay in a hospital without medical insurance because the average cost is $11,700. As cited in the chart below, it only goes up depending on the type of insurance you have. 

 Should your stay extend to three days, expect to cost to be an average of $30,000. And what if you don’t have health insurance? Here are the average costs of various treatments.

Take a look at what you might pay for each hospital bill without insurance: 

 *(Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) 

While I cannot guarantee we have seen the worst of inflation – let alone that the government is going to provide us any meaningful relief in the immediate future. But I am here to assist you in acquiring medical coverage, which gives you access to the care and treatment you need to regain or preserve your health without being financially ruined. I will do my best to help you maintain access to as many of your preferred medical doctors and hospitals as the present market allows. I do not charge a fee for my services. There is no additional cost for the insights and value of my 36 years of experience in the health and Medicare-related insurance market. Neither is there any additional cost in acquiring an insurance product through me than if you walked through the door of your preferred insurance company and purchased their product directly from them. There is no obligation to take my learned advice.  

Please give me a call and let’s discuss your situation before the very busy “Open Enrollment” Periods are upon us and everyone is scrambling to mitigate what are almost certain to be the increasing costs of health care

.

Office: 291-367-6565 Text my cell 24/7 @ 713-907-7984 Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com Https://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com Https://Allplanhealthinsurance.com 

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FEATURED ARTICLE 1 

FIERCE HEALTHCARE 

CMS, FDA present united front against criticism of Aduhelm coverage decision 

AHIP applauded CMS for covering the drug and “related services such as PET scans if required b the trial protocol.” 

Other stakeholders said that now the coverage decision has been finalized it is time for CMS to take action on lowering Part B premiums. 

CMS has yet to announce any final decision on Part B premiums, which is increased by 15% for 2022. A key reason was the $56,000 price tag for Aduhelm. 

However, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced in January that the agency was rethinking the 15% hike after Biogen halved the price of Aduhelm in December.  

Becerra told reporters on Tuesday before the coverage decision that he was waiting to see what “CMS gives back to us in terms of their assessment and then once we get that information we will see where we go.” 

 CMS told Fierce Healthcare on Friday that it has yet to decide on a redetermination for the premium. 

But advocates are hoping the agency moves faster on scaling back the premium hike. 

“Medicare beneficiaries struggling to pay their bills need relief from this year’s premium increase as soon as possible,” said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. 

Pharma and Alzheimer’s disease patient advocacy groups slammed the decision, however, noting that it will hamper access to the drug. 

“CMS has further complicated matters by taking the unprecedented step of applying different standards for coverage of medicines depending on the FDA approval pathway taken, undermining the scientific assessment by experts at FDA,” said Nicole Longo, spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in a statement.

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FEATURED ARTICLE 2 

BENEFITSPRO.COM 

End to ACA tax credits could leave 3 million uninsured 

But extending the enhanced credits would increase the federal deficit by $305 billion over 10 years. 

By Alan Goforth | April 08, 2022 at 09:32 AM 

    

Congress would need to act by midsummer to give marketplaces, insurers and outreach programs time to prepare for the 2023 open enrollment period. 

More than three million people could lose insurance coverage if enhanced premium tax credits included in the American Rescue Plan expire at the end of this year, according to a new report from the Urban Institute. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 increased credits for Marketplace insurance coverage and extended eligibility to more individuals. 

“If Congress does not extend these benefits, marketplace enrollment will most likely fall and the number of people uninsured will increase,” said Jessica Banthin, senior fellow at the organization. “Our findings show that 4.9 million fewer people will be enrolled in subsidized Marketplace coverage in 2023 if the enhanced credits aren’t extended. This comes at a pivotal time when millions of people will be losing Medicaid as the public health emergency expires.

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FEATURED ARTICLE 3

 Average charges for 8 common procedures across ER, retail and urgent care settings 

Alia Paavola – Wednesday, March 30th, 2022  

In 2020, the median charge for a 30- to 44-minute new patient office visit ranged from $164 in a retail clinic to $234 in an urgent care center, according to a March report from Fair Health. 

For the report, Fair Health, an independent nonprofit focused on enhancing transparency of healthcare costs and health insurance information, analyzed billions of private healthcare claims records from its database. 

Below is the average charge for eight common procedures, as identified by CPT code, performed in retail, urgent care and emergency room settings: 

Retail 

  • Office outpatient visit 20-29 minutes (99213): $114 
  • Streptococcus test (87880): $36 
  • Immunization administration (90471): $33 
  • Office outpatient visit 30-39 minutes (99214): $159 
  • Office outpatient, new, 30-44 minutes (99203): $164 
  • Flu test (87804): $42 
  • Office outpatient, new, 15-29 minutes (99202): $131 
  • Flu vaccination (90686): $31 

Urgent care 

  • Office outpatient visit 30-39 minutes (99214): $232 
  • Office outpatient visit 20-29 minutes (99213): $174 
  • Office outpatient, new, 30-44 minutes (99203): $234 
  • Streptococcus test (87880): $43 
  • Office outpatient, new, 45-59 minutes (99204): $313 
  • Flu test (87804): $46 
  • Therapeutic, prophylactic or diagnostic injection (96372): $59 
  • Office outpatient visit, new, 15-29 minutes (99202): 178 

Emergency room 

  • Emergency department visit — high severity/life-threatening (99285): $1,262 
  • Emergency department visit — high/urgent severity (99284): $919 
  • Emergency department visit — moderate severity (99283): $624 
  • Electrocardiogram (93010): $54 
  • Single-view chest X-ray (71045): $58 
  • CT head/brain without contrast material (70450): $323 
  • Two-view chest X-ray (71046): $69 
  • Emergency department visit — low/moderate severity (99282): $444 

TIME TO RESHOP YOUR MEDICARE SUPPLEMENT INSURANCE?

Op-ed by D. Kenton Henry Editor, Broker 21 March 2022

Greetings from TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com, deep in the heart of The Woodlands, Texas, for 31 years now!

The “Annual Election Period” (AEP), when Medicare Recipients can change their Part D Drug Plans or enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan, has closed for 2022. As always, it will reopen October 15th and run through December 7th, for a January 1 effective date. So (minus extenuating circumstances), people are locked into their existing drug and Medicare Advantage Plans for the remainder of the calendar year. 

During these AEP’s – when I am inundated with clients who instruct me to shop for their best plan for the coming calendar year – I am also asked, by many, to reshop their Medicare Supplement Plan. This in spite of the fact that I can reshop their Medicare Supplement Plan 365 days of the year! I suppose it’s a combination of not knowing this about Supplement plans and their simply being “out of sight … out of mind” until the AEP when every TV and radio ad is telling them to call for the Medicare benefits “they’re entitled to”! 

The first reality is – all Medicare Supplement premiums increase as we age. Couple this with cost increases within Medicare itself – which are inevitably passed on to premiums – and it behooves us to reshop our Medicare plans periodically. I recommend every two to three years.

The second reality is – outside the AEP – January 1 until October 15th – I am in a much better position to give the proper and utmost attention to my clients, and prospective clients, and ensure I am getting them approved for a Medicare Supplement plan for which:

1) they can realistically be fully approved without a rate-up in premium

2) which provides them benefits equal to or appropriate for their needs and

3) saves them significant premium dollars

Things which might provide further incentive to apply for replacement coverage are: 

1) they are now eligible for a “household discount” (typically 7%)

2) they are now in Medicare Supplement Plan F and realize conversion to Plan G will save them such significant premium savings it easily offsets the liability for the Part B calendar year out-patient deductible they will have to meet. Or . . .

3) they wish to save even more and apply for Plan N

Before proceeding to take an application, I make it abundantly clear to a prospective applicant that, now that they are more than six months past their date of enrollment in Medicare Part B – they no longer qualify for “Guaranteed Issue.” This means every applicant must qualify based on their health history. The process entails answering health-related questions and providing physician and prescription drug medications. The thing that most often results in an application being declined for issue is a pending or anticipated surgery or hospital stay. Absent these, if a person’s health issues are relatively controlled with medication, or otherwise – and their weight is relatively proportionate to their height – they stand a good chance of being approved. In which case, I would encourage them to apply for replacement coverage. At that point, the only thing at risk is the time it takes to complete an application. The worst case is a declination, which doesn’t preclude you from being approved at a later date. It is not like a derogatory remark on a credit report!

In conclusion (for those of you old enough to remember and – if you are on Medicare – you are!) now is a time when I am a bit like the “Maytag Repairman”. In other words, with the exception tending to my prospects just turning age 65 and aging into Medicare, I am sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. (smiling emoji)

I hope to hear from you, so please refer to my contact information just below. Aside from this, please read my feature article which follows immediately. It is relevant to all Medicare recipients but especially to those currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage primarily for the purpose of consolidating supplement coverage – such as dental and vision – with their medical insurance. Changes could well be coming. 

D. Kenton Henry Office: 281.367.6565 Text my cell 24/7: 713.907.7984 Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com 

https://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com https://Allplanhealthinsurance.com https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

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FEATURE ARTICLE: 

BNN BLOOMBERG

COMPANY NEWS 

Mar 15, 2022

Medicare Watchdog Warns of $12 Billion in Excess Payments

John Tozzi, Bloomberg News

(Bloomberg) — Medicare Advantage is leading the U.S. government to spend billions more on seniors’ medical care than it should and needs a significant makeover, a nonpartisan watchdog said in a report to lawmakers.

The program collected $12 billion in “excess payments” in 2020 over what the U.S. would have paid to cover people who used the private plans under standard Medicare, according to a report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, released Tuesday. 

Medicare has offered some private-sector version since the 1980s, and the current program, called Medicare Advantage, is nearly two decades old. It allows insurers to sell plans that provide Medicare benefits along with add-ons like dental or vision coverage. That can eliminate the need for consumers to purchase supplemental insurance that picks up costs not covered by Medicare itself.

However, MedPAC said swelling costs could threaten the sustainability of Medicare and a major overhaul of the popular program is urgently needed. The program paid Medicare Advantage plans $350 billion last year, MedPAC said.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has doubled over the past decade to cover nearly half of Medicare’s 64 million beneficiaries, fetching billions for large insurers including UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc. and CVS Health Corp.’s Aetna unit that have bet heavily on the business.

  It has also given rise to an ecosystem of smaller companies eager to cash in, such as tech-focused insurers like Clover Health Investments Corp. and Alignment Healthcare Inc., and clinics that cater to seniors on the plans, including Oak Street Health Inc. and Cano Health Inc. 

Many of those companies have seen their shares suffer recently due in part to concerns that it will be more difficult to make profits from the business than investors had once expected. 

Appropriate Pressure

MedPAC, established in the 1990s to advise lawmakers on Medicare policy, has long warned about excess Medicare Advantage payments. Private plans are on pace to cover half of all Medicare beneficiaries next year, according to the latest report, and MedPAC said they should be pushed to pare costs.

Medicare Advantage plans “need to face appropriate financial pressure” in line with providers in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program, the group said.

According to the report, excess payments are driven by plans getting paid more money by the government for taking care of sicker members. Each month, Medicare Advantage plans receive U.S. funds based on the health of their enrollees. For years, MedPAC and other authorities have claimed that insurers manipulate the system to pump up their revenue.

“These policy flaws diminish the integrity of the program and generate waste from beneficiary premiums and taxpayer funds,” MedPAC wrote. The commission said it supports having private plans as an option for Medicare members, but said they have never saved Medicare money.

Industry Backlash

Trade groups such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Better Medicare Alliance have disputed MedPAC’s criticism in the past. They say that the program provides better care than traditional Medicare.

Insurers say Medicare Advantage can eliminate the need to buy additional coverage to paper over gaps in the traditional program, and provide other important benefits like meal delivery or transportation. The plans can also cap out-of-pocket costs, which can be unlimited in Medicare without extra coverage.

Payments to Medicare Advantage plans for extra benefits have increased by 53% since 2019, MedPAC said, “yet we have no data about their use nor information about their value.”

  The commission acknowledged that Medicare Advantage plans can deliver lower-cost care. Yet the savings don’t accrue to taxpayers or others in the program, the commission wrote. 

“These efficiencies are shared exclusively by the companies sponsoring MA plans and MA enrollees, in the form of extra benefits,” the report said.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

ENTRY OF AETNA AND UNITEDHEALTHCARE IN 2022 ACA HEALTH INSURANCE MARKET; $ INCREASES IN MEDICARE PREMIUMS AND DEDUCTIBLE

TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR A JANUARY 1 EFFECTIVE DATE!

Op-ed by D. Kenton Henry Editor, Broker 26 November 2021

In September, I learned Aetna and Unitedhealthcare would be reentering the Texas ACA Underage 65 health insurance market for the first time since 2015. Since then, BlueCross BlueShield has been the only “household name,” a large, financially sound insurance company in the southeast Texas market. This was most welcome news, and I was hopeful these additional peer companies would allow my clients and fellow Texans access to more doctors and hospitals. Finding my client’s preferred doctors and hospitals in a plan network has been my client’s and my greatest challenge since the departure of all PPO network options six years ago. Alas, the hoped-for provider expansion in 2022, at this point, has failed to materialize. From 2015 into 2021, the St. Lukes Hospital system has been the only major hospital system participating in most insurance companies’ HMO networks. Such will remain the case for 2022.

Additionally, the entry of Bright Insurance Company (for the first time) doesn’t even appear to do that. They will limit their policyholder’s access to hospitals will be limited to smaller HCA local community hospitals. At least for the time being.

Doctors have practicing privileges at one or more hospitals. Of course, it follows that when an insurance company has fewer hospitals in their network, they will have fewer participating doctors. And so it seems. Only one health insurance company in the southeast Texas ACA health insurance market allows its clients access to the three major hospital systems in the area. Those hospitals are St. Luke’s, Memorial Hermann, and Houston Methodist. And then, only if you acquire their more expensive Silver or Gold plans. 

However, there is a bit of good news for all Americans in the “Individual and Family” health insurance market. The federal government’s American Rescue Plan has increased the amount of Advance Premium Tax Credit (subsidy) and Cost Sharing Reduction (reduction of deductibles, copays, and coinsurance) available to a household. It also expanded the eligibility for these subsidies. As the feature article below explains, this will qualify more people for both types of savings.  

Furthermore, unemployment effects and increases your potential premium tax credit! The American Rescue Plan exempts up to $10,200 in UI benefits from federal income tax. People who receive UI benefits in 2020 will be able to reduce their adjusted gross income by up to that amount, and so reduce their federal income tax liability.

Please get in touch with me to learn the details on the aforementioned company providing the greatest access to providers and how the expanded subsidies and Cost-Sharing Reductions may improve your health insurance situation.

If you choose to be proactive and would like to do some reconnaissance before calling me for assistance and details, you may click on my quoting link immediately following. When the page opens, ignore the login button. You need not log in. Enter your information. I.e., birth date, zip code, etc. On the next page, click on the top box “SELECT ALL” to clear the selections. Then select “MEDICAL” only, to get started. Otherwise, you will be overwhelmed with options and information. You can always return for dental, etc.)

Click “YES” if you would like to estimate whether you qualify for a subsidy. If so, enter your estimated annual income in 2022 and click “CALCULATE”. It will estimate your subsidy. The estimates are usually accurate to within $3.00. From there, click “NEXT”. You will then see all your plan options and be able to LOOKUP PROVIDERS and see plan details. Or simply call me to do all this for you! 

CLICK HERE TO SEE ALL YOUR ACA HEALTH INSURANCE OPTIONS (IF NECESSARY, COPY THE LINK IN YOUR BROWSER AND HIT ENTER):

https://allplanhealthinsurance.insxcloud.com/

MEDICARE RECIPIENTS:

As the cost for everything, including medical treatment, is going up, so too are Medicare’s premiums and deductibles. As our second feature article below illustrates, the Medicare Part B (outpatient) basic premium is going from $148.50 to $170.10 and it’s calendar year deductible is going from $203.00 to $233.00! You can do the math, but, needless to say, so much for 5% inflation rate projected by the current administration which also does not appear to apply to our cost for gasoline, meat, and energy and food, in general! You’ve already spent the increase in your Social Security Benefit! 

The details of how your Medicare Part B basic premium will may titrate upward relative to your income are clearly outlined in Feature Article 2, just published by the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Lastly, if you are making the decision whether to go with a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Health Plan vs. a Medicare Supplement policy coupled with a Part D Prescription Drug Plan – please read Feature Article 3 (say it ain’t so, Joe!) below, and carefully weigh your decision. 

Again, please contact me for guidance in how to minimize the impact of these changes and maximize your both your access to providers and quality health care. My 35 years specializing in the health and Medicare related insurance industry have provided me insights beyond that of the average agent/broker/generalist; and my clients access to a far greater number of products and solutions.

D. Kenton Henry TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com                                                              

Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

Office: 281-367-6565

Text My Cell @ 713-907-7984

Https://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com Https://Allplanhealthinsurance.com Https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

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FEATURE ARTICLE 1:

11.24.2021

Cost Sharing Reductions on Silver Plans

Two types of Marketplace subsidies:

Advanced Premium Tax Credits(APTC):Lowers the cost of premiums and can be used on any Marketplace plan except for catastrophic plans.

Cost Sharing Reductions(CSR):Lowers the cost of deductibles and can only be applied to Marketplace Silver plans.

This year, many people will qualify for both types of savings!

Why are subsidies more generous this year:

The American Rescue Plan Act increased the amount of APTC and CSR available to a household, and it also expanded the eligibility for these subsidies.

Silver plans vs. other metal levels:

All Marketplace health insurance plans are broken into five types: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Catastrophic. You can expect the same level of care fromall metal levels. The difference is how your healthcare costs will be split between you and the insurance company. Metal levels Premium Platinum Highest Gold Silver Bronze Catastrophic Deductible Higher Middle Lower Lowest Lower Middle Higher Highest. If you are eligible for a CSR, you must choose a Silver plan!

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FEATURE ARTICLE 2:

Key Points:

Part B premium for 2022 is $170.10, up $21.60 from 2021.

The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $233 in 2022, an increase of $30 from the annual deductible of $203 in 2021.

Follow the link below for more information and the 2022 Medicare Part B Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts

OR SIMPLY READ THE ARTICLE IMMEDIATELY BELOW 

https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/2022-medicare-parts-b-premiums-and-deductibles2022-medicare-part-d-income-related-monthly-adjustment

Nov 12, 2021 

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Nov 12, 2021

Fact sheet


2022 Medicare Parts A & B Premiums and Deductibles/2022 Medicare Part D Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts

Nov 12, 2021 

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On November 12, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2022 premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance amounts for the Medicare Part A and Part B programs, and the 2022 Medicare Part D income-related monthly adjustment amounts.

Medicare Part B Premium and Deductible

Medicare Part B covers physician services, outpatient hospital services, certain home health services, durable medical equipment, and certain other medical and health services not covered by Medicare Part A. 

Each year the Medicare Part B premium, deductible, and coinsurance rates are determined according to the Social Security Act. The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will be $170.10 for 2022, an increase of $21.60 from $148.50 in 2021. The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $233 in 2022, an increase of $30 from the annual deductible of $203 in 2021.

The increases in the 2022 Medicare Part B premium and deductible are due to:

  • Rising prices and utilization across the health care system that drive higher premiums year-over-year alongside anticipated increases in the intensity of care provided.
  • Congressional action to significantly lower the increase in the 2021 Medicare Part B premium, which resulted in the $3.00 per beneficiary per month increase in the Medicare Part B premium (that would have ended in 2021) being continued through 2025.
  • Additional contingency reserves due to the uncertainty regarding the potential use of the Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm™, by people with Medicare. In July 2021, CMS began a National Coverage Determination analysis process to determine whether and how Medicare will cover Aduhelm™ and similar drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. As that process is still underway, there is uncertainty regarding the coverage and use of such drugs by Medicare beneficiaries in 2022. While the outcome of the coverage determination is unknown, our projection in no way implies what the coverage determination will be, however, we must plan for the possibility of coverage for this high cost Alzheimer’s drug which could, if covered, result in significantly higher expenditures for the Medicare program.

Medicare Open Enrollment and Medicare Savings Programs

Medicare Open Enrollment for 2022 began on October 15, 2021, and ends on December 7, 2021. During this time, people eligible for Medicare can compare 2022 coverage options between Original Medicare, and Medicare Advantage, and Part D prescription drug plans. In addition to the recently released premiums and cost sharing information for 2022 Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, the Fee-for-Service Medicare premiums and cost sharing information released today will enable people with Medicare to understand all their Medicare coverage options for the year ahead. Medicare health and drug plan costs and covered benefits can change from year to year, so people with Medicare should look at their coverage choices annually and decide on the options that best meet their health needs.

To help with their Medicare costs, low-income seniors and adults with disabilities may qualify to receive financial assistance from the Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs). The MSPs help millions of Americans access high-quality health care at a reduced cost, yet only about half of eligible people are enrolled. The MSPs help pay Medicare premiums and may also pay Medicare deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments for those who meet the conditions of eligibility. Enrolling in an MSP offers relief from these Medicare costs, allowing people to spend that money on other vital needs, including food, housing, or transportation. People with Medicare interested in learning more can visit: https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/get-help-paying-costs/medicare-savings-programs.

Medicare Part B Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts

Since 2007, a beneficiary’s Part B monthly premium is based on his or her income. These income-related monthly adjustment amounts affect roughly 7 percent of people with Medicare Part B. The 2022 Part B total premiums for high-income beneficiaries are shown in the following table:

Beneficiaries who file individual tax returns with modified adjusted gross income:Beneficiaries who file joint tax returns with modified adjusted gross income:Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly premium amount
Less than or equal to $91,000Less than or equal to $182,000$0.00$170.10
Greater than $91,000 and less than or equal to $114,000Greater than $182,000 and less than or equal to $228,00068.00238.10
Greater than $114,000 and less than or equal to $142,000Greater than $228,000 and less than or equal to $284,000170.10340.20
Greater than $142,000 and less than or equal to $170,000Greater than $284,000 and less than or equal to $340,000272.20442.30
Greater than $170,000 and less than $500,000Greater than $340,000 and less than $750,000374.20544.30
Greater than or equal to $500,000Greater than or equal to $750,000408.20578.30

Premiums for high-income beneficiaries who are married and lived with their spouse at any time during the taxable year, but file a separate return, are as follows:

Beneficiaries who are married and lived with their spouses at any time during the year, but who file separate tax returns from their spouses, with modified adjusted gross income:Income-related monthly adjustment amountTotal monthly premium amount
Less than or equal to $91,000$0.00$170.10
Greater than $91,000 and less than $409,000374.20544.30
Greater than or equal to $409,000408.20578.30

Medicare Part A Premium and Deductible

Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility, hospice, inpatient rehabilitation, and some home health care services. About 99 percent of Medicare beneficiaries do not have a Part A premium since they have at least 40 quarters of Medicare-covered employment.

The Medicare Part A inpatient hospital deductible that beneficiaries pay if admitted to the hospital will be $1,556 in 2022, an increase of $72 from $1,484 in 2021. The Part A inpatient hospital deductible covers beneficiaries’ share of costs for the first 60 days of Medicare-covered inpatient hospital care in a benefit period. In 2022, beneficiaries must pay a coinsurance amount of $389 per day for the 61st through 90th day of a hospitalization ($371 in 2021) in a benefit period and $778 per day for lifetime reserve days ($742 in 2021). For beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities, the daily coinsurance for days 21 through 100 of extended care services in a benefit period will be $194.50 in 2022 ($185.50 in 2021).

Part A Deductible and Coinsurance Amounts for Calendar Years 2021 and 2022
by Type of Cost Sharing
 20212022
Inpatient hospital deductible$1,484$1,556
Daily coinsurance for 61st-90th Day$371$389
Daily coinsurance for lifetime reserve days$742$778
Skilled Nursing Facility coinsurance$185.50$194.50

Enrollees age 65 and over who have fewer than 40 quarters of coverage and certain persons with disabilities pay a monthly premium in order to voluntarily enroll in Medicare Part A. Individuals who had at least 30 quarters of coverage or were married to someone with at least 30 quarters of coverage may buy into Part A at a reduced monthly premium rate, which will be $274 in 2022, a $15 increase from 2021. Certain uninsured aged individuals who have less than 30 quarters of coverage and certain individuals with disabilities who have exhausted other entitlement will pay the full premium, which will be $499 a month in 2022, a $28 increase from 2021.

For more information on the 2022 Medicare Parts A and B premiums and deductibles (CMS-8077-N, CMS-8078-N, CMS-8079-N), please visit https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

Medicare Part D Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts

Since 2011, a beneficiary’s Part D monthly premium is based on his or her income. These income-related monthly adjustment amounts affect roughly 8 percent of people with Medicare Part D. These individuals will pay the income-related monthly adjustment amount in addition to their Part D premium. Part D premiums vary from plan to plan and roughly two-thirds are paid directly to the plan, with the remaining deducted from Social Security benefit checks. The Part D income-related monthly adjustment amounts are all deducted from Social Security benefit checks. The 2022 Part D income-related monthly adjustment amounts for high-income beneficiaries are shown in the following table:

Beneficiaries who file individual tax returns with modified adjusted gross income:Beneficiaries who file joint tax returns with modified adjusted gross income:Income-related monthly adjustment amount
Less than or equal to $91,000Less than or equal to $182,000$0.00
Greater than $91,000 and less than or equal to $114,000Greater than $182,000 and less than or equal to $228,00012.40
Greater than $114,000 and less than or equal to $142,000Greater than $228,000 and less than or equal to $284,00032.10
Greater than $142,000 and less than or equal to $170,000Greater than $284,000 and less than or equal to $340,00051.70
Greater than $170,000 and less than $500,000Greater than $340,000 and less than $750,00071.30
Greater than or equal to $500,000Greater than or equal to $750,00077.90

Premiums for high-income beneficiaries who are married and lived with their spouse at any time during the taxable year, but file a separate return, are as follows:

Beneficiaries who are married and lived with their spouses at any time during the year, but file separate tax returns from their spouses, with modified adjusted gross income:Income-related monthly adjustment amount
Less than or equal to $91,000$0.00
Greater than $91,000 and less than $409,00071.30
Greater than or equal to $409,00077.90

Oct 21, 2021

Oct 15, 2021

Oct 15, 2021

Oct 08, 2021

Sep 30, 2021

Contact us

CMS News and Media Group
Catherine Howden, Director
Jason Tross, Deputy Director

Media Inquiries Form
202-690-6145

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FEATURE ARTICLE 3:

11.08.2021

Medicare plans: Be wary of Joe Namath, other celebrity pitchmen | Steve Israel

  •  

Steve Israel for the Times Herald-Record

Mon, November 8, 2021, 7:24 AM·3 min read

In this article:

  •  

Joe Namath

American football player

Explore the topics mentioned in this article

Joe Namath may have delivered the New York Jets’ last Super Bowl championship, but the old quarterback is throwing a bunch of bull on his TV commercials for private Medicare plans.

He’s one of a slew of pitchmen and women selling Medicare Advantage plans to the more than 54 million Americans 65 or over eligible for Medicare. That includes more than 100,000 of us in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties.

Joe Namath may have delivered the New York Jets’ last Super Bowl championship, but the old quarterback is throwing a bunch of bull on his TV commercials for private Medicare plans.

Those pitches, which also flood our mailboxes during this enrollment period that ends Dec. 7, complicate what can be a mind-boggling array of insurance choices.

First, some basic facts:

Medicare Advantage is the all-in-one alternative to original Medicare health insurance. Original Medicare includes coverage for hospitalization (Part A), medical visits and procedures (Part B) and, at additional cost, prescription drugs (Part D). Before you enroll in Advantage plans, you must have original Medicare, and you still must pay the Part B premium of $148.50 (in 2021). While Medicare Advantage plans include medical, hospital and drug coverage, they can also feature extra benefits not offered by traditional Medicare, such as dental, hearing and vision coverage with no additional premium.

Especially in those pitches from celebrities like Namath, William Shatner and Jimmie Walker, they can also promise everything from free meal delivery to money deposited in your Social Security account.

But …

“Buyer beware,” says Erinn Braun, Orange County Office for the Aging’s Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program coordinator. She provided much information for this column.

Pitches like Namath’s can be misleading or downright deceptive, starting with the red, white and blue colors that insinuate the ads are from the government, as do the state logos on some mailers. While the plans themselves are perfectly legal and may be great for many of the 27 million Americans enrolled in them, they often don’t deliver everything those pitches seem to promise. Plus, those pitches don’t come close to telling the full story of the benefits of those plans – many of which aren’t even offered in your area.

For instance:

Unlike original Medicare, which is accepted by virtually all doctors and hospitals, Medicare Advantage plans include a network of doctors and hospitals you must visit to be insured. So if you hear about a great gastroenterologist in New York City and she isn’t in your Advantage plan’s network, your insurance may not cover your visit. Plus, unlike original Medicare, you may need prior approval for coverage of a medical procedure or equipment such as insulin pumps.

And while the dental and vision coverage of Medicare Advantage plans sounds great, some plans in your area may only include routine visits, not more expensive items like dental implants and eyeglasses. Plus, the average yearly coverage limit of Advantage dental plans ranges from about $1,000 to $1,300, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The dentists and eye doctors you visit must also be in the plan’s networks – meaning your eye doctor or dentist may not accept your plan.

Steve Israel

As for those meals and money Joe Willie is pitching?

Again, buyer beware.

A few Advantage plans may offer meal delivery for the qualified but only one or two plans in your county may offer those benefits. And your doctors or hospital may not accept those plans. Same thing goes for that money Namath says could go into your Social Security account. Not only does that money go toward the required payment for Part B of original Medicare, very few plans – if any – in your area may feature that benefit, and those plans may not include your doctors.

Finally, when you call the number provided by Namath and other pitch folks, you’ll reach a salesperson who’s in business to … you guessed it … sell you a Medicare Advantage plan.

For help selecting the right Medicare plan for you, contact your county’s Office of the Aging. Orange: 845-615-3710, Sullivan: 845-807-0241, Ulster: 845-340-3456. A trusted health insurance agent can also help. Medicare.gov and 1-800-Medicare provide a wealth of information.

steveisrael53@outlook.com

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Medicare pitches: Joe Namath, other celebrities don’t have best advice

MEDICARE ADVANTAGE, DRUG PLANS, AND ACA INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY HEALTH INSURANCE OPENING FOR 2022 ENROLLMENT

(AETNA AND UNITEDHEALTHCARE RE-ENTER THE ACA INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY HEALTH INSURANCE MARKET)

By Editor, Agent, Broker

D. Kenton Henry

It is that time of year and, once more, we find ourselves on the cusp of the “Annual Election Period” for Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Plans. This is the period when any Medicare recipient may enroll or change their Advantage and / or drug plans for a January 1 effective date. The period runs from October 15th through December 7th.

As if this was not a busy enough time for Medicare insurance product brokers, many of us (like myself) must do “double duty”, during the holidays. This is because the “Open Enrollment Period” for those “Under the Age Of 65“, in need of Individual and Family health insurance, begins November 1 and runs through January 15th. This a one month extension from previous years. However, those wishing to have new coverage effective by January 1 must still enroll by December 15th.

In addition to the extension of the ACA enrollment period, an interesting and positive turn is that Aetna and Unitedhealthcare are re-entering the marketplace in SE Texas for 2022 after a six year hiatus! This brings welcome competition to a market which was vacated by every major carrier – other than BlueCross BlueShield – in January of 2016. While we will not have insight into the details of their health plan options until just before November 1, their names and reputation should garner a lot of attention, not only from consumers but medical providers. It is my hope that more high quality doctors and hospitals will elect to participate in the insurance companies’ provider networks. With Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network plans eliminated, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) network plans have been the consumer’s only option since 2016. And with the expansion in the availability of the Advance Premium Tax Credit and Cost Share Reductions, for many, their greatest challenge is no longer being able to afford health insurance but finding their providers in an insurance plan’s network.

And it is the same for me. As an agent / broker with 34 years in medical insurance, my greatest challenge isn’t finding a plan the consumer can afford or the benefits they’re seeking. It’s finding my client’s, and prospective client’s, medical providers participating in a network. While this isn’t a major issue to those new to the area, those of us who have resided here for years, have long established relationships with providers we are reluctant to part with.

I would be extremely pleased if some of the companies in the marketplace elect to offer PPO plans in 2022. But make no mistake, I in no way expect this to happen. The problem for a company considering offering PPO coverage is that if all their peers do not also, they “adversely select” against themselves. In other words, if they are the “only game in town” when it comes to PPO plans, they are going to attract, and garner, an inordinate number of “bad risks”. In other words, insured members with serious pre-existing conditions who need access to a greater number of providers will flock to them vs the insurance company offering access to an HMO network only. They will submit higher and more frequent claims, thereby compounding the potential for “loss” to the insurance company. This is why insurance companies ceased, in unison, offering PPO coverage, in most regions of the United States, in 2016. They want to limit your access to providers, and thereby limit your access to what is likely to be more expensive treatment. Enrolling people in HMO plans is the easiest way to do this. Regardless, my duty, as your agent, is to do my best to find your providers participating in the network of a plan whose benefits meet your needs.

The good news is – two new major carriers will uncertainly increase the number of options available to the consumer in terms of premiums, benefits, and providers. Additionally, several of the insurance companies are lowering copays and deductibles and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the sale of all ACA health insurance, has made it much easier to qualify for a “subsidy” to reduce the policyholder’s share of the premium due, especially for anyone who claimed unemployment benefits any time during 2021.

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MEDICARE IN 2022

In the Medicare related insurance market, increases in variables for 2022 are estimated to be higher than in recent years. Some were not definite as of the end of September. The Part A In-patient deductible is projected to increase but, as of this date, I have no definitive cost. The Part B Out-patient deductible is estimated to be going from $203 to $217 per calendar year and it’s premium is projected to go from $148.50 to $158.50 per month.

There are currently 30 different Part D Drug plans for Texans to choose from. Each covers some drugs but not others. The plan which is best for you is entirely dependent on the drugs you use. Not the drugs your spouse, neighbor, or I use – but the ones you use. The Part D deductible is going from $445 to $480 for the calendar year. A drug plan may choose to have deductible ranging from $0 all the way to$480 before your drugs become available for a copay. With many plans,  the deductible will not apply to Tier 1 and Tier 2 generic drugs. The threshold for entering the “GAP” will occur when the member and plan have paid $4,430. During this time, the member will pay 25% of the cost of their drugs. They will cross over into “CATASTROPHIC COVERAGE” if, and when, the member has personally expended $7,050. At this point, a member will pay $3.95 for a generic drug and $9.85 or 5% of the cost of a brand name drug – whichever is higher.

As a broker for my clients, and prospective clients, my goal is to identify the Medicare Plan, whether Medicare Supplement, Advantage or Part D Drug Plan which is most likely to result in their lowest total out of pocket cost for the calendar year while providing them access to all their providers. The “total cost” is the sum of their premium, any applicable deductible or deductibles, and copays or coinsurance. Our objective is the lowest sum and that plan, or plans, will usually be my recommendation.

To this end, I encourage anyone interested in enlisting my help, to contact me. If you would like me to identify your lowest total cost drug plan for 2022, based on your current or anticipated drug use, email me a list of your Rx drugs and, preferably, the dosages. The latter can make a difference. If you know you want Medicare Advantage, send me a list of doctors and hospitals you feel you must have access to. Please recall that with Medicare Supplement coverage you may obtain treatment from any doctor, hospital, lab, or medical provider, that sees Medicare patients. There are no networks with which to concern yourself. However, with Supplement, unlike most Medicare Advantage plans, you will have to acquire a Part D Prescription Drug Plan to accompany it.  For those using little or only low cost generic drugs, the lowest premium plan for Texans in 2022 will be $6.90 per month.

*(READ FEATURED ARTICLE BELOW ON WASHINGTON’S EFFORTS TO LOWER RX DRUG COST FOR MEDICARE RECIPIENTS)

The name of my insurance agency I opened in 1991, after being in the medical and life insurance industry since 1986, is All Plan Med Quote. It is located in The Woodlands, Texas. In 1995, I created one of the first websites in the country to market health insurance via the internet. It still exists as Allplanhealthinsurance.com. In 2015, I expanded my web presence with TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com. The primary objective in naming the first two was to convey that (while I work, for the consumer) I am appointed (contracted) with virtually every “A” rated, major and minor insurance company doing business in your geographic region. But the insurance companies do not pay me a guaranteed wage or salary. They compensate me fairly if, and only if, you elect to go through me to acquire their products. But, without my clients, I have no income. So certainly my clients are my priority. Not the insurance companies. And, as my client, you are charged no more by going through me to obtain their product then if you walked through their front door and acquired it directly from them.

Here is a partial list of the companies whose products may, or may not, be appropriate for you, I may introduce to you:

AARP Unitedhealthcare

Aetna

Ambetter

Anthem

BlueCross BlueShield of Texas

Caresource

Cigna

Community Health Choice

Friday

Humana

KelseyCare Advantage

Molina

Mutual of Omaha

Oscar

Scott and White

Unitedhealthcare

Wellcare

D. Kenton Henry Office: 281-367-6565 Text my cell 24/7: 713-907-7984 Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

https://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com https://allplanhealthinsurance.com https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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*(FEATURE ARTICLE)

Democrats suffer blow on drug pricing as 3 moderates buck party

BY PETER SULLIVAN – 09/15/21 03:11 PM EDT

Democrats’ signature legislation to lower drug prices was defeated in a House committee on Wednesday as three moderate Democrats voted against their party.

Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) voted against the measure to allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower drug prices, a long-held goal of Democrats.

The vote is a striking setback for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package. Drug pricing is intended to be a key way to pay for the package. Leadership can still add a version of the provision back later in the process, but the move shows the depth of some moderate concerns.

The three moderates said they worried the measure would harm innovation from drug companies and pushed a scaled-back rival measure. The pharmaceutical industry has also attacked Democratic leaders’ measure, known as H.R. 3, as harming innovation.

The three lawmakers had long signaled their concerns with the drug pricing measure, but actually voting it down in the House Energy and Commerce Committee is an escalation.

A separate committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, did advance the drug pricing measures on Wednesday, keeping the provisions in play for later in the process.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) had implored the three lawmakers to vote in favor of the measure to at least keep the process going. 

“Vote to move forward today,” he said to the moderates in his party. “Vote to continue the conversation.”

Still, Pallone said he is confident that some form of measure to lower drug prices will make it into the final package. The House legislation was already expected to change before the final version, given moderate Democratic concerns in the Senate as well. Senate Democrats are working on their own bill, which is not yet finalized but is expected to be less far-reaching. 

“I know it is going to have drug pricing reform,” Pallone said of the final bill, noting that negotiations with the Senate would continue over the coming weeks. 

Still, the move on Wednesday is a show of force from the moderates. 

Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Democrats were not giving up on including drug pricing measures. 

“Polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats’ drug price negotiation legislation, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and independents who are fed up with Big Pharma charging Americans so much more than they charge for the same medicines overseas,” he said in a statement after the vote. “Delivering lower drug costs is a top priority of the American people and will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill.”

Peters and Schrader both cited concerns about harming drug companies’ ability to develop new drugs, citing the industry’s record during the COVID-19 crisis.

Peters warned that “government-dictated prices” under the bill would cause harm to the “private investment” that backs drug development.

Schrader said the bill would mean “killing jobs and innovation that drives cures for these rare diseases.”

Advocates said the lawmakers were simply beholden to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Reps. Peters, Rice, and Schrader are prioritizing drug company profits over lower drug prices for the American people, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “To the contrary of what they contend, their opposition to the drugs proposal threatens the entirety of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which Democrats have campaigned on for years and that they previously voted for.”

Savings from the drug pricing provisions are a key way of paying for other health care priorities in the $3.5 trillion package, including expanding Medicaid in the 12 GOP-led states that have so far refused, expanding financial assistance under ObamaCare, and adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare.

The Congressional Budget Office found that H.R. 3 would save about $500 billion over 10 years. Depending on what Senate Democrats can find agreement on, the final drug pricing legislation is expected to be less far-reaching, meaning it will result in fewer savings, though how much less is unclear.

The Senate bill would still allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, but it is expected not to include another provision that would cap drug prices based on the lower prices paid in other wealthy countries. That provision has drawn particular pushback from some moderate Democrats.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is extremely popular with voters, with almost 90 percent support in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll earlier this year. Many vulnerable House Democrats support the idea.

https://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com https://allplanhealthinsurance.com https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

MEDICARE FOR ALL? (AND “THE TOOTH FAIRY PROMISES A 2 YEAR TREASURY NOTE PAYING 10.7% UNDER YOUR PILLOW IN 2020)

OpEd by D. Kenton Henry                                                                                           01 October 2019  HealthandMedicare.com

       VS.                 

I listened to the recent Democrat Presidential Primary Debates, as I listen to the daily sound bites in the media, as candidates try unabashedly to outdo each other. They do this in terms of the massive give-aways they promise us if elected in 2020. They promise these things not just to citizens, but everyone within the border of the United States. My incredulity, upon hearing such, exceeds even those bounds.

Their original promise is “free healthcare for all”. Healthcare free of premiums, deductibles, and copays. Medicare is the vehicle. To which I must ask myself, “Do these people even know the costs involved in Medicare?” “Do they really believe Medicare pays everything?” They would have you believe as much. They are counting on your naivety and lack of familiarity with the subject.

What makes Medicare a convenient and acceptable form of medical coverage for millions of people 65 and older (or disabled for 24 months or more) is it working in conjunction with private insurance plans. That, and thousands of licensed and “Certified” agents and brokers, helping to deliver comprehensive medical coverage at an affordable price. It is a hybrid package that provides as complete protection as available. The insurance plans would not exist without Medicare and, by itself, Medicare leaves the recipient/member exposed to significant liabilities.

Do these candidates, and the average voter know that in 2019:

A hospital admission requires the Medicare member to pay a $1,364 deductible each time they are admitted to the hospital as an inpatient for a separate medical condition, or the same medical condition separated by more than 60 days.

For days beyond 60, they pay $335 per day

Beyond day 90, they pay $682 per day

Eventually― say in the event of a stroke, paralysis, or being severely burned―they will pay all costs.

Part B Co-Insurance, Deductible and Premium

Relative to out-patient medical care, the Medicare member pays 20%, plus can be liable for excess charges above and beyond what Medicare deems “reasonable and customary”.

In addition, Medicare recipients pay an annual deductible of $185 for Medicare Part B (out-patient) medical care and a premium generally beginning at $135.50 per month and increasing to as high as $460.50. The latter depending on one’s adjusted gross income.

Perhaps most important, to take note of, in considering whether “Medicare For All” is even feasible, much less cost effective, is this. Medicare recipients have paid into the Medicare program their entire working careers via Medicare care taxes and payroll deductions. To qualify for Part A, (inpatient) coverage, they must have worked a minimum of 40 quarters or “buy in “with a premium as high as $422 per month.

So, you can see, Medicare is hardly free. And yet these candidates would have you believe it will be provided free of premiums, deductibles, and copays. (Now this is where even The Tooth Fairy raises her eyebrows!) It will be GIVEN, not to just those over 65, but to every man, woman, child, legal, and non-legal citizen or resident of the United States―whether they have paid a dime into the system or not.

Factor all that in and process this. Medicare now spends an average of about $13,600 a year per beneficiary, and in five years, the annual cost is expected to average more than $17,000, the report said.

According to CMS.gov (The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ― refer to featured article 1 below*) The Medicare Board of Trustees predicts Medicare’s two trust funds, for Part A and Part B and D, respectively ― will go broke in 2026!

To put things in perspective, in 1960 there were about five workers for every Social Security beneficiary. The ratio of workers to beneficiaries fell to 3.3 in 2005 and then to 2.8 in 2016. It will decline further to about 2.2 by 2035, when most baby boomers will have retired, officials said.

The aging of the population is another factor in the growth of the two entitlement programs. The number of Medicare beneficiaries is expected to surge to 87 million in 2040, from 60 million this year, according to Medicare actuaries. And the number of people on Social Security is expected to climb to 90 million, from 62 million, in the same period.

The United States Treasury: U.S. Debt And Deficit Grow As Some See Government As The “BeAll and EndAll”.

All this and the candidates would have you believe our government can provide free health care to everyone? When it can’t even provide it to our current citizens who have paid into the system their entire working lives! And who exactly is the government? “We The People”. We the tax payers. You and I. Even some of the candidates, admit the proposal will call for more taxes from the middle class. More? Really! One projected cost for Medicare For All is 39 trillion dollars over the first ten year period. The national debt is currently $22 trillion and took since the end of President Andrew Jackson’s administration (1837 and the last time the national debt was fully paid-off) to accumulate that! The combined wealth of all American households is less than $99 trillion. One can only conclude that “Medicare For All” would be a “Welfare System For All”. It would push our country into a socialist economic system to a depth from which it would be impossible to extricate itself.

As a new Medicare recipient, myself, I find the combination of the government program and private insurance working very well for myself and clients, from an insured standpoint. The program’s, and our nation’s, fiscal concerns are a more substantial matter and a topic for another time. With Medicare “Open Enrollment” a mere 15 days away, I can only say, “I hope whoever is President, and controls Congress, in future administrations―while providing a safety net for all American citizens―first and foremost, provides the capable, responsible, American taxpayer quality medical coverage―free of rationing of treatment and access to providers. At an affordable cost.”

D. Kenton Henry, editor HealthandMedicareInsurance.com, Agent, Broker

Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com https://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com https://Allplanhealthinsurance.com https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com 

 

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Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Press release

Medicare Trustees Report shows Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will deplete in 7 years

Apr 22, 2019 

Medicare Trustees Report shows Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will deplete           in 7 years

Today, the Medicare Board of Trustees released their annual report for Medicare’s two separate trust funds — the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, which funds Medicare Part A, and the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund, which funds Medicare Part B and D.

The report found that the HI Trust Fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2026, the same as last year’s report.For the 75-year projection period, the HI actuarial deficit has increased to 0.91 percent of taxable payroll from 0.82 percent in last year’s report. The change in the actuarial deficit is due to several factors, most notably lower assumed productivity growth, as well as effects from slower projected growth in the utilization of skilled nursing facility services, higher costs and lower income in 2018 than expected, lower real discount rates, and a shift in the valuation period.

The Trustees project that total Medicare costs (including both HI and SMI expenditures) will grow from approximately 3.7 percent of GDP in 2018 to 5.9 percent of GDP by 2038, and then increase gradually thereafter to about 6.5 percent of GDP by 2093. The faster rate of growth in Medicare spending as compared to growth in GDP is attributable to faster Medicare population growth and increases in the volume and intensity of healthcare services.

The SMI Trust Fund, which covers Medicare Part B and D, had $104 billion in assets at the end of 2018. Part B helps pay for physician, outpatient hospital, home health, and other services for the aged and disabled who voluntarily enroll. It is expected to be adequately financed in all years because premium income and general revenue income are reset annually to cover expected costs and ensure a reserve for Part B costs. However, the aging population and rising health care costs are causing SMI projected costs to grow steadily from 2.1 percent of GDP in 2018 to approximately 3.7 percent of GDP in 2038. Part D provides subsidized access to drug insurance coverage on a voluntary basis for all beneficiaries, as well as premium and cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees.  Findings revealed that Part D drug spending projections are lower than in last year’s report because of slower price growth and a continuing trend of higher manufacturer rebates.

President Donald J. Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget, if enacted, would continue to strengthen the fiscal integrity of the Medicare program and extend its solvency.  Under President Trump’s leadership, CMS has already introduced a number of initiatives to strengthen and protect Medicare and proposed and finalized a number of rules that advance CMS’ priority of creating a patient-driven healthcare system through competition.  In particular, CMS is strengthening Medicare through increasing choice in Medicare Advantage and adding supplemental benefits to the program; offering more care options for people with diabetes; providing new telehealth services; and lowering prescription drug costs for seniors.  CMS is also continuing work to advance policies to increase price transparency and help beneficiaries compare costs across different providers.

The Medicare Trustees are: Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex M. Azar; Treasury Secretary and Managing Trustee, Steven Mnuchin; Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta; and Acting Social Security Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill. CMS Administrator Seema Verma is the secretary of the board.

The report is available at https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/ReportsTrustFunds/index.html.

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*Featured Article #2

Politics

Health insurers ramp up lobbying battle against Medicare-for-all

By Ana Radelat

The CT Mirror |

Aug 12, 2019 | 6:00 AM

Health insurers have joined forces with their longtime foe, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as partnering with the American Medical Association and the Federation of American Hospitals, to form a coalition to fight Medicare-for-all proposals and other Democratic plans to alter the nation’s health care.

As Democratic presidential candidates embrace changes to the nation’s health care system that could threaten Connecticut’s health insurers, the industry is hitting back.

Health insurers have joined forces with their longtime foe, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as partnering with the American Medical Association and the Federation of American Hospitals, to form a coalition to fight Medicare-for-all proposals and other Democratic plans to alter the nation’s health care.

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, funded by the insurance industry and its allies, is running digital and television ads aimed at undermining support for Medicare-for-all proposals and plans for a “public option,” a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurance plans.

The partnership was formed a little more than a year ago to protect the nation’s current health care programs, mainly the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Medicaid.

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The organization’s executive director, Lauren Crawford Shaver, said diverse groups in the coalition found a common cause in 2017 — opposing an attempt by congressional Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We came together to protect the law of the land,” she said.

That battle was won. Coalition members determined they should continue to band together to ward off other political dangers.

“There’s a lot of things we might fight about, but there’s a lot we can agree on,” Crawford Shaver said.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have called for a Medicare-for-all through a single-payer system, in which all Americans would be enrolled automatically in a government plan.

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Warren was among several candidates during the most recent Democratic debates who took aim at health insurers.

“These insurance companies do not have a God-given right to make $23 billion in profits and suck it out of our health care system,” she said.

Other candidates prefer a more modest approach, offering a “public option” or Medicare buy-in plan that would allow Americans to purchase government-run coverage, but unlike Medicare-for-all would not eliminate the role of private insurers.

That split among Democrats also runs through Connecticut’s congressional delegation, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, endorsing Medicare-for-all plans and the other lawmakers supporting Medicare buy-in or public option plans.

The nation’s health insurers oppose all of the Democratic proposals discussed during the two nights of debates.

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The insurers’ message is simple: The Affordable Care Act is working reasonably well and should be improved, not repealed by Republicans or replaced by Democrats with a big new public program. Further, they say, more than 155 million Americans have employer-sponsored health coverage and should be allowed to keep it.

Insurers also say that public option and Medicare buy-in plans would lead the nation down the path of a one-size-fits-all health care system run by bureaucrats in Washington D.C.

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They say offering a public option or a Medicare buy-in would prompt employers to drop coverage for their workers and starve hospitals, especially those in rural areas, since government-run health plans usually reimburse doctors and hospitals less for medical services than private insurers. They also say Medicare-for-all and other Democratic proposals will lead to huge tax increases to pay for the plans.

“Whether it’s called Medicare for all, Medicare buy-in or the public option, the results will be the same: Americans will be forced to pay more and wait longer for worse care,” said Crawford Shaver.

The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future ran its first television ad on CNN just before and after the cable channel ran last week’s debates.

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The commercial showed several “ordinary Americans” at home and work decrying “one-size fits-all” health plans and “bureaucrats and politicians” determining care.

“We need to fix what’s broken, not start over,” the final speaker says.

Members of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future have a lot of money and influence to wield on Capitol Hill. They spent a combined $143 million lobbying in 2018 alone, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

And coalition members appear eager to spend even more lobbying money this year.

In the first six months of this year, America’s Health Insurance Plan, a health insurer industry group and member of the partnership, spent more than $5 million on lobbying expenses, and is on the way to surpassing the $6.7 million it spent in lobbying last year.

To underscore the health insurance industries’ importance to local economies, AHIP releases a state-by-state data book each year that details coverage, employment and taxes paid.

In Connecticut, the industry employs 12,296 workers directly and generates another 13,586 jobs indirectly, AHIP says. The payroll for both these groups of workers totals over $3.8 billion a year, AHIP says, and the average annual salary in the business is $112,770. The Connecticut Association of Health Plans puts the number higher, saying Connecticut has 25,000 direct jobs related to the health insurance industry, and another 24,000 indirect jobs.

AHIP also estimates that Connecticut collects nearly $200 million a year in premium taxes on health care policies sold in the state.

Connecticut’s reliance on health insurers – and their continuing influence – was on full display during the last legislative session when the insurance companies, led by Bloomfield-based Cigna, derailed

DENTAL INSURANCE: WORTH THE PREMIUM YOU PAY … OR SIMPLY A “TIME PAYMENT PLAN”?

Op-ed by D. Kenton Henry

“Is dental insurance really worth the premium I pay?” is one question I am asked frequently. It is often followed, almost instantly, by―”Or am I simply paying for my dental work on a time a payment plan?”

My answer to both questions is a definitive, “Maybe.”

If you, as the majority do, have dental insurance through your employer, that employer is subsidizing all or part of your premium. This convenience makes for a solution to the equation, more favorable to you. In contrast―if you are self-employed, retired, or otherwise personally have to pay the full amount of a dental insurance premium―the opposite may be true. That is unless you take some straightforward advice, I am about to provide. If you do not, you most likely will only be spreading your cost for dental work over time. Even worse, dental insurance could prove to be a “loss item” in that you will have paid more in premiums than you will ever receive in benefits.

Short of taking a long drive and crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico to obtain your dental work, what can you do to offset the cost of say, a dental implant, which, on this side of the border, is going to run from $3,500 to $7,000?

Let me preface this by with a premise or three:

#1) With no insurance company is “the sky the limit”. I’m referring to the fee they are going to pay a dentist for a particular dental procedure. For example, no insurance company is going to accept a fee of $10,000 for a single porcelain crown. Not even their share of that cost, which is typically 50%. So what is the limit of a fee the insurance company will cover? That limit must be contractually defined, and the limit most insurance companies abide by is, “reasonable and customary” or “reasonable, usual, and customary”. These are empirical standards an insurance company uses to determine whether to pay a fee. Or how much of a fee to pay. If the dentist charges the general prevailing rate in your geographical area, they are going to pay the portion for which they are contractually obligated. Basically, it’s the average charged in your neighborhood. You will be charged more in Beverly Hills, California and less in Brenham, Texas “where the cows think it’s heaven”. Additionally, if “usual” is part of the definition, the fee has to be in line with what this particular dentist charges for a particular procedure. If fee is disproportionate either, or, both, ways―the maximum amount paid by the insurance company will be the limit set in their fee schedule.

#2) A dental insurance plan is either a provider network plan or a non-network plan. If it is a network plan, it is usually either a Dental Preferred Provider Organization (DPPO) Plan or a Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) Plan. If it is the first, you may go outside the network of dentists with which the insurance company has contracted but will most likely pay a higher cost for doing so. With the latter, you must remain within the network of dentists or, you have no insurance coverage whatsoever. For either of these options, you pay a lower premium than if you purchase a non-network or “any dentist” plan. The reason is that you agree to utilize or, at least, consider utilizing a dentist with whom the insurance company has contracted to charge you a lower fee than they would without the contract. This limits the insurance companies losses and brings increased traffic to the dentist.

#3) This is perhaps the most important part. If you purchase a non-network dental insurance plan, you can, almost, be assured you will be charged more than the insurance company deems acceptable. Additionally, you will be responsible for any dollar amount above their “reasonable and customary” rate. However, if you purchase a network plan, and go within the network of dentists, you will not be held responsible for any “excess” charges. Any charges above the reasonable and customary rate, the dentist will be forced to “write off”. In this situation, you will never have to worry about a surprise bill or claim. If a policy says your share of the bill is 20% or 50%, it will be that and not 20% or 50% plus any excess charges.

Assuming you accept you must acquire a network plan, in order to limit you own losses and surprise dental bills, the challenge becomes, “How do you find a quality dentist willing to accept a lower fee for treating you?” The typical HMO dental provider is typically someone straight out of dental school or who otherwise needs to build their patient base. In return for sending patients their way, the dentist is willing to accept a meaningfully lower fee. If the dentist is a PPO provider, they may have been in business longer, have more experience, and perhaps a reputation for having better skills. But they are willing to accept a somewhat lower fee in return from the many employees a large company may send their way. The dentist who isn’t willing to participate in any network apparently feels they have all the clients they need. That or their reputation is so great it will draw all the traffic they require.

The problem is, unlike a large oil company, as an individual, or family, you don’t bring enough “volume” to the table to bargain for a lower dental fee. At least not by yourself. Therefore, you have to identify and purchase your dental insurance from an insurance company which has the reputation of insuring a large number of employees of that oil company. As well as having a reputation for paying their claims in a timely and efficient manner. A manner such that the dentist wants to be contracted with them. From your standpoint, you want that insurance company to have a reputation for the same when it comes to you and not have to worry about claim disputes.

Another challenge is, at $6,000 for a dental implant, your dental benefit may not go too far. Secondly, does your insurance plan cover implants in the first place? Again, the sky is not the limit. The average dental plan covers a maximum of $1,000 of dental treatment per year. You can pay a higher premium for incremental benefits up to a maximum of $5,000. But a policy which pays that much in year one would cost a fortune and there is typically a twelve-month wait for major dental work to be covered. As such, you may want to find a plan which increases to that limit with each passing year and is available at what you consider a reasonable cost.

How do you find a dental policy which does not subject you to “excess” costs; allows you to see a highly skilled dentist, utilizing the latest technology and performing the most advanced form of treatment; all at a competitive premium? And this from a company which pays the claims they are contractually obligated to pay while doing so in a timely fashion?

This is where I, and my thirty-three years experience in the medical and dental insurance business, come in. My experience as a patient and consumer is even longer. After being in braces for eight years, I had all my front teeth knocked out in an auto accident when they impacted the steering wheel. I was wearing a seat belt, which saved my life, but not a shoulder strap. I’ve had to have the dental work replaced on three occasions since that senior year of high school. This year, I proceeded with what will be one double crown and, ultimately, two implants. (Ouch, is right!) I was not willing to accept this type of work from a mediocre dentist―and certainly did not care to pay cash for it! So I found a policy, issued by a large, financially sound insurance company, with a reputation for excellent customer and claim service. Then I found a policy which ultimately pays the maximum $5,000 annual benefit. In order for it to be affordable to me, it started, December 1 of 2018, at a calendar year benefit of $1,500―immediately went to $2,500 January 1, of this year―and will go to a $5,000 benefit this coming January. So I only paid for a $1,500 benefit for one month before it jumped to a $2,500 benefit! During this year I acquired the double porcelain crown and the bone graft and post for one dental implant. In 2020, I will have the crown for the implant post attached, when my calendar year benefit is $5,000. The second implant is optional, and I will probably have that work done in 2021 when my benefit remains $5K.

Once I knew what company to go with, the final step in selecting my dental insurance policy required finding the right dentist. I reviewed the insurance company’s list of network providers and researched the dentist’s reputation via credentials and reviews. I won’t belabor that but, suffice it to say, I found a dentist who met my requirements. He is very conveniently located relative to any resident of The Woodlands or Spring and, in my opinion, is well worth going to if you reside anywhere in Montgomery County or Northwest Harris County. He utilizes the latest technology, has a great and skilled staff, and a decent, very professional, if not overly effusive, chairside manner.*

In summation, in order to make dental insurance worth your while, you need to:

1) accept you need to acquire a “network provider” dental plan

2) find a policy which pays a reasonable benefit based on your foreseeable need, at an affordable premium and

3) allows you to go to a skilled dentist convenient to you

I have done all the homework for you. For over three decades, I have specialized in medical, Medicare-related, and dental insurance. I provide objective quotes from established “A” rated companies and quality customer service. Among the companies I represent are Aetna, Ameritas, Anthem, BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Delta Dental, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare. I am located in the heart of The Woodlands and am accessible from my websites Allplanhealthinsurance.com and TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com. You may also feel free to contact me at my numbers below.

I look forward to working with and assisting you in acquiring any of the above referenced products.

D. “Kenton” Henry                                                                                                               Editor, Agent, Broker Office: 281-367-6565                                                           Text my cell @ 713-907-7984                          http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com                              http://Allplanhealthinsurance.com                                   http://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com https://linkedin.com/in/kentonhenryinsuranceconsultant

*(Neither I nor my agency and websites are affiliated in any way with a particular dentist or dental office. Neither do we receive compensation from the same for any recommendation we may make.)

Obamacare: Are All Bets Off For 2018 Open Enrollment?

By D. Kenton Henry, Editor, Broker, Agent

Last evening I began to receive texts and messages inquiring how President Trump’s executive order (EO) on Thursday, October 12th, would impact both the near and long-term future of Obamacare. Before retiring for the evening, I responded – “In the long run, dramatically. But in the short run, not so much because it will take quite awhile for the insurance industry to respond appropriately.” At that time, all I had learned was, the President ordered regulators to allow consumers to shop across state lines for health insurance along with the ability individuals of like professions, careers, and risk profiles, to band together in associations for the purpose of acquiring individual and family health insurance. Theoretically, the first would allow the consumer to shop for their best value among a far greater number of companies and plans, thus restoring competition to the market. The second would allow pooling a large number of people, and the resulting volume would lower risk to the insurance companies, thus allowing them to charge lower premiums to the members. The same principle and effect currently available to employer groups. And that was all I was aware of regarding the EO. Additionally, the EO loosens the restrictions on “Short-Term” health insurance, allowing it to serve as a viable alternative to long-term coverage for the young and/or healthy.

Today, I awakened to learn the Department of Health and Human Services announced late last night that the EO includes the cessation of federal payments for Cost-Sharing Reductions (CSRs) to insurance companies. “Immediately.” This, according to Secretary Eric Hargan and Medicare administrator, Seema Verma. And―with that―all bets are off! The Administration claims this can be done because Congress never appropriated funds for the CSRs. These funds were used to reimburse insurers for the CSRs which result in reductions in deductibles, copays, and out-of-pocket maximums for eligible individuals. However, while the insurers will lose these subsidies (amounting to $7 billion this year), they remain obligated to continue offering them to eligible customers! Eligible customers mostly include those qualifying for subsidies and electing “Silver” plans through the Marketplace, Healthcare.gov. At the very least, halting the payments could trigger a spike in premiums, at some point, for the coming year, unless Congress authorizes the money. The next payments are due around October 20th. The Congressional Budget Office estimates, without the subsidies, premiums could go up by as much as 20%. That is on top of the 15-20% average increase anticipated with the subsidies in place! Nearly 3 in 5 Healthcare.gov customers qualify for help. If you qualify for a premium subsidy, the increase will simply be paid for by your fellow taxpayers as it has the last four years. The person or family who does not qualify will have to pay for it entirely out of their own pocket. As always, it is the hard working middle class who could be hurt the most. Those who make just enough to get by, but a little too much to qualify for government assistance.

Will this break Obamacare altogether and, if so, when? What impact will it have on 2018 individual and family health insurance premiums? Rates had to be (and were) submitted to state health insurance commissioners, as required, on September 30th. Can insurance companies pull out of the market at this point? Will they? Apparently, Premium Subsidies (separate from CSRs), designed to lower premiums, per se, for qualified individuals – as well as though qualifying for tax credits upon filing – will not be affected. However, here is what the Washington Post (article below) had to say about the cessation of CSR subsidies, alone: “Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018. Some state’ regulators directed ACA insurers to add a surcharge in case the payments were not made, but insurers elsewhere could be left in a position in which they still must give consumers the discounts but will not be reimbursed.” In my opinion, it is too late to submit new rates for approval in time for Open Enrollment, just around the corner. But it is not too late for an insurance company to pull out of the market altogether. What options will that leave the consumer, including my clients, for coverage in 2018 and beyond?

I agree with the administration; this is their move to force the hand of Congress to reverse the policies of Obamacare, restore competition and consumer choice, to the market. It will allow elements of a free market to regulate the variables, most important of which are, benefits, choice of provider, and premium. How long it will take for this action on the part of the Trump to accomplish this, I can’t say. The Executive Order is almost certain to be challenged by state Attorney Generals and litigated in federal courts. This could take months, or more, to play out, and probably will.

I apologize that, at this point, I have more questions than answers. In the meantime, I, and, my clients have yet to learn what our 2018 health options and premiums would be (or would have been) without the ramifications of the Executive Order. Rest assured, I will be watching in earnest for the details as this situation evolves.

As always, please feel free to phone me at 281.367.6565; text me at 713.907.7984 or email me at allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com. The closer we get to November 1, the more I will know. And whatever is available to you, I will have. Along with your best option. Bear in mind, “best” is a relative term.

http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

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Featured article:

WASHINGTON POST
By Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin By Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin
Health & Science
October 13 at 9:42 AM

President Trump is throwing a bomb into the insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, choosing to end critical payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage. The decision coincides with an executive order on Thursday to allow alternative health plans that skirt the law’s requirements.
The White House confirmed late Thursday that it would halt federal payments for cost-sharing reductions, although a statement did not specify when. Another statement a short time later by top officials at the Health and Human Services Department said the cutoff would be immediate. The subsidies total about $7 billion this year.
Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the law to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans, according to two individuals briefed on the decision.
Health insurers and state regulators have been in a state of high anxiety over the prospect of the marketplaces cratering because of such White House action. The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces — and the law.
Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018. Some states’ regulators directed ACA insurers to add a surcharge in case the payments were not made, but insurers elsewhere could be left in a position in which they still must give consumers the discounts but will not be reimbursed.
A spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group that has been warning for months of adverse effects if the payments ended, immediately denounced the president’s decision. “Millions of Americans rely on these benefits to afford their coverage and care,” Kristine Grow said.
And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who has been trying to preserve the payments through litigation, said the president’s action “would be sabotage.” Becerra said late Thursday that he was prepared to fight the White House. “We’ve taken the Trump Administration to court before and won, and we’re ready to do it again if necessary,” he said in a statement.
Trump’s move comes even as bipartisan negotiations continue on one Senate committee over ways to prop up the ACA marketplaces. Both Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have publicly said the payments should not end immediately, though they differ over how long these subsidies should be guaranteed.
The cost-sharing reductions — or CSRs, as they are known — have long been the subject of a political and legal seesaw. Congressional Republicans argued that the sprawling 2010 health-care law that established them does not include specific language providing appropriations to cover the government’s cost. House Republicans sued HHS over the payments during President Barack Obama’s second term. A federal court agreed that they were illegal, and the case has been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
President Trump signed an executive order on the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 12. With the order, he directed federal agencies to rewrite regulations on selling a certain type of health insurance across state lines. President Trump signed an executive order on the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 12. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Trump signed an executive order on the Affordable Care Act on Oct. 12. With the order, he directed federal agencies to rewrite regulations on selling a certain type of health insurance across state lines. (The Washington Post)
“The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” a statement from the White House said. “Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law and provide real relief to the American people.”
In a filing Friday morning, the administration informed the court that HHS had “directed that cost-sharing reduction payments be stopped because it has determined that those payments are not funded by the permanent appropriation.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that the administration was dropping its appeal of the lawsuit — something the White House did not mention in its announcement. Ryan called the move to end to the court case “a monumental affirmation of Congress’s authority and the separation of powers.”
Meanwhile, the top two congressional Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), excoriated the president’s decision. “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” they said in a joint statement. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”
For months, administration officials have debated privately about what to do. The president has consistently pushed to stop the payments, according to officials and advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Some top health officials within the administration, including former HHS secretary Tom Price, cautioned that this could exacerbate already escalating ACA plan premiums, these Republicans said. But some government lawyers argued that the payments were not authorized under the existing law, according to one administration official, and would be difficult to keep defending in court.
Acting HHS secretary Eric Hargan and Seema Verma, administrator of the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said they were stopping the payments based on a legal opinion by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “It has been clear for many years that Obamacare is bad policy. It is also bad law,” their statement says. “The Obama Administration unfortunately went ahead and made CSR payments to insurance companies after requesting — but never ultimately receiving — an appropriation from Congress as required by law.”
While the administration will now argue that Congress should appropriate the funds if it wants them to continue, such a proposal will face a serious hurdle on Capitol Hill. In a recent interview, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing HHS, said it would be difficult to muster support for such a move among House conservatives.
One person familiar with the president’s decision said HHS officials and Trump’s domestic policy advisers had urged him to continue the payments at least through the end of the year.
The cost-sharing payments are separate from a different subsidy that provides federal assistance with premiums to more than four-fifths of the 10 million Americans with ACA coverage.
Word of the president’s decision came just hours after he signed the executive order intended to circumvent the ACA by making it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections.
The White House and allies portrayed the president’s move as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: fostering more coverage choices while tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces. Until the White House’s announcement late Thursday, the executive order represented Trump’s biggest step to date to reverse the health-care policies of the Obama administration, a central promise since last year’s presidential campaign.
Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of these other kinds of coverage will have damaging ripple effects, driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces. Part of Trump’s action, they say, will spark court challenges over its legality.
The most far-reaching element of the order instructs a trio of Cabinet departments to rewrite federal rules for “association health plans” — a form of insurance in which small businesses of a similar type band together through an association to negotiate health benefits. These plans have had to meet coverage requirements and consumer protections under the 2010 health-care law, but the administration is likely to exempt them from those rules and let such plans be sold from state to state without insurance licenses in each one.
In addition, the order is designed to expand the availability of short-term insurance policies, which offer limited benefits as a bridge for people between jobs or young adults no longer eligible for their parents’ health plans. The Obama administration ruled that short-term insurance may not last for more than three months; Trump wants to extend that to nearly a year.
Trump’s action also is intended to widen employers’ ability to use pretax dollars in “health re-imbursement arrangements” to help workers pay for any medical expenses, not just for health policies that meet ACA rules — another reversal of Obama policy.
In a late-morning signing ceremony in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, surrounded by supportive small-business owners, Cabinet members and a few Republicans from Capitol Hill, the president spoke in his characteristic superlatives about the effects of his action and what he called “the Obamacare nightmare.”
Trump said that Thursday’s move, which will trigger months of regulatory work by federal agencies, “is only the beginning.” He promised “even more relief and more freedom” from ACA rules. And although leading GOP lawmakers are eager to move on from their unsuccessful attempts this year to abolish central facets of the 2010 law, Trump said that “we are going to pressure Congress very strongly to finish the repeal and replace of Obamacare.”
But in an early morning tweet Friday, Trump reached out to Democrats with an appeal to somehow work together on a health-care “fix.”
“The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding,” Trump wrote. “Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”
The executive order will fulfill a quest by conservative Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, who have tried for more than two decades to expand the availability of association health plans by allowing them to be sold, unregulated, across state lines. On the other hand, Trump’s approach conflicts with what he and GOP leaders in Congress have held out as a main health-policy goal — giving each state more discretion over matters of insurance.
Health policy experts in think tanks, academia and the health-care industry pointed out that the order’s language is fairly broad, so the ensuing fine print in agencies’ rules will determine whether the impact will be as sweeping or quick as Trump boasted — his directive will provide “millions of people with Obamacare relief,” he said.
Significant questions that remain include whether individuals will be able to join associations, a point that could raise legal issues; whether the administration will start to let association health plans count toward the ACA’s requirement that most Americans carry insurance; and whether such plans can charge higher prices to small businesses with sicker workers — or refuse to insure them.
A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity shortly before Trump signed the order, said that the policy changes it sets in motion will require agencies to follow customary procedures to write new rules and solicit public comment. That means new insurance options will not be available in time for coverage beginning in January, he said.
Among policy experts, critics warned that young and healthy people who use relatively little insurance will gravitate to association health plans because of their lower price tags. That would concentrate older and sicker customers in ACA marketplaces with spiking rates.

Selling health plans from state to state without separate licenses — the idea underlying much of the president’s order — has long been a Republican mantra. It has gained little traction in practice, however.
Half a dozen states — before the ACA was passed in 2010 as well as since then — have passed laws permitting insurers to sell health policies approved by other states. And since last year, the ACA has allowed “compacts” in which groups of states can agree that health plans licensed in any of them could be sold in the others. Under such compacts, federal health officials must make sure the plans offer at least the same benefits and are as affordable as those sold in the ACA marketplaces.
As of this summer, “no state was known to actually offer or sell such policies,” according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. A main reason, experts say, is insurers’ difficulty in arranging networks of doctors and other providers of care far from their home states.

BITTER CHILL IN THE FALL AIR FOR OBAMACARE

by D. Kenton Henry, Editor, Agent, Broker

The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) when individuals and families can select and enroll in health insurance plans for the calendar year 2018 is, just around the corner, beginning, as usual, November 1. What is different this year is, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), which oversees Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ― ACA), has proposed ending it December 15th ― a period half as long as in all previous years. OEP historically ends January 31st. If this proposed change is effected, consumers, and agents and brokers on their behalf, will be under considerably more pressure to bind coverage during a period which has always been fraught with confusion and frustration. Expected to heighten the latter, are increasing premiums and less participation by insurance companies and providers. Increasing premiums (which have only accelerated during Obamacare) speak for themselves. Less participation by insurance companies means less competition and fewer plans from which consumers may choose. Less participation by providers means it will be even harder to find your doctor or hospital in the Health Maintenance Network (HMO) plans we Texans are forced to choose from since January 2016. Do not expect Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans to return for 2018. The reason behind this deliberate trend is the unstated agenda of the industry to accustom each of us to have our providers―and thereby our treatment―rationed. The stated agenda is an attempt to mitigate financial losses by the insurance companies. Those in office who would replace Obamacare, and our current insurance system, with a “Single-Payer” system have no problem, whatsoever, with this trend. This, because restrictions on providers and treatment will be inherent in any single-payer program.There are many in Washington who believe the solution to healthcare insurance is to add all of us to Medicare.Those who share in the belief the single-payer system is the solution should consider the reality that Medicare is 50 trillion is debt and predicted to be insolvent 12 years from now. (That is according to the Trump administration. Obama’s predicted it to be insolvent one year earlier, the Congressional Budget Office three years earlier) http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170713/NEWS/170719951

And this is the reality with current members having paid into it their entire working careers. How do you think that is going to work when you add every other American, a great many of which are not contributing to Medicare and never have? In my mind, that will expedite the path to insolvency exponentially. Consider a true single-payer program which serves as an example: Veteran’s Administration Health Care. A beacon of mismanagement resulting in waiting lines, provider rationing, and, in many parts of the country, long travel distances for care.

To exacerbate the difficulty in predicting premiums, and budgeting accordingly, President Trump has stated he is considering withholding federal subsidies to insurance companies. Historically, these have bought down the retail premiums the consumer must pay. Here we are halfway through September, and we still do not know if Trump will do so. Now―here is the real wrench in the grist mill ― the insurance companies must submit their 2018 premiums to the State Insurance Regulators by September 30th!

“If there’s no deal on the subsidies within the next five weeks, states will have no choice but to approve rate increases that include surcharges and go with those rates for the start of open enrollment on Nov. 1. On average that would mean consumers would see an extra 20 percent price hike next year.” ― 20 August 2017, CNBC.COM

“In many ways, the die has already been cast… if nothing changes before the end of September, we’re pretty much looking at those rates being locked in for 2018,” said Wisconsin insurance commissioner Ted Nickel, who is also president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. ― 20 August 2017, CNBC.COM

That is 20 percent on top of general premium increases predicted to be in the 12 to 15% range.

Once again, whether you feel you need assistance in coping with these issues in electing your 2018 coverage and protecting yourself and family from the sky-rocketing cost of health care, please call me at 281.367.6565. I have been specializing in health insurance for 26 of my 31 years in insurance. I have assisted my clients in coping with Obamacare since its passage in March of 2010.

For those of you enrolled in Medicare ― Open Enrollment for election of your 2018 Part D Drug Plan begins, as usual, October 15th. Current clients should email me a list of your current drug regimen at allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com. Upon receipt, I will provide you my recommendation your lowest out of pocket cost Part D plan in 2018. Those of you not currently my clients are encouraged to do the same.

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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Featured articles:

Governors Tell Congress to Stabilize Individual Health Insurance Market

Michael Collins, USA TODAYPublished 1:25 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2017 | Updated 5:45 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — Governors from five states called Thursday on Congress to move quickly to stabilize the individual health insurance market and then embark on a serious effort to deal with skyrocketing health care costs.

“All of us — Republicans, Democrats and independents — should agree that our current path is not a sustainable one,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told a Senate panel.

The governors — three Republicans and two Democrats — testified during the second of four bipartisan hearings before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The panel is looking for a short-term fix to stabilize the individual market after the collapse of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he hopes senators can forge a bipartisan agreement by the end of next week and pass limited legislation by the end of the month to keep prices down and make it possible for everyone in the individual market to be able to afford insurance.

Congress must act quickly. New insurance rates for 2018 must be posted on the government’s website, healthcare.gov., by Sept. 27.

At Thursday’s hearing, the committee heard from Republican Govs. Haslam, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gary Herbert of Utah and Democratic Govs. Steve Bullock of Montana and John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

A key issue is the future of federal cost-sharing payments to insurers that help them provide affordable coverage for low- and moderate-income families.

President Trump has threatened to end the payments, worth about $7 billion this year.

Read more:

With Obamacare in limbo, senators look for fix to stabilize health insurance market

Trump says GOP senators ‘look like fools’ on health care, warns of ‘imploding ObamaCare’

Congress has a crucial to-do list in September: Here’s what lawmakers must accomplish

All five governors testifying Thursday urged Congress to continue the payments, echoing the pleas of state insurance commissioners who appeared before the panel a day earlier.

The governors also called for creation of a reinsurance program that would limit losses to carriers that provide coverage in the marketplace and for the federal government to give states more flexibility to design and regulate insurance plans more suited to their own needs.

“It’s time for the federal government to work with us, not against us,” said Hickenlooper, arguing that state efforts to bring down premiums have been frequently undermined.

Without the federal government’s help, trying to keep insurance affordable is “like climbing one of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot mountains in winter without crampons,” Hickenloopper said. “It can’t be done.”

Alexander said one option for giving states flexibility would be to allow the governor or state insurance commissioner to apply for a waiver from Obamacare’s rules, instead of waiting for the state legislature to act. He also suggested a “copycat” provision so that when one state wins federal approval for a program or initiative, other states could quickly follow suit.

Senators most likely will fashion a short-term stabilization plan that includes continuing cost-sharing for a limited period of time and gives states significantly more flexibility through Obamacare’s waiver process, Alexander said.

Once a short-term fix is enacted to stabilize the individual market, lawmakers can then move quickly to focus on how to make the market vibrant in the long run, Alexander said.

“I hope we can begin to spend most of our time on the larger issue of health care costs,” he said.

Two more hearings are planned next week. The committee will hear Tuesday from various health policy experts. Health care providers and other stakeholders will appear before the panel next Thursday.

Health Insurance

If Congress doesn’t fund Obamacare subsidies next month it could get pretty complicated

  • Insurers can’t wait past a Sept. 30 deadline to set key insurance rates for next year.
  • However, the fate of key subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act is still unknown.
  • State health insurance regulators expect that subsidies could remain in limbo past key deadlines, and are making plans for that possibility.

Bertha Coombs | @BerthaCoombs

Published 8:01 AM ET Sun, 20 Aug 2017  | Updated 4 Hours Ago CNBC.com

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/19/if-congress-doesnt-fund-obamacare-subsidies-it-could-get-complicated.html

State health insurance regulators have been hoping for the best when it comes to 2018 exchange enrollment, but are now bracing for the worst-case scenario — that the fate of key health insurance subsidies will remain in limbo past key deadlines next month.

“We have a way to protect consumers, but it is complicated and will cause unnecessary confusion and anxiety,” said Diana Dooley, chair of Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, in a statement Friday.

California officials say they will wait until the end of September to decide whether to let insurers impose a 12.8 percent surcharge on 2018 exchange premiums to account for the potential loss of cost-reduction subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income enrollees.

“We are extending our deadline to give Congress time to act when they return in September,” Dooley explained. “We are heartened by the bipartisan discussion that put consumers first, but we can’t wait past Sept. 30.”

Some Republican lawmakers have proposed passing a short-term funding bill next month to authorize 2018 reimbursements for cost-reduction subsidies insurers are required to make under the Affordable Care Act.

However, if there’s no deal on the subsidies within the next five weeks, states will have no choice but to approve rate increases that include surcharges and go with those rates for the start of open enrollment on Nov. 1. On average that would mean consumers would see an extra 20 percent price hike next year.

 

“In many ways the die has already been cast… if nothing changes before the end of September, we’re pretty much looking at those rates being locked in for 2018,” said Wisconsin insurance commissioner Ted Nickel, who is also president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Pressure to act fast

State insurance commissioners, insurers and most of the major health industry groups have been urging Congressional leaders to fund the so-called cost-reduction subsidies for months, but politically it puts Republicans in a difficult spot after their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

A federal judge ruled in favor of House Republicans last year, after they sued the Obama administration arguing that funding for the subsidies was never authorized by Congress. That lawsuit has been put on hold three times since last fall, and is due back in court this week.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the insurer reimbursements citing the ruling, though the administration has continued to make the payments on a month-to-month basis, and will make them for August.

“What’s likely to happen is that Congress will pass some kind of interim funding, which negates the lawsuit,” said Julius Hobson, senior policy advisor at the Polsinelli law firm, adding that barring congressional authorization “it’s difficult to get a remedy that forces the government to spend the money.”

One thing that could help tip the balance for reaching a deal is the Congressional Budget Office’s report, which estimated that cutting the subsidies would increase the deficit by $194 billion over 10 years, in part because higher premium rates would result in more people qualifying for tax credits.

But Congress also has a number of key deals it has to reach next month, including raising the deficit and reaching an agreement to fund the government in order to avoid a shutdown.

What if the payments get funded after the rate hikes?

If funding for cost-reduction subsidies were approved after rates are locked in for open enrollment, consumers would not likely get relief from the price hikes right away.

“The Medical Loss Ratio that was instituted by the ACA will still be in place, meaning that consumers will be reimbursed [if] insures are not spending an 80% minimum on [health] care costs,” said Christina Cousart, senior policy associate at National Academy for State Health Policy, but she added those rebates would happen retroactively.

Some consumers might not be made whole for the premium surcharges. The higher rates would likely result in even fewer healthy unsubsidized consumers signing up for coverage. While the rate increases should be high enough to shield insurers from losses on sicker enrollees, they would not necessarily result in big rebates for consumers.

“There’s no way we can back out these higher rates that the companies put in… We’re going to have more expensive health insurance plans, we’re going to have fewer people enrolled,” said insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy associates.

What’s also unclear is whether consumers who receive larger tax credits would have to pay them back at tax time, if insurers do provide premium surcharge rebates.

“This is really hard to say at this point, without knowing how it will all play out — which is why we believe that the best solution is for Congress and the administration to resolve this issue now,” said Covered California spokesman James Scullary. “A resolution now eliminates the need for all of these workarounds to protect consumers.”

If Congress manages to come up with a funding deal to keep the subsidies in place, Wisconsin’s insurance commissioner says they should not stop there. He says the current problems underscore the need to give states more flexibility to stabilize their exchange markets than they have under current Obamacare rules.

“We have so little control now, so much of it is coming from the federal government through more of a central planning function rather than letting states engage in ways that best needs of their consumers,” said Nickel. “We do find ourselves in very difficult straights.”

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Changes Coming for Next Year’s Obamacare Open Enrollment Period

The Trump administration is working to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

With the confirmation of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Trump administration is already working to make changes to President Obama’s health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

No, the promised “repeal and replace” of the ACA (also known as Obamacare) hasn’t happened yet, but Mr Price’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has issued proposed guidelines that would affect consumers during 2018’s Obamacare open enrollment period.

The 2018 open enrollment period is not scheduled to begin until the fall of 2017. If the ACA is repealed, this next open enrollment period may be Obamacare’s last.

Let’s take a look at some of the proposed changes:

  • Shorter open enrollment period for 2018 – The 2018 Obamacare open enrollment period is currently scheduled to run from November 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018. DHS’s proposed change cut the duration of the the open enrollment period by half so that it runs from November 1 through December 15, 2017.
  • Some loosening of benefit requirements – The Obamacare law sets strict guidelines for “minimum essential coverage” that all major medical health insurance plans must provide. Though details are not yet available, DHS is proposing to loosen these rules somewhat, allowing insurers to offer plans with a broader range of coverage options.
  • More supporting documentation required for special enrollment periods – Outside of the nationwide open enrollment period, consumers can only purchase coverage on their own when they experience a major life change, such as marriage or divorce, or the birth or adoption of a baby, etc. A proposed revision of rules would tighten the requirements for applicants to provide documentation proving their eligibility for a special enrollment period.
  • Changes to doctor network rules – Under Obamacare, the federal government sets standards for what constitutes an adequate network of participating doctors and medical facilities for major medical plans. A proposed change from DHS would allow states to set these limits for themselves instead.
  • Collection of overdue premiums – In a move designed to discourage applicants from neglecting to pay their monthly premiums near year’s end and simply re-enrolling with the same plan for January, a proposed DHS rule would allow insurers to collect overdue premiums before extending coverage to such applicants in the next year.

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Trustees’ report says Medicare will be insolvent by 2029

Modern Healthcare

By Virgil Dickson  | July 13, 2017

The Medicare trust fund will be insolvent by 2029, the program’s trustees reported today.

 

The prediction is a year later than the 2028 date the Obama administration outlined in last year’s report. The Congressional Budget Office in January 2016 estimated the program would be solvent only until 2026.

 

Based on the new findings, the feared Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was designated by the Affordable Care Act to rein in Medicare costs if they grew faster than a set rate, will not be activated.

 

That’s likely good news as the board, called a death panel by ACA opponents, has never had to be formed. There hasn’t been the need, and some say, the willingness to expend the political capital. With midterm elections coming and possible fallout likely if Republicans repeal the ACA, this is one less possible political headache to worry about. Also of note, 2029 is 12 years longer than projected estimates before the Affordable Care Act become law.

 

However, trustees are worried doctors will exit the program anyway. The report contained new concerns about access to physicians in the coming years due to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.

 

MACRA replaced the physician payment updates under the sustainable growth rate formula, which clinicians were paid under for years.

 

Under MACRA the annual physician payment update for 2017 through 2019 will be 0.5%. For 2020 through 2025, there will be no payment update, which alarmed the trustees.

 

“These amounts do not vary based on underlying economic conditions, nor are they expected to keep pace with the average rate of physician cost increases,” the report said. “Absent a change in the delivery system or level of update by subsequent legislation, access to Medicare-participating physicians may become a significant issue in the long term under current law.”

 

The new insolvency date does incorporate modest savings from the agency’s move to value-based care, including accountable care organizations. However, exact figures were not broken out.

 

“The innovations being tested under the ACA, such as bundled payments or accountable care organizations, could reduce incentives to adopt new cost-increasing technologies and could contribute to greater efforts to avoid services of limited or no value within the service bundle,” the report says.

 

Medicare Part D expenditures per enrollee are estimated to increase by an average of 6.4% annually over the next five years; that’s higher than the projected average annual rate of growth for the U.S. economy, which is 5.2 % during that period.

 

The report found that these costs are trending higher than previously predicted, particularly for specialty drugs.

 

In 2016, Medicare covered 56.8 million people and expenditures were $678.7 billion up from $647.6 billion and 55.3 million beneficiaries in 2015.

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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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