Monday, July 14, 2014
The late George Carlin had a great bit about the Champ, Muhammad Ali, who was prosecuted by the federal government for refusing to participate in the draft and take a free trip to Vietnam. As Carlin pointed out, Muhammad Ali’s career involved beating people up. The government wanted him to change jobs. They wanted him to kill people. Ali said that that was where he drew the line. He’d beat them up, but he wouldn’t kill them. So the government said, “if you won’t kill ‘em, we won’t let you beat them up”.
The House of Representatives has voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) over fifty times since January 2011. Repeal. Tear it up. Throw it away. The Republicans hate the law and want to eliminate it.
Last July the Administration chose to postpone for a year one of the most complicated and confusing portions of the new law, the employer mandate. So what do the Republicans want to do about President Obama choosing to hold off part of the implementation of this law that they hate? The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, wants to sue the President.
Even though the House has tried to postpone and/or eliminate the employer mandate, the Republicans are really offended that the President did it without them. It doesn’t seem to matter to the Boehner and his team whether this was necessary. It is strictly political for them.
All or nothing. Enforce the entire law including all of the mandates, or none at all. Except contraception, but that’s a different issue.
No President has ever delayed the implementation of a law, especially a health care law, on his own without Congressional approval. None, as long as you don’t count George Bush and the Medicare Part D (Rx) rollout in 2006.
At some point we are going to get a Congress interested in governing. This sideshow does nothing to solve the problems with healthcare.gov. This lawsuit or threat of legal action will not help even one more American have access to care.
The Supreme Court’s decision of June 28, 1971 recognized the Champ’s Conscientious Objector status. We have faith, as a country, that the Supreme Court will normally get it right. Normally, but not always.
And soon we will have the spectacle of John Boehner - a man who doesn’t want to be President, he just doesn’t want anyone else to be President – suing Barack Obama. And we are left to wonder if all of this could have been avoided if the President had just taken Boehner golfing more often or if he had invited him to build a snowman.
I know George Carlin would have been amused.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
You are cordially invited to a very special Bar Mitzvah as Bogart, Cunix & Browning LLC becomes a man. Please join us at Temple Azrikim Hamochdim (Temple Citizens United) on Saturday, January 7, 2023. Services begin at 10 AM. The Torah will be removed from the Ark at 11. A Kiddush and Reception in the Romney Social Hall will follow the conclusion of services.
It was Mitt Romney who famously declared that corporations were people. He was derided for that comment. So many of us knew that corporations, especially closely held corporations, were artificial entities created by people for tax or liability purposes. Few of us ever imagined that this small stack of paperwork, $1,000 of attorney’s fees, would one day be considered to have the same rights and religious convictions of its creators.
And soon Bogart, Cunix & Browning LLC, our little BCB, will be a man.
The actual definition of corporation (click here) from Merriam Webster doesn’t speak of Bar Mitzvahs or Christenings. In the old days (pre-Citizens United January 2010) corporations were mainly entities created to help businesses function efficiently. Political spending by corporations in candidate elections had been prohibited. The immediate impact of the decision was the deluge of corporate sponsored attack ads over the last four years. The Hobby Lobby decision is simply the next step to dehumanize individuals while we anthropomorphize corporations.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has decided that closely held corporations are capable of having sincere convictions and that providing all twenty forms of federally mandated contraception imposes a “substantial burden” on Hobby Lobby’s ability to exercise its religion.
I have included the link to the actual Supreme Court decision as well as to Amy Howe’s excellent analysis on ScotusBlog. As I have noted in previous posts, ScotusBlog is the first place to visit after any important Supreme Court decision if you want a plain English explanation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. opined that great cases like hard cases make bad law. In its fight against a few forms of birth control, Hobby Lobby may give birth to numerous bad laws. Justice Kennedy wrote in a separate concurring opinion that this ruling was narrow and limited. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably closer to the mark on this point. Why won’t every business owner with strong opposition to blood transfusions, same-sex marriage, or even women driving not seek to have their day in court? And how will the Supreme Court decide what is a “substantial burden” and what is not?
Even before the decision was read I had heard from clients interested in opting out of certain coverages. Some of this, as noted in Isn’t That Convenient (May 2012), is simply about employers looking to save a buck. But not all. Some business owners now see a way to express (PUSH?) their values through their business.
The first out of the gate may be businesses concerned about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and whether it may force federal contractors to not discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT). Will businesses owned and controlled by Christian Scientists eliminate coverage for blood transfusions? It is too early to say and there is nothing up on the Church’s official website.
It is important to remember that this is a fight that the Obama Administration wanted. Not once does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mention an IUD. The law included 100% coverage for Preventive Care. It was Kathleen Sebelius, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who chose to define birth control pills, IUD’s, and the morning after pill as part of Preventive Care. Good decision? Bad decision? Either way it is important to note that it was a DELIBERATE DECISION. This, as is the case with so many of the sticking points of the PPACA, is a regulatory issue.
Hard Cases + One sided Regulations = Really Bad Law
Today the ruling applies simply to closely held corporations, but Ted Olson, the attorney who successfully argued the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court scoffs at the notion. And one day we will have corporations of any size and any religion. And these corporations will need the free exercise of their sincerely held beliefs.
Will future theologians debate whether a Christian corporation’s pathway to Heaven is through Grace or Works? And speaking of Heaven, if a Muslim corporation executes a successful hostile takeover, are there 72 shareholders waiting for it in Heaven?
I am positive of one thing. Should Hobby Lobby ever decide to convert to Judaism, there will a long line of people volunteering to perform the Bris.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
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
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 AnythingIf 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.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
It was an ugly, ugly bedroom. The only solution I could think of was to scrape off the seven layers of paint and wallpaper to get back to the original plaster. At that point we would be able to make the room ready for my daughter. It was the spring of 1983 and I was living in University Heights. The work was backbreaking and monotonous. Success was measured in inches. “Surely there must be a better way of doing this”, was muttered on an hourly basis. I even wondered if it would have been easier to just knock out the walls and hang new Sheetrock. But we persevered because we knew why we were doing this. We were doing this for Jenny.
Is the effort worth it? Are our goals worthy of the time and effort it might take to achieve them? That question pops up again and again when we look at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). We were told that there were 50,000,000 uninsured Americans and that the PPACA would solve this problem. We were told that the cost of insurance and the actual cost of healthcare would decrease. We were promised easy access to affordable care.
According to the Gallup Pole published in March 2014, the number of uninsured in the United States has decreased. Of course, that number has steadily INCREASED until it peaked in the middle of last year. But now it is going down. Gallup conducted more than 28,000 interviews and has determined that 15.9% of all Americans are uninsured. With a US Population of Approximately 318,000,000, that would mean that about 50,562,000 of us are uninsured. For comparison sake, the uninsured rate was in the 14% range until the crash at the end of 2008 and did not exceed 17% until the middle of 2011.
It might be fair to ask if the new law is really having any impact on the number of uninsureds. Is the economy, slowly recovering, the reason more people are now getting coverage? Or it could be the expansion of Medicaid in those states that chose to fully cover the working poor. It is way too early to tell. The numbers released so far, rounded to the nearest hundred thousand or so, are neither firm nor reliable.
Allow me to provide you with a small but accurate sampling of the individual health insurance market in Greater Cleveland. I wrote 62 contracts (individuals or families) during the first three months of 2014. Here is the breakdown:
On Exchange (Subsidy Eligible) Off Exchange
23 Contracts 39
48 Insured Individuals 66
7 Previously Uninsured 10
15% Newly Insured 15%
Twenty-three individuals or families successfully purchased a policy with me on the new exchange. We only used the exchange because they are going to receive a tax subsidy to help to pay for the policy. There were a total of 48 people involved and only 7 of them, 7 total adults and children, were previously uninsured. The other 41 changed coverages to get cheaper insurance or to pick up maternity.
My Off Exchange experience is essentially the same. Thirty-nine individuals and or families applied for coverage. Of the sixty-six people covered, only 10 had been previously uninsured. The balance purchased policies, in many instances, because we are no longer rating for risk. In other words, these are individuals and families who may have paid a lot more for coverage in the past due to their preexisting conditions. Their conditions and the cost to treat them didn’t disappear, just the money it took to cover the risks.
It is my experience, with my admittedly little sample, that only 15% of my transactions involved covering the uninsured. Most of this is simply shifting risk and cost. People with lower incomes have shifted a large chunk of the cost of insurance to the US taxpayer. Unhealthy people have shifted the risk of their insurance to the general population. The uninsured, the people who would be swamping our offices (sarcasm intended), didn’t stand in line outside of my door.
I talked with an uninsured gentleman this morning. Harry (name changed) lives in Parma. He is 62, uninsured since he left his last job in 2010, and has no interest in spending a dime more than necessary. He has pension, savings, and is getting by. He uses the word Obamacare like expletive. Why did he call my office? It may be because his right knee, the one that was surgically repaired in 2009, may be acting up. It could be because his buddy is in the hospital and he got scared. Who knows? Harry didn’t purchase coverage when we talked in October and he didn’t do anything today. And he won’t do anything this November at the Open Enrollment unless that knee starts to really hurt or that buddy dies.
So please remind me why we did this. Did we need to destroy the village to save it? Was it worth it? If our goal was to cover the uninsured and the working poor, we could have done a better, more thorough job expanding Medicaid. The rest, affordability and patient protection, seem just beyond our reach. But it is only June 2014. It is still too early to tell.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
NO!February 11th. The young family applied for health insurance on the government’s exchange on February 11, 2014. It was a frustrating experience that resulted in the young husband and his child being invited to apply for health insurance. They were even offered financial assistance. The 22 year old mom? The feds thought that she’d be better off with Medicaid. We tried to fix this. No luck. Nothing could be done about this error until the State of Ohio reviewed her case and ruled that she was not eligible for Medicaid. We applied for the subsidized health policy for the father and son. We kept the woman on her existing coverage. The notice was dated Sunday, May 4, 2014. Ohio, swamped with over 300,000 new Medicaid enrollments since last fall, finally got to my client’s paperwork and declined her. She is now officially eligible for the subsidized health insurance that she should have been able to purchase months ago.
No, for once, is the answer you want to hear.My clients are responsible people who have always had insurance and always will. They found a way to put the monthly premium into their budget. But what if they couldn’t? This is a huge problem that has not been resolved. I am still having clients incorrectly shipped off to Medicaid. And what if the client has any ongoing health or financial problems? Then he is screwed. In the last month I have had numerous conversations with CMS and federal exchange employees, Senator Brown’s staff, and our elected officials in Columbus. Our main topic was how to make The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) work better. Some of what I’ve learned was told to me in whispers. Some of what I’ve learned from experience has been grudgingly confirmed. And of course, there are glitches and problems that no one will acknowledge.
- Healthcare.gov works best when using all capital letters and your Chrome browser.
- Do not show a husband and wife earning the same exact monthly income. It throws the system.
- Healthcare.gov has a big problem with large families.
- Ditto newborns.
- Unofficially, part of healthcare.gov’s problem is that there was this assumption that it would be serving the uninsured. The government’s exchange defaults to Medicaid. You must qualify OUT of total assistance to earn a subsidy.
- Undertrained, unprepared, and overworked, the call center workers shouldered a huge part of the burden. They are now fielding fewer, but more intense calls. Sitting in a cubicle, forbidden to use paper or pen to take notes, and unable to email for help, the call center assisters are totally overwhelmed by service issues. I have talked with healthcare.gov veterans (8 months!) who are willing to try trial and error to solve problems. I’ve also had them hang up on me.
And a few of my clients will get the letter they really want. They will be declined for Medicaid and will now be able to buy an affordable policy.
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Room 113. The name plate on the massive wooden door identified this room, located down a hallway in the Statehouse, stuck between a stairwell and the men’s room, as the William Henry Harrison Room. Our ninth President, who served a little more than thirty days, merits the honor of a room, just not a really good one.
So much of our politics resembles Room 113. Style vs. Substance. The appearance of action attempting to replace actually doing something.
I was in Columbus to meet with Members of the Ohio House and Senate. It was our annual Day at the Statehouse, an event organized by the Ohio Association of Health Underwriters. Our task is the same every year – how can we help our lawmakers to make it easier for Ohioans to get the health insurance they want and need.
The last few years have been more challenging. We, the State’s insurance agents, are uniquely qualified to explain how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has helped and hurt Ohioans. We know where Ohio laws and regulations have protected our clients. We also know where our State’s laws and regulations have made the acquisition of insurance more difficult or even nearly impossible.
Our annual visit to Columbus has become more difficult. Democrats are loathe to admit that the PPACA needs to be tweaked, lest that admission be perceived as a sign of weakness. And Republicans are afraid to acknowledge that anything, ANYTHING, good came from Obamacare. Republicans control the House and the Senate. Governor Kasich is a Republican. More and more of them are beginning to concede, albeit quietly, that the law is here to stay. But moving to make the law more functional is still tricky. And with the Republicans controlling the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s Office, it is up to them if anything is to be done.
Roaming the halls of our Statehouse, I met legislators from both parties who honestly, sincerely want to have a positive impact on the lives of average Ohioans. I met aides clearly aware of pending legislation in both chambers.
So this was a good year. But there are still lots of members, from both sides of the aisle, that have no interest in details, regulations, or functionality. Instead, every issue for them boils down to the lowest common denominator of Us vs. Them.
And while they are busy scoring points, we are stuck waiting for the State to make it easier for Ohioans to get health insurance. Eleven and a half million people stuck in Room 113.
Coming soon: No? Did you say No? Thank you!
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Bloody. Broken. I was flat on the mat. I had thought that I could go the distance. But now? Now I wasn’t so sure. I pulled myself up and tried to clear my head. The referee administered a standing 8 count. And I knew, I knew, that if I was to see this fight to the end, if I was to have a chance of pulling off victory by decision, I needed to appeal to a Higher Power. I looked up and called upon the only One who could help me.
I contacted Senator Sherrod Brown.
J. Bradley Deane is a Staff Assistant working in Senator Brown’s Cleveland office. Two minutes into our conversation I was sure that I was dealing with a problem solver. No excuses. No sales pitch. He quickly grasped the problem and offered to help. He let me know that some problems were solved within a few working days and that some weren’t, but that he would stay involved. And I believed him. I received the required release form moments after our call ended. I turned the paperwork around quickly and he had what he needed by the end of the day, Thursday the 17th.
The insurance company was contacted by the government by the following Tuesday. And I can report to you that R.S. and his son are now properly insured with a policy that is correctly dated April 1, 2014. The client no longer needs to worry that his policy is going to lapse due to this glitch. Neither R.S. nor the US taxpayers were forced to waste thousands of dollars for nothing.
Unanimous Decision – Cunix in 10 rounds!Could I win two battles in one day? I had my doubts. In last week’s post I detailed the difficulty of adding a newborn to an existing exchange policy. Difficulty may be an understatement. I had more hours and more frustration attached to this (previously) simple service issue than I had invested with R.S. and his son. No one could say with any degree of certainty who was insured. The insurer had part of the family. The mother supposedly had a one-way ticket to Medicaid. And I was afraid that the whole family might find itself uninsured, collateral damage of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Looking for an entirely different path, I contacted Sam Fiorentino, Past President of our local Health Underwriters chapter. Sam suggested a miracle worker in the Chicago Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services office (CMS), Ms. Monaghan.
Is Ms. Monaghan a miracle worker? I don’t know. I can tell you that she returns phone calls, works crazy hours, and is doing the best she can within a badly designed system. I can’t say whether her efforts directly or indirectly led to a solution. But at 5:09 PM today, according to the national call center’s records, my client, his wife, and all of his children are on the same policy. A request has been filed to have a caseworker follow up with the insurer to make sure that there is no lapse in coverage.
TKO – Cunix in the 12th round!So what did we learn from all of this? The first and most important thing is that ALL PROBLEMS can be solved. All you need is the tenacity to follow through and at least one person on the other side willing to do what is right.
We learned that CMS knows that there are glitches and flaws in their program. Specialists and troubleshooters have been assigned to find solutions on a case by case basis. It also appears that an effort is underway to eliminate the root causes. My clients weren’t the only people who experienced these service debacles. Admitting that is a first step to earning our confidence.
We learned that it might not take an act of Congress to get something done, but it never hurts to get a member of Congress to help you.
And, we are again reminded that we have to be willing to fight, to invest the time and effort, to get what we know is ours. Sitting back, whining, and waiting for the world to give us what we think we deserve will never get us a victory.
If you think that you are right. If you think that you aren’t getting what you deserve. Put on those gloves and climb into the ring.