MEDICARE CHANGES IN 2018 AND HOW THEY MAY AFFECT YOU

By D. Kenton Henry, Editor, Broker, Agent

Each year Medicare recipients and their agents and brokers prepare for upcoming changes in Medicare. This is because all changes have the potential to impact the member’s pocketbook. They may directly affect it or trickle down to the products they use to supplement Medicare.

Here is what we know is changing:

In 2017 you pay:
$1,288 Medicare deductible for each benefit period
• Days 1-60: $0 coinsurance for each benefit period
• Days 61-90: $322 coinsurance per day of each benefit period
• Days 91 and beyond: $644 coinsurance per each “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 for each benefit period (up to 60 days over your lifetime)
Beyond lifetime reserve days: all costs

In 2018 you will pay:
$1,316 Medicare deductible for each benefit period
• Days 1-60: $0 coinsurance for each benefit period
• Days 61-90: $329 coinsurance per day of each benefit period
• Days 91 and beyond: $658 coinsurance per each “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 for each benefit period (up to 60 days over your lifetime)
• Beyond lifetime reserve days: all costs

PART B DEDUCTIBLE:
The Medicare Part B deductible is $183 in 2017. It is expected to rise in 2018, but the Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services has not, and is not expected to, release that figure until closer to the end of this calendar year.

PART B PREMIUMS:
COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT (COLA), I.e., the Social Security Income Payment Adjustment, numbers for the coming year have not been released as of yet. But it’s widely expected that there will be a COLA of around 2 percent for 2018 (as opposed to 0.3 percent for 2017, and zero percent for 2016). CMS has not yet set Part B premiums for 2018, but it’s likely that premiums will level out for all enrollees (except those with high incomes, who always pay more). This because any necessary rate change will be covered by the COLA. In other words, the increase in Part B premiums will be offset by an increase in income payments for low-income recipients.

For high-income Part B enrollees (income over $85,000 for a single individual, or $170,000 for a married couple), premiums in 2017 range from $187.50/month to $428.60/month, depending on income. They will likely rise again for 2018, but there’s another change coming that will affect some high-income Part B enrollees in 2018. As part of the Medicare payment solution that Congress enacted in 2015 to solve the “doc fix” problem, new income brackets were created to determine Part B premiums for high-income Medicare enrollees, and they’ll take effect in 2018.

The high-income brackets start at $85,001 for a single individual and $170,001 for a married couple. Enrollees with income between $85,001 and $107,000 ($170,001 and $214,000 for a married couple) won’t see any changes to their bracket.
But enrollees with income above those limits might be bumped into a higher bracket in 2018, which means their premiums could jump considerably. The highest bracket (i.e., with the highest Part B premium) will now apply to those with income above $160,000 ($320,000 for a married couple), whereas the highest bracket didn’t apply in 2017 until an enrollee’s income reached $241,000 ($428,000 for a married couple). As with the deductible, Medicare Part B premiums for 2018 have not yet been set, but slightly less wealthy Medicare enrollees will begin paying the highest prices for Medicare Part B in 2018.

Here are Medicare Part B Premiums for 2017 (based on a 2-year look-back to 2015):

If your yearly income in 2015 (for what you pay in 2017) was You pay each month (in 2017)

File individual tax return File joint tax return Married Filing Separately
$85,000 or less $170,000 or less $85,000 or less = $134
above $85,000 up to $107,000 above $170,000 up to $214,000 N/A = $187.50
above $107,000 up to $160,000 above $214,000 up to $320,000 N/A = $267.90
above $160,000 up to $214,000 above $320,000 up to $428,000 N/A = $348.30
above $214,000 above $428,000 above $129,000 = $428.60

PART D PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLANS:
The Part D Annual Deductible is $405 in 2018, up from $400 in 2017
Premiums in the State of Texas, e.g., range from a low of $16.70 to a high of $197.10
* On the positive side, the Affordable Care Act is gradually closing the donut hole -technically known as the Gap – in Medicare Part D. In 2018, enrollees will pay just 35% of the plans cost for brand-name drugs while in the donut hole, and 44% of the cost of generic drugs.

2018 PART D COVERAGE GAP STAGE:
Begins after the total yearly drug cost (including what Your plan has paid and what you have paid) reaches $3,750. After you enter the coverage gap, you pay 35% of the drug cost for covered brand-name drugs and 44% of the drug cost for covered generic drugs until your out-of-pocket costs (not including your premiums) total $5,000, which is the end of the coverage gap. Not everyone will enter the coverage gap.

2018 Catastrophic Coverage Stage:

After your yearly out-of-pocket drug costs (including drugs purchased through your retail pharmacy and mail-order) reach $5,000, you pay the greater of:

5% of the cost, or
$3.35 copay for generic drugs (including brand drugs treated as generic) and $8.35 copay for all other drugs.

 

*Tip of the 2018 Part D Open Enrollment Period:
When purchasing your prescription drugs at the pharmacy counter, always ask your pharmacist for the lowest possible cost for your drug through their pharmacy. NBC Today Show did a segment today (10.17.17) in which they revealed that many times your copay for the drug, through your insurance, is higher than the lowest cost from the pharmacy. As the photo at the top of this article depicts, sometimes the difference is quite significant. A pharmacist in Magnolia, Texas, explained that a contractual “Gag” order exists between the pharmacy and the pharmacist (or employee) which prevents the latter from disclosing this to the customer. However, once questioned, the pharmacist or employee must disclose accurate information. If the cash price is lower, by all means, pay the cash price and do not let the purchase go through your insurance.

I will keep followers of my blog apprised of, as yet, unannounced changes in Medicare as they become available. In the meantime, to those of you who are my current clients, I would like to extend a sincere thank you for your business and the confidence you have placed in me.

ASSISTANCE IN IDENTIFYING YOUR LOWEST TOTAL COST PART D DRUG PLAN:

You, and those who would consider my services may email or―for those who feel it a more secure method―may fax a list of your prescription drugs and dosages to my secure fax. (I am the only one with access to it.) I will submit your drug regimen to the quoting system which will identify the plan which covers all your drugs at the lowest total cost for the coming calendar year. The lowest-total-cost is the sum of the plan premium, any applicable deductible, and your drug costs. Whether you elect to go through me to acquire it, is at your discretion.

Please email Kenton at:
allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com
or
Fax to my secure fax at:
281.367.4772

I am processing quote requests in the order received.
Thank you so much for taking the time to stay abreast of these relevant changes affecting, and so important to, Medicare recipients. I know many of you are living on fixed incomes, and keeping your costs for protecting yourself from increases in medical care, and insurance, is of vital importance to you.

 http://TheWoodlandsTXHealthInsurance.com   https://HealthandMedicareInsurance.com

BITTER CHILL IN THE FALL AIR FOR OBAMACARE

by D. Kenton Henry, Editor, Agent, Broker

The Open Enrollment Period (OEP) when individuals and families can select and enroll in health insurance plans for the calendar year 2018 is, just around the corner, beginning, as usual, November 1. What is different this year is, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), which oversees Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ― ACA), has proposed ending it December 15th ― a period half as long as in all previous years. OEP historically ends January 31st. If this proposed change is effected, consumers, and agents and brokers on their behalf, will be under considerably more pressure to bind coverage during a period which has always been fraught with confusion and frustration. Expected to heighten the latter, are increasing premiums and less participation by insurance companies and providers. Increasing premiums (which have only accelerated during Obamacare) speak for themselves. Less participation by insurance companies means less competition and fewer plans from which consumers may choose. Less participation by providers means it will be even harder to find your doctor or hospital in the Health Maintenance Network (HMO) plans we Texans are forced to choose from since January 2016. Do not expect Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans to return for 2018. The reason behind this deliberate trend is the unstated agenda of the industry to accustom each of us to have our providers―and thereby our treatment―rationed. The stated agenda is an attempt to mitigate financial losses by the insurance companies. Those in office who would replace Obamacare, and our current insurance system, with a “Single-Payer” system have no problem, whatsoever, with this trend. This, because restrictions on providers and treatment will be inherent in any single-payer program.There are many in Washington who believe the solution to healthcare insurance is to add all of us to Medicare.Those who share in the belief the single-payer system is the solution should consider the reality that Medicare is 50 trillion is debt and predicted to be insolvent 12 years from now. (That is according to the Trump administration. Obama’s predicted it to be insolvent one year earlier, the Congressional Budget Office three years earlier) http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170713/NEWS/170719951

And this is the reality with current members having paid into it their entire working careers. How do you think that is going to work when you add every other American, a great many of which are not contributing to Medicare and never have? In my mind, that will expedite the path to insolvency exponentially. Consider a true single-payer program which serves as an example: Veteran’s Administration Health Care. A beacon of mismanagement resulting in waiting lines, provider rationing, and, in many parts of the country, long travel distances for care.

To exacerbate the difficulty in predicting premiums, and budgeting accordingly, President Trump has stated he is considering withholding federal subsidies to insurance companies. Historically, these have bought down the retail premiums the consumer must pay. Here we are halfway through September, and we still do not know if Trump will do so. Now―here is the real wrench in the grist mill ― the insurance companies must submit their 2018 premiums to the State Insurance Regulators by September 30th!

“If there’s no deal on the subsidies within the next five weeks, states will have no choice but to approve rate increases that include surcharges and go with those rates for the start of open enrollment on Nov. 1. On average that would mean consumers would see an extra 20 percent price hike next year.” ― 20 August 2017, CNBC.COM

“In many ways, the die has already been cast… if nothing changes before the end of September, we’re pretty much looking at those rates being locked in for 2018,” said Wisconsin insurance commissioner Ted Nickel, who is also president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. ― 20 August 2017, CNBC.COM

That is 20 percent on top of general premium increases predicted to be in the 12 to 15% range.

Once again, whether you feel you need assistance in coping with these issues in electing your 2018 coverage and protecting yourself and family from the sky-rocketing cost of health care, please call me at 281.367.6565. I have been specializing in health insurance for 26 of my 31 years in insurance. I have assisted my clients in coping with Obamacare since its passage in March of 2010.

For those of you enrolled in Medicare ― Open Enrollment for election of your 2018 Part D Drug Plan begins, as usual, October 15th. Current clients should email me a list of your current drug regimen at allplanhealthinsurance.com@gmail.com. Upon receipt, I will provide you my recommendation your lowest out of pocket cost Part D plan in 2018. Those of you not currently my clients are encouraged to do the same.

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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Featured articles:

Governors Tell Congress to Stabilize Individual Health Insurance Market

Michael Collins, USA TODAYPublished 1:25 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2017 | Updated 5:45 p.m. ET Sept. 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — Governors from five states called Thursday on Congress to move quickly to stabilize the individual health insurance market and then embark on a serious effort to deal with skyrocketing health care costs.

“All of us — Republicans, Democrats and independents — should agree that our current path is not a sustainable one,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told a Senate panel.

The governors — three Republicans and two Democrats — testified during the second of four bipartisan hearings before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The panel is looking for a short-term fix to stabilize the individual market after the collapse of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he hopes senators can forge a bipartisan agreement by the end of next week and pass limited legislation by the end of the month to keep prices down and make it possible for everyone in the individual market to be able to afford insurance.

Congress must act quickly. New insurance rates for 2018 must be posted on the government’s website, healthcare.gov., by Sept. 27.

At Thursday’s hearing, the committee heard from Republican Govs. Haslam, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Gary Herbert of Utah and Democratic Govs. Steve Bullock of Montana and John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

A key issue is the future of federal cost-sharing payments to insurers that help them provide affordable coverage for low- and moderate-income families.

President Trump has threatened to end the payments, worth about $7 billion this year.

Read more:

With Obamacare in limbo, senators look for fix to stabilize health insurance market

Trump says GOP senators ‘look like fools’ on health care, warns of ‘imploding ObamaCare’

Congress has a crucial to-do list in September: Here’s what lawmakers must accomplish

All five governors testifying Thursday urged Congress to continue the payments, echoing the pleas of state insurance commissioners who appeared before the panel a day earlier.

The governors also called for creation of a reinsurance program that would limit losses to carriers that provide coverage in the marketplace and for the federal government to give states more flexibility to design and regulate insurance plans more suited to their own needs.

“It’s time for the federal government to work with us, not against us,” said Hickenlooper, arguing that state efforts to bring down premiums have been frequently undermined.

Without the federal government’s help, trying to keep insurance affordable is “like climbing one of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot mountains in winter without crampons,” Hickenloopper said. “It can’t be done.”

Alexander said one option for giving states flexibility would be to allow the governor or state insurance commissioner to apply for a waiver from Obamacare’s rules, instead of waiting for the state legislature to act. He also suggested a “copycat” provision so that when one state wins federal approval for a program or initiative, other states could quickly follow suit.

Senators most likely will fashion a short-term stabilization plan that includes continuing cost-sharing for a limited period of time and gives states significantly more flexibility through Obamacare’s waiver process, Alexander said.

Once a short-term fix is enacted to stabilize the individual market, lawmakers can then move quickly to focus on how to make the market vibrant in the long run, Alexander said.

“I hope we can begin to spend most of our time on the larger issue of health care costs,” he said.

Two more hearings are planned next week. The committee will hear Tuesday from various health policy experts. Health care providers and other stakeholders will appear before the panel next Thursday.

Health Insurance

If Congress doesn’t fund Obamacare subsidies next month it could get pretty complicated

  • Insurers can’t wait past a Sept. 30 deadline to set key insurance rates for next year.
  • However, the fate of key subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act is still unknown.
  • State health insurance regulators expect that subsidies could remain in limbo past key deadlines, and are making plans for that possibility.

Bertha Coombs | @BerthaCoombs

Published 8:01 AM ET Sun, 20 Aug 2017  | Updated 4 Hours Ago CNBC.com

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/19/if-congress-doesnt-fund-obamacare-subsidies-it-could-get-complicated.html

State health insurance regulators have been hoping for the best when it comes to 2018 exchange enrollment, but are now bracing for the worst-case scenario — that the fate of key health insurance subsidies will remain in limbo past key deadlines next month.

“We have a way to protect consumers, but it is complicated and will cause unnecessary confusion and anxiety,” said Diana Dooley, chair of Covered California, the state’s Obamacare exchange, in a statement Friday.

California officials say they will wait until the end of September to decide whether to let insurers impose a 12.8 percent surcharge on 2018 exchange premiums to account for the potential loss of cost-reduction subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income enrollees.

“We are extending our deadline to give Congress time to act when they return in September,” Dooley explained. “We are heartened by the bipartisan discussion that put consumers first, but we can’t wait past Sept. 30.”

Some Republican lawmakers have proposed passing a short-term funding bill next month to authorize 2018 reimbursements for cost-reduction subsidies insurers are required to make under the Affordable Care Act.

However, if there’s no deal on the subsidies within the next five weeks, states will have no choice but to approve rate increases that include surcharges and go with those rates for the start of open enrollment on Nov. 1. On average that would mean consumers would see an extra 20 percent price hike next year.

 

“In many ways the die has already been cast… if nothing changes before the end of September, we’re pretty much looking at those rates being locked in for 2018,” said Wisconsin insurance commissioner Ted Nickel, who is also president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Pressure to act fast

State insurance commissioners, insurers and most of the major health industry groups have been urging Congressional leaders to fund the so-called cost-reduction subsidies for months, but politically it puts Republicans in a difficult spot after their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

A federal judge ruled in favor of House Republicans last year, after they sued the Obama administration arguing that funding for the subsidies was never authorized by Congress. That lawsuit has been put on hold three times since last fall, and is due back in court this week.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the insurer reimbursements citing the ruling, though the administration has continued to make the payments on a month-to-month basis, and will make them for August.

“What’s likely to happen is that Congress will pass some kind of interim funding, which negates the lawsuit,” said Julius Hobson, senior policy advisor at the Polsinelli law firm, adding that barring congressional authorization “it’s difficult to get a remedy that forces the government to spend the money.”

One thing that could help tip the balance for reaching a deal is the Congressional Budget Office’s report, which estimated that cutting the subsidies would increase the deficit by $194 billion over 10 years, in part because higher premium rates would result in more people qualifying for tax credits.

But Congress also has a number of key deals it has to reach next month, including raising the deficit and reaching an agreement to fund the government in order to avoid a shutdown.

What if the payments get funded after the rate hikes?

If funding for cost-reduction subsidies were approved after rates are locked in for open enrollment, consumers would not likely get relief from the price hikes right away.

“The Medical Loss Ratio that was instituted by the ACA will still be in place, meaning that consumers will be reimbursed [if] insures are not spending an 80% minimum on [health] care costs,” said Christina Cousart, senior policy associate at National Academy for State Health Policy, but she added those rebates would happen retroactively.

Some consumers might not be made whole for the premium surcharges. The higher rates would likely result in even fewer healthy unsubsidized consumers signing up for coverage. While the rate increases should be high enough to shield insurers from losses on sicker enrollees, they would not necessarily result in big rebates for consumers.

“There’s no way we can back out these higher rates that the companies put in… We’re going to have more expensive health insurance plans, we’re going to have fewer people enrolled,” said insurance industry consultant Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy associates.

What’s also unclear is whether consumers who receive larger tax credits would have to pay them back at tax time, if insurers do provide premium surcharge rebates.

“This is really hard to say at this point, without knowing how it will all play out — which is why we believe that the best solution is for Congress and the administration to resolve this issue now,” said Covered California spokesman James Scullary. “A resolution now eliminates the need for all of these workarounds to protect consumers.”

If Congress manages to come up with a funding deal to keep the subsidies in place, Wisconsin’s insurance commissioner says they should not stop there. He says the current problems underscore the need to give states more flexibility to stabilize their exchange markets than they have under current Obamacare rules.

“We have so little control now, so much of it is coming from the federal government through more of a central planning function rather than letting states engage in ways that best needs of their consumers,” said Nickel. “We do find ourselves in very difficult straights.”

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Changes Coming for Next Year’s Obamacare Open Enrollment Period

The Trump administration is working to make changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

With the confirmation of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Trump administration is already working to make changes to President Obama’s health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

No, the promised “repeal and replace” of the ACA (also known as Obamacare) hasn’t happened yet, but Mr Price’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) has issued proposed guidelines that would affect consumers during 2018’s Obamacare open enrollment period.

The 2018 open enrollment period is not scheduled to begin until the fall of 2017. If the ACA is repealed, this next open enrollment period may be Obamacare’s last.

Let’s take a look at some of the proposed changes:

  • Shorter open enrollment period for 2018 – The 2018 Obamacare open enrollment period is currently scheduled to run from November 1, 2017 through January 31, 2018. DHS’s proposed change cut the duration of the the open enrollment period by half so that it runs from November 1 through December 15, 2017.
  • Some loosening of benefit requirements – The Obamacare law sets strict guidelines for “minimum essential coverage” that all major medical health insurance plans must provide. Though details are not yet available, DHS is proposing to loosen these rules somewhat, allowing insurers to offer plans with a broader range of coverage options.
  • More supporting documentation required for special enrollment periods – Outside of the nationwide open enrollment period, consumers can only purchase coverage on their own when they experience a major life change, such as marriage or divorce, or the birth or adoption of a baby, etc. A proposed revision of rules would tighten the requirements for applicants to provide documentation proving their eligibility for a special enrollment period.
  • Changes to doctor network rules – Under Obamacare, the federal government sets standards for what constitutes an adequate network of participating doctors and medical facilities for major medical plans. A proposed change from DHS would allow states to set these limits for themselves instead.
  • Collection of overdue premiums – In a move designed to discourage applicants from neglecting to pay their monthly premiums near year’s end and simply re-enrolling with the same plan for January, a proposed DHS rule would allow insurers to collect overdue premiums before extending coverage to such applicants in the next year.

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Trustees’ report says Medicare will be insolvent by 2029

Modern Healthcare

By Virgil Dickson  | July 13, 2017

The Medicare trust fund will be insolvent by 2029, the program’s trustees reported today.

 

The prediction is a year later than the 2028 date the Obama administration outlined in last year’s report. The Congressional Budget Office in January 2016 estimated the program would be solvent only until 2026.

 

Based on the new findings, the feared Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was designated by the Affordable Care Act to rein in Medicare costs if they grew faster than a set rate, will not be activated.

 

That’s likely good news as the board, called a death panel by ACA opponents, has never had to be formed. There hasn’t been the need, and some say, the willingness to expend the political capital. With midterm elections coming and possible fallout likely if Republicans repeal the ACA, this is one less possible political headache to worry about. Also of note, 2029 is 12 years longer than projected estimates before the Affordable Care Act become law.

 

However, trustees are worried doctors will exit the program anyway. The report contained new concerns about access to physicians in the coming years due to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act.

 

MACRA replaced the physician payment updates under the sustainable growth rate formula, which clinicians were paid under for years.

 

Under MACRA the annual physician payment update for 2017 through 2019 will be 0.5%. For 2020 through 2025, there will be no payment update, which alarmed the trustees.

 

“These amounts do not vary based on underlying economic conditions, nor are they expected to keep pace with the average rate of physician cost increases,” the report said. “Absent a change in the delivery system or level of update by subsequent legislation, access to Medicare-participating physicians may become a significant issue in the long term under current law.”

 

The new insolvency date does incorporate modest savings from the agency’s move to value-based care, including accountable care organizations. However, exact figures were not broken out.

 

“The innovations being tested under the ACA, such as bundled payments or accountable care organizations, could reduce incentives to adopt new cost-increasing technologies and could contribute to greater efforts to avoid services of limited or no value within the service bundle,” the report says.

 

Medicare Part D expenditures per enrollee are estimated to increase by an average of 6.4% annually over the next five years; that’s higher than the projected average annual rate of growth for the U.S. economy, which is 5.2 % during that period.

 

The report found that these costs are trending higher than previously predicted, particularly for specialty drugs.

 

In 2016, Medicare covered 56.8 million people and expenditures were $678.7 billion up from $647.6 billion and 55.3 million beneficiaries in 2015.

http://thewoodlandstxhealthinsurance.com

https://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

Medicare Part B Premiums Projected To Go Up For 2017 ― Insurance Companies Participating In Obamacare Going Down

By Kenton Henry, editor

A double whammy is expected to impact the medical insurance market for 2017. There is bad news for the consumer on both the Medicare and the Under Age 65 ends of the medical insurance spectrum.

One positive note ― more than 60 million Medicare recipients are projected to receive a cost of living adjustment in their Social Security Benefit! But if you’re part of this group … don’t spend all your new found increase in one place. It’s projected to be a minuscule 0.2 percent! What the government giveth . . .  (well, you can see this coming!) The flip side is, their monthly Part B premiums would go to $107.60 in 2017 ― a $2.70 increase.

On the other hand, 30% of recipients, which includes those new to Medicare in 2017; those who do not have their Part B premiums deducted from their Social Security Income Account in 2016; and those with higher incomes may see increases in premium to $149.00 for the lowest tax bracket; from $166.30 ― to $204.40 per month for the next; and from $380.20 to $467.20 in the highest bracket. Whether these projections―which amount to as much as a 22% increase for the highest income earners―are realized will not be known until October.

Part B premiums are extremely relevant when one has the option of remaining on one’s (or one’s spouse’s) company group health insurance beyond age 65 and into retirement and is weighing the cost of such against the cost of transitioning fully to Medicare Part A and B.

For guidance in this consideration please feel free to consult with the author / editor. *(see featured article from the Wall Street Journal below)

And for those still not age 65, or otherwise eligible for Medicare―and not covered by an employer’s group health insurance plan―your options for coverage are scheduled to diminish along with competition in the individual and family Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliant insurance market. If realized, the  proposed mergers between Anthem and Cigna and between Aetna and Humana would reduce your options. This on top of Unitedhealthcare’s (America’s largest insurer) announcement it is pulling out of 90% of its current markets in 2017. Furthermore, BlueCross BlueShield Association announced they may also decline or diminish  participation in the marketplace. Lastly (until our next episode), to cast further doubts on what options will remain for the consumer, both Aetna and Humana have announced they may pull out of the majority of their individual and family markets regardless of whether their proposed merger is approved. Humana issued a statement just last week to the effect they would be limiting coverage to 156 counties this month compared the 1,351 they participate in currently. **(please refer to feature article on Humana below)

For these reasons, and because the majority of my individual and family clients have been forced to migrate to Health Maintenance Organization plans (where their providers and treatment are rationed) I have been advising those who are business owners to transition to group health insurance where they not only have more options relative to benefits but can still benefit from Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) coverage. With the PPO plans, they have the final say on their providers and, thereby, better control the quality of their treatment. Small Business (less than 50 employees) owners should take note that if they enroll during the Small Business Open Enrollment Period (November 15th ― December 15th) they will not have to meet the 75% full-time employee participation rate or the 50% of employee premium contribution requirement. The only requirement is that a minimum of 2 full time, W-2 employees be covered on the plan. This is an excellent opportunity for small, closely held companies who want to improve their family’s health insurance but cannot afford coverage for all employees.

Again, please feel free to contact our office for further insight and guidance on this issue.

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Feature Article #1

WALL STREET JOURNAL

By Anne Tergesen

Updated June 22, 2016 5:12 p.m. ET    

Nearly a third of all Medicare beneficiaries face a steep increase in their premiums next year, the result of a policy that in certain circumstances requires some beneficiaries, including higher earners, to shoulder the burden of rising costs.

The government health-care plan’s trustees projected in a report Wednesday that premiums would rise by as much as 22% for wealthier beneficiaries of Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and other types of outpatient care.

The projected increase results from an intersection of the rules governing Medicare and Social Security, said Tricia Neuman, senior vice president and an expert on Medicare at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the Social Security Act’s “hold harmless” provision, Medicare can’t pass along premium increases greater than what most participants would receive through Social Security’s annual cost-of-living adjustment. That adjustment is expected to be just 0.2% in 2017 thanks to low inflation. As a result, Medicare couldn’t pass along any premium increase greater than the dollar increase in Social Security payments to the estimated 70% of beneficiaries who will qualify for hold harmless treatment in 2017, Ms. Neuman said.

Instead, Medicare must spread much of the projected increase in its costs across the remaining 30%. Those who are paying the standard $121.80 a month for Medicare Part B this year would be charged $149 a month in 2017 if the trustees’ predictions come to pass.

Higher earners would pay more. The trustees project individuals earning between $85,001 and $107,000 and couples earning between $170,001 and $214,000 would have their 2016 monthly premiums rise from $170.50 a person this year to about $204.40 in 2017. For those earning more than $214,000, or $428,000 for couples, the projected increase is to about $467.20 a month, from $389.00 in 2016.

This isn’t the first time there has been such a disparity in Part B premiums between Medicare recipients.

Last year, Congress staved off a 52% premium increase for Medicare beneficiaries not covered by the hold harmless provision via a deal in the budget agreement that raised premiums by 16% for them instead. Those covered by the hold harmless provision, in contrast, pay $104.90 a month—the same amount they paid in 2014 due to the fact that there was no Social Security cost-of-living increase in 2016.

The projected increase in Part B premiums affects several other groups of Medicare beneficiaries, including those who receive Medicare but have deferred or aren’t eligible for Social Security benefits. It also would apply to those who are new to Medicare in 2017 and lower-income Medicare beneficiaries whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs.

In the latter case, the increase would be paid by Medicaid, Ms. Neuman said.

Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the final Social Security cost-of-living adjustment won’t be known until October. If inflation rises by more than the trustees expect between now and then, it could “reduce the spike in the premium” for those who aren’t held harmless, he said.

Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt said at a news conference Wednesday, “We will continue to monitor the data and explore administrative options as needed.”

The Medicare trustees are projecting that the base Medicare Part B premium will reset for everyone at $124.40 a month in 2018, because they expect higher Social Security cost-of-living increases.

Medicare covered 55 million people last year, according to the trustees’ report. Part B covered nearly 51 million. In 2017 Medicare is expected to have 58.7 million total participants and 53.5 million in Part B.

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Feature Article # 2

Humana beats 2Q forecasts, details ACA-related scale back

Tom Murphy, AP Health Writer

Published 9:09 am, Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Humana beat second-quarter earnings expectations and reaffirmed its forecast for 2016, even as the health insurer set aside an additional $208 million to cover expenses in its individual, commercial coverage.

The company also said Wednesday it was scaling back that individual business for next year and would only offer it in 156 counties, compared to 1,351 this year. The insurer also said it will sell coverage on Affordable Care Act individual exchanges in 11 states next year, down from 15 this year.

Humana, based in Louisville, Kentucky, provides individual coverage for nearly 500,000 people through the exchanges. It covers an additional 200,000 individual customers off the exchanges, a small slice of its total medical membership of 14.2 million.

Other major insurers like UnitedHealth Group and Anthem also have recently detailed struggles with coverage they sell on the ACA’s state-based exchanges, which have helped millions of consumers gain insurance since they opened for enrollment in the fall of 2013. Aetna, which is trying to buy Humana, said Tuesday that it cancelled its exchange expansion plans for 2017 and was taking a hard look at the markets in which it is currently participating.

Insurers have been struggling with higher-than-expected claims on the exchanges and lower-than-expected support from government programs, among other issues.

Humana also is one of the nation’s largest providers of Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately run versions of the government’s Medicare program for people over age 65 or disabled. The company said Wednesday that its core businesses remained strong in the second quarter.

Overall, Humana earnings plunged 28 percent to $311 million compared to last year’s quarter, when it booked a $267 million gain from a business sale.

Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs and amortization costs, came to $2.30 per share.

Analysts expected, on average, earnings of $2.22 per share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

The health insurer posted revenue of $14.01 billion in the period, which topped the average Wall Street forecast for $13.63 billion.

The company also said Wednesday that it still expects full-year earnings to total at least $9.25 per share.

Shares of Humana edged up 52 cents to $170.09 Wednesday morning while broader indexes were flat.

Humana shares have decreased 5 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has climbed 5.5 percent.

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MEDICARE RECIPIENTS DODGE A BULLET WHILE OBAMACARE INSUREDS PREPARE TO TAKE ONE!

By D. Kenton Henry

Perhaps a storm would be a better analogy but 2016 will deliver something more than a mild tropical depression to the coast of the “Individual and Family” health insurance market. At the same―the Cat 3 (minimum) hurricane projected to slam the Senior market of Medicare recipients appears to have been diverted. For now.

As we enter the third year of enrollment in health insurance plans compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) the “Affordable” aspect of care or―more accurately―the cost of protecting oneself from the cost of health care―seems elusive and more and more a case of misrepresentation. As I have said many times in the past, if you qualify for a subsidy of your health insurance premiums you may find your options affordable. However, depending on where you live, you will surely be upset with the increasing cost of health insurance. 70% of all Obamacare members are enrolled in a Silver Plan. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), which oversees enforces the Act and oversees the health insurance industry, has designated the second lowest cost Silver Plan of any insurance company to be the default plan one must select in order to maximize the benefit of any subsidy. This could include a reduction in not only one’s premium but their deductibles and co-pays. As Fox News and the Washington Post report (see featured article below) the cost of these plans will rise by a national average of 7.5%. States such as Oklahoma will see an increase of 37.5%!

ACA ENROLLMENT 2016 2

In some states it is much worse.

ACA ENROLLMENT 2016 1

To add insult to injury many insurance companies, such as BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, have taken such losses―in spite of skyrocketing premiums―they have announced they are eliminating the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network option for their plans and member benefit. The only option will be to select a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) network option wherein the company can ration your providers and treatment. While the young or otherwise very healthy may find this option acceptable, those of us who are older or dealing with existing illnesses or injuries are certain to be upset by this development. The insurance companies seem to be in agreement on the viability of PPOs and explain any premium increase necessary to assure they even break even on a PPO policy would be beyond the increase limit set by Obamacare. As such, it would therefore not be approved by their state insurance commissioner. So the question remains: what will your personal network and benefit options be for 2016 and what will they cost?

Virtually all insurance companies are keeping the answers close to their vest until this Sunday, November 1, the first day of OPEN ENROLLMENT wherein one may choose a health insurance plan for 2016. Enrollment will remain open until January 31st. Those without a plan at that time will be locked out for the remainder of the year and will pay a penalty equal to the higher of two amounts:

2.5% of your yearly household income (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, about $10,150 for an individual in 2014, is used to calculate the penalty.) The maximum penalty is the national average premium for a Bronze plan

$695 per person ($347.50 per child under 18) The maximum penalty per family using this method is $2,085.

A banner follows which, as of Sunday, November 1st, you may click on and by simply entering your birth date, zip code and tobacco usage, obtain ALL your health insurance options from each and every insurance company issuing 2016 coverage in your state. It will also allow you to calculate what subsidy, if any, and enable you (if you choose) to log directly into the federal marketplace to acquire it and your insurance plan. If you have questions, as you most surely will, do not hesitate to contact me via my contact information via the link or below.

CLICK ON THIS BANNER TO OBTAIN 2016 HEALTH INSURANCE QUOTES:

Relative to Medicare recipients, it would appear a planned increase in the 2016 Medicare Part B premium and deductible has been taken off the table for the time being. The increase would have resulted in a huge spike in what higher income recipients and new enrollees in Part B Out-Patient coverage would pay in premium. The proposed premium increase would have been as presented here:

Income Limits, Medicare Part B Premiums for 2016

Single Married 2015 2016 Held Harmless 2016 Not Held Harmless
$85,000 or less $170,000 or less $104.90 $104.90 $159.30
$85,001 to $107,000 $170,001 to $214,000 $146.90 $223.00
$107,001 to $160,000 $214,001 to $320,000 $209.80 $318.60
$160,001 to $214,000 $320,001 to $428,000 $272.70 $414.20
Above $214,000 Above $428,000 $335.70 $509.80

The threat and legislation which averted this is described in detail in The Fiscal Times article below. As of today, it is still unclear to this editor whether the increase in the calendar year deductible has also been averted.

KENTON AT CAPITOL 2 (2)

Editor, Broker, Agent ― D. Kenton Henry

Office: 281.367.6565

Cell (call or text): 713.907.7984

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Blog: http://healthandmedicareinsurance.com

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FEATURED ARTICLES:

Health & Science

THE WASHINGTON POST

26 October 2015

2016 Affordable Care Act insurance rates are climbing

By Amy Goldstein October 26

The prices for a popular and important group of health plans sold through the federal insurance exchange will climb by an average of 7.5 percent for the coming year, a jump nearly four times bigger than a year ago, according to new government figures.

The rate increase for 2016 compares with average growth of 2 percent, from 2014 to this year, in the monthly premiums for a level of coverage that serves as the benchmark for federal subsidies that help most consumers buying coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

A “snapshot” of insurance rates, released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services, also shows that the rate increases for next year vary substantially around the country. Although there are exceptions, more populous states and metropolitan areas tend to have more modest premium increases for the coming year than smaller areas. 

The changes for next year have a wide range — from premium increases averaging 35 percent in Oklahoma and Montana to a decrease of nearly 13 percent in Indiana.

The analysis is based on hundreds of health plans sold in local markets within 37 states that use HealthCare.gov, the federal online insurance marketplace. It excludes plans in other states that have created separate ACA insurance marketplaces. The rates reflect the prices of the second-least expensive health plan in each market for 2016 in a tier of coverage known as silver. ACA health plans are divided into four tiers, all named for metals, depending on the amount of customers’ care that they cover. Silver plans have proven by far the most popular. Officials at HHS issued the analysis as less than a week remains before the start on Nov. 1 of a third open-enrollment season for Americans eligible to sign up for health plans under the insurance marketplaces created by the 2010 health-care law. The exchanges are intended for people who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

In their analysis, federal officials contend that the health plans sold through the exchanges will be affordable to people willing to shop for the best rates. The cost to consumers, HHS officials emphasize, is cushioned by the fact that nearly nine in 10 are eligible for tax credits.

Taking the subsidies into account, nearly four in five people who already have gotten insurance through these marketplaces will have access for 2016 to a health plan for which they could pay no more than $100 in monthly premiums, the analysis found. The analysis does not address other costs to consumers, such as co-payments and deductibles, which tend to be more expensive in ACA health plans than in employer-based health benefits.

The figures in the analysis reinforce a theme that Obama administration officials introduced last year and have revived as the third sign-up period approaches: the usefulness of researching the best and most affordable coverage, even if it means switching insurance from year to year. “If consumers come back to the Marketplace and shop, they may be able to find a plan that saves them money and meets their health needs,” Kevin Counihan, the HHS official who oversees the health exchanges, said in a statement.

The new figures show that existing customers who went back last fall to HealthCare.gov and picked a different plan at the same level of coverage saved an average of nearly $400 in premiums over the course of this year. Slightly fewer than one-third of those who bought such coverage for a second time switched health plans, according to the analysis. During this open enrollment, Obama administration officials are striving both to attract existing customers again and to ferret out Americans eligible for the exchanges who remain uninsured even though the law requires them to have coverage. Although many consumers can be largely shielded from rate jumps through subsidies and shopping around, the increases ratchet up the government’s expenditures on the tax credits that the law provides, health policy analysts point out.

Analysts have expected that premiums for the coming year would grow more rapidly than they did for 2015. “This is the first year that insurers actually have a full year of experience with how much care people use,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy organization. “In the first two years of the program, insurers were essentially guessing.” In addition, Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere, a health-care consulting firm, said that, as some health plans have attracted a significant share of customers, “the need to price really low diminishes a little bit.” Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, said that “averages don’t tell the whole story” and that insurance rates hinge on “location and the cost of providing care to individuals in particular markets.” In particular, Krusing said, last year was “a record-breaking year for prescription drug prices. That trend is likely to continue.”

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Seniors Exhale as Congress Blocks Huge Medicare Increase

By Eric Pianin October 27, 2015 3:17 PM

Responding to pressure from seniors’ and labor groups as the 2016 campaign season heats up, congressional leaders and the White House have blocked a huge, 50 percent increase in the Medicare Part B premium for nearly one third of the 50 million elderly Americans who depend on the program for health services.

The bipartisan solution will block all but a tiny fraction of the premium increase. It is contained in the two-year budget and debt ceiling bill negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the White House and that awaits ratification by the two chambers – likely by the end of this week.

Related: Millions Facing a Hefty Increase in Medicare Premiums in 2016

The threatened sharp premium increase – reported back in August by The Fiscal Times – was triggered by a quirk in federal law that penalizes wealthier Medicare beneficiaries, newcomers to the program and lower income Americans with complicated chronic health problems. It kick in any time the Social Security Administration fails to approve an annual cost-of-living adjustment – as will be the case next year.

Medicare Part B and the Social Security trust fund are interconnected, and most seniors on Medicare have their monthly premiums deducted from their Social Security checks. Because the federal law “holds harmless” about 70 percent of Medicare recipients from premium increases to cover unexpected increases in healthcare costs, the remaining 30 percent of Medicare Part B beneficiaries suffer the consequences by being made to pay higher premiums.

Without intervention by Congress, roughly 15 million seniors and chronically ill people currently claiming both Medicare and Medicaid coverage would have seen their premiums increase from $104.90 per month to $159.30 for individuals, according to Medicare actuaries. The actuaries also predicted an increase in the annual deductible for Part B of Medicare, from $147 in 2015 to $223 next year.

Related: Social Security Ruling Drives Up Medicare Costs for Millions

Estimates of the cost of legislation to blunt or block a premium increase have ranged from $7.5 billion to $10 billion. Under the budget agreement unveiled late last night, that cost will be covered by a loan of general revenue from the U.S. Treasury to the Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund.

In order to repay that loan, the 15 million people who are not subject to the “hold harmless” protection will be required to pay an additional $3 a month in premiums – a token amount — until the loan is repaid years from now, according to a House budget document describing the deal. Medicare beneficiaries who currently pay higher income-related premiums would pay more than $3, based on their income levels.

If there is no Social Security cost of living adjustment increase for 2017, this provision will apply again.

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Cost of Obamacare Borne On The Back Of Seniors

SENIORS ANGRY 1

To say that President Obama is not an enthusiastic backer of the two Medicare programs that offer seniors private insurance options would be something of an understatement.

Over the years, Obama has repeatedly derided Medicare Advantage — the program that lets seniors enroll in subsidized, private insurance. He once called it “wasteful,” and said it amounted to “giveaways that boost insurance company profits but don’t make (seniors) any healthier.”

Obama has been equally harsh when it comes to Medicare Part D — the prescription drug benefit President Bush signed into law that relies on privately run plans.

In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama blasted the program, saying it “somehow managed to combine the worst aspects of the public and private sectors.” As president, he said it gave overly generous “taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies.”

Both programs, it turns out, have been wildly popular with seniors and, by most measures, big successes. But Obama nevertheless appears determined to undermine them with sharp cuts in payments and sweeping new regulations.

Started back in 1997 — and initially called Medicare+Choice — the Medicare Advantage program pays private insurers a set amount per enrollee to provide comprehensive benefits and anything else they can afford to offer.

The idea was that private insurers could better co-ordinate care and manage health costs than the old fee-for-service Medicare, and so provide more comprehensive benefits.

While enrollment in these private plans was flat for the first several years, it has skyrocketed since 2005, to the point where almost one in three seniors are covered by a private health plan. As long as it is affordable, this editor considers Medicare Supplement the ideal way for a Medicare recipient to be covered for medical expenses. Not because selection of Supplement Plan F or G will cover all or virtually all of your expenses but because ALL Medicare Supplement options allow you to visit any doctor, hospital or medical provider that sees Medicare Patient. This as opposed to Medicare Advantage Plans most of which have evolved to significantly limiting your choice of providers. This being said, Medicare Advantage has been a savior to those who simply cannot afford Medicare Supplement. And contrary to Obama’s claim, seniors selecting Medicare Advantage tend to get better quality health care than those in traditional Medicare.

Critics, however, point to studies showing that the government pays Medicare Advantage more per enrollee than it would cost if these seniors had enrolled in the old Medicare program.

Obama tried to remedy this by cutting Medicare funding by $716 billion over the next ten years with payments to Medicare Advantage totaling $200 billion. The purpose of which is to help pay for ObamaCare (while providing “bonus” payments to plans that score high on a quality rating). An official analysis from Medicare’s actuary concluded, however, that such cuts would drive millions seniors out of their Advantage plans and back into the government-run program.

Recognizing political risks of these payment cuts, the administration put them off until AFTER the presidential elections, shoveling $8 billion into a bogus “demonstration project” that offset almost all the scheduled Medicare Advantage cuts implemented in 2012.

Question: What are your thoughts about President Obama’s cuts to the Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Programs?

Admin. – Kenton Henry

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FEATURE ARTICLE:

THE HILL

February 25, 2014, 10:58 am

GOP leaders to HHS: Call off Medicare changes

By Elise Viebeck

Republican Senate leaders criticized the Obama administration Tuesday for proposed changes to Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D they say would weaken the two programs.

Led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the lawmakers called on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage and reforms in Part D that would allow regulators to participate in negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies for the first time.

“Unlike ObamaCare, the Medicare prescription drug benefit is wildly popular and it has cost less than initial projections,” the letter stated.

“At a time when HHS is struggling on basic implementation tasks on many fronts, we cannot understand the logic behind the department’s interest in further undermining one of the few success stories under its purview.”

The administration argues that cuts in Medicare Advantage would reduce waste within the program and bring its per-patient funding in line with traditional Medicare, which currently receives less money on average.

In Part D, federal health officials say regulators need new authority to ensure the market for prescription drugs works well for seniors.

The proposed rules would also open drug plans’ preferred networks to a wider range of pharmacies, limit plan bids within a region and remove “protected class” designations for certain types of drugs.

But Republicans say the changes will harm Medicare Advantage beneficiaries and potentially raise premiums on Part D plans or force seniors out of their current coverage.

Both issues are rearing their heads in the midterm elections, as the GOP seeks to broaden its healthcare attacks to include more than ObamaCare.

Tuesday’s letter to Sebelius was signed by McConnell, GOP Whip John Cornyn (Texas), GOP Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (Mo.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.).

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Who Needs the Healthcare.gov Website?

HEALTHCARE DOT GOV 2

Op-ed by Kenton Henry

If the administration and main stream media will not tell you–I will:

You can go through me–or any licensed health insurance agent or broker to acquire health insurance. NOW. And this is whether you qualify for a subsidy or not. And, importantly, there will be no, I repeat – $0 difference in your cost (premium) for doing so vs. the government website Healthcare.gov or a private insurance company’s. Period. Now where have you heard “Period” before and it turned out to be true? Well . . . in this case it is.

There is only ONE reason to go to the still basically inoperable, security in doubt, aforementioned federal government health insurance website known as The Marketplace:

1) You qualify for a subsidy of your 2014 health insurance premium and you would like to take advantage of that subsidy as you pay your premiums. I.e., you qualify and would like the premium you pay to your insurance company to be reduced by the amount of your subsidy as you pay the premium. (This as opposed to paying the gross premium (cost before your subsidy is applied) then declaring your subsidy on your 2014 tax return and having your tax liability reduced accordingly.)

If you this does not describe you – there is absolutely no reason to go to healthcare.gov!

Neither do you need to go through a state appointed, federally funded Navigator, hired by the State and required to complete only 20 hours of online education and be subjected to no background check. Why replicate and risk the possible insecurity of your personal information which includes your address; birth date; social security number and reported income by going through someone not even vetted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Center for Medicare Services (CMS)? As the Secretary for HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, admitted under oath and questioning from Texas Senator John Cornyn during Congressional, hearings just last week – “It is possible (for a convicted felon to be hired as a Navigator and take your personal and vital information).”

This begs the question: Why is the administration and main stream media not advertising, and barely mentioning, that a health insurance shopper can go through a licensed and vetted insurance agent who has passed a background check with every company with whom they are appointed and do so at no additional cost? Or that the shopper can then have all the expertise that that agent’s time in the industry (27 years in my case) brings to bear on their needs and situation? Or how about a “go to” advocate in their behalf they can call whenever there is an issue relating to claims; rates or general service related issues such as changes in address or dependents. This as opposed to a different unknown service rep at the end of a toll free number each time they call an insurance company directly?

I will let you speculate on the answers to these questions but (while the purpose of this blog is to educate the follower on issues relating to health and Medicare insurance) indulge me while I for once engage in a little shameless self-promotion on behalf of myself and all licensed agents and brokers:

If you reside in Texas; Indiana; or Ohio – please visit my website at http://allplaninsurance.com and click on the bold red “Get A Quote!” button on the home page or–better yet–call me toll free @ 800.856.6556 and let’s have an intelligent dialogue about your true wants and needs relative to coverage and then get some meaningful quotes and information for you. All without submitting the equivalent of a home mortgage application!

If you reside in any other state – do yourself a favor and call a well recommended licensed health insurance agent or broker in your community.

Again, call me even if you do qualify for a subsidy. I can help you just the same and–as without a subsidy–your cost for insurance will be the same. If you do not want to take the subsidy now but would rather take it on your 2014 tax return (when you actually know what your income will have been) we can apply for you now and have your coverage issued immediately.

If you want the subsidy applied upfront, to reduce the premium you pay each month, we will still have to enter the healthcare.gov website. But we will do so only after we have obtained your gross quotes via my website. I know the formula and can do a pretty fair job of estimating your net premium (after your subsidy is applied). If this scenario describes you,  as the federal website is still inoperable, we should wait and see if HHS and CMS have the site fixed and secure by November 30th as promised. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and–if so–we should sail (wink, wink) through the application and have your coverage issued by January 1. But remember, if all government deadlines remain as now, we will need to complete your application no later than December 15th!

Admin. – Kenton Henry

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That Giant “Sucking Sound” Is Your Providers Exiting Your Preferred Provider Network!

Op-Ed by Kenton Henry, Administrator

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.

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Letter to Medicare Advantage Clients

Update to Physician Network Changes

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.

Talking points for member inquiries
Please refer to the Physician Network Changes – Frequently Asked Questions for Member Discussions that provide additional information and may be used in the event you receive any member inquiries.

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Lower Health Insurance Premiums to Come at Cost of Fewer Choices

By ROBERT PEAR

Published: September 22, 2013

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.”

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