“Is dental insurance really worth the premium I pay?” is one question I am asked frequently. It is often followed, almost instantly, by―”Or am I simply paying for my dental work on a time a payment plan?”
My answer to both questions is a definitive, “Maybe.”
If you, as the majority do, have dental insurance through your employer, that employer is subsidizing all or part of your premium. This convenience makes for a solution to the equation, more favorable to you. In contrast―if you are self-employed, retired, or otherwise personally have to pay the full amount of a dental insurance premium―the opposite may be true. That is unless you take some straightforward advice, I am about to provide. If you do not, you most likely will only be spreading your cost for dental work over time. Even worse, dental insurance could prove to be a “loss item” in that you will have paid more in premiums than you will ever receive in benefits.
Short of taking a long drive and crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico to obtain your dental work, what can you do to offset the cost of say, a dental implant, which, on this side of the border, is going to run from $3,500 to $7,000?
Let me preface this by with a premise or three:
#1) With no insurance company is “the sky the limit”. I’m referring to the fee they are going to pay a dentist for a particular dental procedure. For example, no insurance company is going to accept a fee of $10,000 for a single porcelain crown. Not even their share of that cost, which is typically 50%. So what is the limit of a fee the insurance company will cover? That limit must be contractually defined, and the limit most insurance companies abide by is, “reasonable and customary” or “reasonable, usual, and customary”. These are empirical standards an insurance company uses to determine whether to pay a fee. Or how much of a fee to pay. If the dentist charges the general prevailing rate in your geographical area, they are going to pay the portion for which they are contractually obligated. Basically, it’s the average charged in your neighborhood. You will be charged more in Beverly Hills, California and less in Brenham, Texas “where the cows think it’s heaven”. Additionally, if “usual” is part of the definition, the fee has to be in line with what this particular dentist charges for a particular procedure. If fee is disproportionate either, or, both, ways―the maximum amount paid by the insurance company will be the limit set in their fee schedule.
#2) A dental insurance plan is either a provider network plan or a non-network plan. If it is a network plan, it is usually either a Dental Preferred Provider Organization (DPPO) Plan or a Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) Plan. If it is the first, you may go outside the network of dentists with which the insurance company has contracted but will most likely pay a higher cost for doing so. With the latter, you must remain within the network of dentists or, you have no insurance coverage whatsoever. For either of these options, you pay a lower premium than if you purchase a non-network or “any dentist” plan. The reason is that you agree to utilize or, at least, consider utilizing a dentist with whom the insurance company has contracted to charge you a lower fee than they would without the contract. This limits the insurance companies losses and brings increased traffic to the dentist.
#3) This is perhaps the most important part. If you purchase a non-network dental insurance plan, you can, almost, be assured you will be charged more than the insurance company deems acceptable. Additionally, you will be responsible for any dollar amount above their “reasonable and customary” rate. However, if you purchase a network plan, and go within the network of dentists, you will not be held responsible for any “excess” charges. Any charges above the reasonable and customary rate, the dentist will be forced to “write off”. In this situation, you will never have to worry about a surprise bill or claim. If a policy says your share of the bill is 20% or 50%, it will be that and not 20% or 50% plus any excess charges.
Assuming you accept you must acquire a network plan, in order to limit you own losses and surprise dental bills, the challenge becomes, “How do you find a quality dentist willing to accept a lower fee for treating you?” The typical HMO dental provider is typically someone straight out of dental school or who otherwise needs to build their patient base. In return for sending patients their way, the dentist is willing to accept a meaningfully lower fee. If the dentist is a PPO provider, they may have been in business longer, have more experience, and perhaps a reputation for having better skills. But they are willing to accept a somewhat lower fee in return from the many employees a large company may send their way. The dentist who isn’t willing to participate in any network apparently feels they have all the clients they need. That or their reputation is so great it will draw all the traffic they require.
The problem is, unlike a large oil company, as an individual, or family, you don’t bring enough “volume” to the table to bargain for a lower dental fee. At least not by yourself. Therefore, you have to identify and purchase your dental insurance from an insurance company which has the reputation of insuring a large number of employees of that oil company. As well as having a reputation for paying their claims in a timely and efficient manner. A manner such that the dentist wants to be contracted with them. From your standpoint, you want that insurance company to have a reputation for the same when it comes to you and not have to worry about claim disputes.
Another challenge is, at $6,000 for a dental implant, your dental benefit may not go too far. Secondly, does your insurance plan cover implants in the first place? Again, the sky is not the limit. The average dental plan covers a maximum of $1,000 of dental treatment per year. You can pay a higher premium for incremental benefits up to a maximum of $5,000. But a policy which pays that much in year one would cost a fortune and there is typically a twelve-month wait for major dental work to be covered. As such, you may want to find a plan which increases to that limit with each passing year and is available at what you consider a reasonable cost.
How do you find a dental policy which does not subject you to “excess” costs; allows you to see a highly skilled dentist, utilizing the latest technology and performing the most advanced form of treatment; all at a competitive premium? And this from a company which pays the claims they are contractually obligated to pay while doing so in a timely fashion?
This is where I, and my thirty-three years experience in the medical and dental insurance business, come in. My experience as a patient and consumer is even longer. After being in braces for eight years, I had all my front teeth knocked out in an auto accident when they impacted the steering wheel. I was wearing a seat belt, which saved my life, but not a shoulder strap. I’ve had to have the dental work replaced on three occasions since that senior year of high school. This year, I proceeded with what will be one double crown and, ultimately, two implants. (Ouch, is right!) I was not willing to accept this type of work from a mediocre dentist―and certainly did not care to pay cash for it! So I found a policy, issued by a large, financially sound insurance company, with a reputation for excellent customer and claim service. Then I found a policy which ultimately pays the maximum $5,000 annual benefit. In order for it to be affordable to me, it started, December 1 of 2018, at a calendar year benefit of $1,500―immediately went to $2,500 January 1, of this year―and will go to a $5,000 benefit this coming January. So I only paid for a $1,500 benefit for one month before it jumped to a $2,500 benefit! During this year I acquired the double porcelain crown and the bone graft and post for one dental implant. In 2020, I will have the crown for the implant post attached, when my calendar year benefit is $5,000. The second implant is optional, and I will probably have that work done in 2021 when my benefit remains $5K.
Once I knew what company to go with, the final step in selecting my dental insurance policy required finding the right dentist. I reviewed the insurance company’s list of network providers and researched the dentist’s reputation via credentials and reviews. I won’t belabor that but, suffice it to say, I found a dentist who met my requirements. He is very conveniently located relative to any resident of The Woodlands or Spring and, in my opinion, is well worth going to if you reside anywhere in Montgomery County or Northwest Harris County. He utilizes the latest technology, has a great and skilled staff, and a decent, very professional, if not overly effusive, chairside manner.*
In summation, in order to make dental insurance worth your while, you need to:
1) accept you need to acquire a “network provider” dental plan
2) find a policy which pays a reasonable benefit based on your foreseeable need, at an affordable premium and
3) allows you to go to a skilled dentist convenient to you
I have done all the homework for you. For over three decades, I have specialized in medical, Medicare-related, and dental insurance. I provide objective quotes from established “A” rated companies and quality customer service. Among the companies I represent are Aetna, Ameritas, Anthem, BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, Delta Dental, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare. I am located in the heart of The Woodlands and am accessible from my websites Allplanhealthinsurance.com and TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com. You may also feel free to contact me at my numbers below.
I look forward to working with and assisting you in acquiring any of the above referenced products.
Well folks, here we are into the third week since the highly touted, much anticipated opening of the federal and state exchanges for purposes of enrolling in a health care act compliant insurance plan for 2014. And guess what? While a few state exchanges are experiencing some, generally small, measure of success – the federal exchange, or Marketplace, remains a dismal failure. It is, however, an excellent painful and protracted self-flagellating exercise in frustration. For an analogy–imagine having a root canal absent anesthesia while listening to Debbie Boone’s, “You Light Up My Life” on a continuous sound track loop through the entire procedure. Just to make the comparison more accurate, imagine you are Dustin Hoffman’s character who is tortured with a dentist’s drill in the movie Marathon Man but your experience is enhanced as your hygienist pulls your toe nails out with a pair of needle nose pliers in order to distract you from your oral discomfort. And that, I believe, is a pretty fair comparison to the enjoyment of opening an account and obtaining quotes for health insurance in the Marketplace to date. The tax payer’s cost to deliver this electronic equivalent of a Halloween visit to a House of Horrors? Current estimates are over $500 million and growing as desperate measures are being made to fix all its glitches as this goes to press. This after the Department of Health and Human Services accepted the low bid of $55 million with a ceiling of $93.7 million from Canadian software company, CGI Federal. Canadian? Really? All that U.S. taxpayer money to a Canadian firm? (I’m not even going there.)
But relax, dear patient. Let’s apply a little Novocain to your orifice. Let’s give you a subsidy to help ease the pain you will suffer when you see the highly inflated cost of health insurance you are now commanded to purchase under threat of penalty.
People making between 100 and 400 percent of federal poverty level can qualify for the premium tax credit health insurance subsidy. Federal poverty level changes every year, and is based on your income and family size.
Using 2013 FPL levels, you’ll qualify as an individual with an income range of $11,490-$45,960, a couple with an income of $15,510-$62,040, and a family of three earning $19,530-$78,120.
Just how do you calculate your subsidy?
In order to calculate how much your premium tax credit (subsidy) will be – you have to know 2 things:
(A) Your expected contribution toward the cost of your health insurance (available at the end of this article); and
(B) The cost of your BENCHMARK health plan. (Your health insurance exchange–assuming you succeed in opening an account and obtaining quotes–can tell you which plan this is and how much it costs. Your benchmark plan is the silver-tiered health plan with the second lowest monthly premiums in your area. The Affordable Care Act classifies health plans based on how much of your health care costs they’re expected to cover. A bronze health plan will cover about 60 percent of the average person’s health care costs. A silver health plan will cover about 70 percent.)
Your subsidy amount is the difference between your expected contribution and the cost of the benchmark plan. But just because the benchmark plan is used to calculate your subsidy doesn’t mean you have to buy the benchmark plan. You may buy any plan listed on your health insurance exchange, but your subsidy amount stays the same.
If you choose a more expensive plan, you’ll pay the difference plus your expected contribution. If you choose a plan that’s cheaper than the benchmark plan, you’ll pay less since the subsidy money will cover a larger portion of the monthly premium. If you choose a plan so cheap that costs less than your subsidy, you won’t have to pay anything for health insurance. However, you won’t get the excess subsidy back.
If you’re trying to save money so you choose a plan with a lower value, (like a bronze plan instead of a silver plan), you’ll likely have higher coinsurance and copays when you use your health insurance.
There’s another reason to choose a silver-tier plan. There’s a different subsidy that lowers copays, coinsurance, and deductibles for some low-income people. Eligible people can use it in addition to the premium tax credit subsidy. However, it’s only available to people who choose a silver-tier plan.
One question I am frequently asked is, “Do I have to wait until I file my income tax return in order to get the subsidy?”
You can get the premium tax credit in advance. If your income is so low you don’t have to file a tax return, you can still get the subsidy. But bear in mind–if you underestimate your income and take a subsidy–you will be forced to pay it back or, if you are due a refund, have it reduce such respectively when you file your return. (Income verification was put back in 2014 subsidy provisions after being suspended for one year along with the Administration’s one year suspension of the mandate that large employers must purchase health insurance for their employees. And remember–the IRS is in charge of monitoring your enrollment and expenditure.)
Consider opting to get the subsidy along with your tax refund if:
Your income is very close to 400 percent of FPL.
Your income varies from year to year so you’re not sure how much you’ll make.
When the subsidy is paid in advance, the amount of the subsidy is based on an estimate of your income for the coming year. If the estimate is wrong, the subsidy amount will be incorrect.
If you earn less than estimated, the advanced subsidy will be lower than it should have been. You’ll get the rest as a tax refund.
If you earn more than estimated, the government will send too much subsidy money to your health insurance company. You’ll have to pay back part or all of the excess subsidy money when you file your taxes. Even worse, if your actual income ended up more than 400 percent of FPL, you’ll have to pay back every penny of the subsidy. This could be thousands of dollars.
If you get your subsidy when you file your income taxes rather than in advance, you’ll get the correct subsidy amount because you’ll know exactly how much you earned that year. You won’t have to pay any of it back.
The Marketplace’s software will (supposedly) calculate your subsidy. Perhaps, as time goes by, it will even do so accurately. But for those of you who scored at least 600 on your high school SAT math test and enjoy such things – here is the exact formula for keeping the government honest:
Figure out how your income compares to FPL.
Find your expected contribution rate in the table below.
Calculate the dollar amount you’re expected to contribute.
Find your subsidy amount by subtracting your expected contribution from the cost of the benchmark plan.
Here is an example:
Mary is single with an income of $22,800 per year. FPL for 2013 is $11,490 for single people.
To figure out how Mary’s income compares to FPL, use: income ÷ FPL x 100.
$22,800 ÷ $11,490 x 100 = 198.4.
Mary’s income is 198 percent of FPL.
Using the table below, Mary is expected to contribute 4-6.3 percent of her income. Since she’s almost at the top of her category in the table, she uses the 6.3 percent figure.
To calculate how much Mary is expected to contribute, use this equation: 6.3 ÷ 100 x income.
6.3 ÷ 100 x $22,800 = $1,436.
Mary is expected to contribute $1,436 per year, or about $120 per month, toward the cost of her health insurance. The premium tax credit subsidy pays the rest of the cost of the benchmark health plan.
The benchmark health plan at Mary’s health insurance exchange costs $3,900 per year or $325 per month. Use this equation to figure out the subsidy amount: cost of the benchmark plan – expected contribution = amount of the subsidy.
$3,900 – $1,436 = $2,464.
Mary’s premium tax credit subsidy will be $2,464 per year or about $205 per month.
If Mary chooses the benchmark plan, or another $325 per month plan, she’ll pay $120 per month for her health insurance. If she chooses a plan costing $425 per month, she’ll pay $220 monthly for her health insurance. If she chooses a plan costing $225 per month, she’ll only pay $20 per month for her health insurance.
FEDERAL POVERTY LIMIT BASED ON NUMBER OF FAMILY IN HOUSEHOLD:
(Click on image to enlarge.)
Table of Your Expected Contribution Percentage:
If your income is
Your expected contribution will be
100%-133% of FPL
2% of your income
133%-150% of FPL
3%-4% of your income
150%-200% of FPL
4%-6.3% of your income
200%-250% of FPL
6.3%-8.05% of your income
250%-300% of FPL
8.05%-9.5% of your income
300%-400% of FPL
9.5% of your income
I hope your weather is not as beautiful as it is here in my part of Texas on this Sunday afternoon. If so, you are probably regretting you took the time to get this far into this hopefully informative piece. If it is – do not blame me and certainly–do not shoot the messenger.
As for me, I’m getting out on my motor bike and will take my mind off this monumental cross I bear being . . .
The Healthcare.gov website requires that individuals looking for coverage enter personal information before comparing plans. IT experts believe that this requirement is causing the website to crash.
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.
HHS didn’t want users to see Obamacare’s true costs
“Healthcare.gov was initially going to include an option to browse before registering,” report Christopher Weaver and Louise Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal. “But that tool was delayed, people familiar with the situation said.” Why was it delayed? “An HHS spokeswoman said the agency wanted to ensure that users were aware of their eligibility for subsidies that could help pay for coverage, before they started seeing the prices of policies.” (Emphasis added.)
As you know if you’ve been following this space, Obamacare’s bevy of mandates, regulations, taxes, and fees drives up the cost of the insurance plans that are offered under the law’s public exchanges. A Manhattan Institute analysis I helped conduct found that, on average, the cheapest plan offered in a given state, under Obamacare, will be 99 percent more expensive for men, and 62 percent more expensive for women, than the cheapest plan offered under the old system. And those disparities are even wider for healthy people.
That raises an obvious question. If 50 million people are uninsured today, mainly because insurance is too expensive, why is it better to make coverage even costlier?
Political objectives trumped operational objectives
The answer is that Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions.
But the laws’ supporters and enforcers don’t want you to know that, because it would violate the President’s incessantly repeated promise that nothing would change for the people that Obamacare doesn’t directly help. If you shop for Obamacare-based coverage without knowing if you qualify for subsidies, you might be discouraged by the law’s steep costs.
So, by analyzing your income first, if you qualify for heavy subsidies, the website can advertise those subsidies to you instead of just hitting you with Obamacare’s steep premiums. For example, the site could advertise plans that cost “$0″ or “$30″ instead of explaining that the plan really costs $200, and that you’re getting a subsidy of $200 or $170. But you’ll have to be at or near the poverty line to gain subsidies of that size; most people will either not qualify for a subsidy, or qualify for a small one that, net-net, doesn’t make up for the law’s cost hikes.
This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.
Subsidy verification created a traffic bottleneck
Comparable private-sector e-commerce sites, like eHealthInsurance.com, allow you to shop for plans and compare prices simply by entering your age and your ZIP code. After you’ve selected a plan you like, you fill out an on-line application. That substantially winnows down the number of people who rely on the site for network-intensive tasks.
The federal government’s decision to force people to apply before shopping, Weaver and Radnofsky write, “proved crucial because, before users can begin shopping for coverage, they must cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors including CGI Group Inc., the healthcare.gov developer, Quality Software Services Inc., a UnitedHealth Group Inc. unit; and credit-checker Experian PLC. If any part of the web of systems fails to work properly, it could lead to a traffic jam blocking most users from the marketplace.”
Jay Angoff, a former federal official at the agency that oversees the exchange, told the Journal that he was surprised by the decision. “People should be able to get quotes” without entering all of that information upfront.
Weaver and Radnofsky say that the core problem stems from “the slate of registration systems [that] intersect with Oracle Identity Manager, a software component embedded in a government identity-checking system.” The main Healthcare.gov web page collects information using the CGI Group technology. Then that data is transferred to a system built by Quailty Software Services. QSS then sends data to Experian, the credit-history firm. But the key “identity management system” employed by QSS was designed by Oracle, and according to the Journal’s sources, the Oracle software isn’t playing nicely with the other information systems.
Oracle hotly denies these claims. “Our software is the identical product deployed in most of the world’s most complex systems…our software is running properly,” said an Oracle spokeswoman in a statement.
‘It’s awful, just awful’
Robert Pear and colleagues at the New York Times have a piece up today detailing the serious problems with the federal exchange, problems that may get worse, not better. They confirm what we already knew: that the Obama administration refused to delay the implementation of the exchanges, despite the well-known problems, because they were afraid of the political blowback. “Former government officials say the White House, which was calling the shots, feared that any backtracking would further embolden Republican critics who were trying to repeal the health care law.”
As I documented last week, IT and insurance experts have been saying for at least eight months that implementation of the exchanges was going badly, that as early as February officials were warning of a “third world experience.” The Times’ sources are just as blunt. “These are not glitches,” said one insurance executive. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our [conference calls with the administration], people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’”
“We foresee a train wreck,” said another executive in a February interview with the Times. “We don’t have the IT specifications. The level of angst in health plans is growing by leaps and bounds. The political people in the administration do not understand how far behind they are.” Richard Foster, the former chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said last week that “so much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well.”
Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer at CMS who made the “third world experience” comment, was told by his superiors that failure to meet the October 1 launch deadline “was not an option,” according to the Times.
White House knowingly chose to court disaster
Think about it. It’s quite possible that much of this disaster could have been avoided if the Obama administration had been willing to be open with the public about the degree to which Obamacare escalates the cost of health insurance. If they had, then a number of the problems with the exchange’s software architecture would never have arisen. But that would require admitting that the “Affordable Care Act” was not accurately named.
The White House knew that its people on the front lines, people like Henry Chao, were worried that the exchanges would get botched. They saw the Congressional Research Service memorandum detailing that the administration has missed half of the statutory deadlines assigned by the law. But they were more afraid of the P.R. disaster of disclosing Obamacare’s high premiums than they were of the P.R. disaster of crashing websites. What you see is the result.
Tech experts: Health exchange site needs total overhaul
Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY 5:36 p.m. EDT October 17, 2013Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calls the rollout of the health care exchanges rocky. (Photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP)
WASHINGTON — The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system, technology experts told USA TODAY.
The site could be perfect, but if the systems from which it draws data are not up to speed, it doesn’t matter, said John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace, a cloud computer service provider.
“It is a core problem in the sense of it’s fundamental to this thing actually working, but it’s not necessarily a problem that the people who wrote HealthCare.gov can get to,” Engates said. “Even if they had a perfect system, it still won’t work.”
Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer’s cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message. With those changes, it took one hour to navigate the HealthCare.gov enrollment process Wednesday.
“I have never seen a website — in the last five years — require you to delete the cache in an effort to resolve errors,” said Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, a health care group by former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt. “This is a very early Web 1.0 type of fix.”
“The application could be fundamentally flawed,” said Jeff Kim, president of CDNetworks, a content-delivery network. “They may be using 1990s technology in 2.0 world.”
Outsiders acknowledged they can’t see the whole system, but they said they feared HHS built a system that will need an expensive overhaul that would cause more headaches for people trying to buy insurance.
“I will be the first to tell you that the website launch was rockier than we wanted it to be,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, adding that people have until Dec. 15 to enroll to ensure coverage beginning Jan. 1.
HHS officials did not respond to a request about the nature of the problems. However, they reiterated that wait times have been reduced or even eliminated as they continue to work to fix the system. As of Thursday, the site had received 17 million unique visitors.
“We continue to work around the clock to improve the consumer experience on HealthCare.gov,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said. “We are seeing progress: wait times to begin the online process have been virtually eliminated, and more consumers are creating accounts, completing applications and ultimately enrolling in coverage if they choose to do so at this time. However, we will not stop addressing issues and improving the system until the doors to HealthCare.gov are wide open.”
Engates said HHS has been opaque about the problems, and the tech industry doesn’t know the extent of the issues. “There’s no secrets leaking out,” he said. “I’m sure everyone’s looking for something to change the direction of the conversation, but it’s just not there.”
“I think it’s a data problem,” Kim said. “It always comes down to that.”
And if that’s the case, the problems are beyond “rocky,” he said. Instead, it would require a “fundamental re-architecture.” In the meantime, “I think they’re just trying to shore up as quickly as possible. They don’t have time to start from scratch.”
“If I was them, and I’m just conjecturing, I would probably come up with some manual way of saying, ‘Only people with the last name starting with ‘A’ can sign up today,” he said.
But come March 31, when the first enrollment period ends, the “shore up” period may become a “re-architecting” period, Kim said.
On a good note, he said, after looking at available code, the site is “very secure.”
Clearing the cache, which has helped make it easier for some people to enroll, could ultimately strain the system more, Kim said. That’s because a “cookie” is stored on a person’s computer that contains data, such as the person’s name and address, that can then be quickly accessed when that person gets on the website again instead of having to be retrieved from the government’s server.
But as HHS fixes errors, the cookies may not correspond with the updated website, so rather than allowing someone to quickly log in, they instead cause an error message. And every time a person clears his computer’s cache, the government’s website has to work that much harder to grab more data.
Requiring people who may not be Web savvy to use the site in any way other than a step-by-step easy process defeats the point of the whole system, Schuyler said. That includes laws mandating that insurers provide clear explanations about policies to people may make sound decisions and understand what they’re buying.
“Most consumers will have no idea what ‘clearing the cache’ is and this will just cause more confusion and frustration,” he said.
So far, the site’s problems have not driven away potential customers, according to a poll conducted by uSamp — United Sample Inc. The survey found that among the 832 people who attempted to log in, 38% received an error message, 50% were asked to try again later, 25% were unable to create an account, 31% were told the system was down, and 19% had no problems. About 83% said they would try again later, while 15% said they would wait until they heard the website was working well. About 70% of those who said they had no issues said they still waited to enroll because they want to think about their options.
Engates said he believes most of the problems are caused by systems integration with other sites, such as the IRS. And that could be causing some of the problems people see as they make it past the initial application process. It’s a series of questions meant to verify a person’s identity and income. But after that questionnaire, visitors often encounter a series of error messages, or the page a person tries to click to doesn’t come up. The data requests to other sites could be causing those problems, Engates said, which would mean the problem isn’t with the HHS site itself.
“Maybe the site is submitting a request for more data, and that puts you in that trap again,” he said. “It’s a giant integration problem that they have to solve.”
And as they try to fix those problems, there’s another issue lurking in the background: Some HHS personnel were named essential, and not subject to furloughs because of the government shutdown. But that didn’t apply to the other organizations they were working with, Engates said. So as HHS techs work around the clock to fix the problems, IRS techs may be prohibited from working at all.
In the meantime, HHS personnel can’t say anything about the situation, it can be played politically as “bad,” he said. If they say it will take two weeks to fix, they will be criticized because it’s taking too long. But he expects that it’s a problem that will be resolved soon, especially as the volume of visitors goes down.
“If you can get the system below some sort of threshold, it will perform as it’s supposed to,” Engates said. “It won’t get any worse. It’s going to get better little by little by little.”
As a licensed agent in Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan I am certified with the Department of Health and Human Service through the Center for Medicare Service to enroll residents of those states in health insurance plans for 2014. This is whether they qualify for a subsidy or not. Premiums are the same whether you go through me, the Marketplace (Federal Exchange) or a Navigator. And I would like to assist you. Problem is – 5 days into the enrollment phase of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) I still have not succeeded in being able to create even my own account to see what all my options are. I have seen many of my options outside the Marketplace–in the private market–and my quoted premium is approximately 33% higher than my current premium for comparable coverage! I have read all news articles relative to enrollment numbers and although the White House says people are enrolling in the Marketplace (which is where residents of these states go for quotes unless coming to me) and–as of yesterday–no journalist has been successful in finding and interviewing one individual who has successfully purchased health insurance in the Marketplace! One individual, Chad Henderson, reported he and his father had but when swarmed by journalist and asked for details – his father said neither he or his son had. Turns out Chad was a campaign worker for the Obama administration last year and an active volunteer for Organizing for Action, the former campaign organization that now advocates for the President’s legislative agenda. You figure it out. This much I know – if you already know that based on your estimated income for 2014 you will not qualify for a subsidy – you should apply for coverage through me and avoid the wait (however long) on the Marketplace website. You can see your options and go directly into your chosen health insurance companies application for the plan you select.
If, ultimately, you qualify for a subsidy – you may be relatively satisfied with your premium but it looks like (in order for that to be the case) you will have to accept a deductible much higher than what you anticipated. If you do not qualify for a subsidy – prepare for what in all likelihood will be sticker shock.
Regardless, I have made about 15 unsuccessful attempts, consuming hours of wait time the last 5 days to open an account in the Marketplace and–for research purposes– obtain my own quotes and see what subsidy options look like. Even Chad Henderson claimed it took him 3 hours to create an account–and this allegedly took place at 3 a.m. in the morning! How am I supposed to take my clients who will qualify for a subsidy from my quoting engine into the online Marketplace and have us succeed in staying with each other while we wait hours for us to set up their account? Of course, these wait times will surely decrease over time, right? Errrrr . . . right?
UPDATED at 2.54pm ET:Scroll to end of this article for the latest development in this story. After speaking directly with Chad Henderson, The Washington Post has confirmed that he has not in fact enrolled in a health-care plan.
Chad Henderson is the media’s poster boy for Obamacare. Reporters struggled this week to find individuals who said they had been able to enroll in one of the law’s 36 federally run health-insurance exchanges.
That changed yesterday, when they found Henderson, a 21-year-old student and part-time child-care worker who lives in Georgia and says that he successfully enrolled himself and his father Bill in insurance plans via the online exchange administered at healthcare.gov.
But in an exclusive phone interview this morning with Reason, Chad’s father Bill contradicted virtually every major detail of the story the media can’t get enough of. What’s more, some of the details that Chad has released are also at odds with published rate schedules and how Obamacare officials say the enrollment system works.
The coverage of Chad Henderson has been massive. He was featured in The Washington Post Thursday as “the Obamacare enrollee that tons of reporters are calling.” He was also profiled in The Huffington Post as someone who “beat the glitches to sign up for Obamacare.” He was interviewed by Politico, multiple local news organizations, and, according to his Facebook feed, was asked to be part of a conference call hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Chad’s story was tweeted out by the official Obamacare Twitter feed. It was promoted to the media by Enroll America, a health-care activist group headed by a former White House communications staffer, as a sign of Obamacare’s success. Henderson told reporters at multiple news outlets that after a three-hour wait to sign up online, he enrolled around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning in an unsubsidized private insurance plan that would cost him about $175 a month. He also said that his father enrolled in separate coverage plan that would cost about $250 a month after factoring in the subsidies for which his father qualified on his approximately $24,000 annual income.
Chad’s decision to purchase his own, separate plan might surprise some.A monthly premium of $175 would represent about 30 percent of his pre-tax take home pay—about $583 a month on the $7,000 part-time income he claimed. And he could have chosen to be covered by his father’s plan, which, under the Affordable Care Act, would have been required to cover dependents up to the age of 26. Chad said his father encouraged him to be covered under his own plan, even though the cost was higher. “He’s old school, so he wants me to take responsibility,” Chad toldThe Huffington Post.
Henderson’s story was promoted as proof that the new health law can work for individuals. That was exactly how Chad intended it. He was a volunteer with President Obama’s campaign last year, and his LinkedIn page still lists him as an active volunteer with Organizing for Action, the former campaign organization which now advocates for the president’s legislative agenda.
He told The Washington Post that he was sharing his story because he wanted the new health law to succeed.
“I’ve read a few articles about how young people are very critical to the law’s success,” he said to The Post. “I really just wanted to do my part to help out with the entire process.”
But details of Chad’s story proved difficult to verify. And in a phone interview conducted this morning, Chad’s father Bill contradicted major details of Chad’s story. I reached Bill Henderson by following a series of links at Chad’s Facebook page, through which I was able to speak directly to the father.
Bill Henderson told me that both he and his son were interested in getting coverage, but that he had not enrolled in any plan yet, and to his knowledge, neither had his son. He also said that when they do enroll, getting the most coverage for the least money would be the goal, and that he expects that he and his son will get coverage under the same plan.
Bill told me that Chad had been looking into plans online. “He told me that there’s different plans. And we haven’t decided which plans to enroll in yet.”
I asked him whether he and his son had talked about going on separate plans, and he told me that, “We’ll probably go on the same plan, more than likely.”
Two days ago, I contacted most every major health insurance carrier anticipated to continue operating in the Texas individual and family health insurance market and the Federally-Run Marketplace (Exchange) that people will go to in order to purchase their policy to be effective January 1. When I noted that they had not yet released premiums for these plans to be available October 1st and asked if they could disclose them to me – without exception they said they could not and, when I inquired why, they told me, “I cannot answer that”. I said, you realize we only have six days until you expect me to offer these to my clients and the public. They responded, “We understand”. When I asked if premiums would be available by October 1, I was told they hoped they would be.
Yesterday I heard a very popular talk show host theorize as to why this was the case and one of today’s feature articles from Politico, September 25th (below) comments on this issue. It says a report by the Department of Health and Human Services was issued to news organizations on Wednesday under a “strict embargo, with specific instructions not to share the information with anyone else, like outside health insurance experts (such as this blog’s friendly and not the least frustrated administrator) who might be able to provide more analysis of the numbers” to an exceptionally intelligent and curious public such as followers of this blog.
(Obviously, all the major insurance carriers got word of this and that Kenton Henry would apparently be contacting them on this matter, as they were certainly prepared with a script designed with me (or the likes) of me in mind.)
However, “apparently the word leaked out” as the article goes on to say the report released premiums based on the national benchmark “Silver” Plan with an (average) premium of $328. Both the CNN Money and Washington Post articles below go on to describe in more detail 47 state and the District of Columbia premiums which were used to arrive at these averages. CNN paints a more positive picture of these numbers however the Politico article makes it clear it believes the numbers released are designed to creative the most positive impression of premiums prior to their ultimate and full release next Tuesday, October 1. They go on to fault the administration not for telling what premiums will be in an ideal situation when the client is young and healthy or qualifies for a subsidy, but for not disclosing what they will be for the rest of us.
For complete disclosure, assuming the insurance companies are not forced to give government Navigators a head start by turning them loose in the Marketplace October 1 while continuing to withhold premiums, links and enrollment materials from licensed agents like myself until some later date – check back with me next Tuesday. Hopefully I will not awaken to find my insurance license revoked and my internet cut off.
The Obama administration on Wednesday released a long-awaited report on premiums in Obamacare’s federal insurance exchanges — the first look at the rates that will apply in the vast majority of states.
There’s just one big catch: The report doesn’t actually reveal very much about what most people will pay.
The administration put the best face on the health insurance premiums, emphasizing that the rates have come in lower than expected in the 36 states where the feds will run part or all of the exchanges. That part of the report gives them a snappy answer to the widespread predictions of “rate shock” by critics of Obamacare.
“For millions of Americans, these new options will make health insurance work within their budgets,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
But it was a far cry from full disclosure.
Want to know what you might pay for health coverage in an exchange next year? Too bad. The report gives lots of examples of the kinds of people who will get good prices — but everyone else will remain in the dark until at least next Tuesday, when Obamacare is supposed to open its doors.
The carefully selected numbers the administration did produce generally undercut the more dire projections that have been made. The report highlights the premiums for 27-year-olds — members of the young adult group who were expected to suffer most under Obamacare’s market reforms — and finds that generally, they would not be bankrupted.
The cheapest “bronze” plan, the lowest level of coverage in most exchanges, would cost from $119 per month in Tennessee to $286 in Wyoming. And that’s before the subsidies are factored in, which could lower the prices for people whose incomes are below 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
But younger adults tend to have smaller incomes, and the report shows that individuals in the same group with an income of $25,000 would have their premiums subsidized heavily. The prices for the cheapest plan would range from $48 a month in Arkansas up to $120 in Arizona, with rates below $100 in most states.
The report also highlights the impact on a working family of four with a household income of $50,000. After subsidies, that family would pay no premiums at all for a bronze plan in Arkansas, but as much as $192 a month in Arizona.
The federal exchange premiums released Wednesday do not stick out as starkly different from what’s been released by the 16 state-run exchanges. Those have largely come in lower than expected as well.
What the report fails to say is what the health plans in the federal exchanges would cost anybody else — i.e., the majority of Americans.
Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the agency that’s implementing the law, told reporters Tuesday that the rates are still being finalized. But he said the averages should be representative of the final figures.
The report also says nothing of the rates that small businesses can expect to pay if they decide to enter the so-called SHOP exchanges, which will offer coverage to firms with fewer than 50 employees.
The report was issued to news organizations on Tuesday under a strict embargo, with specific instructions not to share the information with anyone else, like outside health insurance experts who might be able to provide more analysis of the numbers.
Apparently, though, the word still leaked out. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a leading critic of the law, reached out to POLITICO to give unsolicited reaction to the new numbers — which POLITICO did not share with him.
“There are literally no comparisons to current rates. That is, HHS [has] chosen to dodge the question of whose rates are going up, and how much,” Holtz-Eakin said.
He did allow that the rates “don’t appear dramatically different than in the state exchanges” — but said that only proves that “with all that market power, HHS doesn’t seem to have delivered much.”
Overall, the average individual premium in the 48 exchanges that have reported will be $328 per month, the administration said. That’s lower than expected, administration officials said, because it’s 16 percent below an estimate derived from Congressional Budget Office projections. They said that’s a victory for the health law and consumers alike.
The average premium the administration calculated is for a mid-level plan — specifically, the second-lowest cost “silver” plan. But those figures don’t say much about what a given person might pay.
And they are extremely difficult to compare against what is available today, before the market reforms and exchanges arrive on the scene. For instance, no one can be turned down based on a pre-existing condition next year, women won’t be charged more than men and insurers will be limited in how much more they can charge older people than young adults — all new rules that haven’t been in effect before.
The report says competition will help keep prices down — because states with the lowest premiums have twice the number of insurers as states with the highest rates.
“Markets in way too many states were dominated by one or two companies [before]. … Now, there will be more choice and more competition, thanks to the marketplace,” Sebelius said.
The vast majority of the uninsured — 95 percent — will be able to choose from at least two insurers on the exchanges, according to the administration. And 25 percent of those carriers are offering plans in the individual market for the first time.
The report also says, however, that 5 percent of the uninsured population still live in areas served by only one insurer on the exchange.
Consumers in the 36 states with federal-run marketplaces on average will have 56 different health plans to choose from. Though, shoppers in Alabama on average will have just seven exchange plans to choose from, while Arizonans can pick from 106.
The national average premium for the benchmark plan will be $328 a month before subsidies, 16% less than projected by the Congressional Budget Office. The benchmark is the second-lowest cost “silver” policy for 48 states, upon which federal subsidies are based.
Subsidies will offer maximum caps for low- and moderate-income Americans in the benchmark plans. But for those who opt for other levels of coverage, or make too much to qualify for subsidies, prices vary widely based on one’s age, income and state.
For instance, a 27-year-old living in Dallas making $25,000 could pay as little as $74 a month for the cheapest “bronze” plan after subsidies, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But a 60-year-old in Wyoming who makes more than $46,000 a year — too much to get a tax credit — could pay as much as $758 for a similar plan.
The majority of people uninsured today will be able to find a policy for $100 or less a month, taking into account subsidies and Medicaid eligibility, the administration said.
Obamacare out-of-pocket cost confusion
Consumers will be able to start enrolling in the exchanges on Oct. 1, with coverage beginning in January. Starting in 2014, nearly everyone must have insurance — either through their jobs, government programs or the individual market — or face a penalty.
The rates released Wednesday do not apply to those who receive insurance through their employer.
Most people who are expected to sign up for coverage in the exchange have incomes up 400% of poverty and will therefore be eligible for federal subsidies.
The lower your income and the more expensive the benchmark plan in your state, the larger your subsidy. For instance, those making $17,235 a year will pay no more than 4% of income, or $57 a month, for the benchmark plan. Those with incomes between $34,470 and $45,960 will pay a maximum of 9.5% of income, or $364 a month, for that benchmark plan. The federal government will cover the rest.
But these consumers can put their subsidy toward a cheaper plan than the benchmark policy and pay less per month. They can also choose a more expensive plan and pay more.
Anyone earning more than $45,960 would be responsible for the entire tab on the Obamacare health plan of his choice.
A 27-year-old in Austin who earns $25,000 could pay $85 per month for health insurance next year, and a family of four in St. Louis with income of $50,000 might face a $32 monthly premium, according to new federal data on health insurance rates under the Affordable Care Act.
The report, released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, showed significant variation in the insurance premiums that Americans shopping on the individual market could pay under the president’s health-care overhaul. Across the 48 states for which data were available, the unsubsidized monthly premiums could be as low as $70 for an individual and as high as $1,200 for a moderate plan for a family of four.
The average national premium for an individual policy will be $328 in 2014, before including any of the tax credits that will be available to low- and middle-income Americans to help them purchase coverage.
Officials say these prices will be affordable for people buying insurance through the government marketplaces slated to open next week.
“For millions of Americans, these new options will finally make health insurance work within their budgets,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
Information about how much insurance plans will cost under the law, sometimes called Obamacare, has been dribbling out for months on a state-by-state basis.
But the report from the administration, which has been collecting rate information since the spring, offers the first comprehensive look at the effect of the law on many Americans — specifically those who buy coverage privately and not through their employers, as well as low-income uninsured people who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Beginning Tuesday, those people will be able to log on to government Web sites called marketplaces to peruse their plan options, apply for government subsidies and sign up for coverage effective next year. That is when the requirement kicks in that virtually every American carry health insurance or face a fine.
The report also includes information for more than two dozen states that declined to set up their own marketplaces, leaving at least part of the job up to the federal government.
Premiums will vary significantly depending on an individual’s income, where she lives and what type of coverage she buys. A 27-year-old in Fairfax County, for example, could spend between $124 and $258 on a health plan, depending on how robust she wants it to be.
A family of four in Fairfax County that earns $50,000 could get a health insurance plan with no premium at all, because the federal tax credit would cover the bill.
Most people using the marketplaces will have incomes low enough to qualify for a government subsidy. A recent administration report found that 56 percent of the roughly 41 million uninsured people eligible for the marketplaces could pay monthly premiums of $100 or less.
Health experts say it is a good sign for consumers that premiums have come in lower than expected. Under the law, the plans must offer a basic set of benefits, including mental health and maternity care, which previously were not included in many private plans. Insurers are also forbidden from rejecting or charging people more because of preexisting conditions.
Many experts worried that those factors would drive up the cost of insurance. They partially credit competition on the marketplaces, where people will be able to directly compare plans from different insurance companies, for restraining premiums.
But they warn that premiums don’t tell the whole story.
The low rates are possible in part because insurance companies created special plans that include fewer in-network doctors and hospitals than many current plans.
This may not be a problem for healthy people who currently lack insurance. But those with illnesses may discover that their specialists are not covered by an exchange insurance plan. Low-income people accustomed to a certain community clinic may find that going there is no longer an option. And everyone may encounter long waits to see a doctor.
In addition, many of the lowest-cost plans may carry high deductibles, despite a cap imposed by the law that limits out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 per person per year.
“Despite the fact that the premiums are lower than expected, enrollees on exchanges are likely to face very high out-of-pocket costs before they hit their cap, and they are at risk of being in very narrow network plans that may or may not include all the providers they need access to,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of health reform at the consulting firm Avalere Health, which did its own report on rates this month.
Some healthy people may also experience sticker shock on premiums. A recent analysis by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, found that some people who buy low-cost private plans today could see their rates jump by 24 percent.
I have just completed my Affordable Care Act (ACA) training and certification in order to offer ACA compliant plans to my clients, and the public in general, beginning October 1. However, even in this final hour with only eight days until the new plans are to be available – the insurance companies have still not released the premiums the insure will pay for these options. “Any day now” is what I am being told. However, I will share with you a thing or two I do know based on what I have studied.
Most of it came as no surprise to me. One major company (whose name I cannot divulge as the information they provided was yet to be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who will be in charge of the Federal-Run Exchange–Marketplace–in Texas, Indiana and Ohio–where I have clients) previewed plans. The lowest plan deductible available was $1,500. All plans will be limited to a maximum out-of-pocket of $6,350 per individual and $12,700 per family. While older people will probably find a $1,500 deductible acceptable in terms of affordability, I am not certain how twenty year olds are going to feel about that. I certainly don’t think that and higher deductible options will be an incentive for them to enroll even with the convenience of doctor’s office co-pays and prescription drug cards. I can almost guarantee you that unless they receive a subsidy – they won’t be signing up.
Beyond that, the benefits sounded perfectly acceptable until I came to the part about “special care centers”. It turns out, at least with this company (which happens to be a very large, conspicuous player in the Texas health insurance market we’ll just refer to as company XYZ)when you are in need of a special surgical procedure such as a hip or knee replacement: “You may only receive one by going to an ‘XYZ Approved Hip and Knee Replacement Center'”. I have had a hip replacement and had it at the relatively young age of 49 and I don’t know about you but I didn’t want just anyone performing mine. I still had dreams of remaining very active and athletic to the point of partaking in very aggressive martial arts training among other activities such as mountain biking. Fortunately, I have been able to do so but would I had I gone to some “Preferred” (discount) provider who agreed to accept lesser fees for greater patient volume?
To underscore my concern relative to an obvious attempt to ration our selection of providers, if not the procedures themselves, I received an email today informing me the primary Medicare Advantage Plan I enrolled my clients in last year is having an inordinate number of Primary Care Physicians drop out of its network and that I should be prepared to re-shop their Advantage Plan. The problem is, if this very large nationally recognized plan is experiencing this kind of “provider drop-out” – what can I expect from smaller companies with less capital? Again, I have had to delete their name as the information was proprietary and for “agent use only” but the letter they sent their clients is attached below. If you are one of my current Medicare clients I placed with this plan – you may have already read this. Otherwise, I apologize for breaking the news to you like this.
Our feature article appeared in today’s New York Times (September 23rd) and describes how patient options will be restricted as a result of the ACA. Think about it. If the insurance companies have no choice in who they insure and must cover any and all pre-existing conditions . . . and if they are informed by the Department of Health and Human Services their profit and, more specifically, the ratio of claims they must pay relative to the premium they take in, i.e., 80% to 20% – how else can they manage losses except to restrict access to procedures, providers and what your providers are paid? Something had to give.
At ————- , we manage the physician networks for our plans to help meet the evolving needs of health care consumers. This includes adjusting the size and composition of our physician network as we strive to meet the specific needs of Medicare Advantage and/or Medicaid plan members.
As a result, in the coming months, select physicians for one or more of your Medicare Advantage and/or Medicaid members will no longer participate in our Medicare and Medicaid plan networks. Please note: these changes do not affect members enrolled in Medicare Supplement or commercial plans.
Member transitions We know that members are impacted when we make changes to our network, and are taking steps to support members with smooth transitions to new care providers as appropriate to help ensure continuity of care.
We will be sending letters to affected members to notify them of care providers that will no longer participate in the —————– Medicare and Medicaid plan network as early as January 1, 2014 (network changes for New Jersey Medicaid plans have an October, 2013 effective date.) When appropriate, letters will suggest new care providers for members to consider for their ongoing care. Members are encouraged to call the number on their member ID card if they need help with identifying a new care provider.
In some plans, members may choose to continue seeing their current care providers on an out-of-network basis, in accordance with their out-of-network benefits. These changes have no impact on plan benefits, and members undergoing a treatment plan will be able to continue seeing out-of-network care providers consistent with federal requirements.
Provider directories These network changes will be reflected in our online provider directory as of October 1, 2013. It is highly encouraged to refer to the online provider directory in all cases to confirm care provider network and panel status for all potential enrollees, as changes may not be reflected in previously printed and/or downloaded directories.
It is important to note that when searching for an in-network provider on the online directory, a provider’s “Accepting New Patients” status must indicate “OPEN“, even if the potential enrollee is an existing patient.
WASHINGTON — Federal officials often say that health insurance will cost consumers less than expected under President Obama’s health care law. But they rarely mention one big reason: many insurers are significantly limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers.
From California to Illinois to New Hampshire, and in many states in between, insurers are driving down premiums by restricting the number of providers who will treat patients in their new health plans.
When insurance marketplaces open on Oct. 1, most of those shopping for coverage will be low- and moderate-income people for whom price is paramount. To hold down costs, insurers say, they have created smaller networks of doctors and hospitals than are typically found in commercial insurance. And those health care providers will, in many cases, be paid less than what they have been receiving from commercial insurers.
Some consumer advocates and health care providers are increasingly concerned. Decades of experience with Medicaid, the program for low-income people, show that having an insurance card does not guarantee access to specialists or other providers.
Consumers should be prepared for “much tighter, narrower networks” of doctors and hospitals, said Adam M. Linker, a health policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center, a statewide advocacy group.
“That can be positive for consumers if it holds down premiums and drives people to higher-quality providers,” Mr. Linker said. “But there is also a risk because, under some health plans, consumers can end up with astronomical costs if they go to providers outside the network.”
Insurers say that with a smaller array of doctors and hospitals, they can offer lower-cost policies and have more control over the quality of health care providers. They also say that having insurance with a limited network of providers is better than having no coverage at all.
Cigna illustrates the strategy of many insurers. It intends to participate next year in the insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and Texas.
“The networks will be narrower than the networks typically offered to large groups of employees in the commercial market,” said Joseph Mondy, a spokesman for Cigna.
The current concerns echo some of the criticism that sank the Clinton administration’s plan for universal coverage in 1993-94. Republicans said the Clinton proposals threatened to limit patients’ options, their access to care and their choice of doctors.
At the same time, House
Republicans are continuing to attack the new health law and are threatening to hold up a spending bill unless money is taken away from the health care program.
Dr. Bruce Siegel, the president of America’s Essential Hospitals, formerly known as the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, said insurers were telling his members: “We don’t want you in our network. We are worried about having your patients, who are sick and have complicated conditions.”
In some cases, Dr. Siegel said, “health plans will cover only selected services at our hospitals, like trauma care, or they offer rock-bottom payment rates.”
In New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a unit of WellPoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers, has touched off a furor by excluding 10 of the state’s 26 hospitals from the health plans that it will sell through the insurance exchange.
Christopher R. Dugan, a spokesman for Anthem, said that premiums for this “select provider network” were about 25 percent lower than they would have been for a product using a broad network of doctors and hospitals.
Anthem is the only commercial carrier offering health plans in the New Hampshire exchange.
Peter L. Gosline, the chief executive of Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, N.H., said his hospital had been excluded from the network without any discussions or negotiations.
“Many consumers will have to drive 30 minutes to an hour to reach other doctors and hospitals,” Mr. Gosline said. “It’s very inconvenient for patients, and at times it’s a hardship.”
State Senator Andy Sanborn, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “The people of New Hampshire are really upset about this.”
Many physician groups in New Hampshire are owned by hospitals, so when an insurer excludes a hospital from its network, it often excludes the doctors as well.
David Sandor, a vice president of the Health Care Service Corporation, which offers Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, said: “In the health insurance exchange, most individuals will be making choices based on costs. Our exchange products will have smaller provider networks that cost less than bigger plans with a larger selection of doctors and hospitals.”
Premiums will vary across the country, but federal officials said that consumers in many states would be able to buy insurance on the exchange for less than $300 a month — and less than $100 a month per person after taking account of federal subsidies.
“Competition and consumer choice are actually making insurance affordable,” Mr. Obama said recently.
Many insurers are cutting costs by slicing doctors’ fees.
Dr. Barbara L. McAneny, a cancer specialist in Albuquerque, said that insurers in the New Mexico exchange were generally paying doctors at Medicare levels, which she said were “often below our cost of doing business, and definitely below commercial rates.”
Outsiders might expect insurance companies to expand their networks to treat additional patients next year. But many insurers see advantages in narrow networks, saying they can steer patients to less expensive doctors and hospitals that provide high-quality care.
Even though insurers will be forbidden to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, they could subtly discourage the enrollment of sicker patients by limiting the size of their provider networks.
“If a health plan has a narrow network that excludes many doctors, that may shoo away patients with expensive pre-existing conditions who have established relationships with doctors,” said Mark E. Rust, the chairman of the national health care practice at Barnes & Thornburg, a law firm. “Some insurers do not want those patients who, for medical reasons, require a broad network of providers.”
In a new study, the Health Research Institute of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting company, says that “insurers passed over major medical centers” when selecting providers in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, among other states.
“Doing so enables health plans to offer lower premiums,” the study said. “But the use of narrow networks may also lead to higher out-of-pocket expenses, especially if a patient has a complex medical problem that’s being treated at a hospital that has been excluded from their health plan.”
In California, the statewide Blue Shield plan has developed a network specifically for consumers shopping in the insurance exchange.
Juan Carlos Davila, an executive vice president of Blue Shield of California, said the network for its exchange plans had 30,000 doctors, or 53 percent of the 57,000 doctors in its broadest commercial network, and 235 hospitals, or 78 percent of the 302 hospitals in its broadest network.
Mr. Davila said the new network did not include the five medical centers of the University of California or the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center near Beverly Hills.
“We expect to have the broadest and deepest network of any plan in California,” Mr. Davila said. “But not many folks who are uninsured or near the poverty line live in wealthy communities like Beverly Hills.”
Daniel R. Hawkins Jr., a senior vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, which represents 9,000 clinics around the country, said: “We serve the very population that will gain coverage — low-income, working class uninsured people. But insurers have shown little interest in including us in their provider networks.”
Attention! All potential visitors to your state’s insurance “Marketplace” (formerly health insurance exchange) should heed this warning as the time approaches when you may go there to apply for coverage. Do not underestimate your 2014 (and subsequent tax years) income or you could owe a “sizable” refund to the government. This will occur if you accept their subsidy based on an income later proven to be larger than what you estimated for subsidy purposes.
As today’s feature article explains by example:
If a family of four receives a year-end bonus that puts them over the 400% (of the Federal Poverty Level) income threshold – they could owe a repayment of more than $7,000!
Admin. – Kenton Henry
Los Angeles Times
Consumers could be surprised at tax time due to federal health law
By Chad Terhune
September 9, 2013, 1:00 p.m.
Some families may end up owing Uncle Sam a sizable refund if they accept government help on buying health insurance next year under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
A study published Monday in Health Affairs estimates that 38% of families that qualify for federal premium subsidies might have to repay some portion if changes in their household income aren’t reported to the government.
These subsidies are a crucial part of the federal healthcare law intended to help make insurance more affordable for lower- and middle-income people. Individuals earning less than $46,000 a year, and families below $94,000 annually may qualify for these premium tax credits.
But a raise, bonus or other unexpected income during the year could alter a person’s eligibility and subsidy amount, triggering a repayment when the person files income tax forms for 2014. Some policy experts worry that experience could sour people on the healthcare expansion.
“There’s the potential for some sizable repayments,” said Ken Jacobs, the study’s lead author and chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.
“Even if a small number of people owe a lot of money back that could generate fear of taking the subsidies. You don’t want to scare people from enrolling,” Jacobs added.
At particular risk of refunds, researchers said, are people who are near the eligibility cutoff for the subsidies. The tax credits are on a sliding scale basis up to 400% of the federal poverty line.
For instance, a family of four in California that receives a year-end bonus that puts them over that 400% income threshold could be required to repay more than $7,000, according to Jacobs.
The subsidy repayments are capped for lower-income people under the law.
The study said prompt notification of income changes so the subsidies can be adjusted could reduce the number of people who owe repayments by as much as 41%. Also, the size of the typical repayment could be cut by as much as 60%, according to the study.
“Timely reporting will make a very big difference,” Jacobs said.
In most cases, the federal government will pay the monthly subsidy directly to the customer’s private health insurer and the policyholder will pay any remaining premium.
In Washington, D.C., Jacobs said, the district’s exchange has set the default subsidy to 85% of the full amount to give people some financial cushion against receiving too much throughout the year. Even in that case, he said, consumers can still elect to take the full amount if they want.
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said the state’s health exchange will work hard to educate residents about how the subsidies work and the importance of promptly reporting changes in income to avoid surprises later on.
“We don’t want to be on the paternalistic side of saying, ‘We think you should save more to the end,'” Lee said. “But we do want to reach out and let people know what the risks are. It is a big deal.”
A cautionary message is conveyed in today’s feature article:
Do not confuse Obamacare with Medicare and complicate your situation! If you are a Medicare recipient – Obamacare, or the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) “Marketplace” health plan options do not apply to you. They only apply to Americans below the age of 65 or otherwise not on Medicare. If you are on Medicare – do nothing at all! Steer clear of the Marketplace where people will go to apply for the new health care compliant plans. Even though the enrollment periods for Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Plans over-lap with the ACA health plans this fall – your benefits are already covered by Medicare and–at least for now–are not changing.
Admin. – Kenton Henry
WALL STREET JOURNAL
September 7, 2013, 8:36 p.m. ET
Don’t Confuse Medicare With Obamacare
Covered by Medicare? Don’t Give the New Health Insurance Marketplace Another Thought.
BY JENNIFER WATERS
October is an important medical-insurance sign-up month for millions of Americans, both under and over 65 years old.
The annual Medicare open-enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, overlaps this year with the initial registration for the Health Insurance Marketplace, a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
But don’t confuse the two. They serve different populations.
If you’re already covered by Medicare, you needn’t give the Marketplace another thought. That’s for people under the age of 65 who don’t have any health insurance. Enrollment starts Oct. 1 and runs through March 31.
“We want to reassure Medicare beneficiaries that they are already covered, that their benefits aren’t changing and that the Marketplace doesn’t require them to do anything different,” says Richard Olague, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Specifically, they do not have to change their Medicare coverage or enroll in any Marketplace plan.”
The Medicare open-enrollment period is the window for the 50 million covered to review their policies for any modifications in costs, coverage and benefits.
“It’s the one time of the year to look at other options available and make a change for a new plan that will take effect Jan. 1,” says Paula Muschler, manager of the Allsup Medicare Advisor, a Medicare plan selection service.
Even if you’re comfortable with the plan you have, study it to make sure it hasn’t been reworked. Ms. Muschler helped a woman last year switch to another plan, saving $7,000 in out-of-pocket expenses when her first plan did away with covering costly brand-name medications she regularly used.
The Medicare open-enrollment period also differs from the initial enrollment requirements. For those new to Medicare, there is a seven-month window to register that starts three months before your 65th-birthday month and ends the third month after your birthday month.
These enrollment periods are also prime time for swindlers to rip you off, so take heed to this warning from CMS: “It’s against the law for someone who knows that you have Medicare to sell you a Marketplace plan.”