(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.
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:
BlueCross BlueShield of Texas
Community Health Choice
Mutual of Omaha
Scott and White
D. Kenton Henry Office: 281-367-6565 Text my cell 24/7: 713-907-7984 Email: Allplanhealthinsurance.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.