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Tag: Health Plans

The Clock Is Ticking

There’s still time.  Much of the sensationalistic coverage since October has completely missed the point, argue defenders.  THCB reader Hiro Kawashima had this to say:

“What became clear is that President Obama’s most formidable enemy isn’t the Republican Party, angry insurers or antsy Congressional Democrats; it is time. The PPACA is running against the clock and what the PPACA needs most is time to work. Even before the bill was signed into law, it was clear that the true financial benefit of PPACA would not be realized for a decade. Each failure, each negative portrayal and each angry consumer shaves an additional second off the clock. The President’s proposed administrative fix will buy time for the White House to get the healthcare.gov website working and regain control of the narrative.

If none of the reasons above made any sense to you, here is an analogy from President Obama:

One way I described this to — I met with a group of senators when this issue first came up — and it’s not a perfect analogy — but we made a decision as a society that every car has to have a seatbelt or airbags.  And so you pass a regulation.  And there are some additional costs, particularly at the start of increasing the safety and protections, but we make a decision as a society that the costs are outweighed by the benefits of all the lives that are saved.  So what we’re saying now is if you’re buying a new car, you got to have a seatbelt.

Well, the problem with the grandfather clause that we put in place is it’s almost like we said to folks, you got to buy a new car, even if you can’t afford it right now.  And sooner or later, folks are going to start trading in their old cars.  But we don’t need — if their life circumstance is such where, for now at least, they want to keep the old car, even if the new car is better, we should be able to give them that option.  And that’s what we want to do.”

Think You’re Young and Invincible? You’re Young, Yes. Invincible? Maybe Not.

Life was getting underway the day I found a suspicious lump. My first book had just been published and was being received well in my field. I was traveling and speaking about a new research project. The phone kept ringing and there was little time to think.

I figured that was the reason why my weight was falling. It was one of those good side benefits of a busy schedule. Why worry about a pea-sized lump? Lots of women have those and they turn out to be nothing. Coincidentally, that was exactly what my gynecologist said it was: nothing but a cyst.

Two more visits to that doctor resulted in him telling me that, at my age and with my family history, there was nothing to worry about and I should get on with life. He refused my request for a mammogram, suggesting that I should relax. I gave relaxation a try until a friend told me, “You look bad. If you don’t go see your GP for another opinion, I’m not going to talk to you.” There were dark lines under my eyes and I was becoming tired and downright skinny. I took her advice. It was cancer.

When I read about young people declining to sign up for health insurance, I remember back to that time. Sure, it’s great to be young. One of the best things is thinking you have a long time before you need to worry about your body giving you major problems. And isn’t life a gamble anyway?

I’m sure many young people reason this way and to some extent they’re right. Having spent a significant part of my career studying how people reason about health, it’s no surprise to me that weighing the odds causes a good many of us to take risks.

Yet, there is no such thing as a “young invincible,” the term currently bandied about to describe adults under the age of 35.

It’s not their fault if the system is unresponsive when they attempt to learn their insurance options. But it is their responsibility, to themselves and their families, to make sure that if something does go wrong — as it often does — their insurance will afford them the care that could save their lives.

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The Real Fix? The Exchanges Aren’t Working. Here’s Why …

Last week President Obama announced that he will try to keep his oft repeated promise to Americans in the individual market that they can keep their plans if they like them … for a year. The media have done an excellent job explaining why President Obama’s temporary patch to the ACA may endanger its existence; in the process the American public has learned more than it ever wanted to about adverse selection, cream skimming, and most importantly crass politics.

Though the full costs of adverse selection will be muted in the first year by risk corridors and reinsurance, it is clear that the failing website, the bad press, and the recently announced delay are placing maximal stress on even those backup provisions of the bill.

Even if the ACA survives this additional insult against the economics that support its very existence, we have witnessed yet another missed opportunity for positive reform to President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. And this time we can’t just blame intransigent tea-party Republicans and their quixotic efforts at repeal; here the buck stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW.

While many of the plans that are affected by the President’s temporary patch might actually be plans that don’t qualify as “insurance” (i.e. they have low lifetime caps on expenditures or don’t cover hospital services), numerous others actually offer quite good coverage that just don’t meet the exceptionally high standards of the newly developed minimum essential health benefit (EHB).

In many ways, the first dollar coverage for preventive care and the wide ranging number of services covered by the ACA aren’t truly insurance either. Instead, these features amount to a very generous pre-payment plan for medical services supported by the United States treasury.

These elements of the EHB are too costly and unnecessary. Perhaps even more concerning, they are just the ante. As time goes on, vested interests for everything not included in the EHB will work tirelessly to insure that their favorite benefits are included. If you want evidence of this eventuality, you need look no further than the remarkably long and growing list of benefits mandated by most states.

Keep in mind that as the EHB grows more generous the premiums and subsidies on the exchanges will also grow. And we know who will pay their “fair share” of those increases.

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Five Questions Journalists Should Be Asking About the Affordable Care Act

I’m hearing a lot of the lazy “but what are the political implication” perpetual horse race questions from the media about recent developments surrounding the Affordable Care Act. That’s fun Inside-the-Beltway stuff, but in the mean time there are real people who are likely to be helped and hurt with matters as essential as their health.  So, what I am not hearing enough of yet, however, are tough, substantive questions that get to the heart of whether the Affordable Care Act is going to be stillborn.

Here are some questions that I think intelligent journalists and blogger ought to be asking in light of recent developments with the Affordable Care Act.  Getting answers in many cases may take persistent questioning and closer scrutiny of existing documents. In others, FOIA requests may be needed.

1. Actual v. Anticipated Age Distributions in the Exchanges

What is the age distribution by state and in the aggregate of persons who it is claimed have enrolled in Exchange-based plans under the Affordable Care Act? Once we have this data, we can compare it to (a) census data on the age distributions in the various states and (b) any prior estimates on what the age distribution of Exchange enrollees would be such as those described in this government document.

If there is a significant difference between the age distribution encountered thus far and the anticipated age distribution, that increases the probability of the ACA succumbing to an adverse selection death spiral.

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The ACA May Kill Me

Through a bad roll of the genetic dice, I am the unhappy host for several, rare chronic diseases.  Any one of these would render me uninsurable, but the combination of them makes me incurable, and very difficult to treat.  The deadliest thing that I can encounter is a well-intentioned but uninformed doctor.

I have currently have excellent insurance through my husband’s job that allows me to see my varied team of treating physicians.  Two are in other states, and the rest are all heads of their departments, but none share a hospital or healthcare group. If my husband were to lose his job, I would be placed into the “high-risk-pool,” if there were any slots left, or forced onto the exchanges where my physician options would be cut significantly.

I would likely be forced to pay for healthcare coverage that I cannot use, since many doctors have been unwilling to even attempt to treat me, despite my “Cadillac” insurance plan.

I would likely have to pay cash to see my current team of physicians, which would be a tremendous financial burden on my family and likely end in bankruptcy.

I was cautiously optimistic when I heard of the end of the pre-existing condition exclusions for health insurance, but the current law will not help me at all.  It does not expand my insurance options, it will definitely NOT be less expensive than what I have now, and if I am forced to see a well intentioned, overworked and uninformed (or even distracted) doctor, it just might kill me.

BTW: I am NOT disabled, and do not take any form of government assistance.  I have owned my own business and paid that higher tax bracket for over 20 years.”

If you’ve had a bad or good experience attempting to buy health insurance on the state or federal exchanges, we’d like to know about it. Drop us a note.

I’m Male. A Non-Smoker. And in My Fifties. Can Somebody Please Explain Why I Have to Pay for Maternity Coverage?

A THCB Reader in Maryland writes:

“I realize many individual health insurance policies are being cancelled because they are not in compliance with the ACA’s new requirements. 

Do the new ACA requirements effect all individual plans sold or just those available in the exchanges?

In other words, if I am a self employed, single 50 year old male who does not want maternity, pap smears and mammograms; can I solicit an individual policy outside of the exchanges that meets these needs? For that matter, could I find a policy in the exchanges that meets these needs?”

If you’ve had a bad or good experience attempting to buy health insurance on the state or federal exchanges, we’d like to know about it. Drop us a note.

CIGNA and Me

I have a challenge for CIGNA CEO David Cordani.  Sometime this week, pick up the phone and be a secret shopper.  Call your customer service team and ask them the same thing I asked them on a Friday not long ago: does my plan cover and reimburse for flu shots, and at which participating providers in my area?  This is managed care and wellness 101.  Just not at CIGNA.

Customer service rep A says shots are covered and reimbursed, but she cannot confirm any place in St. Louis as a par provider that would bill the plan directly for payment.  Her stubborn refusal to grasp the meaning of “par provider” was infuriating.  She repeatedly reads a list of potential providers (all national companies, such as Walgreens) and then tells me I must call each location to discern its billing practices.

Wrong.  Just plainly and simply wrong because they’re all signed to national contracts.  Then, while both my German Shepherds headed for cover in another room, she hung up on me.  (I was angry but never profane or malevolent.)

Undaunted and now even more frustrated, I call customer service again.  Customer service rep B says: shots covered fully and each location noted previously is a par provider that will accept assignment.  Done, right?  Not yet.  Customer service rep A calls me back.

She has not, however, learned anything in the intervening 15 minutes, as she returns to her home base of ignorance with the accuracy of a GPS.  Finally, I demand a supervisor.  With the supervisor comes enlightenment and lower blood pressure.

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State Surveillance Endangers the Affordable Care Act: A Case Study

… and a call to action. This case study is based on my meeting with the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) in my home state. CHIA is an all payers claims database, a massive collection of diagnoses, locations, dates and prices for all of your health services across all of your providers and insurers. Whether it’s claims or health records, almost every state and many private clearing houses are setting up to monitor you.

Your information can be used by business to manipulate prices for maximum profit, or by you to inform your choice of health insurance plans and health care providers.

Unfortunately, business can get your information but you can’t. This reflects an industry strategy to obstruct the market-based features of the Affordable Care Act. I hope you will take this case study, edit it, and file it with the Attorney General and Governor in your state to ask for your data as a consumer protection issue. That’s what I’m about to do.

My state is #1! Go Massachusetts! My state is #1 in health care costs. It’s also #1 in implementing a health insurance exchange (Romneycare 2006) and a leader in state surveillance with the 2012 cost containment law known as Chapter 224. Chapter 224 mandates various state surveillance mechanisms including a health information exchange that monitors encounters and an all payer claims database called “the center”.

The cost containment law also includes some consumer protections. Line 1909 states:

“To the maximum extent feasible, the center shall also make data available to health care consumers, on a timely basis and in an easily readable and understandable format, data on health care services they have personally received.”

Although the state surveillance is in place, and the price fixing that keeps us #1 is ongoing, the consumer protection part of the law is not implemented. So, I took the opportunity to meet with the executive director of CHIA and their chief legal counsel and get the scoop on why the state is not following the law. To paraphrase their explanation: “It’s too hard.”

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Of Course, Then There’s The Fact That You May Be Better Off Waiting To Buy Coverage, Anyway …

Will all the White House messages, the stream of breathless Twitter updates on the number of hits and enrollments, and the press hype surrounding opening day send the uninsured public into panic mode? Will they prompt buyers to consider only the premium and click to enroll ASAP? And why not? For weeks the administration, state exchange officials and supporters of the Affordable Care Act have been telling the public how cheap premiums will be — much cheaper than expected.

A Pennsylvania woman told me she was chomping at the bit to enroll because she was eager to dump her policy from Aetna for a cheaper model from Blue Cross. Never mind that she had no idea whether the coverage was better, the same, or worse.

A Nebraska woman heard there was a worksheet to fill out and it had to be completed by October 1. It was first-come-first-served, an agent had told her.

If cheap premiums were the only thing shoppers had to consider, this sense of urgency might be fine. But it’s not. Here’s the problem.

Selecting a health insurance policy is fraught with potential missteps and misunderstandings. As the Nebraska woman told me, “You’re walking into a chasm of uncertainty. It’s like shopping for a used car. You don’t know if you’re getting a lemon,” a lemon you’re stuck with until the next open enrollment.

For consumers, the key advice right now is: don’t rush into anything. Tuesday, October 1st marked the first day of a six-month open enrollment period, not the last. Coverage doesn’t even begin until January 1, 2014, so there’s no need to buy the first policy you see. If you do want coverage on January 1, the deadline for enrolling is Dec 15.

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Not Quite Ready For Prime Time: The State Health Insurance Marketplaces and Google

All of the state health insurance marketplaces (also known as exchanges) are online, but millions of expected users may have a hard time finding them.  Marketplaces will enable shopping and enrollment mainly through their websites. States are using a variety of promotional strategies, but most people will likely find marketplaces in the same way they find other websites—through common keyword searches on Google, by far the nation’s dominant search engine. Poor search engine results can create serious barriers to shopping and enrollment, the major measures of success for marketplaces and, by extension, the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

We used standard methods to assess Google results for the 17 marketplaces operated by 16 states and Washington, DC that offer individuals, families, and small businesses a place to shop for health care coverage.  Over three days in mid-September, we looked at results for keywords that data from Google show people are commonly using to search for health insurance. We examined both unpaid (or “organic”) and paid (or “sponsored”) results. Although research shows that unpaid results get more attention, paid results can also lead to page views.

Our preliminary findings show that marketplaces for four states—Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, and New York—and Washington, DC did not appear on the first page of Google results, which generates 92% of all page views.  In addition, both unpaid and paid search results for most of the remaining 12 states were frequently absent from page one.

With enrollment in the marketplaces opening October 1 for coverage beginning January 1, this would be a good time to focus on search engine optimization (SEO), the process of increasing the rankings of unpaid or “organic” search results. Once implemented, SEO results can be seen quickly, especially for a topic as popular and important as new health insurance options. However, it requires analysis, planning, and time to implement.

Methods for Conducting Search Engine Result Testing

To test search engine results for state-operated health insurance marketplaces, we used the five keywords most effective in producing page views of a prominent healthcare-related website produced by a federal client: Affordable Care Act, affordable health care, health care, health insurance, and Medicaid.

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