House Approves Medicare SGR Replacement; Senate to Vote in Two Weeks

Last week, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved HR2, the legislation to repeal the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and eliminate the need for an annual “doc fix”.  The bill also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for another two years, and provides $7 billion in funding to support community health centers (this simply keeps community health center […]

The Coming Storm Over the 340B Rx Drug Discount Program

We’ve invited Healthcare Lighthouse CEO Billy Wynne to share his posts with us. Today’s piece addresses the forthcoming regulation that will likely make sweeping changes to the 340B program. Keep an eye out for additional pieces in the coming weeks and be sure to check the Lighthouse Blog for some of our posts. Beneath the glare […]

Understanding Drug Formularies On New Individual Health Insurance Plans In Colorado

Colorado residents only: Compare how each health insurance company covers your medication with our exclusive Colorado prescription drug formulary transparency tool. Opponents of the ACA have raised the issue of drug formularies as a negative aspect of the new ACA-compliant plans, complaining that the new plans won’t cover all of the medications people need.  Just like many of their […]

Questioning The Medicare Status Quo

R.J. Weiss made his hosting debut today with the 189th Cavalcade of Risk – be sure to check it out.  This article from David Williams gets my vote as one of the most interesting in this edition of the Cavalcade.  David writes about a small but growing number of doctors who are choosing to not […]

Exchange Subsidy Eligibility Impeded By High-Priced Group Health Insurance Access

We were talking with a client last week about her health insurance situation, and it inspired me to do a little more digging around to see how eligibility for subsidies could be impacted by the availability of employer-sponsored health insurance.  In our client’s situation, she’s a homemaker and her husband makes about $20,000 per year, working for a small business.  They also have a child, who is currently covered by Medicaid.  Her husband can get health insurance from his employer for $75/month.  But if he adds his wife, the cost goes up to $500/month.  $6,000 per year for health insurance when you earn $20,000 isn’t really a viable option.  Fortunately, as of January 2014, Medicaid will be available in Colorado to families with household incomes up to 133% of FPL (in 2013, that’s almost $26,000 for a family of three).

But let’s consider a hypothetical family that makes a little more – say $28,000/year – and has the same option for employer-sponsored health Exchange Subsidy Impeded by Access to High Priced Group Health Insuranceinsurance.  They would be above the cutoff for family Medicaid, but well below the 400% of poverty level that determines eligibility for premium assistance tax credits (subsidies) in the exchange  (400% of FPL for a family of three is a little over $78,000 in 2013).  And I think we can probably all agree that spending $6000 a year on health insurance would be a significant burden for a family that earns $28,000 a year.

We’ve all heard lots of talk about how subsidies are available in the exchanges for people who don’t have access to “affordable” employer-sponsored health insurance.  I think most of us take that to mean that for families who earn less than 400% of FPL, subsidies are available both to those without an option to purchase employer-sponsored health insurance, and for families that have the option to do so but at a prohibitively high premium.  You’ve probably also heard that the cutoff for determining whether employer-sponsored health insurance is “affordable” is 9.5% of the employee’s wages.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it might sound, and the official rules might leave some families without a lot of practical options.  I discussed this scenario last week with the Colorado Coalition for the Medially Underserved (CCMU).  Gretchen Hammer is the Executive Director of CCMU, and she’s also the Board Chair of Connect for Health Colorado (the state’s exchange), so there’s a good flow of information between the two organizations.  CCMU (and Connect for Health Colorado, via CCMU) responded to my questions quickly and thoroughly, and I highly recommend both sources if you’re in Colorado and curious to see how your specific situation will be impacted as the ACA is implemented further (here’s contact info for CCMU and Connect for Health Colorado).

My concern in the case of our hypothetical family was that the employee’s contribution for his own health insurance is $75/month, which works out to only 3.2% of his income – well under the threshold for “affordable,” based on the 9.5% rule.  And as […]

A Midsummer Wonk’s Dream

Welcome to the Midsummer Health Wonk Review!  It’s always a pleasure to host, and this edition actually isn’t a Shakespeare theme, but it is jam-packed with excellent articles from some of the best writers in the healthcare blog world.  The HWR had a break before this edition and will have a hiatus after this one too. We’re starting things off with a few articles that help to shed light on some aspects of health care reform that should be straight-forward but sometimes get a bit convoluted with political rhetoric.  Then we’ve got several posts about corruption in healthcare and healthcare policy, and lots of posts that provide contrasting and well-reasoned viewpoints on healthcare reform and healthcare in general.  We’ll keep things cool with some winter and spring pictures we took around us here in Northern Colorado.  Enjoy!

Colorado mountains near Fort CollinsIn an excellent piece debunking popular “wisdom” regarding immigrants and healthcare, Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters explains that when it comes to the Medicare Trust Fund, immigrants put in a lot more than they take out:  In 2009, immigrants paid in 14.7% of trust fund contributions but only accounted for 7.9% of its spending, with a net surplus of almost $14 billion.  US-born people accounted for a deficit of almost $31 billion in the Medicare Trust Fund that same year.  This appears to be a long-term trend:  From 2002 to 2009, immigrants contributed $115.2 billion more to the Medicare Trust Fund than they received in Medicare benefits.  Joe goes on to explain the details and warn those who rally behind strict immigration reform that they may want to rethink their position.  Our Medicare Trust Fund would be in a lot worse shape without the immigrant population.

And if you’re curious about the implementation track for the ACA (and understandably confused by the constant talk of repeal, delay, replace, etc. that we keep hearing from some politicians) Linda Bergthold has what I consider to be a straight-forward and factual review of the situation.  To sum it up, she’s predicting that the employer mandate will go into effect in 2015, as currently scheduled (following a one-year delay, but not a repeal), and that the individual mandate will be implemented in 2014, as planned.  And while some states that delayed the creation of an exchange marketplace will likely have a tougher time getting everything up and running by 2014, the exchanges will be operational next year.  I imagine there will be some bumps in the road as the ACA is fully implemented over the next few years.  But we can work on ironing those out as we go – there’s no need to start from scratch.

Although the exchanges are likely to be successful in the long run, it won’t be without significant effort on the part of the people running them.  At Health Affairs Blog, Barbara Markham Smith and Jack Meyer explain their recommendations for strategies that can help the exchanges be successful both out of the gates and for the long haul.  They discuss pricing (don’t make it too high!) as well as communication/advertising programs that need to be unified, clear, concise and nation-wide in order to generate awareness and interest in as many people as possible.  Baby pine tree in snow(Unfortunately, there’s a significant portion of the country’s leadership who seem to want the exchanges to fail – even to the detriment of the American people – and are content to spread mis-information about the entire law.  This is a considerable hurdle that the exchanges will have to overcome.)  Barbara and Jack recommend a temporary respite from the tax reconciliation that will be done to determine whether a person or family that received a subsidy is required to pay back a portion of it due to increased income compared with the prior year.  And they also call for fostering increased competition and CO-OP creation in the states have not yet done so.  All in all, pretty solid ideas for success in the exchanges and policy-makers would be wise to take heed.

I think of Dr. Roy Poses as the healthcare blog world whistleblower – he can always be counted on to expose nefarious acts in the healthcare industry, and Health Care Renewal is a must-read blog.  Here is his take on the recent Transparency International poll that found 43% of US respondents believe that the US healthcare system is corrupt, and that 64% believe that the government is run by big money and special interests.  Roy notes that unfortunately, most of the media coverage of the Transparency International poll has focused on world-wide data and/or specifics from far-away lands.  Instead of focusing on our own serious problems with corruption in healthcare, it seems that a lot of media outlets (keep in mind that media is sometimes beholden to special interests too…) prefer to present the problem as something that happens in other countries as opposed to something that we need to work on here in the US.

Continuing with the corruption theme, Eric Turkewitz of the NY Personal Injury Law Blog shares a multi-part series about Dr. Katz, who has been rebuked for lying on the stand in a personal injury trial that resulted in a mistrial because of the doctor’s actions.  Central to the issue is the practice of independent medical exams (with the word “independent” being very loosely used in this case) conducted by doctors who are hired by insurance companies when they are defending personal injury cases.  In the case that Eric is writing about, the doctor makes a 7 figure income creek in Fort Collins Coloradofrom his medical-legal practice, but in one case that has been made public, he grossly over-stated the amount of time he spent with a patient (he claimed it was 10 – 20 minutes, but a secretly-made video recording of the visit showed that it was under two minutes).  Eric has looked at additional data and found that the average length of Dr. Katz’s exams was around 4 minutes.  Additional details on this story are here.  Wow.  The doctor was obviously concerned first and foremost with money, but the insurance companies who hired him were likely not doing due diligence to make sure that he was providing accurate data.  They may have been more concerned with finding a doctor who would tell them what they wanted to hear rather than the actual details of the patients’ medical cases.  Sad all around, but sadder still is the fact that it’s probably not all that unusual.

And for a little more on the cronyism/corruption topic (maybe those corruption figures Roy mentioned from the Transparency International poll were skewed a bit too low?), Hank Stern of InsureBlog writes about agencies and individuals who have been involved with the Obama Administration for some time, and are now finding themselves in lucrative financial and/or influential positions as the ACA gets implemented.  In other words, business as usual in the government.  Government appointments, grants, etc. are often awarded this way (ie, appearing to be rewards for donations and/or loyalty), in every administration, regardless of which party is in power.  There’s ample room for opponents to cry foul, but it also has to be pointed out that presidents and secretaries and others in power have to be able to select people they trust for top leadership positions.  And trust is earned over time.  There’s a fine line between selecting the right candidate for the job, having that person be someone trusted by the top officials, and avoiding cronyism.  I don’t know what the right answer is, but it’s easy to see how the appointments and grants and leadership roles being handed out with the ACA could be construed as rewards for political support and loyalty.

At Health Beat, Maggie Mahar writes a thoughtful and thorough review of Miriam Zoll’s Cracked Open: Liberty, Fertility and the Pursuit of High Tech Babies.  After reading Maggie’s article, I’m eager to read the book itself (Maggie leaves a bit of a cliff hanger at the end…).  Assisted reproductive technology is certainly a blessing to many families.  But it can also be fraught with problems that stem from both overly-optimistic expectations on the part of patients (and society in general), over-promising on the part of providers, and a medical field that is largely unregulated and often not covered by health insurance policies.

At Health Business Blog, David Williams explains his skepticism about DealWell, a new Priceline-style website for healthcare services.  I am very much in favor of increasing transparency in healthcare pricing and moving away from the proprietary pricing system we have now, where even the most dedicated patient “shoppers” can find it impossible to obtain real healthcare prices before having a procedure.  And to that end, I love thePut a bird on it! idea of a website where people can bid on the care they need and providers can accept or decline the offer depending on their current workload and the payment offered.  But David makes some excellent points about the downsides:  not being integrated with health insurance is a big one, especially since nearly everyone will have to have health insurance starting in 2014 (even if a procedure is lower than your deductible, it makes sense to stay in network and have the amount you pay be credited towards your deductible, in case you need additional care later in the year).  Although DealWell might be a good option for people looking for one-time services that aren’t covered by health insurance (such a LASIK or a dental implant, for example), it’s probably not going to be the next big thing in healthcare price transparency.

Over at Disease Management Care Blog, Jaan Sidorov takes a closer look at the glowing picture painted by CMS regarding ACO pilot programs, digs a little deeper, and gives us a slightly less rosy view of the results.  And there’s even a T-Rex analogy, to keep things even more interesting.  Jaan points out that the ACOs that didn’t meet the pilot program goals are likely feeling the sting of losing millions of dollars, since the initial investment costs are not cheap.  Although 9 of the 32 pilot ACO providers have said that they want to leave the program, I wonder if results will be better as time goes by, mitigating the initial investment costs somewhat?  Stay tuned.

Julie Ferguson of Workers’ Comp Insider writes about the July 6th 777 crash at SFO, detailing how the flight attendants did an excellent job of putting their emergency training into practice, saving lives in the process.  Julie notes that while it’s easy to shrug off emergency plans simply because we rarely come face-to-face with an emergency, such preparedness can mean the difference between life and death.  Does your business have a solid plan in place to deal with emergencies?  Has everyone at the business been trained on it?  How fast can your building be evacuated if necessary?  All good things to think about.

Writing at Health Access Blog, Anthony Wright discusses the one-year delay of the employer mandate portion of the ACA that will require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance to eligible full-time workers.  Anthony makes some very important points:  the delay doesn’t impact anyone’s eligibility for health insurance and/or subsidies.  People who would have been offered health insurance from an sledding in Coloradoemployer with the employer mandate in place will still be able to get coverage through their state’s exchange – and if they make up to 400% of the federal poverty level, they’ll qualify for subsidies to help pay for it.  In addition, the vast majority of large employers in the US already offer health insurance to their employees and have historically done so without a mandate requiring it.  It’s unlikely that a large amount of those employers will suddenly drop their coverage in 2014.  But Anthony goes on to note that if the delay were extended for additional years, it could begin to destabilize the financial foundation of the ACA and employers might begin to shift more workers onto exchange plans, relying on tax-funded subsidies to foot a portion of the bill.

The Healthcare Economist, aka Jason Shafrin, brings us a great summary of health insurance in China over the past half century.  Until the end of the 1970s, there were three main health insurance systems in China that covered nearly everyone.  But the wheels started to come off after that; by 1998 almost half of the urban population had no health insurance, and by 2003, 95% of the rural population in China was uninsured.  In the last ten years, China has tackled health care reform in order to try to remedy the problem.  While plenty of progress has been made, there is still a long way to go.

Jared Rhoads has written a review of The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin.  His review is a good read, and the book looks like it is as well.  Professor Grandin teaches at Colorado State University – my alma mater –  and consults for the livestock industry as well as being a bestselling author.   She’s an inspiring and accomplished person even without taking into account her own autism.  Her book combines her personal Temple Grandin professor at CSU - Colorado State Universityexperiences with the latest that science has to offer us with regards to autism.  If you’re interested in autism, Jared’s summary is that this book is a good place to start learning more.  I’m adding it to my list of books to read, so thanks for the tip Jared!

John Goodman lays out some of the results of the ACA thus far (fair enough, but keep in mind that most of the law hasn’t been implemented yet).  He details some positives and negatives, both expected and unintended, although his overall take is that the ACA is not a great solution.  Strongly worded opinions about the ACA will likely meet with a round of applause from one side of the political spectrum, and boos from the other side.  But regardless of your position, I would say that it’s tough to argue with John’s point about high deductible, consumer-driven health plans.  I think he’s correct in saying that they’re probably going to be quite popular starting in 2014, when they will be among the least-expensive plans available.  This is probably particularly true among people who won’t qualify for subsidies.

That’s it for this mid-summer edition of the Health Wonk Review.  Many thanks to Julie and Joe for keeping such a great blog carnival going all these years!  The HWR now has a summer hiatus. Don’t miss the next edition on August 15th, which will be hosted by David Williams at Health Business Blog.

Doctors Moving Away From Independent Practice – What That Means For Patients

A recent thought-provoking article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan delves into the future of independent medical practices and the pros and cons of hospital mergers and “closed” healthcare systems like Kaiser Permanente (Kaiser opened for business in northern Colorado last fall) moving into the area.  The article notes that the split between employed physicians and […]

The New Individual Health Insurance Application Questions

For more than a decade now, we’ve been helping our clients complete individual health insurance applications.  Before online applications were common, we would drive to our clients’ homes and help them fill out paper applications.  These days, Jay spends many hours each week on the phone with clients who have questions at some point during […]

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 […]

Colorado’s Medicaid Expansion Plans Make Sense

Governor Hickenlooper’s announcement last week that Colorado plans to expand Medicaid eligibility to more than 160,000 childless adults has been met with much debate from both sides of the political spectrum.  The voices opposed to the expansion come mainly from an economic perspective, saying that we just can’t afford to cover more people with Medicaid.  And as is usually the case, there are wildly different estimates of how much the Medicaid expansion will cost and/or save the state over the next decade:  The Kaiser Family Foundation says that the move will cost Colorado $858 million over the next decade, while Governor Hickenlooper’s office says that it will save $280 million instead.

Colorado Medicaid Expansion DebateAfter all of the money talk from the CBO and all of the special interest groups over the last few years regarding various aspects of the ACA, I think a lot of people have become numb to the numbers.  Predictions of how much any healthcare legislation will cost or save over any lont-term time horizon really depend on who is doing the study and what variables they took into consideration.  And we have to bear in mind that laws and reforms and healthcare in general are not static entities; they’re constantly changing, which makes long-term financial predictions murky at best.  Even if we could control for every single current variable and come up with an accurate picture of the cost and/or savings implications of the Medicaid expansion, we can’t know what additional changes might be made in the future that will increase or decrease the predicted amounts.  Given that reality, as well as the dramatically different financial predictions out there, I think it’s best to assume that the actual numbers will […]

Medicare Part D Needs Price Negotiating Power

[…] very clearly how we could save $20 billion per year if the feds could negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. That’s forbidden by the language of the original legislation that created Medicare Part D (I know, it’s ridiculous, but that’s how it is), so it would require some legislation at this point to change things. Nobody in power seems to want to address this issue, probably because pharmaceutical companies make such large campaign contributions. But as I’ve pointed out several times, they also earn huge profits (far more than any health insurance company, although health insurance companies are the ones that are repeatedly targeted by the media as having excessive profits). Maybe it’s time for a change.[…]

Downsides To Raising The Medicare Eligibility Age

[…] The wealthiest older Americans can probably easily wait until 67 for Medicare. In 2014, individual health insurance will be guaranteed issue, and if paying the premiums is not a problem, that’s a viable alternative for some people. But most Americans are not wealthy enough for those premiums to be easily affordable, even with premium subsidies. More than a few 65 and 66 year olds would likely opt to go uninsured until they reached the new Medicare age, and that brings it’s own host of problems – for the individuals and for taxpayers, hospitals and the entire healthcare system. For people struggling to make ends meet, an extra two years of either being uninsured or stretching to pay health insurance premiums could be a very big deal indeed. And as Maggie points out, it doesn’t even end up saving money.

The proposal to raise Medicare eligibility to 67 is short-sighted and based on the premise that Medicare is an “entitlement” (what about the fact that recipients have been paying into it for decades, to cover the cost of previous retirees’ care?). I suppose it makes sense – at first glance – that we can reduce the amount spent by Medicare if we make people wait an extra two years to enroll. But the practical realities would be a different story: people putting off medical care until age 67 (at which point illnesses might be more progressed and more expensive to treat), people going uninsured, higher premiums within the Medicare system without the younger members enrolled, higher costs borne by employers who cover the cost of healthcare for workers and retirees, and the list goes on. […]

How To Better Serve Emergency Room “Frequent Flyers”

The American College of Emergency Physicians had their annual meeting in Denver, Colorado this week, and presentations involved several new studies pertaining to people who are the most frequent users of emergency room care. I found that article to be fascinating, in part because it dispels so many myths about emergency room “frequent flyers.” We’ve written before about the fact that most emergency room patients do have health insurance and that emergency room overcrowding cannot be blamed on uninsured patients (as is often cited in casual conversation). Although most emergency room visitors do have health insurance, many of them have public health insurance via Medicare or Medicaid. And since the Medicaid rolls are expected to grow significantly over the next several years, it’s likely that ER overcrowding will grow to become more of a problem as some of those Medicaid patients are unable to access primary care outside the emergency room. […]

Taxes And Individual Health Insurance

[…] Greg’s most recent article deals with the way that our tax code treats health insurance premiums. Medicare and Medicaid premiums are obviously subsidized by tax dollars. But group health insurance premiums are also subsidized, since the premiums that employers pay on behalf of their employees are not included in the employee’s taxable income.

People with individual health insurance usually don’t get such a benefit. The self-employed get to deduct individual health insurance premiums on the 1040, but there are plenty of people who purchase individual health insurance and are not self-employed. Early retirees are a good example, as are people who buy their own health insurance because their employer does not provide it.

Greg’s article goes beyond what we usually see on this topic (ie, pointing out the inherent unfairness of not allowing similar tax treatment for all health insurance premiums, regardless of whether the coverage is group or individual). He delves into what the possible implications could be for the individual health insurance market if the tax code were changed to a more equitable system. His prediction includes millions of additional people entering the individual market (thanks to a switch from group to individual coverage), more lenient underwriting standards in the individual market, more innovative products available to consumers, and more competition in the individual market. Check out his article for all the details – definitely some good food for thought.

Replicating Grand Junction’s Healthcare System

[…] This is a scenario that I could see being implemented even without a monopoly by one health insurance carrier. Grand Junction aside, if we look at the whole state of Colorado, the top 70% of the health insurance market is comprised of ten carriers. I wonder if it would be possible for medical offices to set up agreements whereby they pool money received from those ten carriers and from Medicare, Medicaid, and CHP+. Then instead of paying physicians directly from the health insurer depending on the insurance coverage of each specific patient, the doctors could simply be paid either a salary or an average reimbursement for each patient, regardless of which insurance that patient had. This would require some restructuring in terms of how medical billing is done, but it would allow medical offices to continue to negotiate competitive contracts with private health insurers (and the higher the contracted rate, the more total dollars the medical practice would have to put into their payment pool).

One of the major factors that contributes to the success of the system in Grand Junction is that doctors there are ok with receiving lower total incomes than they would in other areas that don’t function the way Grand Junction does. When you pool Medicare and Medicaid payments together with private health insurance payments, the public health insurance reimbursements drag down the average payment. In order to make sure that people with public health insurance are receiving equal access to healthcare (which they currently do not, especially those with Medicaid), the per-patient average reimbursement for physicians would have to decrease, since it would mean that more lower-paying patients would be treated. The caveat that doctors would have to be willing to work for a little less money is especially true of specialists, which is where the highest incomes are. […]

Who Pays The Bill If A Patient Checks Out Of The Hospital Against Medical Orders?

[…] None of that is true however. As long as the treatment provided is a covered service on the patient’s health insurance plan, and as long as any required pre-authorization was taken care of, the health insurance carrier does not withhold payment simply because the patient acted against medical orders and checked out of the hospital. This is also true of other forms of non-compliance: for example, patients who don’t fill their prescriptions or those who resume activity too soon after surgery will generally find that their health insurance still covers their bills according to the language of the contract.

If “never events” on the patient end of the scale were cause for claims denials, I have a feeling that there would be a lot more denied claims. Health insurance carriers can and do charge higher premiums for various choices people make (like smoking, for example). But once a policy is in force, and premiums are paid on time – and assuming the application was completed honestly – the coverage is usually not dependent on the patient following doctors orders

A Possible Alternative To The Individual Mandate

[…] Guaranteed-issue health insurance is expensive. When it’s enacted without a mandate requiring people to buy it, the premiums can become out of reach very quickly. In Colorado, group health insurance (all eligible employees are guaranteed enrollment, regardless of medical history) is significantly more expensive than individual health insurance (medical underwriting applies until 2014 when the guaranteed issue provisions of the ACA kick in). But since employers usually pay at least a chunk of the premiums, people aren’t generally aware of the full cost of group health insurance. In the individual market, that cost will be more transparent (subsidies – also created by the ACA – will be a significant help for a lot of families).

Any way you look at it, the claims expenses will be high once all health insurance is guaranteed issue. I would assume that individual health insurance premiums will start to look more like group premiums as the years go by. The goal of increasing premiums for late enrollees should be three-fold: To make the practice of waiting to purchase health insurance until one is sick seem less attractive; to make sure that there are enough total premium dollars collected to pay for the total claims submitted; and to make things as fair as possible for people who opt to have health insurance all the time, even when they’re perfectly healthy. Those people should not be paying the lion’s share of the total premiums.

I agree with Jason that if this model were used, it should be up to the carriers – with regulatory oversight – to set the premium adjustments rather than having the government set the prices. But I think that if we use this model to try to accomplish all three of those goals I outlined, the premium adjustments for late enrollees would have to be pretty significant.

Too Much Paperwork

[…] I don’t know what the solution is here. On the one hand, we need regulation. We know that without it, there are way too many cracks into which all sorts of things can fall. And regulation is meaningless without having a way to objectively measure compliance and progress. But when we reach the point where doctors feel that they’re spending more of their time doing clerical work (eg, filling out compliance paperwork, documenting everything for their lawyers and for their patients’ health insurance carriers, etc.) than interacting with patients, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

This is especially important as the ACA rolls out over the next few years. One of the goals is to make healthcare more efficient. But if we inadvertently end up bogging down the healthcare professionals in a sea of red tape and bureaucracy, efficiency is likely to decline. Hopefully doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals – who work in the healthcare field on a daily basis – can be consulted to provide input on how best to measure compliance with well-intentioned regulatory programs.

Combining Patient Satisfaction With Clinical Outcomes And Cost Efficiency

[…] Particularly in the current era of spiraling healthcare costs, it’s a bit troubling to hear that hospitals are doing things like putting in extra elevators so that people don’t have to wait as long for an elevator… all for the sake of boosting their patient satisfaction rankings. Yes, it might increase patient satisfaction by a small margin, but somebody has to pay for it. Renovation projects like that add to the hospital’s overhead expenses, and that leads to increased charges for care at the hospital. Ultimately, health insurance carriers end up paying more for their insureds’ claims, and that translates directly to increased health insurance premiums […]

Possible Solutions For Long Term Care Funding Problems

[…] As long as we’re looking at a fragmented public/private hodge podge of long term care funding that includes Medicaid, private long term care insurance, private assets, and help from family and friends, I think it’s important that we look for ways to make things as fair as possible and also keep Medicaid financially afloat. The CLASS Act got nixed from the ACA, but the problem of funding long term care isn’t going away, and is only going to grow as the baby boomer generation ages. John’s article is a good one to read if you’re interested in possible solutions.

The Opposite Of Transparent

[…] David also points out that the amounts allowed by his Blue Cross Blue Shield carrier don’t seem to have anything to do with the amounts billed by his physical therapies – the lowest allowed amount on his EOB was for the service that was billed with the highest price tag. We’ve also seen little rhyme or reason (that we can detect, anyway) in terms of how billed amounts and allowed amount correlate. […]

Grand Rounds – Colorado Fall Colors Edition

Henry Stern of InsureBlog brings us an interview with the whistleblower who has brought a lawsuit against LabCorp for allegedly charging a lower price to United HealthCare than to Medicare. The post is particularly interesting because Hank adds his own thoughts after the interview, and he sees things a little differently than Andrew Baker (the whistleblower). Hank agrees that it does look like LabCorp lowered their fees for UHC […]

Increased Medicare Cost Sharing Might Not Be The Best Plan

[…] The healthcare providers make recommendations, order tests, perform surgeries… and in general, the patient does what the doctor recommends. And really, isn’t that the way it probably ought to be? Most of us have not been to medical school. When something seems amiss with our health, we need to feel that we can rely on our doctors to tell us the best course of action. Increased cost-sharing tends to increase the number of people who skip healthcare in general – including very necessary care like keeping diabetes and blood pressure under control.

Healthcare Topics In The Cavalcade Of Risk

[…] Some lawmakers have proposed making people pay higher deductibles or doing away with first-dollar coverage on Medigap policies, with the idea being that if people have more of their own money on the table, they would be less likely to over-utilize non-essential healthcare. The problem, of course, is that seniors who are already struggling to pay for healthcare would be more likely to skip necessary care if they had to come up with additional money to pay for it. […]

Tips For Sorting Through Medigap Advertising

[…] I would add that the advertising tactics Trudy mentions also apply to regular health insurance plans too – not just those related to Medicare. Unfortunately, health insurance advertising can sometimes get a bit murky. If in doubt, always ask for more details or get a second opinion… and as with most things, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is (there’s no such thing as comprehensive individual health insurance for $150/month for a family of four with no deductible and all pre-existing conditions covered).