What to look for when comparing Connect for Health Colorado plans

Many of the health insurance regulations in the ACA have made it easier to compare apples to apples in the individual health insurance market. There are no more “junk” plans with low benefit maximums or major holes in the coverage. All policies cover maternity (although that has been the case in Colorado since 2011). Preventive care is covered before the deductible with no copays or coinsurance. All policies must cover the essential health benefits with no annual or lifetime maximums (there can still be limits on the number of visits for some treatments). And all policies must have out-of-pocket maximums of no more than $6350 ($12,700 family) in 2014.

Other than Catastrophic plans, which are available for people under 30 and those who have a hardship exemption from the exchange, which includes people who had a 2013 policy that was terminated in December, all policies available in Connect for Health Colorado (and off-exchange too) fall into one of four categories: bronze, silver, gold or platinum (virtually all of them are bronze, silver or gold though). Also, Catastrophic plans aren’t significantly less expensive in Colorado. The designation is based on the actuarial value of each policy. Bronze plans cover roughly 60% of costs; silver, 70%; gold, 80%; and platinum, 90%. After the maximum out-of-pocket is met, all policies cover 100% of covered costs (with some rare exceptions, such as policies that put an annual limit on the number of covered visits for services like home healthcare and skilled nursing).

But comparing apples to apples still takes quite a bit of reading. Within each metal level, there’s a wide variety of different plans available from the many different carriers offering policies in the exchange (Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Colorado HealthOP, Elevate by Denver Health, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, United Health). Networks vary considerably, but so do the plan designs comparing apples to apples with a wide variety of plans from the many carriers offering policies in the exchange (Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Colorado HealthOP, Elevate by Denver Health, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, United Health).  Differing deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums

Renewal Options for Each Individual Health Insurance Carrier in Colorado

Last week I explained how early renewal at the end of 2013 might be a good option for some people who have individual health insurance.  If you’re happy with your coverage and aren’t going to qualify for a subsidy in the Colorado exchange, keeping your existing plan for most of 2014 might be a good way to save some money on premiums.  This is especially true for people who prefer very high deductibles, as those plans are generally not ACA compliant and thus will not be available for purchase after the end of 2013.  But if your carrier allows it, you can keep your current policy until it renews in 2014, and switch to an ACA compliant plan at that time.  For people with plans that renew late in the year, this could mean keeping a lower-cost, higher deductible policy for most of 2014.  If you’ll be eligible for a premium subsidy, it’s definitely worth your time to compare a subsidized exchange plan with what you have now.  But if you’re happy with your coverage and you’re going to be paying full price for an ACA compliant plan, check with your carrier to see about keeping your current plan in 2014.

Keep in mind that each Colorado health insurance carrier is doing things a little differently in terms of 2013 renewals heading into 2014.  It’s important to check with your carrier to make sure you’re aware of what steps you need to take – don’t assume that Renewal Options for Each Individual Health Insurance Carrier in Coloradoyour plan will automatically renew – or automatically not renew.  The Colorado Division of Insurance has left a lot of leeway for carriers to determine their own protocol for renewals going into 2014.  There is no state requirement that existing policies be cancelled as of the end of 2013, although some carriers have opted for that as a default.  All plans must be ACA-compliant by January 1, 2015.  So when your policy renews in 2014, you will have to transition to an ACA compliant plan.  But the date of that renewal can be anytime from January to December.

Here’s a brief summary of what we have heard so far from some of the main carriers in Colorado.  This is subject to change, so check with us or your carrier before you make a decision.

Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield:  The default is for your plan to just keep its current renewal date and continue unchanged until that date in 2014.  But Anthem is also offering insureds an option […]

Early Renewal Provides A Good Alternative For 2014

Over the last few years, opponents of health care reform have often exaggerated – and sometime outright lied about – the potential negative aspects of the reform law.  This has resulted in a public that is often woefully misinformed about what the law does and does not do.  But the spin is not limited to just opponents of the law.  Sometimes ACA supporters spin things too.  This Huffington Post article from a few months ago is a good example.  The title, “Aetna seeks to avoid Obamacare rules next year” is designed to play on the general unpopularity (and over-estimation of perceived profits) of insurance companies.  When you read a little further, you find that Aetna is reaching out to brokers and insureds to let them know that Aetna will be allowing members to opt for an early renewal in December of this year – if they want to keep their current policy until December 2014.

Why is this being portrayed as a bad thing?

It is indisputable that people who are healthy, buy their own health insurance, won’t qualify for subsidies and prefer high deductible health plans are going to have higher premiums for ACA-compliant plans than they have now.  Some of these people don’t mind high deductibles.  They don’t consider their policy to be skimpy or junk insurance just because it isn’t ACA compliant.  You might have seen headlines about how only a tiny fraction of existing individual health plans meet the requirements that the ACA will impose next year, but that doesn’t mean that the existing Early renewal will provide many insureds with a good alternative to ACA compliant plans in 2014.plans are junk.  If you look closely, you’ll see that when it comes to basic medical benefits, a lot of individual plans offer coverage that is in line with ACA regulations.  But benefits like dental and vision coverage for children (required on ACA-compliant plans starting next year) are usually not part of individual coverage (Many plans allow applicants to select add-on dental and vision coverage, but a lot of people find that it’s more cost effective to pay for dental and vision out of pocket rather than paying for dental/vision insurance.  Remember, nothing is free.  And the more likely you are to use an aspect of your coverage, the higher your premiums will be in order to cover the cost.  So coverage for something like dental and vision checkups – which people plan to use – has to be priced accordingly).  In many states, maternity coverage is one of the most significant medical benefits missing from a lot of individual plans.  But in Colorado we’ve had maternity on all plans for more than two years now.

There are absolutely some bad health insurance plans on the market, with skimpy coverage, limited networks and lots of fine print.  But there are also lots of good quality health insurance plans and reputable carriers.  And there are plenty of people who are not going to qualify for subsidies next year (roughly half of the people who currently buy individual health insurance).  If those people currently have – and are happy with – a high deductible plan that is less expensive than what they would have to pay for an ACA-compliant plan, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to keep their plan as long as possible in 2014.  The law requires coverage to be ACA-compliant when a policy renews in 2014.  Carriers that are offering early renewals in December are providing good customer service, especially for insureds who […]

Networks And Carriers Are Part Of The Big Picture With Exchanges

[…] Aetna, United and Cigna are all absent from the CA exchange, and Dan looks into several reasons why some of the bigger carriers might have opted not to sell in the exchange on day one, and why some large provider networks are not going to be covered by plans sold in that state’s exchange.

Connect for Health Colorado Exchange Marketplace and networksHere in Colorado, Aetna stopped selling individual policies a couple years ago, so we weren’t expecting them to be in the state’s exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.  United Healthcare has been a mainstay in the Colorado individual market, and while they submitted numerous plans to the DOI for small group products, they are all to be sold outside of the exchange and there don’t appear to be any individual plans in their new lineup.  Cigna, however, will be selling individual plans both inside and outside of the exchange in Colorado.

We’ve heard from carrier representatives – who are familiar with multiple state exchanges – that Connect for Health Colorado has been particularly great to work with, and that is no doubt part of the reason Colorado will have a large number of carriers and policy options available within the exchange.  We’re happy to be in a state that has been actively working on healthcare reform for several years, and that moved quickly to begin building an exchange and implementing the ACA as soon as it was passed.

Comparing CEO Compensation in Various Healthcare Industries

Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters did an excellent job with the most recent Health Wonk Review – be sure to stop by his blog and check it out.  I thought this article from Dr. Roy Poses was especially interesting.  Writing at Health Care Renewal, Dr. Poses shines the spotlight on UnitedHealth Group’s CEO Stephen Hemsley’s oversized compensation.  Roy notes that while the increase in CEO compensation does mirror the company’s overall financial success of late, it must also be considered in light of the fact that the company has made some missteps in terms of fulfilling its stated mission to provide health care “at an affordable price” and “expand access to quality health care.”  Roy’s article cites several examples of allegedly unethical behavior, and concludes by noting that “Real health care reform needs to make health care leaders accountable, and especially accountable for the bad behavior that helped make them rich.”

Comparing CEO Compensation in Healthcare - Health Insurance vs Pharmaceutical CompaniesI definitely do not disagree with Dr. Poses, and we’ve noted in the past that UnitedHealth Group has had issues with large executive compensation and backdating stock options (that was with a previous CEO, however).  But I do want to use this as an opportunity to remind our readers and clients that most health insurance companies have CEO compensation packages that are far lower.  Forbes compiled a list of the 498 highest-paid CEOs in 2012, and I scrolled through the first 150 on the list.  UnitedHealth Group is there on the first page, ranked number 8 (they’re also ranked number 31 in Fortune 500 total profits, so as Roy said, the CEO salary is at least in the same ballpark with the company’s financial performance).

But you have to click through several pages of the CEO compensation list to get to the next health insurance carrier.  Humana was the next one I found, ranked at […]

Health Wonks Tackle New Questions in Healthcare Reform

Welcome to the Health Wonk Review!  It’s an honor to host the HWR, and the posts in this edition are excellent, as always.  We’ve got a wide range of topics today, but most of them are at least loosely associated with some aspect of health care reform, so here’s a brief visual summary for you.

Health Care Reform brings new questions in healthcare

Now that you know where we’re heading, here are the nitty gritty details.  There’s something for everyone in this edition of the HWR, so keep reading!

Roy Poses, writing at Healthcare Renewal, explains how doctors are pushing back against corporate bosses who put profits above all else.  His article describes two recent lawsuits filed by physician groups alleging that the hospital systems they worked for were sacrificing patient welfare in the name of profit.  The details are sickening to read:  One hospital group encouraged its docs to exaggerate the severity of patient conditions and needlessly admit patients from the ER to hospital beds in order to bill more for their treatment.  Another hospital group that owns three hospitals and also partially owns an ambulance company was making patient transfers (using their own ambulance company despite slower response times) a top priority – to the extent that a doctor’s transfer rate was a factor in bonuses and performance reviews.  An admin email stated that “the performance we are looking for are transfers.”  Wow.  Transfers just for the sake of racking up revenue – patient welfare had nothing to do with it, and was likely compromised when the slower ambulance company was used in cases where the transfer was actually warranted.  These lawsuits are in their early stages and nothing has been settled in court yet, but they hint at some very serious problems brewing in for-profit (and even some non-profit) hospital systems.

Duncan Cross brings us an emotionally compelling article about Arijit Guha that is a must-read for anyone interested in the problem of under-insurance.  Being under-insured might not be quite as bad as being uninsured, but while the uninsured know that they don’t have health insurance, people who are under-insured might not be aware of the specific short-comings of their coverage until they actually have a serious, ongoing medical condition.  Arijit was a grad student at ASU, and he recently passed away from colon cancer.  During his fight with cancer, he also had to battle his insurance carrier (Aetna) and raise money selling t-shirts in order to fund his treatment.  He had a student health insurance policy, and those have long been notorious for having low coverage limits.  Duncan has an insider view of some of the medical issues that Arijit had to face, and he, too, attended grad school for a while, Spring in Coloradoworking on campus at a job that afforded him faculty health insurance rather than student coverage.  He notes that a major problem that wasn’t often addressed in articles about Guha is that the university was the organization responsible for choosing a health insurance plan for its students – Aetna just provided the coverage that the school requested.

Maggie Mahar‘s article at Health Beats will be appreciated by NPs and PAs.  Her post A Doctor Confides: “My Primary Doc is a Nurse” is a great look at the increase in the number of PAs and NPs who are providing primary care, and the myriad issues that accompany this change.  Maggie delves into topics like turf war and resistance on the part of MDs to accept NPs as quality primary care providers.  She also addresses patient and provider satisfaction, patient safety, the cost of primary care, and the shortage of MDs who are choosing primary care versus the willingness of NPs to […]

Let Medicare Negotiate Drug Prices And The Government Can Afford Subsidies

Medicare Negotiates Drug Prices And The Government Can Afford SubsidiesRight in the middle of the sequestration mess seems like a good time to discuss the subsidies that are going to be a major part of the ACA starting next year.  As of 2014, nearly everyone in the US will be required to have health insurance, and all individual health insurance will become guaranteed issue.  There are concerns that premiums in the individual market might increase significantly, but for many families the subsidies enacted by the ACA will help to make coverage more affordable.  The subsidies will be available to families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level; the premium assistance will be awarded on a sliding scale, with the families on the upper edge of that income threshold receiving the smallest subsidies.

But how much will those subsidies cost the taxpayers?  How will a government that is so cash-strapped that it’s curbing spending on programs like Head Start and special education be able to fund the subsidies called for in the ACA?

Last summer, the CBO estimated that the exchange subsidies will cost $1,017 billion over the next ten years.  Undoubtedly a large sum, but probably necessary in order to make guaranteed issue health insurance affordable for low- and middle-income families.

That sum is partially offset by the CBO’s projections of $515 billion (over the next ten years) in revenue from individual mandate penalties (fines imposed on non-exempt people who opt to go without health insurance starting in 2014), excise tax on “Cadillac” group health insurance policies, and “other budgetary effects” enacted by the healthcare reform law.

That leaves us with $502 billion.  Not an insignificant sum of money even when […]

No 2013 CoverColorado Assessment

CoverColorado announced that there will be no assessment in 2013 on Colorado health insurance carriers. The 2012 assessment was roughly $3.79/month/contract for individual/family insureds.

Anthem Blue Cross of Colorado has also announced that their membership this year was higher than expected this year. They were making up for a shortfall by charging $4.36/month/contract in 2012. Due to the higher enrollment, Anthem BCBS has enough funding to satisfy December without billing subscribers a CoverColorado assessment.

Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth Vow To Maintain Some Aspects Of ACA, Regardless Of Court Decision

Much of the healthcare community is eager to hear what the Supreme Court has to say – likely next week – about the ACA. Given how polarized the topic of healthcare reform has been over the past few years, there’s no way that any decision is going to please more than about half of the country, although the court has the option of picking and choosing various parts of the law to uphold or overturn as it sees fit.

Some aspects of the ACA have already been implemented and have proven to be very popular. A few of the country’s biggest health insurance carriers have stated that they will keep some of the most popular ACA provisions – even if the law is overturned. Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealth have said that they will continue to offer preventive care with no cost-sharing, allow young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance policy through age 26, and maintain the third-party appeals process that insureds can use if a claim is denied. Humana and UnitedHealth have also said that they will continue to have no lifetime benefit maximums on their policies and ban rescission except in cases of fraud. […]

Best Health Insurance Companies In Colorado

We recently got a call from a client who mentioned that he had done a Google search for the “best health insurance companies in Colorado” and his concern was that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield was not on the top ten list that he said came up as the first search result.  We were a […]

Aetna Withdrawing from Colorado Individual Health Insurance Market

Aetna no longer offers health insurance plans for individuals, families and the self employed plans in Colorado.  Their explanation: After reviewing our portfolio of Individual health insurance plans in Colorado, we determined we can no longer meet the needs of our customers while remaining competitive in the individual health insurance market. While this decision was not […]

Last Day To Submit Cigna and Aetna applications for 2010 rates

Make sure to get Cigna and Aetna applications in if you want 2010 rates. Cigna has specified 10pm MST as the deadline. For the online applications, click through to the post for the links[…]

Maternity Coverage In The Individual Health Insurance Market

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a memorandum this week detailing the practices of the four largest private health insurance carriers (Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint) regarding maternity coverage on individual policies. For anyone who is familiar with the individual health insurance market, the details of the memo will come as no surprise. But since the majority of Americans are covered by group health insurance plans that cover maternity just like any other claim, the details of how maternity coverage works in the individual market may be eye-opening for a lot of people. […]

Regulators And Insurers Still Working On Child-Only Coverage Issue

[…] So far, none of the carriers who had backed out of the child-only market have commented on whether the open enrollment periods might make them change their minds, but AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) has said that they are continuing to work with regulators to try to find solutions that would make the child-only market feasible for insurers in the future.

Healthcare.gov A Good Resource For Brokers

I spent some time on the Healthcare.gov website this morning, and found some great resources that could be particularly helpful for people with pre-existing conditions who are unable to obtain coverage in the individual market. The website was set up in conjunction with the PPACA and was designed to help people navigate the myriad of health insurance options available, along with the changes that will happen over the next few years as the provisions of the PPACA go into effect. […]

Quoting Blackout On Most Plans and Effective Dates

Many plans with most carriers still haven’t gotten the rates approved past 9/23. These plans with carriers like Anthem BCBS can still be quoted with effective dates of 9/22 and before.
Carriers like Cigna only have 1st and 15th of the month effective date options. Therefore, rates and plans are not being quoted at all until the DOI approves their rates. Hopefully any moment.
Make sure to subscribe via email or follow us on Facebook for rate approval updates.

Guaranteed Issue Policies For Children Happened Too Quickly

[…] Regardless of the practicalities involved, there’s no doubt that the headlines about insurers ceasing to issue child-only policies is generating some ill will and bad PR for insurance carriers. Either lawmakers knew that would happen, or else they put very little thought into considering the details of how insurers would go about making children’s coverage guaranteed issue a mere six months after the bill was signed into law, and just added the provision as a feel-good part of the bill.

Not Many Details Yet On Maternity Coverage In Colorado

[…] We still have several months left in 2009 for regulators and insurance companies to work out the details, and I’m sure we’ll know more by the end of the year. When you combine this with the new Colorado law banning gender rating on health insurance policies, and the myriad of reforms coming from the federal government, I’d say that health insurance regulators in Denver are going to have their hands full for a while.

Eligibility For Colorado State Mandated Basic And Standard Plans

[…] All individual health insurance applications in Colorado ask a set of questions to determine if the applicant qualifies as a group of one. If the applicant does, and is declined for the individual coverage, the insurance carrier must offer group of one coverage instead (although it will be significantly more expensive than the individual policy). If the person does not meet the definition of a group of one, he or she will be sent a notice by the insurance carrier regarding eligibility for Cover Colorado.

Colorado Division Of Insurance Reconsidering Anthem Rate Increase

[…] But these numbers would seem to indicate that while Anthem’s rate increase may have been large, it seems to be in line with what other carriers are charging in Colorado. For the little test I conducted, Anthem’s premium was the second-lowest I found, and the only one with a lower premium had an additional thousand dollars in out of pocket exposure.

Efforts To Reduce Never Events

[…] Ideally, we should have enough safeguards in place that “never events” truly never happen. But even if we eliminate the worst errors, there are still a lot of medical errors that could be prevented with extra checks and fail-safe systems in place. A trend towards not paying for mistakes could go a long way towards reducing the number of preventable medical errors in our hospitals.

Complaint Ratios Updated With 2008 Data

The Colorado Division of Insurance has finished compiling and organizing the data for 2008. Visit the Colorado Health Insurance Company Complaint Ratio Comparison page to see the updated complaint, revenue, and market share statistics from the division of insurance along with the A.M. Best Rating information we’ve added […]

Health Insurance Companies Performing Better

[…] health insurance companies are indeed working to be better stewards for the customers they serve – insureds and providers. In 2008 (vs 2007), health insurance companies paid providers 5.3% faster and denied 9% fewer claims. This is what the health insurance industry is in business to do: pay claims, and pay them quickly. […]

Too Important To Fail

[…] I would argue that instead of being considered too big to fail, major health insurance carriers might be seen as too important to fail. AIG’s collapse would have been primarily indirect, but health insurance companies work directly with individual Americans. Even in large groups, individual employees are the ones who carry the id cards with the insurance carrier’s logo on them. […]

Some Thoughts On Colorado HB1224

[…] I looked at premiums for $5,000 deductible HSA qualified policies from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, Assurant, Cigna, Humana, and United HealthOne. If lawmakers disallow the use of gender to determine individual health insurance premiums in Colorado, younger women and older men will have lower premiums, while younger men and older women will have higher premiums. There won’t be any actual benefit to the overall population – health insurance premiums will just be averaged for men and women.