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

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

By Editor, Agent, Broker

D. Kenton Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MEDICARE IN 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AARP Unitedhealthcare

Aetna

Ambetter

Anthem

BlueCross BlueShield of Texas

Caresource

Cigna

Community Health Choice

Friday

Humana

KelseyCare Advantage

Molina

Mutual of Omaha

Oscar

Scott and White

Unitedhealthcare

Wellcare

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

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

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*(FEATURE ARTICLE)

Democrats suffer blow on drug pricing as 3 moderates buck party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.