HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF ’72! – MEDICARE IS HERE FOR YOU!

By Don Kenton Henry – editor, broker

Fellow classmates of the High School Class of 1972! Congratulations! It’s been thirty-six years since we graduated and went on to build careers and raise families. During this time we dutifully paid into Social Security and paid Medicare taxes. Most of us will be turning age 65 during the next year if we have not already done so. As such, we will be “aging into Medicare”. Never, in my life, have I looked forward to getting older,―until now. Because―as such―I will be eligible for Medicare and finally have an alternative to the Under Age 65 Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace for health insurance purposes. As a Medicare-related, private insurance specialist,―knowing all my plan options―along with knowing which plans I will enroll in―I am elated to finally being able to take advantage of the following benefits not currently available to any of us not currently on Medicare:

I know I will I be able to go to any doctor or hospital that sees Medicare patients. Additionally, I will be out of nothing―or virtually nothing―for my Medicare eligible medical expenses, per se, throughout the calendar year! (By “per se”, I mean aside from the out-patient prescription drug costs I will pay at the pharmacy counter.)

Even those of you who have had the benefit of employer-based group health insurance through throughout your working career ― have to had to meet a significant deductible before insurance benefits apply to your major medical expenses. In recent years, that has probably been at least $1,000 and, probably, more. Then you have been responsible for additional costs (coinsurance) thereafter!  Compare that to your share of a maximum of $183 per calendar year, should you go with the plan option I will most likely recommend for you!

Regarding Part D prescription drug plans ― you will have approximately three dozen to choose from. Each of these covers some drugs but does not cover others. And vice versa. The plan that is best for your spouse or neighbor is not necessarily the best plan for you. Our objective is to: (1) cover all your prescription drugs and (2) do so at your lowest possible total cost for both the plan and your prescription drugs for the calendar year. “Total Cost” is the sum of your plan premium, any applicable deductible, and your copays or coinsurance for your Rx drugs.

*If you would like me to identify your lowest cost Part D Medicare Prescription Drug Plan for 2019 email me, at Allplanhealthinsurance.com, a list of your current drug regimen and dosages. I will do so in the order received and forward the results via email.  

CHANGES TO MEDICARE PART D DRUG PLANS IN 2019:

  1. A) Stage 1, the Medicare Part D “Yearly Deductible Stage” is going to require a Medicare recipient member meet as much as a $415 deductible, up from $405. This does not mean a drug plan will increase your deductible, or even charge one in the first place. It simply means the Center For Medicare Services has informed the drug plans they may charge as much as that amount.
  2. B) Stage 2, the “Initial Coverage Stage” is going to $3,820. This is the limit your, and the plan’s, drug cost must reach before you enter the “Coverage Gap”.
  3. C) Your liability for your drug costs has been diminishing each year since 2011. This year, you will pay 25% of the cost of brand-name drugs, plus a dispensing fee, and 37% of the price for generic drugs.
  4. D) When your year to date personal drug costs reach $5,100 you enter the “Catastrophic Coverage Stage”. Therein, you will pay $3.40 of a drug that is treated like a generic and $8.50 or 5% of the cost of the drugwhichever is higher for all other drugs.

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MEDICARE PART B 2019

There has been no announcement on whether Medicare Part B’s calendar year outpatient deductible of $183 will be changing.

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CONSIDERING MEDICARE SUPPLEMENT VS MEDICARE ADVANTAGE to cover those medical expenses not paid by Medicare? Refer to today’s FEATURED ARTICLE 1 on “Denials of Care” below then call me for my opinion on one vs the other.

Should pharmacists be subject to a “gag” clause preventing them from telling you a lower cost for your drug is available at the pharmacy counter? See FEATURED ARTICLE 2, below:

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THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:

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Turning age 65 in April, I am right in this with you. I share a kinship, not only with my personal HS classmates, but everyone of my generation. I began my career out of college as social worker and then―believe it or not―a pharmaceutical sales person. I understand the perspective on brand name vs generic drugs, both from the drug companies’ and the consumer’s standpoint. (If you’d like to me to share this with you, off the record, please call me.)   I still like to help people and I get great satisfaction from ensuring I keep my client’s drug and medical costs to a minimum.

To assist you in this, I represent virtually every “A” rated (AM Best Rating) Medicare Supplement Plan and most of the Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription plans I feel worthy of your consideration for 2019. I bring thirty-two years of experience in the industry to provide you an objective comparison of your options, simplify the enrollment process, and ensure you maintain the right plans for yourself, thereafter. I charge no fee for my services. I am compensated directly by the insurance company whose product you elect to utilize, and then―if, and only if―you elect to acquire that product through me. The key to you is―you are charged no more for that product than if went through the door of that insurance company to acquire it on your own. Additionally, when you call, text or email me, you know you are communicating with someone who knows your history and has a vested interest in keeping your business. Which means keeping you happy. This as opposed to a different faceless person at the other end of a toll-free number.

SoClass of ’72! Open enrollment begins October 15th for Medicare plans (and November 1st for your Under Age 65 family members in need of health insurance for 2019). Please call, text, email, or visit my websites for information and assistance. I’m certain our life experiences and objectives are much the same and I know peace of mind when it comes to our healthcare and costs is integral to our quality of life

Kenton Henry – Agent, broker, editor                                                                          Office: 281.367.6565                                                                                                  Text My Cell @ 713.907.7984                                                                                          Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com                                  http://Allplanhealthinsurance.com                                  http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com          https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

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*FEATURED ARTICLE 1

BLOOMBERG

Private Medicare Plans Faulted by Watchdog Over Denials of Care

By  John Tozzi

September 26, 2018, 11:01 PM CDT

A new federal watchdog report warns that privately run Medicare health plans used by millions of older Americans may be improperly denying patients medical care.

Federal auditors have found “widespread and persistent problems related to denials of care and payment in Medicare Advantage,” the privately administered plans that insure more than 20 million people, according to the report from the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

Medicare Advantage plans collect a fixed fee from the government for taking care of patients 65 or older who qualify for traditional Medicare coverage. The fixed per-patient rates the government pays may give plans “an incentive to deny preauthorization of services for beneficiaries, and payments to providers, in order to increase profits,” the report said.

Medicare Advantage plans have become popular with consumers because they combine traditional Medicare benefits with additional coverage, such as vision, dental care, and prescription drugs.

The program paid $210 billion to Medicare Advantage plans last year. Companies including UnitedHealth Group Inc.Humana Inc., and Aetna Inc.are the largest sellers of the coverage. Enrollment in Medicare Advantage has roughly doubled in the past decade, and one-third of Medicare patients are now covered by the private plans.

In 2016, Medicare Advantage plans denied 4 percent of requests to approve treatment before it was provided, known as prior authorization, and 8 percent of requests for payment after treatment, according to the report.

Only 1 percent of patients disputed the insurers’ denials, but in those cases, the decisions were overturned three-quarters of the time, according to the report.

Improper denials “may contribute to physical harm for beneficiaries if they’re not getting access to services that they need,” said Rosemary Rawlins, the inspector general’s team leader on the report. Patients and doctors can also be harmed financially if not reimbursed for appropriate care, she said.

If plans aren’t providing the care they’re contracted to, it risks wasting taxpayers’ money. The government “has already paid to cover beneficiaries’ health care,” Rawlins said. Not every denial is an indication that patients are being blocked from needed treatment, however.

“You wouldn’t expect the denial rate to be zero,” Rawlins said. “Part of managing care is denying care that’s not needed.”

There’s a lot of variation in how often Medicare Advantage plan denials were overturned. In 2016, seven Medicare Advantage contracts had almost all of their denials reversed on appeal — more than 98 percent. Another 69 contracts had denial rates above 90 percent. The report doesn’t name specific companies or plans. Individual insurers can have more than one Medicare Advantage contract with the government.

Problems with denials of care aren’t isolated to a few plans, however. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, audits different organizations each year, “but consistently find problems related to denials of care and payment,” Rawlins said.

The CMS audits are one of many factors that affect health plans’ star ratings, which are intended to help Medicare patients shop for plans based on quality. But starting in 2019, as the result of a change by CMS, the audits will no longer be a factor in the ratings, “which diminishes the usefulness of the star ratings system as a tool for beneficiaries,” the report said.

The inspector general recommended that CMS increase its oversight of Medicare Advantage plans and give patients better information about violations. The agency concurred with the findings.

A CMS spokesperson said in an email that the agency is committed to “strong oversight and enforcement of the Medicare Advantage program to ensure that plans are delivering care to Medicare beneficiaries” as required.

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FEATURED ARTICLE 2

WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Senate unanimously passes bill banning pharmacy ‘gag clauses’ in Medicare

by Kimberly Leonard

 September 05, 2018 03:03 PM

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would ban Medicare insurers from enforcing “gag clauses” that forbid pharmacies from telling customers about cheaper ways to buy drugs.

The Know the Lowest Price Act is intended to help patients covered under Medicare to find out if their prescription would cost less if they were to pay for it out of pocket rather than through their insurance plan.

“Passing this bill and eliminating gag clauses gives patients more power to lower their healthcare costs,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who helped introduce the plan, said in a statement. “It makes prices transparent so patients can save money with less expensive prescriptions.”

The new rules explicitly apply to Medicare Part D, which pays for prescription drugs, and to Medicare Advantage, a healthcare plan managed by private insurers. Medicare is the program covering adults 65 and older and people with disabilities.

In the complexity of the system that involves pharmaceutical companies, drug reimbursements, middlemen known as pharmacy benefits managers, and health insurance companies, patients can sometimes end up paying more while others in the chain pay less. Private health insurers and pharmacy benefits managers use “gag clauses” in their contracts to prohibit pharmacists from informing customers that they can save money if they don’t go through their health plans.

Another bill passed in committee, known as the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, would provide the same protections for people who have private health insurance coverage. The Trump administration has called for Congress to undo the gag clauses and pass other measures to help reduce what patients pay for drugs.

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

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE

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

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

OBAMA CUTS TO MEDICARE II

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

– Admin. Kenton Henry

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FEATURE ARTICLE

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

By Caroline Humer

Tue Apr 8, 2014 1:40pm EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APPLES-TO-ORANGES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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