Friday, December 21, 2012

Buried Deep Within The Law

December is my busiest month. The majority of my business clients prefer to renew or change their coverages as of January 1st. New deductibles. New Benefits. New Year. So wasting forty-five minutes of my time by taking a meaningless class and test were not on my agenda. But there I was, staring at the computer screen, plowing through the mindless drivel that the federal government feels every agent needs to review annually. AML training – anti-money laundering for the uninitiated.

Long before then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told her colleagues that they needed to vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy”, we were given Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. You know it as the USA Patriot Act. A reaction to 9/11, it was signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2001. It wasn’t until years later that the American people and the Congressmen who voted for it learned about the government’s new ability to legally spy on US citizens and the provisions concerning torture. And for the financial services industry – AML, the anti-money laundering rules.

Section 352 of the USA Patriot Act includes the requirement that financial institutions establish anti-money laundering internal enforcement. Each company must:
  • Develop internal policies, procedures, and controls

  • Designate an AML compliance officer

  • Institute ongoing training

  • Install an independent audit function to test the program

  • The insurance industry regulations went into effect on December 5, 2005, over four years after the law’s passage. Some of the rules make sense. Some are the result of regulators gone amok. Let’s be serious. Prudential is not worried that I am going to take three non-sequentialed numbered money orders, each for $5,000, and open up a life insurance policy for some drug kingpin. Pru is petrified that a federal regulator would find an agent operating without an up-to-date AML certificate.

    Rome is burning and we are too busy inspecting the fire extinguishers to have time to use them.

    The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is a complex law. It has to be. You can’t rework a sixth of our economy with a short paragraph and an emoticon. The new fees (taxes) to give this a chance to succeed are just about to begin. Rules and regulations are being written and promulgated. The exchanges are to be up and running in less than a year. Everyday brings something new.

    One of the new taxes, creatively named the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) is designed to raise $100 billion over the next ten years. This is a tax on health insurance companies levied, in part, on market share. A study conducted by Oliver Wyman for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) predicts that this excise style tax will result in significantly higher premiums. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.

    Other new taxes and fees debut next month.

    The major insurers are trying to learn not just what the new rules will be, but when these rules will begin. Does your current policy, purchased under a different set of regulations, end on December 31, 2013? Or, will you be allowed to keep your current policy till its annual renewal or even longer? Do you care? YES!

    If you are young. If you are healthy. If you don’t need any of the new benefits required of all future individual (self-pay) policies such as maternity or habilitative care, you will want to hold on to your current health insurance with both hands. Will you be allowed to retain your current policy? For most of you the logical answer is “Not for long.” These are the issues I’m asked about daily.

    Over the next ten months we will get a clearer picture of the new health insurance market, the policies, the distribution system, and eventually, the pricing. This has always been, first and foremost, about paying for medical services, not about the practice of medicine. But the delivery of health care will change as the money changes.

    Look around you. It would be very crowded here in Greater Cleveland if our population grew at the same rate as our hospitals and clinics expanded. Kaiser Permanente, The Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospital must believe that they know how to make the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pay off for them.

    The potential to build health care empires must be buried deep within the law. We, however, are probably just working the mine.

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Still Stuck Inside

    Will you indulge me? Will you return with me to a post I wrote on August 21, 2009? That post, Stuck Inside, was about an insurance agent, me, trying to give a quick, off-the-cuff answer to the question, “So, what would you do?”

    What would you do? That is the real question. It is incredibly easy to shoot down everyone else’s ideas. All ideas, born from the minds of imperfect humans, have flaws. And the more complicated the ideas, the more potential there is for mistakes. All of our plans have big, gaping holes. So designing a solution to any problem opens you up to derision. It is easy to do nothing. It is even easier to do nothing but snipe at those flawed ideas and the people who created them.

    This blog has consistently held that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is a poorly written law that lacks both transparency and logical goals. Either the eventual plan is to have us in a national health plan or our guys in Congress are getting directions from Moses’s map maker. Flaws? We got ’em. But most of the people fighting the PPACA have spent their time picking the low hanging fruit and defending the status quo.

    This blog has contended that the PPACA is not only the law of the land, but that it was never going to be overturned. Deal with it. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, is busily churning out new rules and regulations. Some of these edicts from on high will help the American people. Some are patently absurd and will, hopefully, be changed. No matter, we need to start to prepare for a future that will soon be upon us whether or not we want it or are prepared.

    My August 2009 post, seven months prior to the passage of the PPACA, laid out a program where health insurance would be guaranteed issue, would cover all preexisting conditions, and would be mandatory. My off-the-cuff solution also included the concept of creating a limited number of uniform plans that would be easier for the consumer to understand, easier to compare, and would include preventive care.

    The President’s plan includes many of these ideas. I may quibble with what is included in the standardized plans and what all was thrown in to the preventive care catch-all, but THEY DIDN’T ASK ME. And you might not be a huge fan of the specifics had I been the author of the plan.

    The Exchanges are currently designed to offer four levels of coverage – Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. We are still getting information on plan design and specifics. My last post covered the Essential Health Benefits that each plan must include. The difference will simply be the percent of coverage paid by the insurer and you.

    The Cunix option included the idea of Medicaid being opened up to people earning up to 300% of the poverty level, paid on a sliding scale. The PPACA provides premium support and/or tax credits through the exchanges for people who earn up to 400% of the poverty level. That would mean a family of four may receive a tax credit for purchasing a policy through the exchange even though they have a family income of $92,200 (2012). By pushing individuals to the exchanges and making the premium support federal money, Washington has eliminated any potential problems or fights with recalcitrant Republican governors.

    My program included a number of starting places to create cost controls. The PPACA is eerily silent when it comes to controlling costs. But then again, there is a lot of wishful thinking built into the PPACA.

    The HHS has been dropping new rules on an almost daily basis. Last week it was announced that the federal government will be charging user fees to the insurers who market policies through the exchanges. These (premium taxes) fees, approximately 3.5%, will be on top of the new taxes imposed on a national basis to all health insurers as determined by their market share, and any state and local insurance tax. Some of this makes sense. This is how the Obama administration expects to pay for this transition and the ongoing process.

    Here is the fun part as it appeared in the New York Times:

    Erin Shields Britt, a spokeswoman for Ms. Sebelius, predicted that insurers would not raise prices. “Exchanges will provide already profitable insurance companies with access to 30 million new customers while cutting down insurers’ marketing and advertising expenses,” Ms. Shields Britt said. “Exchanges force insurance companies to compete and drive down costs for consumers. The congressional Budget Office has estimated consumers will save up to 20 percent on their premiums.

    And J. R. R. Tolkien wrote non-fiction.

    But sniping on the sidelines isn’t going to help. Jumping up and down and threatening to repeal the PPACA (attn: Republican run House of Representatives) only made things worse. Now is the time to talk to your Congressional Representative. The course can’t be reversed, but it can be modified. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an open-ended medical spending spree guaranteed to make private insurance untenable. Will our elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, work together to create effective cost controls, common sense limitations, and robust fraud enforcement? Those are just for starters.

    Now, before we’re stuck.