Archive for the ‘Association Health Plan’ Category

Higher Out of Pocket cost for healthcare services seems to be a surprise to some. Question for you: Who hasn’t expected that? Let’s explore this.

September 13, 2018

Over the past few months we’ve seen a steady increase in articles and news headlines with stories about how people have experience higher Out of Pocket (OOP) than they ever expected. The stories, and there will be more before election day, actually highlight many of the fundamental flaws in the ACA that we have been discussing for years.

But, their tactics are clever, if not devious, as the authors carefully imply the cause of these flaws is a result of the GOP and the Trump Administration’s tinkering with the ACA. Of course the GOP changes have nothing to do with higher OOP and higher premium of the Obama administration’s signature healthcare bill, The Affordable Care Act. Stills sounds awkward calling it the affordable care act, doesn’t it?

First question that comes to mind is: “who could be surprised that higher premiums, higher deductibles, skinny networks, and record Insurer profits would lead to higher OOP for members?” I have no doubt the stories and the examples about which they write are 100% true. But, none of us should be surprised because it is election season.

Of course, the GOP has tinkered around the edges of the ACA which the authors can use as side notes to imply a cause. But, there is not one change by the GOP that would have led to more OOP than the ACA plans provided for prior to January 2017.

There has been no change to the metallic plan structure or minimum claim payout requirements legislated by the GOP. Unfortunately, we could have really used some legislative fixes to actually improve or eliminate the ACA but that’s an old story which we have discussed over the past 2 years.

So, what causes the surprise of the higher Out of Pocket.

  • Number one issue that always surprises folks is the high deductible plans with naturally higher OOP. When we shop for our health plans aren’t we all are surprised and dismayed by the cost and benefits?
  • We’re surprised that for the premium we pay the plans provide no benefit for RX or Office Visit copay until after the higher deductible is met. Many have stated that the Bronze plans actually encourage folks to defer of seeking healthcare.The metallic plans suck for sure but the OOP is foreseeable if not predictable.
  • The biggest shock comes from services provided outside the PPO network (OON) of the member’s plan. Members may try to use PPO Docs but sometimes it’s not possible because the PPO networks have been cut down so much. The shock comes from the OON provider’s invoice due when providers “balance bill” the patient for services outside of the PPO network. Those charges can be huge and generally not predictable. A patient may have an emergency situation or complex health treatment which will absolutely with 100% certainty result in unexpected charges due to OON providers.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Health Foundation compared the level of “worry” Americans have with their ability to pay various costs they incur.
The survey reveals the percentage of folks concerns about their ability to pay their bills.  The respondents who stated they were Somewhat Worried to Very Worried is staggering yet predictable:

  • 67% concerned about unexpected medical bills.
  • 53% concerned about health insurance deductibles.
  • 46% concerned about gasoline or transportation costs.
  • 45% concerned about RX costs. (Seems low doesn’t it)
  • 43% concerned about their utility and electric costs.
  • 42% concerned about their monthly health insurance premium.
  • 41% concerned about their rent or mortgage.
  • 37% concerned about affording food.

Of the 8 categories we see 4 of the largest concerns are healthcare related.
The bigger issue should be that those 4 categories do not occur independently. We pay premium to be covered and majority of IFP Plans (Individual or Family Plans) are Bronze or Silver so we have larger OOP for both Rx and most medical services. Then add the Out of Network balance billing concern and we have a potential and predictable catastrophic event. But, that’s no surprise is it?

Most Bronze plans have deductibles of $5,000 or higher with no first dollar Rx  benefit and OOP of $7,000 or higher. If a Bronze Plan is what a member can afford then OOP costs can be somewhat projected, in the absence of out of network care. I think most Americans would agree that the high premiums they pay for even a Bronze plan, with its high OOP, is not acceptable. Particularly healthy Americans who, as we have discussed in prior discussions,  pay a large “surcharge” to compensate for the UN-healthy.

We appreciate KHF’s efforts to report results and surveys concerning healthcare costs and delivery. They do a good job of compiling and reporting results and area specific trends. But what we see in many reports is the presenter adding commentary concerning unrelated but politically expedient issues.

Lately, the most added unrelated-issue is the impact members would experience if the GOP eliminates Guarantee Issue and coverage for Pre-existing conditions. It would be suicide for the GOP to eliminate GI and Pre-ex coverage but it wouldn’t be the first time the GOP shot themselves in the foot. Even if the court rules on the GOP case in favor of the 19 states suing the ACA , the GOP will continue to provide for GI and Pre-ex. If the GOP does not maintain GI and Pre-ex then the next two election cycles will be a disaster for them.

We discussed if previous posts that as we approach the mid-term elections we will see an increase in stories designed to cause fear for our citizens who may have ongoing healthcare conditions. Fear mongering politics is sad but it’s true.

So, what are we to do? Just as we’ve discussed before; we stay informed and prepared so we can correct people when they are citing information that you know is wrong. We must be prepared to help our fellow citizens be informed so that they do not succumb to the fear tactics that work so well on the uninformed.

We can do this because; we’re all in this together!

Until net week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

 

Labor Day: our National tribute to America’s workers. It’s history tells much about America! Let’s take a look.

August 30, 2018

History of Labor Day

Admit it though, you like Labor Day for the extra day off, me too. But it’s interesting and fun to explore just why it is that we get that day off. At least some of us do.
I want to thank the US Dept of Labor and its historical tribute to Labor Day.

Labor Day: What it Means

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Labor Day Legislation

The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During 1887 four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1884, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Founder of Labor Day

More than a century after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

A Nationwide Holiday

Women's Auxiliary Typographical UnionThe form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

The character of the Labor Day celebration has undergone a change in recent years, especially in large industrial centers where mass displays and huge parades have proved a problem. This change, however, is more a shift in emphasis and medium of expression. Labor Day addresses by leading union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics and government officials are given wide coverage in newspapers, radio, and television.

The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.

If you’ve read this far then I congratulate you because you now know more about America’s labor Day holiday than most of your friends do.

Many of our holidays demonstrate for all to witness how we have evolved over the past 250 years, how we change even though it is sometimes slow and painful and how historically Americans both fight and defend one another.

So, it’s clear to see that we truly are all in this together.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

 

 

Covered California premiums for ACA Individual plans projected to average 8.7% increase for 2019. Many are cheering but I wonder, have they forgotten the effect of compound interest?

August 9, 2018

That’s right, articles are every where announcing the good news of the projected 8.7% increase in premiums, which is  smaller increase than we’ve seen since the ACA was created. ACA supporters hail this as a sign that the ACA is working, that Insurers are getting used to the ACA requirements and that it’s smooth sailing from here on.

One must remember that the writers of these countless articles expressing glee at the 8.7% probably don’t pay for their own insurance and others are subsidized by the ACA. Otherwise they would scream, “Are you kidding me, another freaking increase”.

It’s almost like they forget the effect of compound interest. What other product or service would one consider an 8.7% increase as good news? It’s been 105 degrees in the San Joaquin Valley for the past 10 days. Would an 8.7% increase in the unit rate on your electric bill be agreeable. Probably, NOT!

Plus, what other goods or services, that you use, have had unit rates increased 300% plus over the past 7 years? So, we see again that the supporters of the ACA are searching and clawing for any tidbit of a subject on which they weave a positive story about the ACA.

For instance, seven years ago, pre-ACA, the insurance rate for a single person 30 years old might have been as low as $100. If you multiply $100 times 8.7% you get $8.70 bring the premium to $108.70.

But in the real world that 30 year old rate is now $300 so when 8.7% is calculated it equals $26.10 bringing the premium a member will be asked to pay up to $326.10. So, the “compounding effect” on premiums in this example yield a huge difference between $8.70 and $26.10. Since the authors of all of the “happy” stories don’t pay premium or are subsidized they exclaim that this is good news.

If you use the premium change of  a 50 year old the impact increases in magnitude. A 50 year old 7 years ago, pre-ACA, might have paid $400 for a decent plan. But now a 50 year old would pay closer to $1,000. Again, 8.7% of $400 equals $34.8 verses $1,000 times 8.7% equaling $87.00 for a $52.20 increase in the difference.

You know what I mean. The problem, as usual, is that the majority of premium paying voting Americans are not paying attention or have assumed the attitude that there is nothing they can do. I can’t blame them for feeling that way because they are busy working, raising their family, paying the electric bills, their cable bills, their car payments etc. and just don’t have the time to even think about this issue.

As I’ve written over the past several months, we are in a period in which people just are not paying attention to much other than their jobs, their families and every day life. That’s why it’s up to us who do pay attention to this and can see what’s happening to raise our voices.

There are things that can be done. In California voters could make a difference by voting for the correct candidate for Governor and Insurance Commissioner. Those two position would yield huge results that could lower premiums, increase options and improve access to providers. You can bet on it so vote on it!

Sorry to post on such a simple subject matter this week but frankly, it just pissed me off. Over the next few Posts we will discuss Rx costs, Insurer subsidies, impact of HRAs, and the power of Employer Driven Plans.

As always, we’re all in this together, so if you get a chance, tell a friend about the best healthcare blog you’ve ever read.

Until Next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

Lot’s of talk about the suspension of the ACA’s Risk Adjustment Payments to Insurers. Is this critical or just another scapegoat?

August 2, 2018

I’d bet you lunch, anywhere in town, that 99% of Americans have no idea what this risk adjustment program (RAP) is or what it does or why it was implemented by the ACA. I’d also wager that 99% of Americans are unaware of the inequities and issues the RAP created.

So, for the 99% of us – what the heck is this Risk Adjustment Program?
The idea was hatched, during the creation of the ACA, as Insurers voiced their fears that Insurers would be inundated with new applicants who had no prior coverage and whose potential healthcare cost (in other words amount of new claims) was impossible to determine. Couldn’t blame the Insurers for their concern, especially when it could be $$billions of dollars in claims on members who had no previous coverage. Plus, the ACA needed a way to entice Insurers to the table.

So, to offer some comfort for planning, the ACA created a complex formula primarily applying to individual plans, that was supposed to level the playing field, so to speak. If one insurer got hit with an inordinate amount of claims while other Insurers did not then the RAP was designed to equal out the pain.

For example: suppose there are just two Insurers offering and accepting applicants in an area, Insurer #1 and Insurer #2. Also, to make the example easier to understand let’s assume that both Insurers  end up covering 1,000 individuals. But, for what ever reason, Insurer #1’s members are all healthy people under 40 years old while Insurer #2’s members are all above 40 years old with a bunch of 60+ and the entire lot is unhealthy.

Obviously, the claim costs for Insurer #2 would be expected to be much higher than Insurer #1. If the claims experience for #2 exceeds 100%, thus loses money, then the loss would have been shared by #1 making payments into the RAP program. Theoretically, every plan should have had this potential cost factored into its plans so that it was a pass through.

Now, the Courts has ruled that the ACA’s RAP payment methodology is flawed which has caused any movement by the Feds to issue RAPs to be suspended. Actually, I don’t think this is a bad think for a couple reasons. One is that Government methodology in almost every initial program is often flawed but seldom corrected. This provides a chance for correction.

Another reason why this halt may be good is that some Insurer’s planning and pricing for initial their plans may have been skewed in an attempt to “game” the RAP.  Your humble author can report on this matter directly. I had conversations with more than one Insurer representative concerning this matter. It was widely agreed that pricing individual plans for the ACA was extremely difficult but more than once I heard “it really does not make a difference because if we’re priced too low and lose money the Gov will make us whole”

The first couple times I heard that sentiment it confused me. I thought, “How could an Insurer not be worried about underpricing their plan?”. The it hit me.

The ACA was designed to be an entitlement plan. Most folks agree that it is an entitlement for the people subsidized under the state run Exchanges. But, did you ever consider that it was an entitlement for the Insurers, too?

How else could the ACA convince Insurers to offer Individual plans with GI and no pre-ex to people who had no prior coverage or worse had been decline for previous coverage.

Now, 7 years in to the ACA and we can see a clearer picture. The big Insurers, you know them, are making money, even though they plead poverty, because they have increased their premiums 300% to as much as 900% in some areas. But, small Insurers and regional Insurers have not done so well because the RAP may have taken money from them to give to the bigger national Insurers.

Of course the battle cry, incited by the ACA supportive Press, is printing headlines about premiums increasing because of the Trump administration’s decision to suspend RAP payments. We should remember:

  1. The Trump Team did not make the decision, the Court did. The Trump folks may not be supportive of the ACA or these RAPs but the Court decided that the RAP methodology was flawed.
  2. The carriers are raising rates anyway, often just because the ACA provides cover, and ACA supporters depend on un-informed readers forgetting that premiums have already been increased a zillion percent.
  3. Finally, as stated above, it’s good to suspend a government program once in a while, at least, to verify its accuracy if not its effectiveness.

We’ll hear more about this as we head toward the Fall and the mid-term elections.

But, you and I won’t be fooled because we’re all in this together.

Until next week,

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

 

Wait- Are the ACA’s State Exchange Plans working for everyone or not? Well, that depends on what you read and the author’s perspective!

July 26, 2018

We’re constantly reminded that one must be cautious about believing what one reads or hears about the success or failures of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Never more true than what has been printed and dispersed over the past month or so concerning the ACA Exchanges being managed by various states. Hear are a few samples of the confusion:

  • We hear enrollment is down in the exchanges but that Insurers are supporting these ACA plans more than ever.
  • We hear premiums are up double-digit “again” yet the enrollment of subsidized members dropped 3%.
  • We also hear that the Individual Mandate (IM) has been “repealed” while premiums increase double-digit yet enrollment for members on non-subsidized plans has remained constant or increased a bit.

We all know that:

  • Premiums have increased over the past 7 years and are projected to increase again in 2019.
  • Some people will pay for their insurance, themselves, because they know they need it for their family and it’s the right thing to do.
  • Some people won’t take steps to keep themselves covered even though it costs them little if anything to do so.

I could go on and on, but the gist is that right now people who support the ACA, regardless of facts available, are searching for justification for the ACA. You’ve read it here before that the 80% to 90% of the folks enrolled on the ACA Exchanges get subsidized for their premium and out-of-pocket costs. Yet their enrollment drops.
How can that be?

On the other hand, the enrollment for Americans not subsidized for premium or out-of-pocket expenses remains constant or increased slightly. Who are these people and why are they acting like they are responsible citizens? It’s too bad the ACA has not assisted these hard-working folks by controlling premiums as well as improving benefits and increasing access to quality providers and care.

Over the past 9 months, since the “repeal” of the IM, supporters of the ACA have predicted dire consequences. These experts projected that millions would go uninsured, that thousands would put-off care, and our citizens would feel catastrophic results.
Whoops, that didn’t happen. Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

So to summarize, analysis of actual enrollment shows that people responsible for their own expenses remain enrolled, paying ever-increasing premiums, while many who receive subsidies dropped off their coverage, even though their out-of-pocket remained unchanged.

Is there any chance that this is another example of why entitlement programs ultimately fail, always? Maybe it’s the old proverb: Teach a man to fish and he’s never hungry again, give a man a fish and he just makes a mess and your house smells like dead fish for a week. I improvised but you get the picture.

As we’ve discussed in previous Posts, the ACA caused higher premiums with lower benefits for 300 million so that 10 million can be insured at little or no cost to the insured. And from those previous Posts we all know that there are better ways to make coverage affordable with better benefits and greater access to care. If not for politicians we could get it done.

To the average citizen the headlines are misleading as is much of the text in the articles. Supporters of the ACA try to make lower enrollment and Insurer satisfaction sound good to the uninformed ear.  BTW, why are Insurers involved with these subsidized plans so happy these days? That’s an easy one.

But we know the truth, don’t we, based on experience and also because we know that we’re all in this together.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

Are Politicians and the Press trying to make Folks nervous about losing the ACA guidelines on “pre-existing conditions”? Should they be? Let’s discuss it.

July 19, 2018

According to a Poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 65% of likely voters say a candidate’s support for continued protections for people with pre-existing health conditions is either the “single most important factor” or “very important” to their vote in the upcoming midterms elections.
That’s significant and important!

The KFF Poll also reports that 57% of the voters in the poll say that they or someone in their household has a pre-existing condition of some sort. Critically important!

Additionally, 76% of the public say it is “very important” that the law continue to prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history. Finally, 72% say it is “very important” that the law continue to keep insurers from charging sick people more for coverage. 

Once again, I say thank you to the KFF team for compiling these numbers which demonstrate how important the issue of “pre-ex” is to our citizens. I would add that this issue has always been the foundation on which every healthcare reform project has either thrived or failed. It’s really a no-brainer so why are the Press and certain Politicians stoking the fire of fear in our citizens.

In 1992, California’s healthcare reform bill, referred to locally as Ab 1672, provided for guarantee issue (GI) and full take-over for small group plans. It included a “pre-ex” clause for new enrollees who had no coverage during the previous 60 days. If a new enrollee had not had coverage in the previous 60 days then anything for which the new member had received treatment  in the previous six months would not be covered by the new plan until the member is covered under the new plan for six months. At that point coverage was full for any benefits covered under the plan. Pretty reasonable, right?

I remember the hysteria in the Press as well as brokers and industry pundits about how much premiums would increase due the GI and no pre-ex. Here’s what happened. Premiums increased initially about 6% to as much as 12% during the first year or so. Then in the second, third and fourth year the insurers actually started reducing premiums. No one organized any parades nor did the Press praise the results about the premiums coming down, but we in the industry knew it and employers appreciated it.

The failure of Ab 1672 was that it did not address individual and family plans (IFP), those plans not sponsored by employers. That error or purposeful neglect of leadership is where the crisis began yet no one in California had the vision or courage to address it.

So, let’s fast forward to the bantering we here today by the Press and Politicians as they try to scare up support for themselves and chip away at the efforts being made to improve healthcare pricing, benefits, and access.

As we continue, remember that the problem they’re projecting is for the State Exchange members covered by Individual and Family Plans (IFPs). We know that only about 8 million Americans have coverage on these plans but that 80-90% of those receive subsidies making their coverage be free or nearly so. But the fear is legitimate and fare; but the hysteria is not helpful.

There is a rather simple solution but it won’t happen because no Politician is going to take the risk and endure the public criticism of providing a workable solution.

So, I will.
A few simple steps:

  1. IFPs continue to be GI with its timely enrollment guidelines unchanged.
  2. New enrollees, not covered by any IFP or group plan for the preceding 60 or 90 days, would not have coverage for any pre-existing condition for which treatment had been received with in the previous 6 months. 
  3. Once the new enrollee is covered continually for 6 months then coverage is provided for all benefits provided by the plan. 
  4. During the period in which pre-existing conditions are not covered the enrollee would have coverage for all other benefits under the plan.
    Example: If pre-ex is treatment for diabetes but the enrollee breaks a leg or develops cancer during fist 6 months on plan, the broken leg and cancer is covered.

The time frames above could be adjusted but the result would be significant:

  1. It would encourage continuous enrollment, without a IRS implemented fine as demanded by the ACA, especially if one has an on-going condition which according to the KFF poll 57% of families do.
  2. It would stabilize premiums. The current mandates and guidelines of the ACA actually push premiums higher. Plus, Insurers have no incentive to control premium and as long as Insurers get reimbursed for 85% of covered enrollees the Insurers won’t have any incentive to control premiums in the future.
  3. Citizens would no longer need to fear being without coverage or not being able to acquire coverage and best of all, premiums would be lower.

That’s pretty easy.
Next, we add in the new Association Health Plans approved by President Trump and  we would see a revival of stability, faith and confidence in our healthcare delivery and finance system.

Of course we still need to deal with the core cost issues such as smoking, obesity and drug usage to really get the job done. But that’s for another day.

If we could encourage a healthy life style that is rewarded by a health plan while addressing the Unit Cost of Care” we will have made our healthcare system great again.
Sorry, that’s a dopey closing statement, but we could get it done.

That is if, we’re all in this together.
Until Next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”