Sunday, June 28, 2015

Celebrations - Both Public And Private

Washington-20150224-00486

The Supreme Court had reached a decision. The excitement grew in intensity as news of the ruling spread across the capitol. Washington was awash in celebrations, both public and private. Private because this was news that some could only appreciate, secretly, among their closest friends and compatriots. The Supreme Court codified a reality some of us have recognized for years.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is here to stay.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 was a wonderful day for politicians. Big wins across the board. You, Joe and Jane Public, will be OK. We are always OK. Some of us have been helped by the legislation. Some of us have been hurt by it. But we will, at worst, survive. The biggest winners were our politicians.

This blog has long contended that the PPACA was a poorly written law. The Supreme Court has now made that official. In an effort to make health insurance affordable, the law included Tax Credit Subsidies which would be based on an individual’s income. The catch was that you had to apply through an Exchange, in essence a government run online marketplace. The PPACA seems to have limited the access to the Tax Credit Subsidies to those applying through an exchange “established by a State”. In other places within the law it appears that any government run exchange would do. Many of us viewed this, in 2010, as part of the law’s efforts to force the states to participate. States controlled by Republican governors and legislators took the challenge and refused to create exchanges. The federal government gave us Healthcare.gov and moved forward. Now we have millions of Americans across the country covered by subsidized insurance. That was the reality the Supreme Court faced.

SCOTUSblog

The number one place for clear-eyed Supreme Court analysis is SCOTUSblog. Here you will find brilliant articles arguing both sides of the issues facing the Court and the minutia that will find its way into totally unrelated cases 50 to 100 years from now. The posts following this decision are fiery and passionate. Don’t let the legalese fool you. These writers are playing for keeps.

Our politicians are the polar opposite. Democrats and Republicans aren’t searching for intellectual discussions. Both sides are too busy mining our emotions, mostly our deep pools of fear and resentment.

Our Democratic friends will tell us how hard they have had to work to protect us from ruin and the Republicans. We will be told that any flaws in the PPACA are due to Republican recalcitrance to progress and the new law. NOW, now that the Supreme Court has fended off the last real challenge, all of the promises of the PPACA will be realized. And when they aren’t? When premiums continue to increase and more and more businesses choose to drop their employer sponsored group policies, there will still be plenty of Republican resistance to blame.

Our biggest winners were the Republicans. This blog noted on November 3, 2010, the day after the Republicans won the House, that the GOP had no real interest in repealing the PPACA. We have had over 50 cynical show votes since then. Repeal the law and they would own the problem. Resist the law and the Republicans are free to complain, with a total absence of intellectual honesty, about the specific provisions of the law without any obligation to provide an alternative.

There have been some readers who doubted this last assertion. Privately they championed one Republican leader or another who promised to reveal an all-encompassing alternative to Obamacare much the way Richard Nixon had a secret plan to win the war in Vietnam. King v. Burwell forced the GOP’s hand.

No one knew how the Supreme Court would rule on King v. Burwell. It could have gone either way. As it was, Chief Justice Roberts was forced to perform intellectual somersaults to author this decision. He was absolutely correct in his assertion that the elimination of the subsidies for most of the country would have destroyed the insurance market. We would have sunk into a death spiral. That makes him the most important insurance commissioner in the country. And to the extent that the country might be better off with the law than with the chaos we would have endured, I am pleased with the decision. But I couldn’t have predicted it. No one could. So the Republicans were forced to plan for either decision.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and his plan were the subject of the May 11th post of this blog. I found it to be the most realistic because its main goal was to do nothing. Senator Johnson wanted to leave the subsidies in place but eliminate the employer and individual mandates until after the next election. You know when you are in trouble when doing nothing is your best option.

The Washington Post published “Your pocket guide to Obamacare replacement plans” last Tuesday, two days before the ruling. The Post highlighted the top 6 Republican options. They thought that Senator Johnson’s plan had the best chance of moving forward. Now all of those plans can be tossed.

Instead of having to deal with details and numbers, we will be treated to Senators, Congressmen, and most vociferously, by Presidential candidates discussing patient centered care, the free market system, and the holiness of the doctor-patient relationship. Yada Yada Yada.

All Sizzle and No Steak

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a poorly written law built more upon good intentions than a solid foundation of how insurance works. Nothing changed this past week. The Democrats will focus on the victories. The Republicans will highlight the failures.

Does anybody feel like celebrating?

DAVE

Photo credit - ME!

 

www.bcandb.com

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Another Note From The Department Of Gobbledygook


I got my first call last week from my client Wendy who is not only a talented real estate agent, but also someone who reads all of her mail. She recognized the correspondence "from" Medical Mutual of Ohio as possibly another letter from our frustrated novelists at the department of Health and Human Services. She was correct. Worse, it appears that HHS sent the same badly worded, scare tactic laden missive that was sent last year. MMO, like last year, was forbidden from changing even a comma. In that spirit I give you the same response I published last year.

Mayfield Heights-20140626-00340

 

The calls started coming in last week.

Dave, I want to keep my current policy.

Well of course you do. We had this conversation in October.

Yeah, well I got a letter that said that I had to call in to Medical Mutual if I want to keep my policy, so I called you.

You got a letter? I wasn’t copied. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Would you read the letter to me?

The client read the letter to me over the phone. It was long and rambling and sounded more like a request for him to dump his old cost effective policy in favor of a new contract than anything else.

That came from MMO?

Yes. It came in today’s mail.

Do me a favor. Scan and email it to me or fax it over.

The letter had, in fact, been sent by Medical Mutual to the client. Identical letters were sent by the insurance companies to all insureds with non-grandfathered policies. Identical. The letters were prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The insurance companies were forbidden to move a comma. If the objective was to confuse and/or frighten the people who have to this point avoided the government’s website, then they have finally managed to find an achievable goal.

Some Americans are well-served by the new health care law. If you are purchasing insurance for yourself and your family and you
  • Need maternity coverage
  • Have preexisting conditions
  • Would qualify for a premium subsidy
You might benefit from a new health insurance policy. But if you are healthy and/or don’t qualify for the subsidy, you probably want to keep your old policy.

A surprisingly large number of people want to keep their old policies.

The initial pushback resulted in the Obama Administration granting Transitional Relief, the ability to keep certain existing, non-grandfathered policies for 2014. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in March that we were getting another 2 years and possibly more.

The Good News – My current policy is $400 per month less than a comparable 2014 plan. I am not alone.

The Bad News – Allowing the healthy to avoid the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) for another couple of years spells higher rates for those in the system.

So to avoid upsetting millions of people the President and CMS are letting you keep your current policy. To avoid upsetting millions of people with ridiculous rate increases HHS is trying to get you to voluntarily dump your old policy. Hence the letter. If you give up your current policy, as opposed to having it taken from you, then you are part of the system by choice.

Don’t Do Anything

If you get the letter, the one that tells you that you can keep your current plan and then lists eight bullet points of what you are missing by not switching to a new health plan, you don’t need to do anything. Nothing. You will still get your renewal notice in a timely fashion. You will have the opportunity to keep your current policy and pay the new 2014/2015 rate. Or you will be able to shop for a policy under the new rules. There is no need to do anything today. That especially means that there is no need to get nervous or aggravated today.

The government’s website, the national frustration number, and letters like this prove again that the people in charge really didn’t know what they were doing when they invaded my business. The purpose of insurance is twofold – money and peace of mind. You write small checks to the insurance company so that if, G-d forbid, you get really sick or injured we’ll write the really big checks to the doctors and hospitals. And peace of mind, the knowledge that this will all work.

There is no gobbledygook on the path to peace of mind.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Blind Men And The Elephant


Blind

 

“You have no idea”, the doctor muttered beneath his breath. He repeated the comment. “You have no idea”. Realizing that his statement had had little impact, the doctor decided that a stage whisper might be more effective. “None of you have any idea”. Success! He had our attention. It appeared that it was up to me to ask him what he was talking about.

The doctor explained the new reality of hospital emergency room care. E/R units, equipped with suites of examination rooms, were now limiting patients for a specific period of time, 13 to 16 hours, to maximize charges. If the patient’s conditions didn’t warrant admission, he/she was sent home. It didn’t matter if the clock ran out at 2 PM or 2 AM. When 16 hours hit, the patient was cut loose.

Payment dictates care.


The doctor is a first person observer of how the new law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), has altered the delivery of hospital based care. He declared himself an expert on the PPACA.

* * *


I got a call from a chiropractor. His patient, one of my clients, was no longer covered for indefinite once a month visits. The government (Medicare) has sharpened the definition of medically necessary. The insurance companies quickly followed. Conditions need to be clearly defined and treatment plans must have a beginning, a middle, and a predictable ending.

The chiropractor is a first person observer of how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has altered the delivery of ongoing care. He declared himself an expert on the PPACA.

* * *


The psychiatrist described her newest challenge. Treatment might be covered by Medicare and the insurers, but the tests to determine the most effective form of treatment might not. What’s covered and what’s not seemed like a moving target. The culprit had to be the PPACA.

* * *


I am reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant. In the ancient Jain version, six blind men are asked to describe an elephant. They each feel a different part of the animal. Each is convinced that he, and he alone, understands the nature of the beast from his limited contact.

But the elephant is more than just the one part each encounters.


Insurance agents are first person observers of the PPACA. We see who can now access and afford insurance and who has been exiled from the market. We talk with doctors and hospital administrators. We fight with our insurers over claims. In February I was in Washington to meet with members of Congress and last week Columbus to talk with our representatives in the Ohio House and Senate. But like my friends the doctor, the chiropractor, and the psychiatrist, we too are simply describing the parts of the elephant we’ve encountered.

 

DAVE

www.bcandb.com

Monday, May 11, 2015

Psst, Would You Like To Hear A Secret?

Mayfield Heights-20150511-00515

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has a secret. The secret is that he is a realist. As such he has to balance competing interests on a daily basis if he would like to keep his job. And yes, he really wants to keep his job.
  • The most vocal members of his party want to repeal Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) immediately.
  • Americans, even Wisconsinites, seem evenly divided between repealing and reforming the new health care law.
  • Millions of Americans have directly benefited from key provisions of the law such as Open Enrollment, coverage for Preexisting Conditions, and the Tax Credit Subsidies.
  • The Supreme Court will rule on King v Burwell in next month. There is a very real possibility that the court may eliminate the subsidies for those Americans who purchased coverage through the federal exchange (healthcare.gov) as opposed to a state run exchange.

The Supreme Court may help the coyote catch the roadrunner.

Senator Johnson has a solution. He has crafted a plan where Americans would keep their new coverage, and more importantly their tax credit subsidies, until after the next election. By kicking the can down the road till 2017 he solves two problems.
  1. It is after (he hopes) his reelection
  2. A new Republican president will be able to put forward a real plan.
Are you interested in the details? Do you what to know about the elimination of the individual mandate and other items on the Republican wish list? This post provides links the The Hill and other publications. Just don’t waste any time looking at the Senator’s website. There is nothing to be found there. See, this plan is a secret.

Senator Johnson’s most vocal constituents on the right can’t stomach anything less than complete repeal. And his constituents on the left will treat the Johnson plan like a piƱata.

Senator Johnson isn’t alone. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI)are already touting the second version of the Patient Care Act. According to Forbes, it’s terrific. Much like the Johnson plan, details, the real specifics of how this will affect you, are hard to come by. Their Press Release, however, is filled with glowing generalities and buzz words.

The Hatch plan solves many of the Republican issues with Obamacare by giving them new names. Don’t like the Cadillac Tax? The Hatch plan reduces “the distortions in the tax code that drive up health care costs (by) capping the exclusion of an employee’s employer-provided health coverage”. Hate the Tax Credit Subsidies? The Hatch plan would “Empower Small Businesses and Individuals with Purchasing Power (by providing) Targeted tax credit to buy health care”.

None of this is on Senator Hatch’s website. There just isn’t space for stuff like that. Besides, it’s a secret.

DAVE

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Disqualifier



Asking permission

 

The couple desperately needed health insurance. Their current health policy, purchased through COBRA, was about to end and the woman was pregnant. She was a former banker and he was a private money manager. Even though I had found a way to solve their problem, they still had one question to ask me before they would allow me to help them.

“What type of annuities do you sell”?

There were some really terrible annuities on the market twelve years ago and they viewed the sales of these products as a disqualifier. It wasn’t a problem for me. I didn’t sell any annuities, the good or the bad ones. They are still clients.

We all have disqualifiers, reasons why we won’t do business with certain people or companies. Some are logical. Some aren’t. Some, like the example above, speak to an individual’s honesty and professionalism. And some disqualifiers are simply excuses covering a darker motivation.

This edition of Health Insurance Issues With Dave will address my Number 1 disqualifier – REFERRALS.

The insurance companies are under intense pressure to control health care costs. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has instituted a number of changes in the marketplace. Many of these changes have negatively impacted the way the insurers price and market their products. The very design of the new policies can, at times, seem counterproductive. Finding a way to control costs is a major priority. Many insurers have embraced the concept of requiring referrals.

How does this work? When you purchase a policy through some carriers you will be required to name a Primary Care Physician (PCP). We are used to this procedure with a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) such as HealthSpan, the former Kaiser Permanente. But in this example we are talking about a traditional network driven PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). It has been about twenty years since this was common in our area.

Your Primary Care Physician serves as your health care quarterback. You will need a referral from him/her to have any treatment by a specialist, lab, or facility covered by your policy. No referral – no coverage.

Your first question might be, “How much will my family doctor be paid for this additional responsibility and paperwork?” The answer is NOTHING. The government is projecting a shortage of over 20,000 primary care doctors in the next five years. More and more services are being provided by physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners. Weighing down physicians with uncompensated paperwork is not a good idea.

What happens once you get your referral? Let’s skip the issue of fighting to be referred to the doctor of your choice. We’ll pretend that you have diabetes and that your doctor (Smith) is willing to refer you to your family’s endocrinologist (Jones). Dr. Jones conducts a thorough examination and decides that he needs a few more tests and that you should see the ophthalmologist (Swenson). Dr. Jones isn’t authorized to refer you and you can’t just make an appointment. If you want the visits covered you will need to return to Dr. Smith to secure another referral. And another. And another.

Is the insurer hoping to control costs by eliminating unnecessary doctors’ visits and tests or is the goal to sidestep the payment of unauthorized care? That’s what it looked like the last time this practice raised its ugly head.

You are your best advocate. You should be in charge of your health care.

I refuse to market any non-HMO policy that requires a referral to see specialists. Many of these policies are purchased by the unsuspecting public through healthcare.gov. It is very difficult to determine whether a policy requires referrals if you are buying a policy on the government’s exchange without an agent present. Too many will not find this out until their claims are denied.

I see the healthcare.gov problem as a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission. But sin is sin. It’s a disqualifier.

 
DAVE

www.bcandb.com

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Another Bite Of The Apple


Apple 2

Are you feeling left out? Do you long for the warm afterglow only experienced by the properly insured? Are you ready to come in from the cold? If you answered YES then you may be in luck. The federal government has created a Special Enrollment (SEP) just for you.

This new SEP ends April 30, 2015. This will be the last chance for many individuals and families to purchase health insurance coverage for 2015. To qualify you must:
  • Currently be uninsured for 2015
  • Filed your 2014 tax return and paid the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) penalty for being uninsured in 2014
  • State that you first became aware of the tax penalty while completing your 2014 tax return
Policies may be purchased on and off the Exchange.

Many of my clients have done the math and have opted out of the PPACA. They are purchasing less expensive short term major medical policies and will pay the tax penalty if assessed. Others will jump at this opportunity to finally purchase compliant coverage.

There won’t be another chance.

DAVE

www.bcandb.com

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shopping At Garage Sales In Alternate Universes


Senate cufflinks


February 2015 – Washington DC

There are only two groups of tourists to our nation’s capital in the dead of winter, 8th graders with their teachers and chaperones and constituent visitors otherwise known as unpaid lobbyists. It has been a long time since I had an 8th grader, so you know why I was wandering around the halls of Congress last week.

The National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU) is the health insurance agents’ trade group. NAHU holds a conference annually in Washington and I was here to listen to regulators, members of the Administration, and members of Congress address hundreds of agents from around the country. I have to admit that I was impressed that not only did the new CEO of the Federal Marketplace (healthcare.gov) come to talk with us, he even answered questions and promised to follow-up on specific issues.

And that was why we were in Washington. At the risk of sounding almost altruistic, our main mission was to make the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) work better for our clients. Each of us has more than a few stories of clients who have benefited by the new law. But, we can also cite plenty of examples of families and businesses who are no longer adequately insured due to correctable problems with the law and its administration. Things have gotten better. Last year was a disaster. But I still spent almost 5 hours online and on the phone February 15th to enroll one family. There is plenty of room for improvement.

Improvement requires the assistance of Congress.

I had appointments with members of both the House and the Senate in their offices. These are always a crap shoot. Sometimes you get to meet with the elected official. Sometimes it is the legislative aide. Some are prepped and ready. And some are meeting with you out of courtesy. There are only so many minutes in the day, only so many constituent visits our elected officials and staff can attend. The halls were filled with Disabled American Veterans, a well coifed group of broadcasters, and a contingent of the blind. The realtors and countless other groups, some with identifying name tags and some just with nice suits that were last worn at a relative’s wedding, preceded or quickly followed us into every office. And each group came with a perfectly reasonable request, one of remarkable fairness that couldn’t help but move our country forward.

Our big get was a bi-partisan letter, authored by Congressmen John C Carney, Jr. (D-DE) and Daniel Benishek (R-MI), to Secretary Sylvia Burwell of the Department of Health and Human Services. The key provision was the request to “create a dedicated customer service hotline for certified agents and brokers, navigators, marketplace assistors and state health officials to ensure that problems with enrollment are addressed quickly and effectively.” In other words, we want to be able to call someone who has been trained to understand the issues and empowered to fix a problem once discovered.

One legislative aide finally asked me what else we wanted.

There are members of Congress, in both parties, who are dedicated to constituent service and have instructed their staffs to solve problems. This blog has noted the help I have received from Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) office. Other Democrats have little to no interest in problems. They only want to hear success stories. And some Republicans are collecting tales of woe.

I was in a Republican’s office (Don’t ask who!). I was just one of seven in our delegation and I can’t even tell you why I had been included. But I was there and my main job appeared to be to nod my head authoritatively. I can do that. His constituents brought a couple of important examples where the law of unintended consequences had caused significant harm to individuals and small businesses in his district. He welcomed their report and arranged for his staffer to collect more. It was at this point that I realized that he had no interest in solving any of these problems, just amassing a collection, a weapon for future debates and campaigns.

This was not the time to express my outrage. (Cue up Mr. Cunix goes to Washington.)

I pushed my thumbnail hard into my index finger and looked around the room. I saw awards and tchotchkes, the kind that you might find in most offices, and I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to be sufficiently distracted. And then I focused on a picture on the wall right behind the Congressman. There were eight Republican Presidents playing poker! Really. Teddy Roosevelt was glancing with admiration at Richard Nixon. Reagan had a Bush on either side of him and Ike was standing in the background. Abraham Lincoln had his back to us. I don’t know if Abe Lincoln would play poker with Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon if he had chance to come back to the living, but I do know that he would always sit with his back against the wall. The name of the picture is Grand ‘Ol Gang.

Lincoln Memorial

My favorite Lincoln

The picture summed up everything I needed to say about this Congressman. Republican first. Not problem solver. Not legislator. But he is not alone. There is a Congressman representing a district only a few hundred miles away with the corresponding picture of Democratic Presidents. True Blues has Lyndon Johnson leaning over Harry Truman to talk with Woodrow Wilson. JFK appears to be watching Jimmy Carter play poker with FDR and Bill Clinton. And the picture’s owner is just as partisan, just as dedicated to his career.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Walking the halls of the utilitarian office buildings of the House of Representatives or the majestic buildings of the Senate, the Capitol, or the Library of Congress I began to wish that our elected officials simply aspired to be worthy of these buildings and the ideals that built them. But these Congressmen and Congresswomen are no different than the men and women we revere from 50, 100, or even 150 years ago. They had moments of greatness and reprehensible pettiness. They lead and they followed. Some of the giants of the Senate were not necessarily thought to have been giants in their own time. Our grandchildren may one day be taught that George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were great visionaries. I doubt it, but it could happen.

And with that I joined a couple of my peers in one more meeting with a legislative aide. She (the staffer) was fully up to speed on the issues and actually kept the broadcasters waiting. And there were no poker pictures on the wall.

 
DAVE

 
www.bcandb.com