Author Archive | John Barrett

Anthem Threatens Obamacare Retreat If Results Don’t Improve

According to a Bloomberg article published online, Anthem Inc., which has so far stuck with the Obamacare markets as rivals pulled back, said it may retreat in 2018 if its financial results under the program don’t improve next year.

  • If California becomes one of the states exited, those with Anthem individual policies will be affected.
  • For 2017, Anthem has already significantly raised rates, and reverted to more network Exclusive Provider Organization, (EPO) from PPOs in Southern California, and most of Central and Northern California.

“If we do not see clear evidence of an improving environment and a path towards sustainability in the marketplace, we will likely modify our strategy in 2018,” Anthem Chief Executive Officer Joseph Swedish said on a call Wednesday discussing third-quarter results. “Clearly, 2017 is a critical year as we continue to assess the long-term viability of our exchange footprint.”

Anthem expects to post a narrow profit margin next year in exchanges created under the ACA, following losses that Swedish called “disappointing.” Profitability will improve thanks to plan changes and premium increases averaging more than 20 percent, but Anthem said it will take more than that to stabilize markets that have so far drawn about half the membership it was planning for.

The company called for eliminating a tax on health insurers, as well as changes to regulations that govern how plans are sold and administered.

“Both the pricing and regulatory environment need to be improved,” Swedish said. He said the company would be “surgical” in assessing where to sell ACA plans for 2018.

Anthem sells health coverage under the Blue Cross Blue Shield brand in 14 states (including California), and has a big position in the market for plans sold directly to individuals. The Indianapolis-based company said Wednesday that it had 889,000 people signed up under individual Obamacare exchange plans, and a total of about 1.4 million members in individual plans.

Large rivals UnitedHealth Group Inc., Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. have all retreated from many of the Obamacare exchanges. If Anthem pulls back in 2018, it would leave mostly regional and not-for-profit firms on the markets, along with the Medicaid companies Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare Inc.

Anthem expects the overall market for ACA compliant plans — both on- and off-exchange –will shrink next year, Chief Financial Officer John Gallina said. The insurer’s membership in the individual market will fall as well, he said.

*Modified from a Bloomberg.com article, Political.com and other online sources.

 

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HIGHER PREMIUMS FOR HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS IN CALIFORNIA

Are you prepared for 2017 rate increases of your individual health insurance plans?

Obamacare premiums are set to skyrocket an average of 22% for the benchmark silver plan in 2017, per a government report released Monday. In California, the Covered California Exchange, and the Department of Insurance have reported these rate increases average around 13%.

Covered California maintains the premium increases won’t affect those who purchase their coverage through the Exchange to receive a Federal Premium Subsidy or are covered by Medi-Cal. While that may be true regarding Covered California, it is not true for millions who purchased their coverage Off Exchange directly with the insurance company.

 There are three reasons why premiums are going up so much.

  1. More sick people than anticipated enrolled. Insurers are just catching up to the fact that premiums weren’t covering their costs.
  2. The end of the reinsurance program, which was designed to make up losses incurred by insurance companies accepting very sick enrollees. That expires at the end of this year; therefore, they must raise premiums to account for the end of that program.
  3. Health care costs seem to be trending upward.

Those without a Subsidy will pay a hefty increase in their 2017 premiums.

If you live in Southern California rates will increase substantially higher than 13%.

  • In the five Southern California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego the rate increase ranges from 18% to 37%. The average rate increase for Blue Shield is approximately 20%, while the rate increases for Anthem averages 25%, with some rates 37% higher than 2016 rates.

In addition to the rate increases, carriers have also narrowed their 2017 provider networks. For 2017, the only carrier with a full PPO throughout California will be Blue Shield. All other carriers will have a narrower provider network, such as an HMO or Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO). To control their costs Blue Shield also offers, for the first time, Silver through Platinum HMO plans.

In Southern California, Anthem changed from a PPO or Tiered PPO back to an EPO. Anthem will only keep their PPO structure in several Central and Northern counties.

As with an HMO, an EPO will not pay for any medical services out of network. Any medical expense out of network will require the insured to pay 100% of the costs with no reimbursement.

Because all carriers offering individual plans have two distinct networks individual and group, it requires the person seeking individual coverage to determine if a provider will accept a specific carrier’s individual plans.

  • In Orange and San Diego counties there is a further complication because the Anthem EPO will not have some of the top hospitals in network. As an example, in Orange County 24 hospitals have been eliminated from the network. Major hospitals such as Hoag, St Joseph, St Jude, and Mission are not in network for the EPO. In San Diego County, 11 hospitals have been eliminated, including the Scripps group of hospitals.

For 2017, even though the categories of plans remain the same (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum), deductibles and co-insurance have increased making the maximum financial liability for a family with a Bronze plan as high as $14,300. Silver and Gold plans have increased their total financial liability for a family to more than $13,000. Only Platinum plans have remained the same with a maximum financial liability for a family of $8,000.

  • Open Enrollment for 2017 (November 1st – January 31st), will allow the enrollment in new coverage, changing carriers, and changing categories of plans. It is important for those who enroll in Off Exchange plans to understand that rates are higher for PPO plans than for the narrower HMO plans of the same category.

If you purchase your health insurance Off Exchange without a Subsidy you will need to make a choice between premiums vs. networks. If you desire a more liberal choice of providers, you will select a PPO with a higher premium. If a want a lower premium you will select a narrow network HMO or EPO plan. The difference in rates between a PPO and HMO/EPO for the same category of plans ranges from 15% to 20%.

If you have questions regarding 2017 Open Enrollment, call me at (626) 797-4618 or email me at john@healthinsbrokers.com

 

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Penalties For Not Having Insurance Have Failed, And The Result Is Higher 2017 Premiums For Everyone

The most controversial part of Obamacare — the mandate that people buy health insurance — is also the glue that was supposed to make the whole scheme work.

An article appearing on lifezette.com, and other information provided by the Wall Street Journal details the mounting evidence that indicates the mandate is failing. The failure of the mandate is causing insurance companies to raise their premiums substantially for 2017.

Congress got insurance companies to go along with the Affordable Care Act in 2010 by striking a grand bargain — private insurers would accept new rules and restrictions in exchange for millions of new customers, many low-cost healthy people who would not break the bank.

The government offered subsidies to help lower-income Americans afford the premiums and threatened to fine people if they did not comply.

But the stick was not enough, and critics contend that the Obama administration weakened it further by wielding it with less-than-enthusiastic vigor.

“Nobody really wants to enforce it … Enforcing the individual mandate is going to hurt politically,” said a health policy counsel for the American Action Forum.

“The size of the penalty is not enough for someone who’s relatively healthy to think it’s worth it for them to pay for insurance,” said a senior research fellow at George Mason University. “Congress took all of the IRS’ enforcement tools away”.

  • Although Congress authorized penalties for failure to purchase health insurance, it limited the ability of the IRS to enforce it. The agency cannot sue, file criminal charges, or place liens on bank accounts to collect. It can send a warning letter or withhold money from tax refunds — if the taxpayer is owed a refund.

The government could crack down. “But aggressive enforcement could backfire politically”, said a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation. “In order to enforce this, it would be pretty ugly”.

  • The analyst said it is not just the stick of enforcement that has proved inadequate — it’s also the carrot of insurance. He said it has been difficult to persuade young and healthy people “to pay for something they might not want or need … A lot of people value holding onto their own money and eating the mandate.”

The result is much lower sign-up rates than experts initially forecast. The Congressional Budget Office forecast 21 million enrollees by 2016. The Urban Institute projected 23.1 million. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guessed 24.8 million. And the Rand Corp. estimated 27 million.

The actual number was about 12.7 million. With attrition that occurs throughout the year, the number by the end of 2016 is likely to be 10 million to 10.5 million. The people who find the health plans most attractive are those who receive subsidies that cover most of the cost and those who use a lot of medical services.

  • The Urban Institute report from January 2015 projected that 36 percent of enrollees this year would have household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, and therefore be eligible for a subsidy. The actual percentage was 66%.

But while the Urban Institute projected that a 25% of enrollees would have incomes above 400% of the poverty line and thus be ineligible for subsidies, the actual share is just 2%. As one analyst said, “If you have a really expensive medical condition, Obamacare made insurance a good deal for you,”. “If people spend their own money, they don’t value the product.” “We know that insurers have enrolled a much more expensive pool than they expected,”. “We know that because they’ve had huge losses.”

To make up the difference, insurance companies have increased premiums. Preliminary research indicates that the average increase was 15% to 16.5% between 2015 and 2016, and that the increase for 2017 will be “much worse.”

*Modified from a lifezette.com article, WSJ.com articles, and other data provided by various online sources.

If you have questions, please call me at (626) 797-4618 or email john@healthinsbrokers.com

 

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California Obamacare Rates To Rise 13% In 2017, More Than Three Times The Increase Of Last Two Years

Premiums for Californians’ Obamacare health coverage will rise by an average of 13.2% next year — more than three times the increase of the last two years and a jump that is bound to raise debate in an election year.

The big hikes come after two years in which California officials had boasted that the program helped insure thousands of people in the state while keeping costs moderately in check.

On Tuesday, officials blamed next year’s premium hikes in the program that insures 1.4 million Californians on rising costs of medical care, including expensive specialty drugs and the end of a mechanism that held down rates for the first three years of Obamacare.

Two of the state’s biggest insurers — Blue Shield of California and Anthem Inc. — asked for the biggest hikes.  Blue Shield’s premiums jumped by an average of more than 19%, according to officials, and Anthem’s rates rose by more than 16%.

  • The rates vary significantly by region and insurer. Los Angeles and the rest of southwest Los Angeles County will see an average increase of almost 14%.

Blue Shield’s preferred provider organization rate in Los Angeles, chosen by 21% of those using the exchange, is increasing by an average of 19.5%.

Blue Shield, in an email to brokers, stated three reasons for the increase:

  • Underpricing of 2016 Rates: 2016 pricing was completed in the first quarter of 2015 and relied heavily on the favorable 2014 healthcare expense experience to set rates.
  • Higher than Anticipated Member Utilization of Healthcare Benefits: According to data, the higher trend was driven by prescription drugs and by members who joined during the special enrollment period. The SEP population had up to 30% higher utilization than members who joined during the standard open enrollment period.
  • Removal of ACA Reinsurance: The reinsurance program had provided funds to plans with higher-cost enrollees to offset those medical costs and guarantee coverage regardless of health status. The end of this program alone added 4.6% to our 2017 rates.

An Anthem spokesman stated “Factors such as increased use of medical services and added costs of drugs and medical therapies put upward pressure on rates and underscore the additional work that needs to be done to moderate the growth in healthcare costs.”

Covered California officials defended the system Tuesday, saying that the competition between insurers offering coverage on the exchange was working to keep rates lower than they otherwise would be.

Around the country, several insurers, including giant UnitedHealth, have stopped selling health plans on the exchanges, and a number of new nonprofit health insurance coops have gone out of business.

Americans who make too much to qualify for subsidies are likely to feel the brunt of the premium hikes. That may increase pressure to review the exchanges in 2017, for ways to make health plans more affordable.

If you have questions, please call me at (626) 797-4618 or email john@healthinsbrokers.com

*Modified from LATimes.com and Hotair.com online articles; Blue Shield notification to brokers.

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SHORT TERM MEDICAL COVERAGE – A BRIDGE UNTIL OPEN ENROLLMENT

Has your individual health insurance policy recently been cancelled?

Are you between jobs, and need coverage for a few weeks or months?

Are you a college student in need of coverage until classes begin?

THE ANSWER TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS IS SHORT TERM MEDICAL COVERAGE.

  • Short term medical is a limited form of health insurance designed to bridge you to permanent individual or employer based group coverage.
  • Short term medical insurance is designed to protect your assets by paying for catastrophic hospital medical costs.
  • The coverage will only pay for your inpatient hospital, ER, or Urgent Care medical services.
  • Some policies may include some form of office visit co-payments before or after the deductible.
  • Drug coverage is usually limited to inpatient hospital; however, some carriers may include a drug discount card.
  • Pre-existing conditions diagnosed during 12 months prior to enrollment are normally excluded. In addition, carriers may also decline enrollment if a major illness has occurred within the last 5 years.
  • The coverage is sold on a month to month basis, up to a maximum of 6 months. Some carriers may allow the policy to roll over for additional days or months.
  • You may tailor the coverage to the actual number of days needed until the effective date of permanent insurance.
  • You may select policy maximums that range from $750,000 to $2,000,000 per person.
  • You may select a deductible from $500 to $7500; co-insurance (the amount you pay after deductible) of 20% or 50% making your total out of pocket costs (your maximum financial risk) $1,500 to $10,000, including deductible.
  • You have a choice of having an effective date the day after enrollment or up to 30 days in the future.
  • You may pay on a monthly basis or the total premium up front for the actual number of days of the policy.
  • The premiums may only be paid by credit card.
  • You may enroll directly online, and after approval the carrier will automatically download your ID card(s) and Certificate of Coverage.

If you have questions, contact me directly at (626) 797-4618 or email me at john@healthinsbrokers.com

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California Voters Are Becoming More Concerned About Healthcare Costs

The cost of getting healthcare remains a major concern, eclipsing worries about having insurance, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. The widespread worry about costs indicates a potential shift in the debate over healthcare.

Lawmakers increasingly have been hearing complaints from their constituents about the cost of care, and polls have found that prescription drug prices, surprise medical bills and other pocketbook issues concern voters more than the future of the health law.

Echoing that national trend, almost two-thirds of voters in the USC/Times survey say they worry “very much” about rising health costs, with only 10% saying that is not something they worry about.

Cost concerns were most widespread among those in their 50s and early 60s. Indeed, that age group consistently showed the highest levels of anxiety on a series of healthcare concerns.

  • For a significant number, the healthcare law itself takes blame for rising costs. Just over half of those surveyed said they believed that costs for average Americans have “gone up a lot” because of the law, compared with roughly one-third who said that the law had not caused that to happen.
  • Most Americans have been forced to confront increased costs for health coverage for years – a trend that began long before the passage of the reform law. Employers have continued to shift costs to their workers, mostly in the form of higher deductibles and co-payments. Although those higher costs may not have been caused by the new law, many blame it.
  • The law clearly has raised costs for one relatively small slice of Americans – mostly healthy, self-employed people with middle-class or higher incomes who were previously able to buy low-cost policies on the private market.
  • The new law requires those people to buy more comprehensive policies, which provide greater coverage, but at a higher price. Covering sicker customers who used to be denied insurance has also led insurers to raise some premiums.

Low- and middle-income Americans get subsidies under the law that lower their monthly premiums, but higher-income Americans do not.

Most California voters have a positive view of their own healthcare and a somewhat positive view of healthcare in the state, the poll found. Seven in 10 rated their own healthcare as “excellent” or “good” while just under three in 10 called their care “fair” or “poor.”

*Modified from an latimes.com article, and other online sources

 

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UnitedHealth To Stop Selling Obamacare Coverage In California

UnitedHealth Group Inc. told brokers that it has filed paperwork to offer plans in just six states’ health-law marketplaces next year, providing the most complete picture so far of its previously announced widespread withdrawal.

The biggest U.S. health insurer said in April that it would pull out of all but a handful of the 34 states where it was selling the Affordable Care Act exchange plans, in the wake of mounting losses in that business.

Since then, the insurer’s 2017 exchange decisions have been emerging piecemeal as various state regulators disclosed that UnitedHealth wouldn’t be in their exchanges next year.

Tuesday, California officials became the latest to say UnitedHealth was leaving, when a spokesman for the Covered California exchange confirmed that the insurer wouldn’t participate in 2017.

  • The carrier also told brokers that during the next few weeks it would begin informing consumers enrolled in its exchange plans in states where it will pull out. Existing plans are effective through the end of 2016, and consumers can switch to different insurers during the fall’s open enrollment period.

In a statement Tuesday, UnitedHealth said “the smaller overall market size and shorter term, higher risk profile within this market segment continue to suggest we cannot broadly serve it on an effective and sustained basis.” But it said the company is “an advocate for more stable and sustainable approaches to serving exchange markets and those who rely on it for care.”

  • Overall, insurers’ approach to the exchanges for next year is mixed, in the wake of financial results that have been disappointing for many companies. Several insurers, including state Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, have reported similar challenges in recent months. And more than a dozen nonprofit insurance cooperatives created through the law have closed because they were overwhelmed by medical claims they couldn’t afford.

Many other insurers are sticking with the new marketplaces, though state filings have shown that several are seeking significant rate increases for next year.

  • Many consumer groups welcomed UnitedHealth’s arrival in Covered California in order to give people more choice and inject more competition into the market. The top insurers in the exchange, led by Blue Shield of California and Anthem Inc., control more than 90% of Covered California enrollment.

The state exchange had limited UnitedHealth to selling exchange plans in several smaller markets for 2016 because it didn’t participate the first two years

*Modified from online articles from WSJ.com, LAtimes.com, CNNmoney.com, Townhall.com, and other online data sources.

 

 

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Obamacare Premiums Expected To Rise Sharply Amid Insurer Losses

Health insurance companies are laying the groundwork for substantial increases in ObamaCare premiums, opening up a line of attack for Republicans in a presidential election year.

Many insurers have been losing money on the ObamaCare marketplaces, in part because they set their premiums too low when the plans started in 2014. The companies are now expected to seek substantial price increases.

“There are absolutely some carriers that are going to have to come in with some pretty significant price hikes to make up for the underpricing that they did before,” said Sabrina Corlette, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, while noting that the final picture remains unclear.

Insurers are already making the case for premium increases, pointing to a pool of enrollees that is smaller, sicker and costlier than they expected.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association released a widely publicized report last month that said new enrollees under ObamaCare had 22 percent higher medical costs than people who received coverage through their employers.

“The industry is clearly setting the stage for bigger premium increases in 2017,” said Larry Levitt, an expert on the health law at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The proposals for premium increases, which will be rolled out over the next couple of months, still have to be approved by state insurance commissioners. The ultimate impact on consumers will be hard to determine, as ObamaCare’s tax credits often soften the blow.

“Companies are either going to have to raise their prices significantly or drop out,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), pointing to a poll from NPR that found a quarter of the public says the health law has personally hurt them.

“UnitedHealth has announced it is pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges,” one Senator wrote in a statement. “That’s the latest in a string of Obamacare failures that have led to American families losing their doctors, having few or no insurance options, and facing skyrocketing premiums and deductibles.”

“In almost every year I remember since 2013 started, there were projections of double-digit premium [increases] that turned out not to be correct,” said Chris Jennings, a former Obama White House adviser on healthcare reform. “Now, do I believe this year may be a little bit different? I think it could be.”

About 15 percent of ObamaCare enrollees do not receive a tax credit, so they would bear the full burden of price hikes, though they, like other enrollees, can shop around for the best deal.

State regulators may be forced to approve some hefty rate increases for next year, given the need for insurers to stop losing money.

*Modified from Hill.com, IBD.com, WSJ.com articles, and other online sources.

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THE SELF EMPLOYED ALSO NEED BENEFITS

Are you one of the many individuals who has become self-employed either voluntarily or involuntarily due to the changes in today’s economy?

In the past if you voluntarily left your employer or were laid off, you would have been able to move to another company; however, because of economic changes in California, you may now be forced to become self-employed, classified as an independent contractor or “consultant” to survive financially.

In addition to the financial implications, the biggest shock is the realization that by leaving your former employer you have suddenly lost the safety net for you and your family of health insurance and related benefits previously provided by the company.

  • As a health insurance broker, a specific area of my focus is the self-employed who have left companies to work independently. My goal is to provide these individuals and their families with creative strategies to replicate, on an individual basis, the benefits once provided by their previous employers.

Over the next few weeks I will be focusing my newsletter, and my other publications, on the risks faced by the self-employed through the loss of company employee benefits. I intend to recommend specific strategies to reduce or eliminate these financial risks.

A few of the issues, and questions that I will address:

  • The risk of medical expenses caused by illness or accidents.

Health insurance policies are nothing more than financial instruments designed to mitigate medical financial risks.

Do you know how to tailor the four (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) health insurance plan categories to your specific needs?

  • The risk of large out of pocket financial requirements of health insurance policies.

Currently these amounts range from $4,000 to $6,850 for individuals, and $8,000 to $13,700 for families. In 2017 these amounts will increase to $7,150 and $14,300 respectively.

How will these amounts be paid, and by whom?

  • The risk of a direct loss of income by being unable to work for a period of time (or permanently) as the result of an illness or accident.

Health insurance only pays for the medical expenses; it is not designed to replace lost income.

What types of policies can be used to protect income, and how do insurance companies view the self-employed vs. W2 employees?

  • The risks of requiring skilled nursing, assisted living or other long term care arrangements caused by an illness or accident.

Can insurance policies be structured to pay these benefits, and still provide other benefits?

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Obamacare Enrollees Sicker, Causing Premiums to Soar Again

A study finds that a larger portion of recent Obamacare enrollees are sicker and far more costly to cover. As a result, the insurance industry is seeking yet another series of premium hikes to cover the quickly rising costs.

According to The Washington Post, Obamacare enrollees in Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) had higher instances of diabetes, more propensity for heart disease, and had higher rates of depression than previous, pre-Obamacare members of the plan.

Newer enrollees who came into BCBS through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) insurance marketplaces, commonly called Obamacare, caused costs to rise 22 percent on average more than plan members who received their insurance through an employer.

“Average monthly medical spending per member was $559 for individual enrollees in 2015, for example, versus $457 for group members,” the Post wrote.

The report is the best evidence to show why premiums have soared and why they are showing no signs of stopping since President Obama’s signature takeover of the nation’s healthcare insurance system was implemented.

Since insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny pre-existing conditions, payouts for medical services have wildly increased, and the study is likely to serve as a basis for the industry to submit its next wave of higher premiums.

Obamacare proponents say the skyrocketing medical costs were fully expected and that the law was written expecting the influx of young people forced to buy insurance to cover the higher costs of service to older, sicker enrollees.

But the bigger problem young people face is that they often have far less income to afford the much higher insurance costs they are now being forced to pay due to the passage of the ACA. Therefore many are not signing up and preferring to pay the tax penalties.

Because of these spiraling costs, people under 35 have lagged in signing up, compared to older ACA enrollees. And while it was recently reported that more young people had begun the enrollment process to avoid the tax penalties in the law, the numbers are still not balancing what is needed to pay the greater costs for the older, sicker plan members already enrolled.

“If participation among young adults had matched their share of the population, then 4.8 million young adults would have enrolled — but just 3.25 million selected plans.”

But even that 3.25 million is an inflated number because a large number of younger enrollees never completed signing up and did not end up paying for the new, more expensive healthcare policies.

*Modified from a WSJ.com and Washington Post articles, and other online sources

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