Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Hobby Lobby Employees Could Lose Health Insurance Coverage

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Hobby Lobby is one of many companies who claim that the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”, is forcing them to do something they believe is unethical.  In the article “Hobby Lobby: The Cost of Not Offering Health Insurance,” Andrew Abela and Irene Kim discuss the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby’s argument is that the federal law has forced them to make what they call an impossible decision.  They can either offer health insurance with coverage that they believe is unethical or they can pay fines to the government that they say could ruin their finances.  A couple Justices have suggested that the company does have a third option which they haven’t considered.  They could pay a $2,000 per employee fine and simply not offer their employees health insurance coverage at all.  The Justices argue that the company wouldn’t be any worse off than with the first two options.

Hobby Lobby argues that in addition to paying the per employee fine they would also have to increase employee wages so that their employees could go out and purchase individual health insurance plans.  But Justice Kagan said that whether the company chooses to offer health insurance plans that are against their religious beliefs or chooses not to offer health insurance to their employees and pay a fine, their costs will be just about the same.  That is certainly debatable.

If the company were to stop offering health insurance plans to their employees, they would have to increase employees’ after tax pay by the approximate amount that it would cost for them to purchase their own health insurance.  Premiums will cost more for a lot of individual and family plans than the discounted rate that Hobby Lobby would have received for a large group health insurance plan.  In addition to higher premiums, individual plans typically have higher deductibles that they company will have to account for in their salary increases.  Between the salary increases and the $2,000 per person penalty for 13,000 employees, the article estimates that Hobby Lobby will pay $60 million each year if they choose this option.  That estimate is quite a bit more than the company would pay to offer their employees health insurance.  But finances are not the only thing the company needs to consider.  A loss of health insurance could decrease employee morale, even with a salary increase to pay for individual health insurance.  The company also has a religious belief that they need to take care of their employees.  Hobby Lobby will likely continue their fight against the federal government forcing them to offer insurance coverage for birth control that is against their religious beliefs.

Health Insurance Premiums Have Been Increasing for Years

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

A recent study done by the Commonwealth Fund found that health insurance premiums have been increasing for years.  The nonprofit group performed this study to determine what had been happening in the health insurance industry before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act changes.  They wanted to show the public the whole picture so that people aren’t blaming all of the health insurance increases on Obamacare.  This information comes from Maggie Fox’s NBC News article, “Health Insurance Premiums Have Been Increasing Since 2008.”  They studied health insurance premiums in the private health insurance markets.  Those are the individual and family health insurance plans that Americans find and pay for out of their own pocket, not through a group or employer.  The study found that health insurance premiums have been steadily increasing since 2008.

Individual insurance premiums increased by at least 10% per year from 2008-2010.  We are still waiting to see what the premium prices will be for 2015, but most experts agree that they will be higher than this year’s prices.  The study results point out that premium increases really cannot solely be attributed to mandatory changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act because premium prices were rising 10% per year before the law took effect.  Premiums almost have to increase because health insurance companies have to cover much more than they covered before the ACA took effect.  Insurers can no longer deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions either, so it costs them much more money to offer insurance plans.  They can’t exclude maternity coverage from plans or charge cancer patients more for their insurance policies, so premium prices across the board are likely to increase.

State and federal run health insurance exchanges started offering plans this year.  Before these exchange plans were an option, an estimated 14 million people bought individual health insurance plans outside of the workplace.  This is either because they don’t have a job or their employer doesn’t offer them health insurance coverage.  Eight million people have bought insurance plans through the exchanges this year, according to the President’s administration.  A Gallup poll found that the number of Americans without health insurance went from 18% in December to 13.4% in May.  It’s going to take years before we know the true effect of the Affordable Care Act on the health insurance industry, especially because of the plans that have been allowed to continue offering sub-standard policies for two more years.  It will just be important to keep in mind that health insurance plans were rising before the ACA as well.  Increases in 2008, 2009 and 2010 were 9.9%, 10.8% and 11.7%, respectively.

A New Partnership for Florida Health Insurance

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

There is a new partnership in central Florida that hopes to make it easier for Floridians to get health insurance and hospital care.  They also want to improve Floridians’ overall healthcare experience.  This includes the overall health of the community, the care they receive, and the per person cost of healthcare.  According to Yahoo! Finance article, “US News & World Report’s #1 Hospital & NCQA’s #2 Insurance Company, Partner Together to Better Serve the Community,” this partnership has the potential to help a lot of people.  It started as a way to bring the new Medicare Advantage plans to central Florida residents.  Health First Health Plans was ranked 2nd in Florida by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for their Medicare Advantage Plans.  They have consistently received 4.5 out of 5 stars by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Back in January of this year, Health First started working with Florida Hospital to reach a wider range of Floridians seeking Medicare Advantage plans.  These particular plans are known as Florida Hospital Care Advantage.  Florida Hospital was recently ranked #1 by US News & World Report for Florida hospitals.  The partnership between these two organizations should help keep healthcare affordable and local for Florida residents.  They are also looking to create sustainable community health systems.  It’s important to keep up with healthcare reform changes, especially on a local level.  The partnership between Florida Hospital and Health First will expand through different phases, the first of which was the Medicare Advantage plan phase.  Although they started in central Florida, they will likely move to other regions of the state as well.  If you are looking for more information about Florida health insurance, click here.

Large Employers May Stop Offering Health Insurance Plans

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

A lot of people who get their health insurance from their large group employers might just be searching for insurance coverage elsewhere soon.  While it certainly wasn’t the intention of the Affordable Care Act to make it more difficult for employers to offer insurance to their employees, that has been an effect of the health insurance mandate often referred to as Obamacare.  In the Forbes article, “Obamacare Increases Large Employers’ Health Costs“, Sally Pipes tells us about recent study findings.  S&P Captial IQ’s study determined that 90% of workers in America who currently have health insurance through a large employer will be searching for a policy in the government exchanges by 2020.  That figure seems extreme, but the harsh reality is that the taxes, fees, and added insurance mandates placed on large employers are hurting them.  Many of these employers simply don’t think that they can afford to offer health insurance if something doesn’t change.  They are currently mandated to offer you health insurance plans, so that is something that will have to be considered as well.

Group health plan sponsors pay a new fee to help fund the government sponsored Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).  This organization tests the effectiveness of certain medical treatments and Medicare uses the results to determine what they will cover for their patients.  Some skeptics worry that results could be twisted to support lower cost treatments over more effective, but higher cost ones.  Another fee that large employers have to pay is a Temporary Reinsurance Fee.  This fee is supposed to stabilize premiums in the individual health insurance marketplace.  The American Health Policy Institute estimates that $15.3 million will be collected by this fee in just two years.  In 2018, large employers will start paying a 40% excise tax on health insurance plans that are deemed “expensive”.  Individual premiums above $10,200 and family premiums above $27,500 are considered “expensive”.  One company estimates that this excise tax will cost them $378 million over the course of five years.

In addition to the direct taxes, there are indirect tax increases for employers as well.  There is the mandate for companies to offer health insurance to full time workers within the next year or two.  If they don’t, they will pay a fine.  Companies also have to allow children to remain on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26 now.  That last mandate alone has increased employer insurance costs between 1 and 3%.  Mandating full coverage of preventative care services, such as immunization and birth control is drastically increasing employer health care costs as well.  The AHPI survey estimates large employer health care costs to rise by 4.3% in 2016, by 5.1% in 2018, and increase by 8.4% in 2023.  This equates to hundreds of billions of dollars extra that large employers will have to shell out over the next decade or so.

Unfortunately, what this means to Americans with health insurance from their large employer is that their costs will likely increase as well.  More than 80% of large employers have already increased their employees’ deductibles, or plan to do so soon.  Some employers might stop offering health insurance altogether and pay the fine for not offering plans.  They might actually save money by doing that, although employee morale could decrease from such a move.  Companies may also offer incentives for sick employees to search for health insurance in the exchanges instead of using the company plan, saving both the employer and employee money.  But if all of the sickest employees head into the health insurance exchanges, costs within those will increase for everyone.  The potential destruction of employer health insurance plans was certainly not a goal of the Affordable Care Act, but it might just be a consequence.  If you are worried about losing your employer health insurance, you can compare health plans and rates here.

Pregnant Women Have More Maternity Health Insurance Choices

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

There was a time, not very long ago, that you were hard pressed to find health insurance as a pregnant woman.  This pre-existing condition was the only reason needed for a health insurance company to deny a pregnant woman’s application for coverage.  The Affordable Care Act has changed this former reality, according to “Health law gives pregnant women more options“.  In the Associated Press article, it says that Medicaid will help to supplement private insurance plans bought in health insurance exchanges.  Pregnant women who recently purchased private health insurance plans through the government exchanges will also be able to access Medicaid coverage from their state as well.  This applies to lower-income women, but the income limits vary significantly from state to state.  Some state limits are close to the poverty level, while others are more like a middle class income.

Did you know that Medicaid already pays for almost half of the births in the United States?  This new expansion of Medicaid services to pregnant women will be effective in every state, even if they have not opted to expand their overall Medicaid system under the Affordable Care Act.  Unfortunately the logistics of this Medicaid expansion are fairly complicated.  States and the federal government are trying to iron out the details, so it is still complex for consumers to navigate.  Overall though, it’s a good thing for women because they will end up paying less out of pocket.  They have the option of using only their private health insurance, only Medicaid, or a combination of both plans if that is what will be best for their pregnancy scenario.

While the cost of insuring more women is going to be higher, there are anticipated lower costs overall.  Taking care of a woman and her unborn child with good prenatal services helps to avoid the larger expense related to premature births and birth defects.  Pregnant women without health insurance often don’t seek prenatal care and can’t be treated for problems that they don’t know exist.  The Affordable Care Act made it so that health insurance companies must offer maternity coverage, even if the woman is seeking health insurance while she is already pregnant.  For those lower-income women who bought private plans in the health insurance exchanges using federal subsidies, the original law stated that they were no longer eligible for Medicare.  Then there was a ruling that said Medicare coverage did not meet the “minimum essential coverage” that the law requires because it is temporary and states can deny certain services.  Now they can use their private plan along with Medicaid coverage.  A woman might benefit from using both plans because her coverage will continue after she has the baby, but the Medicaid coverage could help with cost-sharing.

If you are looking for health insurance with maternity coverage, you can find affordable health insurance in any state.

RI Insurers Are Sharing Health Insurance Claims Data

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

There is an interesting development when it comes to your health insurance and your privacy.  According to Rhode Island news station WPRI, health insurance companies in Rhode Island are preparing to send your personal health care information to the state.  This is happening in twelve other states as well in an effort to better understand health care trends and costs.  The goal of this information sharing is to make the entire health care system in Rhode Island, and the other states participating in this program, run more smoothly.  All sharing of information is said to be anonymous, so you shouldn’t have to worry about personal consequences related to your health insurance company sharing your health care information with state or federal agencies.

This program in Rhode Island is called the All-Payer Claims Database Project and is a collaboration between multiple agencies.  Rhode Island’s Department of Health, Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner, their health benefits exchange and their health and human services department will be sharing health care information and compiling data related to both medical and pharmacy claims.  The project assures residents that names, addresses and any other personal information will be removed before the health insurance data is shared.  Claims information will be used to help the Rhode Island health care system improve overall.  They also seek to improve the quality of health care.  Companies started gathering data at the beginning of this year.  Starting May 1, companies are now submitting their data to the project.

A representative from the ACLU fears that the information sharing will not be as anonymous as the program promises.  He thinks that people would be able to put a name to the indirect information given if they truly wanted to.  Sharing your personal health information could hurt you in a job hunt or in other areas as well.  But you truly should be safe because the agencies involved assure Rhode Island residents that their information is safe.  Keep in mind that you can opt out of having your health insurance claim information shared for this project.  You can opt out online through a special website, but there have been complaints that is wasn’t working.  Some people worry that those who opt out might actually be targeted though, so that’s something to think about.  If the anonymous sharing of your health, dental and pharmacy claims helps improve the overall health care system in your state, would you support it?

Pennsylvania Health Insurers Offer Low Cost Non-Compliant Plans Through 2017

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Pennsylvania is one of nine states that is giving health insurance customers a break before forcing them to adhere to Affordable Care Act guidelines.  According to the Pittsburgh Business Times’ Kris B. Mamula, Highmark health insurance is the latest company offering renewals that don’t meet all of the new insurance mandates.  In “Highmark prepares new renewal plan health insurance,” we learn that Highmark is following in the footsteps of UPMC Health Plan with their new renewal options.  UPMC was the first company in western Pennsylvania to offer these non-compliant health insurance plan renewals that are lower cost.  They started offering these plans four months ago.  Highmark Inc. will be offering new renewal plans to employers who provide health insurance coverage.  The options will be available during both the July and December enrollment periods.

Plans were introduced during an insurance broker meeting last week.  Although minor details were not yet given to the public, Highmark is calling the plans “grandmothered plans”.  These lower cost plan options do not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.  Insurance companies in Pennsylvania and eight other states have a three-year window where they can continue to offer their existing health insurance plans without penalty.  They will have to meet the Affordable Care Act guidelines in 2017, but the added three years gives employers some time to plan out their course of action.  More details are expected to be released by Highmark soon.

When UPMC started offering their lower cost plans, premium increases were between 0 and 48%.  Plans that incorporate the mandated coverage from the ACA had premium increases 100% and greater.  Insurance brokers who were at the recent meeting said that Highmark will be offering more flexibility with their non-compliant health insurance renewal plans.  Highmark is also likely to see a large increase in sales of their Community Blue plans, which limit the network of providers available.  It’s good news to employers and others who will benefit from the three year reprieve given in Pennsylvania and eight other states.  But eventually they will all have to meet the new guidelines put into place by the Affordable Care Act.  They will save money and have added time to determine their best plan options starting in 2017.  But in other states, health insurance companies will already be settled into their new health plans and insurers in these nine states will have to play catch up.

Hard to Find Health Insurance Anywhere After March 15 Deadline

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The deadline to sign up for health insurance and meet the Affordable Care Act requirements has come and gone.  Health insurance exchanges will not start offering plans until later this year for the next enrollment period.  But most people were not expecting some private health insurance companies to stop selling health insurance plans after March 31 as well.  According to Health Day’s Karen Pallarito, “Suddenly Health Insurance Is Not For Sale“.  One Tennessee insurance broker said that many health insurance companies in her area are not selling insurance plans until the exchanges open again later this year.  One of the main reasons that some health insurers have made this decision is because they believe they will attract healthier, younger people when the government exchanges are open as well.  Insurance companies can no longer reject sick people or those recently diagnosed with a disease.  They are hoping that they will be able to attract the young, healthy individuals that will keep their costs lower.

For coverage that will start in 2015, the next open enrollment period starts on November 15.  Penalties for not obtaining insurance coverage yet won’t be issued until tax time next year, but those who waited might just be ready to purchase insurance come November.  Healthy and young individuals are most likely to plan in advance when shopping for health insurance.  That is why it makes sense economically for health insurance companies to only offer plans during open enrollment times.  Individuals who have recently become sick or need some type of care right away are the most likely to search for health insurance at any time of the year.  Open enrollment periods were designed to deter people from waiting until they are sick to shop for health insurance.  When that happens, insurance can become unaffordable all around.

Health insurance companies offering plans outside of the exchanges can choose whether or not to sell health insurance year round or not.  One survey of 180 health insurance companies found that one or more health insurers will be offering plans after March 15 in only 14 states.  Some of those plans will only be offered through the end of April.  You will be able to find health insurance in some places though.  Arizona’s non-profit insurer Meritus plans to continue offering health insurance plans year round.  They are currently working with the Arizona Department of Insurance.  In Nevada, their Health Coop will continue offering insurance plans to consumers around Las Vegas.  There may be some states where it is difficult to find health insurance before November 15.  If you are looking for a plan, you will probably have to work a little harder than before the deadline.

Strong Support for Mandatory Birth Control Coverage

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Back in 2010, the Affordable Care Act mandated that private health insurance companies cover birth control for their plan participants.  It is one of the so-called 10 essential benefits that must be covered by insurers.  Some of the other benefits include screenings for cancer and vaccines.  You don’t even have to pay co-pays for these 10 essential benefits and often don’t have to pay anything for the contraception either.  A recent study at the University of Michigan found that the majority of Americans strongly support the mandate for birth control coverage by insurance companies.  They surveyed more than 2,000 people for the study and found that 69% of them were in support of this mandatory contraception coverage.  Not surprisingly, women were among the strongest supporters of the mandate.  Black and Hispanic respondents also supported the mandate in higher percentages.

This information comes from NBC News’ Maggie Fox in the article “Most support birth control mandate, survey shows“.  While most Americans support the mandate for health insurance companies to cover birth control, there is strong opposition to this mandate as well.  Religious groups, employers with conservative beliefs, and outspoken conservatives don’t believe that companies should have to pay for contraception when it is against their personal beliefs.  Two employers filed a lawsuit against the mandate, saying that it is against their religious beliefs to support some kinds of birth control.  The Supreme Court will rule on that lawsuit in June of this year.  Health insurance companies had to revamp a lot of their health plans with this change in contraception coverage, as well as other mandates that have been coming into law since 2010.  The majority of Americans support the mandated birth control coverage, so you will continue to find this available when searching for health insurance plans.

7 Health Insurance Issues to Follow This Year

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Kaiser Health News and USA Today collaborated on an article asking “What Happens Next On The Health Law?“.  Julie Appleby, Mary Agnes Carey, and Phil Galewitz gave us seven things to watch for between the end of enrollment on March 31 and the beginning of the next enrollment period in November.  This health care reform has been hotly debated for the length of a presidential term already and will likely continue to be a hot topic into the future.  Now that the first enrollment period has come to an end, we can finally start to measure some of the successes, failures, and changes that have actually occurred.  Before that, it was just speculation.

Everyone wants to know how many people actually signed up for health insurance plans after the law took effect.  We certainly don’t have any concrete answers yet, but President Obama says that early indications show 6 million people signed up.  This doesn’t take into account those Americans who got health insurance outside of the government agencies or with insurance companies.  The March deadline was also loosened for people who tried to sign up and had website issues.  It could be a month or so before we get concrete numbers.  For the law to work ideally, young and healthy individuals needed to sign up.  So who actually did enroll?  Around one-quarter of them were in the targeted demographic of 18 to 34.  The majority of new enrollees were aged 35 and up and were female.  Health insurance rates are based on state enrollment though, so it’s more important to determine who signed up in each state.  Those states who had more older, sicker individuals sign up might see increasing health insurance rates.

The biggest question to be answered is whether or not the law actually affected the number of uninsured Americans overall.  There are no clear statistics to answer this question just yet.  The Kaiser Family Foundation says that they are pretty sure the uninsured rate has gone down, based on a Gallup poll and McKinsey phone survey.  That last survey found that 27% of those who signed up for health insurance previously did not have any.  Everyone will be closely tracking final figures on this topic.  You will not find the same plans and prices when the next enrollment period begins on November 15.  Insurance companies will have to go over all of the costs and figures before they release their new selections next fall.  It’s too early to determine whether Medicaid participation will grow, but that is something that a lot of people are watching this year.  There has been a lot of political fighting over Medicaid expansion, so it is being closely monitored.

Many of us are wondering what might happen with employer sponsored health insurance.  Employers who already offer it will continue to do so, but will likely pass cost increases onto employees through increasing deductibles and co-pays.  Employers with less than 50 employees do not have to offer them health insurance.  Those with 50-99 employees have to offer 70% of them insurance plans by 2016.  Companies with 100 or more workers have to offer 70% of them health insurance by next year.  Look out for coverage options relatively soon if you work for one of those companies.  Congressional elections will likely be affected by these health care issues in the near future.  You’ll probably see a lot of advertising and news time dedicated to health care reform issues this year.  If you are looking for a health insurance plan, find an affordable option here.  The next enrollment period for the government exchanges begins on November 15.