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

HEALTH BLOG PIC 1

By D. Kenton Henry, editor

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*FEATURED ARTICLE

New York Times

Business Day

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

By REED ABELSON JUNE 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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

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By D. Kenton Henry

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

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

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

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

MEDICARE PREMIUM INCREASE 2016

https://youtu.be/9DVGiEa074E

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

UNDER AGE 65 INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY NEWS:

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

BUSINESS PHOTO FINAL FOR BLOG 10 15 2015

Kenton Henry  Blog Administrator, Broker, Agent

Office: 281.367.6565; Toll Free: 800.856.6556

Email: allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

http://www.Allplanhealthinsurance.com

http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com 

Blog: http://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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

By D. Kenton Henry

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

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

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

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

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

D. Kenton Henry (Editor, Agent, Broker)

AllPlanHealthInsurance.com

Office: 281.367.6565 or Toll Free: 800.856.6556

Cell: 713.907.7984

Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com

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Blue Cross to drop PPO plan covering 367,000 Texans

SAN ANTNIOEXPRESS NEWS

By Peggy O’Hare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pohare@express-news.net

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

What to Expect for Open Enrollment for 2016 Plans

Jul. 23, 2015

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

When is Open Enrollment?

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

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

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

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

What will be different for individual plans in 2016?

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

Why is Blue Choice PPO going away?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When can I see 2016 plan details and rates?

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

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

KENTONSBUSINESSWEBPHOTO

Op-Ed by D. Kenton Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Related stories:

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Politics

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

By ROBERT PEAR MAY 25, 2015

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

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

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

HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Kenton Henry

Broker, Agent, Editor

Email: Quote@allplaninsurance.com

Phone: 281.367.6565

Toll Free: 800.856.6556

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

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

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FEATURE ARTICLES:

NEW YORK TIMES

14 November 2014

Cost of Coverage Under Affordable Care Act to Increase in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEW YORK TIMES

Estimate of Healthcare Enrollment Leaves Room to Grow

10 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White House Doubles Down On Republicans Request To Delay The Individual Mandate

LONELY OBAMACARE NAVIGATOR (2)

Pictured: Navigator Dealing With The Public’s Not So Mad Rush To Enroll

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The White House has doubled down on the Republican’s November request to delay the “Individual Mandate” of the Affordable Care Act.

At least a major portion of it.

The only thing predictable about implementation of the Affordable Care Act is that . . . nothing is predictable. On Wednesday, the Obama Administration played “tooth fairy” to Democrat candidates up for re-election this November and gave American individuals and families with pre-2014 health insurance policies a reprieve on the mandate to purchase ACA compliant coverage for two years through 2016. Last fall the House argued and passed a bill allowing American individuals and families who liked their current health plan – to keep their health plan. As the President had originally promised they could do. But for just one year. Now, in what appears to be an entirely self-serving and purely political move to mitigate a loss of Democratic seats in the up-coming mid-term elections, the Administration Obama says . . . “Errrr – of course! You can keep your plan for two more years!” It is quite apparent the Democrats have correctly determined the backlash from plan cancellations mandated by law could be devastating in terms of their election. Therefore, they speculate, with this aspect of the law deferred they will fair much better at the polls.

As a health insurance broker, I must admit I feel this is something of reprieve for myself and many of my clients. My clients can keep their lower cost plans which, in Texas, average approximately 40% higher than pre-compliant plans (approximately 80% higher in Indiana and Ohio – not to mention a dearth of PPO options as opposed to the restrictive HMO options). As for me, I can cease worrying, for now, about losing clients en masse who would otherwise be forced off their existing plans and might go elsewhere for replacement coverage. I can also anticipate obtaining entirely new clients who choose to elect a new plan in order to cover a pre-existing condition or just to comply with the law. And therein lies the rub. Just because the White House says those who have a plan can keep their plan, does not mean the individual states or the insurance companies will agree to this. And for many, it is far too late – their policies already having been canceled. But–furthermore–this reprieve apparently does not carry over to those who have no coverage whatsoever. They must still acquire coverage by March 31st or be assessed the penalty and locked out of insurance for the remainder of 2014. (Unless, of course, they are also eventually granted clemency by the President.)

And how does your editor feel about this from an actuarial standpoint relative to the insurance companies and the ACA itself? In four words: “Politically Pragmatic Voodoo Economics”. Even Obamacare architect Ezikiel Emanuel, stated Wednesday while on MSNBC, that while he denounced the policy implications of yet another Obamacare delay, “for the political gain, it’s worth it”. Unabashedly self-serving.

If the insurance companies comply, they are once again forced to flex at the last minute and be left with two separate blocks of business. One old block containing less claim’s risk. And one new block where the only motivation to insure oneself will be to transfer personally large risk to the insurance company. This will be in terms of pre-existing conditions which were previously manageable or that arise for the first time. As evidence of this, in an attempt to limit the disruption to the insurance industry precipitated by this latest modification, the Department of Health and Human Services also announced yesterday that the “risk corridor” program (which has been described as a bailout to insurers) would be further modified to channel more money to the insurers in states affected by the change. This only reinforces my opinion that those behind this bill are not economists and never cared about the financial viability of this law. They are, however, very concerned with maintaining their political lives at all cost.

Admin. – Kenton Henry

http://allplanhealthinsurance.com

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

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FEATURE ARTICLE:

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Politics

Consumers Allowed to Keep Health Plans for Two More Years

By ROBERT PEARMARCH 5, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, grappling with continued political fallout over its health care law, said Wednesday that it would allow consumers to renew health insurance policies that did not comply with the new law for two more years, pushing the issue well beyond this fall’s midterm elections.

The reprieve was the latest in a series of waivers, deadline extensions and unilateral actions by the administration that have drawn criticism from the law’s opponents and supporters, many saying President Obama was testing the limits of his powers.

The action reflects the difficulties Mr. Obama has faced in trying to build support for the Affordable Care Act and the uproar over his promise — which he later acknowledged had been overstated — that people who liked their insurance plans could keep them, no matter what.

Under pressure from Democratic candidates, who are struggling to defend the president’s signature domestic policy, Mr. Obama in November announced a one-year reprieve for insurance plans that did not meet the minimum coverage requirements of the 2010 health care law.

The Times would like to hear from Americans who have signed up for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

Wednesday’s action goes much further, essentially stalling for two more years one of the central tenets of the much-debated law, which was supposed to eliminate what White House officials called substandard insurance and junk policies.

The extension could help Democrats in tight midterm election races because it may avoid the cancellation of policies that would otherwise have occurred at the height of the political campaign season this fall.

In announcing the new transition policy, the Department of Health and Human Services said it had been devised “in close consultation with members of Congress,” and it gave credit to a number of Democrats in competitive races, including Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Udall of Colorado.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Mr. Obama was trying to “smooth the transition” to a new system, using flexibility that exists under the law.

The move reflects the administration’s view that a divided Congress would not be willing to make changes to the law, but lawyers questioned the legitimacy of the action and said it could have unintended consequences in the long run.

“I support national health care, but what the president is doing is effectively amending or negating the federal law to fit his preferred approach,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “Democrats will rue the day if they remain silent in the face of this shift of power to the executive branch.”

Mr. Turley said Mr. Obama was setting precedents that could be used by future presidents to delay other parts of the health care law or to suspend laws dealing with taxes, civil rights or protection of the environment.

Republicans said the move confirmed their contention that parts of the health care law were ill conceived and unworkable.

The number of people with noncompliant coverage is not known. Insurers sent out perhaps 4.5 million cancellation notices last fall, but some of the policyholders have bought new coverage that complies with the law. Administration officials said that the number of people with noncompliant policies would shrink by attrition in the next two years.The health care law sets dozens of federal standards for insurance, requiring coverage of services in 10 specific areas and providing many consumer protections not found in older policies.Under the transition policy announced by Mr. Obama in November, insurers “may choose to continue coverage that would otherwise be terminated or canceled.” Insurers were allowed to renew existing policies even if they did not provide the “essential health benefits” prescribed by law. In addition, the administration said, insurers could continue charging women more than men for those policies and could charge higher premiums based on a person’s health status, in violation of the new law.

A White House official said Wednesday that it would allow insurers to continue existing policies with renewals as late as Oct. 1, 2016, so individuals and small businesses could have noncompliant coverage well into 2017.

Under another policy announced by the administration on Wednesday, certain health plans will be exempt from new fees imposed on insurance companies and on many self-insured group health plans. Labor unions had been lobbying for such an exemption, saying the fees could be “highly disruptive” to Taft-Hartley plans administered jointly by labor and management representatives in construction, entertainment and other industries.

The Times would like to hear from Americans who have signed up for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

Wednesday’s action goes much further, essentially stalling for two more years one of the central tenets of the much-debated law, which was supposed to eliminate what White House officials called substandard insurance and junk policies.

The extension could help Democrats in tight midterm election races because it may avoid the cancellation of policies that would otherwise have occurred at the height of the political campaign season this fall.

In announcing the new transition policy, the Department of Health and Human Services said it had been devised “in close consultation with members of Congress,” and it gave credit to a number of Democrats in competitive races, including Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Udall of Colorado.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Mr. Obama was trying to “smooth the transition” to a new system, using flexibility that exists under the law.

The move reflects the administration’s view that a divided Congress would not be willing to make changes to the law, but lawyers questioned the legitimacy of the action and said it could have unintended consequences in the long run.

“I support national health care, but what the president is doing is effectively amending or negating the federal law to fit his preferred approach,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “Democrats will rue the day if they remain silent in the face of this shift of power to the executive branch.”

Mr. Turley said Mr. Obama was setting precedents that could be used by future presidents to delay other parts of the health care law or to suspend laws dealing with taxes, civil rights or protection of the environment.

Republicans said the move confirmed their contention that parts of the health care law were ill conceived and unworkable.

But Republicans denounced the change. “The administration’s decision to carve out its union cronies from the Obamacare fee is beyond egregious and will leave others with self-insured plans on the hook to foot the bill,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota.

Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works closely with insurers, said the reprieve for noncompliant policies “tends to undermine the sustainability of Obamacare” by reducing the number of people who will buy insurance through the exchanges.

The administration acknowledged that its transition policy could lead to “higher average claims costs” for people who buy insurance that complies with the Affordable Care Act. But health officials said the 2010 law provided several “shock absorbers” to help stabilize premiums.

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