Archive | Insurance Company News – California

2016 OPEN ENROLLMENT IS COMING TO AN END

Have you taken advantage of Open Enrollment for individual health insurance for 2016?

If not, you have until January 31st to complete your enrollment in an ACA (Obamacare) compliant plan.

Open Enrollment will also give you the opportunity to change carriers or categories of plans (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum), even if you have already selected a plan that went into effect January 1st.

If you enroll on or before January 15th, your effective date will be February 1st. From January 16th until January 31st, your effective date will be March 1st.

After January 31st, you will not be able to enroll in an ACA approved plan until next year’s Open Enrollment.

The only exception to this rule is the occurrence of a “qualifying event”, which will allow you to enroll in coverage outside of Open Enrollment.

For those living in California the most common “qualifying events” are losing employer based group coverage, marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. You will have 60 days from the date of the event to enroll in a new individual policy. If you miss the 60-day window you will be required to wait to enroll in a plan until the next Open Enrollment.

If you fail to enroll in a plan for 2016, the penalty for not being covered has increased. For an individual it’s THE GREATER of $695 or 2.5% of household income, not to exceed the average national cost of a Bronze plan of approximately $2700.

For a family calculation of the penalty is bit more complicated: $695 for adults, and $347.50 per child up to $2,085 OR 2.5% of household income, up to a maximum of approximately $13,300, WHICHEVER IS GREATER.

If you miss Open Enrollment you can still obtain short term medical coverage, hospital coverage plans, and other types of coverage for accidents or other specific occurrences.

However, these plans do not serve as a substitute for ACA approved plans, which means you still will be subject to the Obamacare penalty for lack of proper coverage.

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More People Turn to Faith-Based Groups for Health Coverage

In a trend that could challenge the stability of the Affordable Care Act, a growing number of people are turning to health-care ministries to cover their medical expenses instead of buying traditional insurance according to a Wall Street Journal article published last week on their wsj.com website.

The ministries, which operate outside the insurance system and aren’t regulated by states, provide a health-care cost-sharing arrangement among people with similarly held beliefs. Their membership growth has been spurred by an Affordable Care Act provision allowing participants in eligible ministries to avoid fines for not buying insurance.

But now, some insurance commissioners are concerned that the ministries could put consumers at risk if bills aren’t paid. The ministries aren’t overseen by state commissioners, which generally guard against unfair practices and ensure solvency.

  • Ministry officials say they aren’t offering insurance, don’t guarantee claims will be paid, and don’t need to be regulated. The nonprofits are well managed, according to ministry officials, with third-party audits and a sterling history of sharing members’ claims.
  • Ministries generally don’t allow members to sue and require disagreements to be settled by arbitration and mediation.
  • Most ministries don’t always share bills for certain pre-existing conditions, whereas the ACA requires insurers to cover anyone regardless of their past or current medical history.

State regulators also say health ministries disrupt the insurance market because they tend to attract healthier consumers, siphoning them from commercial plans that can be left with sicker or older customers. Insurance commissioners in some states have moved to shut down the ministries’ state operations.

Many of the estimated 50 health-care ministries in the U.S. are small operations, and some churches have their own programs limited to parishioners. There are several large Christian ministries, and at least two other ministries open to people regardless of specific religious faith.

Members typically must abide by Biblical principles such as not having sex outside of marriage, and may have to sign a statement of religious faith.

Some consumers say they joined ministries to avoid rising deductibles and premiums on the health law’s exchanges, and to be free from the law’s penalty, which starts at $695 for 2016.

Consumers generally pay a set monthly amount that goes into a general account or directly to others who have eligible medical bill. They can also submit their own eligible bills to be shared by other members. In some ministries, members make contributions directly to others—and tuck gifts, personal cards and get-well wishes into the envelopes. Preventive care in some cases isn’t covered.

There have been lawsuits by ministry members against a cost-sharing ministry, claiming particular medical bills that should have been shared were not. The cases were ultimately settled or resolved through arbitration.

*Modified from a wsj.com article and other online sources.

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2016 OPEN ENROLLMENT FOR INDIVIDUAL HEALTH INSURANCE

Open Enrollment for 2016 individual plans will begin on Monday November 1st, and continue until January 31, 2016. During this period of time, you will be able to change insurance carriers and your individual plan category (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum).

All carriers have made minor changes to their individual plans based upon Obamacare mandates. There are low or moderate increases in premiums for plans offered through the Covered California State Exchange (for those who need a federal premium assistance subsidy), and for Off Exchange plans for those that do not qualify for the subsidy.

Based upon review of next year’s plans, only Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California will have PPOs available in every county in California. Both carriers have increased for 2016 the number of providers that make up their individual plan provider networks. In addition, both carrier’s individual plans will have access to the full Blue Cross / Blue Shield nationwide provider network.

Anthem and Blue Shield have added new Bronze and Silver plans available for Off Exchange enrollment. These plans have unique features, and lower non subsidized premiums than On Exchange (Covered CA) plans.

If you choose Covered California in order to obtain a federal premium assistance subsidy, you need to begin the enrollment process immediately, because of the paperwork required to prove your anticipated 2016 income level.

For Off Exchange enrollment, you have adequate time to review options. Your application must be submitted by December 15th to have a January effective date.

If you have questions regarding Off Exchange plans and enrollment, please call me at (626) 797-4618 or email me at john@healthinsbrokers.com.

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Health Insurers Seek Hefty Rate Boosts

Major insurers in some states are proposing hefty rate boosts for plans sold under the federal health law, setting the stage for an intense debate this summer over the law’s impact.

One state, New Mexico is asking for an average jump of 51.6% in premiums for 2016. Insurance carriers in several states have proposed 36.3%, 30.4%, and 25% rate increases. In dozens of other larger states carriers have applied for increases averaging 10%.

  • Insurers in California have not announced the percentage increase in their rates; however they have begun the process of filing their rates with state insurance regulators.

All insurance carriers cite high medical costs incurred by people newly enrolled under the Affordable Care Act.

Under that law, insurers file proposed rates to their local regulator and, in most cases, to the federal government. Some states have begun making the filings public, as they prepare to review the requests in coming weeks.

  • Insurers say their proposed rates reflect the revenue they need to pay claims, now that they have had time to analyze their experience with the law’s requirement that they offer the same rates to everyone—regardless of medical history.

Health-cost growth has slowed to historic lows in recent years, a fact consumer groups are expected to bring up during rate-review debates. Insurers say they face significant pent-up demand for health care from the newly enrolled, including for expensive drugs.

  • “This year, health plans have a full year of claims data to understand the health needs showing enrollees are generally older and often managing multiple chronic conditions,” said a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group. “Premiums reflect the rising cost of providing care to individuals and families, and the explosion in prescription and specialty drug prices is a significant factor.”

The federal government subsidizes premiums for some consumers, based on income, and the validity of those subsidies in most of the country is the subject of a lawsuit the Supreme Court is expected to decide in late June.

  • The filings from insurers are based on the assumption that those subsidies remain in place.

Obama administration officials weathered a storm as some younger, healthier consumers saw their premiums jump when the law rolled out, but were also able to point to modest premiums overall as insurers focused on other ways to keep costs down, such as narrow provider networks.

For 2015 insurance plans, when insurers had only a little information about the health of their new customers, big insurers tended to make increases of less than 10%, while smaller insurers tried offering lower rates to build market share.

Modified from a WSJ.com article

 

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44% of Covered California customers report difficulty paying premiums

A new survey shows that 44% of Covered California policyholders find it difficult to pay their monthly premiums for Obamacare coverage. And a similar percentage of uninsured Californians say the high cost of coverage is the main reason they go without health insurance.

The issue of just how much people can afford will loom large as the state exchange prepares to negotiate with health insurers over next year’s rates.

  • Many analysts are predicting bigger premium increases for 2016 in California and across the country. Insurers have more details on the medical costs of enrollees, and some federal programs that help protect health plans from unpredictable claims will be winding down.

This latest pulse on consumer attitudes is drawn from a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 4,555 Californians from September to December 2014. It examined the experiences of people in Covered California, Medi-Cal, other private coverage and the uninsured.

  • Forty-four percent of exchange policyholders surveyed said it’s somewhat or very difficult to afford their premiums. That’s compared with 25% of adults who had employer-based or other private health insurance.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, acknowledged that many Californians find it hard to fit health insurance premiums into their household budget, even when they qualify for generous federal subsidies.

“If you are making $25,000 a year that $70 premium is still a struggle,” Lee said. “The Affordable Care Act is providing nobody with a free lunch. This issue of making healthcare affordable is not easy.”

  • Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and other health insurers have submitted their proposed 2016 rates for individual policies to Covered California, and negotiations are expected to begin next month.

The final statewide rates should be announced in July, Lee said. For 2015, the average rate increase was 4.2%.

Modified from a LATimes.com article.

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After Expanding Under Obamacare, This 123-Year-Old Insurance Company (Assurant) Is Closing Its Doors

After expanding to do business on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges last year, a Wisconsin-based health insurance company founded in 1892 has announced it will close its doors.

Assurant Inc. announced last week one of its subsidiaries, Assurant Health, an insurance company, will either be sold or shuttered after losing tens of millions of dollars this year. The decision comes 18 months after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and industry watchers argue Assurant Health’s end can be attributed to the new health care law.

  • In California, Assurant’s Time Insurance Company subsidiary began writing policies under ACA rules in January of 2014. Individuals enrolled in these medical plans were able to use the Aetna nationwide provider network. The carrier began the process of withdrawing from California in late December of 2014.   

“The health and employee benefits business segments possess differentiated capabilities in their respective markets, but we do not believe they can meet our return targets at the pace we require,” Alan Colberg, president of Assurant Inc., said in a statement. “While this is a difficult decision, we believe they would be strong assets for new owners that are focused more exclusively on health care and employee benefits.”

In a letter to its shareholders, Assurant Health said it lost money because of a reduction in recoveries under Obamacare’s risk mitigation programs and increased claims on the health care law’s 2015 policies.

Before Obamacare’s implementation, Assurant Health would underwrite its customer’s policies, which gave the company a competitive edge. The process involves adjusting the cost of a consumer’s premium based on factors such as medical history and age.

The Affordable Care Act, though, prohibited medical underwriting, and advocates touted the law as easing access to health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

In addition to offering insurance on exchanges in more than a dozen states, Assurant Health also sold plans to individuals in 41 states and small businesses in 34 states, insuring close to 1 million people.

Despite the company’s efforts to reach more consumers, Assurant Health saw a $64 million loss in 2014. During the first three months of 2015, the company reported operating losses of $80 million to $90 million.

*Modified from The Daily Signal article, and Assurant press release.

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Many Uninsured Choose Penalty Over Enrollment Offer Under Health Law

Tax preparers, and several surveys find tepid response to the Obama administration’s effort to boost sign-ups. A special enrollment period to obtain health insurance for millions of uninsured people who owe a tax penalty under the Affordable Care Act is off to a slow start.

About 11.7 million people have already signed up on state and federal exchanges this year, though not all of them have yet paid premiums.

The health law requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a fine at tax time. The open enrollment period under the health law ended Feb. 15, but the Obama administration said it would allow people who discover they owe a fine to sign up for coverage through April, at the end of the tax season.

The special enrollment period applies to people who have to pay a penalty for going without coverage in 2014, and also face a penalty in 2015. They must pay any penalty they owe for not having coverage but can use the special enrollment period to obtain coverage and not generate any more fines.

  • It is still early, since the special enrollment period launched Sunday, but research also suggests that many people who lack health insurance will pay the penalty and not get covered this year.
  • Only 12% of uninsured people would buy policies if informed of the penalty, according to a survey of 3,000 adults polled through Feb. 24 by McKinsey & Co.’s Center for U.S. Health System Reform.
  • At H&R Block Inc., “our analysis indicates that a significant percentage of taxpayers whose household members were not covered for at least a portion of 2014 are opting” to pay the penalty, said a vice president of health-care enrollment services at the tax-preparation firm.
  • “It was a good PR move and aligns enrollment with tax season, but we’re not seeing a massive rush,” said a spokesman with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. “It’s been pretty unremarkable.”

A retired employee of United Parcel Service, Inc. found out he will pay a $250 penalty for going without insurance. He said won’t take advantage of the special enrollment period because it is cheaper for him to pay out-of-pocket for health care than to buy insurance on the exchange.

He said he shopped on the exchange but would have to pay $400 a month for a plan with a $6,000 deductible.

“I think it’s wrong I have to pay the penalty… “But it beats paying more than $10,000 a year.”

Modified from a wsj.com article, and other online sources

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How Obamacare Will Impact Your 2014 Taxes

The Affordable Care Act is supposed to make health care coverage universal and more affordable to millions of Americans, but it might also make filing your 2014 taxes more cumbersome and more expensive.

“This tax season is the first time people will experience the financial consequence of the individual mandate, and it will bring additional paperwork and some surprises for taxpayers,” remarked Michael Mahoney, healthcare expert and senior vice present of consumer marketing for GoHealth, a health insurance technology platform.

  • For the vast majority of tax filers, the changes will only mean checking a box to indicate that they had health coverage during 2014. But some of those who signed up for Obamacare will need to take additional steps when filing their taxes this year.
  •  Consumers who signed up for health care through a marketplace will receive a new form this month, called 1095-A, which they’ll have to fill out and will be needed for filing Federal taxes.
  •  On form 1095-A, you’ll be asked to figure out whether you received the correct amount of financial assistance, whether you are subject to a penalty and whether you can claim an exemption among other things.

Advance Premium Tax Credit

The government has been providing financial assistance to some Americans to lower the monthly cost of health insurance on an advanced basis. These credits have been applied directly to monthly health insurance premiums.

  • The tax credit is determined based on your estimate of your household income. It needs to be reconciled taking into account your actual household income when you file your tax return.
  • You may owe money if you’ve underestimated your income, reducing your refund, while it could increase your refund if you’ve overestimated it.

Penalty

  • If you don’t have health insurance and don’t qualify for an exemption, you’ll have to pay the higher amount between a flat fee penalty and a percentage penalty.
  • The penalty will be $96 for an adult and $47 for a child for 2014, up to $285 per household, or 1 percent of your annual household income. The 2015 penalty for lacking insurance is $325 or 2 percent of household income.

This could mean a smaller refund or you might owe more in taxes. “This will be an unpleasant surprise to people who are still unaware that virtually everyone is now required by law to have health insurance,” said Mahoney.

Exemptions

You could lower this penalty or eliminate it if you qualify for one of the exemptions based on financial hardships, religious affiliations and gaps in coverage among others. Just remember that you may need to apply for some exemptions and receive approval.

Modified from an article in The Fiscal Times, and other online sources.

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How ObamaCare Harms Low-Income Workers

The primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to make health insurance affordable for people with modest incomes. Yet as the employer mandate begins to kick in for 2015, the law is already hurting some of the people it was intended to help. 

  • Full-timers become part-timers, losing wages and the opportunity to buy the health coverage they most prefer. By this time next year, we may find that many workers who earn within a few dollars of the minimum wage have less income and less insurance coverage (as a group) than they did before the mandate began to take effect.

This is the conclusion from survey conducted by John Goodwin Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute in December of 136 fast-food restaurants (franchisees) that employed close to 3,500 workers.

Before 2014 about half the employees were “full time” as defined by ObamaCare; that is, they worked 30 hours or more a week. The potential cost to the employers of providing mandated health insurance to their full-time staff would have been about $7 million a year.

But by the time the employers took advantage of all their legal options they were able to reduce their cost to less than 1% of that amount.

  • The first step was to make all hourly workers part time. That may seem easy to do, but in the fast-food business it’s not uncommon that employees fail to show up for work.

Other employees are asked to work additional hours to prevent the restaurant from shutting down. By the end of 2014, 58 employees had crossed the line to full-time status and were eligible for mandated health insurance in 2015.

  • The companies offered these employees ObamaCare-compliant health insurance—bronze plans—but asked them to pay the maximum premium the law allows: 9.5% of their annual wage.
  • For a $9-an-hour employee working 30 hours a week, the maximum monthly premium was $111. The total premium was $367, and the law requires the employer to pay the difference.

The bronze plan has very large deductibles and copayments—up to $6,600 or $13,200 for a family, depending on the family’s income. But the designers of the Affordable Care Act apparently did not understand that high deductible health insurance with no Health Savings Account is not attractive to young, healthy, low-income workers.

  • These workers are far more likely to prefer mini-med plans that pay for generic drugs and doctor visits but not catastrophic care.

Before ObamaCare, these companies offered all full-time, hourly employees a standard Blue Cross health plan as well as a mini-med plan for a much lower premium.

  • No one signed up for the Blue Cross plan. About 200 signed up for mini-med insurance.

The companies in the survey offered to pay the full premium for the mini-med plans, in order to make that alternative more attractive. If employees choose the bronze plan it costs the employers about six times as much.

  • The result: Only one of the 58 remaining full-time employees enrolled in a bronze plan; the rest will likely be in MEC plans.
  • What about the families of these workers? Employers don’t have to pay the premiums for coverage of dependents.

To cover a family of three, the employee in one of these restaurants can face a premium of $805 a month for a bronze plan, almost 70% of his monthly wage.

  • Since ObamaCare considers this offer “affordable,” any family member who turns it down is ineligible for premium subsidies on an insurance exchange.
  • What about the mini-med plans? Although these plans are offered free to the employees, dependent coverage is not free.
  • An employee has to pay about 25% of his income to cover a spouse and kid. If he doesn’t, the family faces a fine next April 15.
  • Workers in the survey whose hours were reduced to part time can get subsidized insurance through an exchange, but they will be asked to pay up to 9.5% of their income for what is unattractive coverage. 

To recap: Almost half the workforce of these restaurants was involuntarily reduced to part time and has less income as a result.

  • These employees have also lost the opportunity to have the coverage they most prefer: mini-med plans that pay for medical care they are most likely to need.
  • Those few remaining full-time employees will get mini-med insurance for themselves, but they are unlikely to be able to afford coverage for any dependents they have.
  • They will not get an ObamaCare bronze plan unless they fork over about one-tenth of their take-home pay, and they won’t be able to get bronze coverage for other family members unless they forfeit more than half their income.

*Modified from an article by Mr. Goodman, senior fellow at the Independent Institute, and other online sources.

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From the E.R. to the Courtroom: How Hospitals Are Seizing Patients’ Wages & Other Assets

One important reason to obtain health insurance is not to go to a doctor but to protect wages and other assets. When patients receive care at a growing number of hospitals, and don’t or can’t pay, their bills often end up at collection service companies.

And if those patients don’t meet collection demands, their debts can make another, final stop: the County Courthouse.

A majority of U.S. hospitals, have a history of aggressive debt collection. From 2009 through 2013, one hospital in the Midwest filed more than 11,000 lawsuits.  When it secured a judgment, as it typically did, the hospital was entitled to seize a hefty portion of a debtor’s paycheck. During those years, the company garnished the pay of about 6,000 people and seized at least $12 million—an average of about $2,000 each, according to an analysis of state court data.

No one tracks how many hospitals sue their patients and how frequently, but one source found hospitals that routinely did so in various parts of the Country. The number of suits is clearly in the tens of thousands annually.

In one Midwest state, hospitals and debt collection firms working for them filed more than 15,000 suits in 2013. But if patients don’t obtain health insurance or enroll in MediCal or Medicaid, hospitals must take action.

As one spokesman for a hospital stated, “the services were rendered, and the hospitals have to figure out how to get them paid for”.

 

*Article modified, and data obtained from Propublicia.org, NPR, and other sources.

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