Archive for the ‘Skinny Plans’ Category

Autumn is a Season for two things: Elections and partisan promotion of the ACA’s Health Plan Exchanges. Boy, do facts get skewed for both!

October 11, 2018

I know my title was remiss by not including football and the World Series both of which are far more fun than mid-term elections or the ACA open enrollment period. Remember, this is a healthcare blog so I will stay on message.

I don’t want to address the facts, stats, and promises politicians make at election time but I do want to point out a few corrections or misunderstandings (make that mis-information) that ACA supporters use to promote the Government run Health Exchanges at Open Enrollment (OE). You see Autumn or rather the Fall season signals the coming Open Enrollment period for Government run Exchanges so the proponents of the ACA, which includes most of the Media, many Think Tanks and Foundations and all Democrats work to sell the Government run program to our citizens.

How do they do that? They start with some statistics reported in a manner that supports their position even if it requires a skewing of the facts, which we’ve witnessed in the past. As your humble author has written before, the media has often delivered a biased lopsided view of the current status of the health plans that we all require. They write of Out of Pocket costs, of higher deductibles, of pre-existing conditions, of premium increases, of provider access and even lack of choices in a manner that suits their agenda.

Which is to scare the common sense out of people so that single-payer government-run healthcare sounds like a good idea.

Recent reports are cheering the modest increases in premiums this Fall. For example, Covered California is bragging that the premiums for SHOP, the exchange for small employers, are increasing only 8.3%. We’ve discussed this issue before and revealed the real facts concerning the status of premiums.

First, what other good or service in your life is increasing its cost by 8.3% this year. And, if it did, would you be satisfied with the benefit of that good or service?

Second, the 8.3% increase is multiplied times a rate that has already been increased by as much as 300% over the past 7 years. We’ve discussed the impact of compound interest before, haven’t we?

But, proponents (Democrats and media) have to try to sell their product and to do so requires a real “sales job”.

Another set of facts released deal with the increase in “plan deductible”. The data clearly shows that the deductibles we have on our plans has been steadily increasing. For Employer sponsored plans statistics reveal that:

  • 85% of members have a deductible on their plan
    (10 years ago it was 59%. In 2000 it was less that 25%)
  • the average plan deductible selected by applicants is $1573 up from $1505 a year ago. That’s a 5% increase in deductible in addition to increased premium.
  • 25% of Employer plans offer a deductible of $2,000 or higher.
    (These employers need to add an HRA for their EEs)
  • Plan deductible is just a portion of Out of Pocket costs which is an issue for many and we’ve discussed in many Posts.

What do all of these statistics have in common? They are driven by increasing premiums which is the predictable outcome of an overly regulated government-run healthcare system.

As we’ve discussed before 152 million Americans (close to 60%)  get their health plan from their Employer. So, we should ask a few questions in order to maintain a solid fact-based rational for this mess.

  • Q: Why do Employers spend any money to provide a health plan?
    A: To attract and maintain a competitive workforce.
  • Q: Do Employers want to offer a health plan with huge OOP?
    A: No, they want to provide the richest plan possible.
  • Q: What is the primary reason driving Employers to provide plans with higher deductibles and OOP?
    A: Premium costs! Employer premium costs have tripled in past 7 years!
  • Q: Would Employers offer richer plans if they were affordable?
    A: Absolutely, they want to retain the best workforce possible and rich benefit plans help assure that goal!

Remember, current data shows that there are more open jobs available than people seeking a job. That means competition for employees.

Sometimes, I wonder why an Employer would purchase its group benefit plan through a Government run Exchange. There are probably a couple of reasons.
The Employer:

  • May believe it is too small to get a private group plan.
  • May not be able to meet participation  guidelines of private plans.
  • May not have a good insurance broker to guide it.
  • May be uninformed or mis-led to believe an Exchange is the only option.

Almost anything can be packaged and promoted to sound appealing.
For example: let’s say that you are selling cars but only offer your cars in the color white. However, your competitors offer cars in many different colors including white. Would you need to promote your cars in a manner that made potential customers think that your cars in white were better than the competitors cars in various colors?
Of course you would or else you go out of business.
However, if you were being subsidized by the government then you could say almost anything to compete.

We’ve discussed in previous Posts that the media will be increasingly bold in its attacks on pre-ex, premium leveling off, OOP on plans as well as unexpected OOP, choice and many other areas to support candidates in the mid-terms coming in November. We need to continue to be aware and make others aware so that these scare tactics do not work!

That’s why we’re all in this together! To help one another.

Until next week.

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

Why do California’s state politicians dislike Californians so much? Gov. Brown just signed legislation that guarantees Ca’s citizens will see no relief from rising health plan premiums.

September 27, 2018

Some things are just too crazy to understand such as why California’s legislature and Governor continue to put forth healthcare related legislation that guarantees the good premium-paying citizens of CA will get no relief.

The legislation that the Governor just signed, SB 910 and SB 1375, put a “ban” of the health plans referred to as Short-term medical plans as well as on Association health Plans both of which came about as a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to lower healthcare cost and increase alternatives. The proponents of the bills Gov. Brown just signed applaud that this moves CA one step closer to universal coverage which to them means “state run healthcare”.

As we’ve discussed in previous Posts, the efforts in healthcare related legislation by CA’s liberal politicians cause more pain, both physical and financial, to 90% of the population just to move toward their stated goal of government run healthcare. One piece of legislation after another, over the past 10 years, has reduced access to care, raised cost of insurance and increased out of pocket cost for patients. I could list numerous pieces of legislation that punish the majority but did nothing to benefit the people the Legislators claim to help.

SB 161 is a good example of these bad bills. In legislative hearings the proponents of SB 161 openly stated that their goal was to eliminate competition for the group plans of Covered California. So SB 161 was created to restrict small employers from gaining access to lower cost group health plans that utilize self-insurance and stop loss policies. The result – small employers lost access to competitive group health plans and of course we all know that Covered Ca’s group plans suck.

This time, the CA legislature’s goal is to block both Short-term medical plans (STPs) (what liberals refer to as junk insurance) as well as Association Health Plans (AHPs).  Democratic Senator Ed Hernandez, who authored the afore mentioned SB 161 has also authored SB 910 and SB 1375 which ban STPs and AHPs respectively. Remember that both of these health plan options are designed to offer more choice, that means potentially better alternatives than the ACA’s metallic plans provide.

The opponents of these innovative and competitive types of coverage claim that because these plans are exempt from some of the Affordable Care Act rules these plans will “cherry pick” healthy citizens. That these STPs and AHPs would leave the un-healthy citizens on the current plan offerings of the ACA, which we all know suck.

BTW, by suck I mean:

  • Too expensive
  • Too high out of pocket limits.
  • Too much risk for “unexpected” costs as we’ve discussed.
  • Too skinny provider networks
  • Too few options for individuals and families

The Liberals claim that the STPs and AHPs are bad because:

  • They can underwrite which means they can accept or reject applicants.
    (While not all are accepted this does bring premiums down)
  • That members with pre-existing conditions might see their claim denied.
    (Folks with Pre-ex could remain on the ACA compliant plan of their choice)
  • They don’t need to cover ‘essential health benefits which Liberals always highlight includes mental health and maternity care.
    (Not everyone needs maternity care, pediatric dental, or mental health benefits so AHPs and STPs can cover what folks really care about at lower premiums)

The real story is that California’s liberal legislature has convinced itself, and any new politician that joins them, that CA needs “universal coverage” run by the State of Ca. Can you imagine how horrific a state run plan would be for everyone including those citizens with pre-existing conditions. (Who the Libs say they care about)

Have you ever tried to fight the Government when it makes a mistake? It’s impossible to get help, a correction, satisfaction or relief.

But, if your private plan’s Insurer mucks something up you can get relief or at least an explanation. Plus, you have a regulatory body such as the Dept. of Insurance or Dept. of Manage care to step in, if needed. Insurers try to avoid intercession by regulators.

Who would you rather fight: the State Government Bureaucracy that does not give a hoot about us as individuals or an Insurer that lives in fear of the DOI?
You know the answer!

The sad fact is that we are all being penalized as the CA tries to implement its vision of state run health care. As stated many times, 90% of us are paying increasing premiums while getting decreasing benefit and the legislation the Governor just signed won’t make it better for the 90% of us.
Enough on that!

As a random thought, have you noticed the press and liberal candidates increasing the fear mongering about pre-existing conditions. As we predicted a month ago,  every article about health care includes a paragraph or two about the GOP’s desire to cut off your coverage for your pre-existing conditions. These statements would be laughable if it weren’t so darn serious.

As I’ve stated, no Conservative or Republican would dare take Guarantee Issue and Coverage for Pre-ex away from us. Remember, these people want re-elected more than anything. Why would they do something stupid like that? Plus, the Insurers have learned to be profitable in the new era, very profitable.

OK, next week you’ll read about E Clampus Vitus as I venture to my Fall Trek. I hope you will enjoy reading about the history of the Clampers.

Always remember, we’re all in this together.

Until next week.

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

We warned you about the Employer Mandate. The Congress is working quickly toward an outcome that makes little sense! let’s see why.

September 20, 2018

You read here on August 16th 2018 how the US House passed out of Ways and Means a bill  which would suspend the employer penalty payments for the period after December 31, 2014 up to January 1st, 2019. Again Yes, you read that correctly. For years, 2015 through 2018 the employers affected by “play or pay” would not be required to make the penalty payments. I’m sure it’s some clever GOP move to throw off logic.

The Bill was voted out of the House last week which means the Senate gets a whack at it. Will it make it into law before the mid-terms? I doubt it but let’s take a look at the brilliance of our House GOP as it stumbles over itself yet again in its efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

Here are a few high points of what H.R. 3798 would provide:

  • Change the ACA employer coverage mandate threshold for “full-time employee” to 40 hours per week, from 30 hours per week. (May increase uninsured ranks)
  • Keep the ACA employer coverage mandate from applying to any month beginning after Dec. 31, 2014, and before Jan. 1, 2019. (Will employers that complied receive any restitution?)
  • Postpone the start date of the ACA excise tax on high-cost health benefits packages to Dec. 31, 2022, from the Dec. 31, 2021, start date now in effect. (No one likes this tax or even understands who will pay it. Why not just eliminate it?)
  • Repeal an ACA excise tax on indoor tanning services. (Duh, who cares!)
  • Require employers to provide Form 1095 coverage statements to individuals only when individuals ask for the statements, instead of having to send the statements to all employees, recently departed employees and certain dependents every year.
    (This is not a bad idea, but if there is no Individual Mandate and no Employer Mandate why is reporting necessary at all?)

Here are the challenges as stated by experts:

One challenge supporters of H.R. 3798 face is finding new federal revenue, or new federal spending cuts, to offset the effects of ACA employer mandate changes on the federal budget.

Analysts at the Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report posted Tuesday that H.R. 3798 could cut federal revenue by about $12 billion in 2019, and by about $52 billion over the period from 2019 through 2028.

The delay in the effective date of the employer mandate and the change in the definition of full-time worker could cost the government about $46 billion in revenue over the 10-year period starting in 2019, according to the CBO analysts.

Here’s what I said before and I’ll say it again:
Is it even close to being a good idea in the first place or just a political gimmick by politicians so that they have bragging points as they campaign for reelection? We know from the Individual Mandate that they won’t repeal it outright but rather they will  simply reduce the penalty to zero. Jeez, that’s a cowardly way to legislate.

As we asked previously, is the employer “play or pay” mandate a good idea or should it be eliminated? Plus, what effect will it have on the thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees who complied already?

I am a free market, let the private sector resolve it and keep the Government the hell out of it, kind of guy. But, this issue is a complex one because as I mentioned tens of thousands of employers have already taken steps to comply.

Those employers stepped up to do what was required, those employers purchased the plans that complied with the law and spent money that the non-compliant employers did not. It would be unfair for non-compliant employers to avoid the penalty while other employers have already spent untold fortunes with no hope of getting that money back.
Can these employers, who feel they were forced to comply, receive any restitution equal to what they paid to comply?

Remember this example:
If Company A and Company B both bid on the same project they would both include all of their operating and legacy costs in those bids. Therefore, if Company B provides no health plan, because it was and is noncompliant, then its costs might be lower thus allowing it to submit a lower bid and possibly win a project over Company A which does provide benefits.

Personally, I think an employer who provides benefits is probably a better run company and certainly tries to take care of its staff. So, that employer should have an advantage but money is money which means the buyer may take the lower bid. That sucks but happens.

But, the other side of this is the employee’s. Hundreds of thousands of employees have been offered and enrolled on a health plan, possibly for their first time. What happens to them if their employer discontinues a plan because it’s no longer required legally? Many would go without coverage simply due to affordability.

Let’s face it, the ACA has caused premiums to increase astronomically over the past 7 years on individual plans (all plans really). These employees, pushed off an employer sponsored plans, would be required to go into that ACA Individual Plan jungle, and I do mean jungle as it is a “freaking” mess in that market. Would those employees want to pay those high premiums – could they afford those premiums? Probably not.

In addition, the health plan landscape, that is alternatives and access, varies greatly state by state. Many states, like California, are not allowing any of the Trump administration’s new ideas to come to California. California says No AHPs, No to skinny plans on top of what California had already implemented to harm small employers with its stop loss killing legislation known as SB 161.

Again, I would wager that many employers, who bit the bullet and complied, will maintain their plans thus continuing the expense they incur. The elimination of the penalty will make it so that non-compliant employers will be allowed to continue not providing benefits, not spending those funds and may think they have a financial advantage in the market against competitors.

So, against my human nature and all that helps one develop values I don’t think the “Play or pay” mandate should be eliminated for large employers. In fact it should be enforced. The IRS has had difficulty identifying which employers should or should not be Playing and less success in getting noncompliant employers to pay. Big deal – get it done so that the law is applied equally.

So, even though the House will be in recess as you read this, you will be informed. Together we need to stay focused on healthcare issues like this. Can you think of a single big government bureaucracy that has ever not fouled it’s intended objective? No, so when we identify issues that need attention or fixed or eliminated we should shout for it.

That way they’ll 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”.

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”.

 

Let’s break down the enrollment numbers on America’s healthcare and where folks get their coverage. You’ll be surprised!

August 23, 2018

In previous Posts we have discussed how the media headlines are often misleading if not downright wrong and one may wonder how often intentionally. Your humble author has repeatedly pointed out the confusing and misleading articles that refer to premium increases, access to care, unit costs of care, individual vs. employer sponsored plans as well as Medicaid to name a few.

Let’s look at the numbers for how we Americans are covered. We will look at the coverage numbers for ER-employer sponsored, NG– non-group, Mcaid-Medicaid, Mcare-Medicare, OPub-other public coverage and Unins-uninsured. Plus, we’ll see the change from 2013 to 2016 which will support many of the statements we’ve made in the past.

Statistics for the United States:
Coverage     2013           2016                Difference

Pop    313,401,200      320,372,000        6,970,800

ER      155,696,900      157,381,500        1,684,600
NG       13,816,000        21,884,400        8,068,400
MCaid   54,919,100        62,303,400        7,384,300
Mcare   40,876,300        44,550,200        3,673,900
O Pub     6,295,400        6,192,200         – 103,200
Unins   41,795,100        28,051,900     -13,743,200

As I study these numbers a few things stick out like a skunk at the Rose Parade.

  • Employer sponsored plans at 157 million, cover half of all Americans. Actually, I think the percentage is higher than the report suggests.
    Can you imagine the confusion and the anger and the mess if a single payer plan forced 157 million of us on to a Medicare for all plan? It would be worse that the roll out of the ACA was, is and will be if not corrected.
  • The overall population increased by 7 million while the employer sponsored and non-group increased by almost 10 million. That means responsible Americans and employer sponsored plans picked up a big part of that increase.
  • The uninsured population is still a huge number. The ACA proponents use talking points like no pre-existing conditions, open access and only 9% etc but the fact is 28 million is a darn big number. Plus, with premiums as high as they are it’s likely we won’t see a better percentage covered.
  • Medicaid grew dramatically which is due to what’s called Medicare expansion. Remember, these folks reported low income levels which honestly can not afford the premium cost of individual plans. All of those 7.3 million folks are having their benefits (premium and claims) paid by the faithful American tax-payer.
  • Medicaid recipients involve 50% more people covered than Medicare. Remember that Medicaid is primarily healthy-under age-65 working age citizens. Disabled American’s would be under Medicare so the Medicaid population is a number that should concern us all, plus it’s what the Medicare for all folks will push.

Now, you can see what we mean when we point out the biased misleading press about the impact of premium increases to the ACA “public plans”. The non-group population is 22 million of which roughly 10 million people are enrolled in the public exchanges. That’s less than 3% of our national population are enrolled  in the exchanges yet the ACA proponents use those plans when they shape their message to the uninformed. Not cool!

We should not forget that 85-90% of the folks covered by the public plans have their premium as well as their plan’s out of pocket paid for them. That means these folks are not effected by premium increases. I remind you of that fact not for critique but as reminder that when the press speaks and writes of the premium increases it seldom points out that these folks are not affected.

Let’s give the employer sponsored group a hearty “well done”. Employers generally sponsor plans that are richer that the individual plans, provide better access to providers, have been guarantee issue with no pre-ex if covered before for years, and pay for the majority of the premium.

When employers implement court-case tested HRAs then benefits are vastly improved over the standard metallic plans we all hate. BTW, California has and will continue to see the advantage of TPA administered HRAs thanks to the Court ordered injunction secured in one TPA’s anti-trust suit against a major insurer. All employers can now implement an HRA program without restriction of fear of insurer backlash. Again, thank you to the TPA who settled this for us all. But I digress!

I initially planned to include the numbers for California in the above chart. But, it would only irritate out of state readers because California enrollments are a huge percentage of the national numbers. That would tick me off if I lived in a state other than California.

With mid-term election just around the corner we will hear endless diatribes about the value of Medicare for All otherwise known as Single-payer. Don’t fall victim to misinformation as candidates make promises that they know they can’t keep. Remember “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor” so that you don’t get pulled into the confusion.

The Congress will be back in session in a couple weeks and with mid-term elections only weeks away expect to hear a lot of “Cr*p” that will never get a word said after the election, regardless of outcome.

We’ll keep an eye and ear on it so that we don’t get fooled again. When we’re properly informed they will realize that we’re all in this together.

Until next week.

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

 

 

 

 

Will the GOP succeed in suspending penalty payments for the ACA’s Employer “Play or Pay” Mandate? Is it a wise move?

August 16, 2018

As you read this in August I’ll need to remind you that during the week of July 23rd the House Ways and Means committee voted 22-15 to approve the Bill H.R. 4616 which would suspend the employer penalty payments for the period after December 31, 2014 up to January 1st, 2019. Yes, you read that correctly. For years, 2015 through 2018 the employers affected by “play or pay” would not be required to make the penalty payments. I’m sure it’s some clever GOP move to throw off logic.

The Bill can advance now but since the House is in its Summer recess for 5 weeks it won’t go to far. But, will it have a chance once the House is back in session and in light of the activity everyone will focus upon this Fall namely the mid-term elections? Doubtful.

But is it a good idea in the first place or just a political gimmick by politicians so that they have bragging points as they campaign for reelection? We know from the Individual Mandate that they won’t repeal it outright but rather they will  simply reduce the penalty to zero. Jeez, that’s a cowardly way to legislate.

I won’t continue with that issue but instead focus on the simple question – is the employer “play or pay” mandate a good idea or should it be eliminated? And what effect will it have on the thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees who have participated already?

I am a free market, let the private sector resolve it and keep the Government the hell out of it kind of guy. But, this issue is a complex one because as I mentioned tens of thousands of employers have already taken steps to comply. Those employers stepped up to do what was required, those employers purchased the plans that complied with the law and spent money that the non-compliant employers did not. It would be unfair for noncompliant employers to avoid the penalty while other employers have already spent untold fortunes with no hope of getting that money back.

I would wager that many employers, who bit the bullet and complied, will maintain their plans thus continuing the expense they incur. The elimination of the penalty will make it so that noncompliant employers will be allowed to continue not providing benefits, not spending those funds and may think they have a financial advantage in the market against competitors.

For example:
If Company A and Company B both bid on the same project they would both include all of their operating and legacy costs in those bids. Therefore, if Company B provides no health plan, because it was and is noncompliant, then its costs might be lower thus allowing it to submit a lower bid and possibly win a project over Company A which does provide benefits.

Personally, I think an employer who provides benefits is probably a better run company and certainly tries to take care of its staff. So, that employer should have an advantage but money is money which means the buyer may take the lower bid. That sucks but happens.

The other side of this is the employee’s. Hundreds of thousands of employees have been offered and enrolled on a health plan, possibly for their first time. What happens to them if their employer discontinues a plan because it’s no longer required legally? Many would go without coverage simply due to affordability.

Let’s face it, the ACA has caused premiums to increase astronomically over the past 7 years on individual plans (all plans really). These employees, pushed off an employer sponsored plans, would be required to go into that ACA Individual Plan jungle, and I do mean jungle as it is a freakin mess in that market. Would those employees want to pay those high premiums – could they afford those premiums? Probably not.

In addition, the health plan landscape, that is alternatives and access, varies greatly state by state. Many states, like California, are not allowing any of the Trump administration’s new ideas to come to California. California says No AHPs, No to skinny plans on top of what California had already implemented to harm small employers with its stop loss killing legislation known as SB 161.

So, against my human nature and all that helps one develop values I don’t think the “Play or pay” mandate should be eliminated for large employers. In fact it should be enforced. The IRS has had difficulty identifying which employers should or should not be Playing and less success in getting noncompliant employers to pay. Big deal – get it done so that the law is applied equally.

So, even though the House will be in recess as you read this, you will be informed. Together we need to stay focused on healthcare issues like this. Can you think of a single big government bureaucracy that has ever not fouled it’s intended objective? No, so when we identify issues that need attention or fixed or eliminated we should shout for it.

That way they’ll 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”.

 

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”