A New Plan to Replace the ACA

With the effort to amend/repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act, we are currently one plan down and one to go. The first attempt to enact a new plan failed to come to vote in the House in March. This week a modified plan has surfaced that some are saying may move closer to being approved. In the below Article you will see some of the major provisions we expect to see vetted over the coming days.

 

 Republicans have a new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare

Thursday, 20 Apr 2017 | 10:26 AM ET  by Berkeley Lovelace Jr. – CNBC

Republican lawmakers have a new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in a bid to bridge the gap between the House Freedom Caucus and moderates, according to a document obtained by CNBC.

A Freedom Caucus source told CNBC the changes to the health bill would secure 25 to 30 “yes” votes from the Freedom Caucus, and the new bill would get “very close” to 216 votes. The source said that 18 to 20 of those “yes” votes would be new.

Here is the document:

MacArthur Amendment to the American Health Care Act – 4/13/17

Insurance Market Provisions

The MacArthur Amendment would:

  • Reinstate Essential Health Benefits as the federal standard
  • Maintain the following provisions of the AHCA:

– Prohibition on denying coverage due to preexisting medical conditions

– Prohibition on discrimination based on gender

– Guaranteed issue of coverage to all applicants

– Guaranteed renewability of coverage

– Coverage of dependents on parents’ plan up to age 26

– Community Rating Rules, except for limited waivers

Limited Waiver Option

The amendment would create an option for states to obtain Limited Waivers from certain federal standards, in the interest of lowering premium costs and expanding the number of insured persons.

States could seek Limited Waivers for:

  • Essential Health Benefits
  • Community rating rules, except for the following categories, which are not waivable:
  • Gender
  • Age (except for reductions of the 5:1 age ratio previously established)
  • Health Status (unless the state has established a high risk pool or is participating in a federal high risk pool)

Limited Waiver Requirements

States must attest that the purpose of their requested waiver is to reduce premium costs, increase the number of persons with healthcare coverage, or advance another benefit to the public interest in the state, including the guarantee of coverage for persons with pre-existing medical conditions. The Secretary shall approve applications within 90 days of determining that an application is complete.

CNBC has reached out to the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan about the document.

Earlier this month, Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows said the majority of caucus members will support the new bill if changes offered by the White House are included in the legislation, such as coverage waivers related to community rating protections.

In March, House Republicans pulled their first attempt at a repeal and replacement of Obamacare, dubbed the American Health Care Act, due in large part to opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans.

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Surprise Hospital Bills – The Debate Continues

The debate continues in New Jersey and New York regarding what to do about out-of-network charges and balance bills when the consumer has no opportunity to choose or shop for care. Several State Legislatures are trying to tackle this problem in order to protect the consumer from large unexpected medical bills. Another related challenge is who should take the financial burden of these bills: the insurance company – by paying out of network bills, or the medical provider – by accepting less payment.

Restarting N.J. hospital billing debate

By Lindy Washburn, The Record

Michael Young, a 24-year-old college student, thought he was going to die a year ago May when he called 911 while visiting his father in Paramus.

It turned out he had appendicitis. The ambulance took him to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, where a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy.

Now Young faces a different kind of crisis: The anesthesiologist that night at The Valley Hospital is suing him for $2,200 — after his insurer paid $726.

Surprise medical bills just keep coming for patients in New Jersey, five months after the Legislature’s effort to fix the problem died. Some come from hospital-based doctors who don’t accept the same insurance plans as the hospital where they work. Others are received by patients with out-of-state or federally regulated coverage who go to out-of-network emergency rooms — New Jersey regulations that require the insurer to protect its members from balance billing in such cases don’t apply to their plans.

Young gets his coverage through a family insurance plan for retired New York City employees; it is outside the jurisdiction of New Jersey regulations.

His anesthesiologist was part of Bergen Anesthesia group, which does not participate in his insurance plan. There were no other choices when the ambulance took him to Valley because it is the sole provider of anesthesia services there.

The insurer — GHI/EmblemHealth — paid about a quarter of the $2,900 he was charged for anesthesiology for lower abdominal surgery under emergency conditions. GHI used its own fee schedule to determine what they considered appropriate; Bergen Anesthesia billed Young for the remainder.

Now Young is stuck with the charges. He has no income of his own.

Other recent examples include:

–At one hospital, the father of a 3-year-old who needed emergency stitches was surprised when the plastic surgeon billed him $2,000, on top of the $3,800 he received from the insurer. When the father took it up with a hospital executive, the executive said his options were limited because the plastic surgeon did not participate in any insurance plans. But he called the surgeon, who agreed to waive the rest of his fee after the child’s father paid $900 — his remaining deductible — toward the balance.

–Another couple chose a Bergen County hospital as their baby’s birthplace because it was in their insurer’s network. They were surprised to learn — when the bills came — that the anesthesiologist, surgeon and neonatologist at the hospital did not participate in their insurance plan. The plan, purchased through the Affordable Care Act on HealthCare.gov, provides no out-of-network coverage.

–In Hudson County, all three hospitals owned by for-profit CarePoint Health no longer participate in the network of the state’s largest insurer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Hoboken University Medical Center was the last to opt out, as of Wednesday, when its contract ended. The three, including hospitals in Bayonne and Jersey City, are also out-of-network for Aetna, Cigna, Health Republic of New Jersey, Oscar Health Insurance and UnitedHealthcare. The vast majority of CarePoint’s patients enter through the facilities’ emergency rooms, which enables the hospitals to demand payment from insurers for their charges, among the highest in the nation, while leaving the patient’s obligation the same as it would have been at an in-network facility.

Ward Sanders, president of the state Association of Health Plans, condemned that business model on Thursday, when he renewed his industry’s call for legislative reforms. “New Jersey has become a hotbed for unconscionable out-of-network billing practices,” he said. “Certain facilities and providers … engage in predatory pricing, surprising consumers with unexpected bills, and creating exorbitant costs for consumers, employers and unions.”

“It’s time for the Legislature to step in,” he said.

Now that the logjam over Atlantic City has been broken, lawmakers say they are gearing up to try again on what Democrats and Republicans agree is a pocketbook issue. But recent developments affecting the state’s hospitals may make it more difficult. Legislation that could reduce hospital revenues or diminish their leverage with insurers will be seen as a problem, and lawmakers with hospitals in their districts are likely to hear about it.

Hospitals take a hit

The launch of the Omnia health plan by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey alienated half of the state’s 62 hospitals by labeling them as Tier 2, a non-preferred status expected to lead fewer patients to seek care at their facilities, and thus lower revenues. In addition, 30 non-profit hospitals face lawsuits — and the potential loss of their property-tax exemptions — after a precedent-setting state Tax Court decision and Governor Christie’s veto of legislation that would have protected them. And hospitals are fighting additional cuts in state charity care funding this year.

Nevertheless, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Demarest Republican and health professional himself — he’s a dentist — has begun circulating his own version of the “Out-of-Network Consumer Protection, Transparency, Cost Containment and Accountability Act” first introduced last year by three Assembly Democrats and the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex.

Cardinale’s version is somewhat friendlier to doctors and hospitals, because it would rely on peer review — one panel for doctors and one for hospitals — to settle disputes when insurers and out-of-network providers disagree over how much should be paid for a service. The original version relied on “baseball arbitration” — a choice of one side’s final offer — by outside professional arbitrators.

The Democratic sponsors of the measure that failed last session — Assemblyman Craig Coughlin of Middlesex, and Assemblymen Gary S. Schaer of Passaic and Troy Singleton of Burlington, along with Vitale — have met with interest groups and say they plan to meet again to see what changes might help the bill win passage. And Citizen Action, the consumer advocacy group, plans to call attention to the problem of surprise medical bills at an event in mid-June.

All aim to take the consumer out of the middle of such disputes.

And that’s a goal with which the state hospital association, which did not support the measure last year, can agree. It has suggested changes that would give hospitals a bigger role in preventing staff anesthesiologists and other hospital-based specialists from billing patients beyond their in-network financial obligation after the insurer has paid.

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Hospital Charges Surge for Common Ailments, Data Shows

This excellent NY Times article is based on Medicare data on over 3,000 hospitals nationwide for what they charged in 2012. The data shows that the prices that hospitals charge is highly variable and has risen across the board. The article correctly points out that these increases in charges do not necessarily affect what Medicare pays because Medicare is so large that they tell hospitals what they are going to pay them independent of what they bill.

By JULIE CRESWELL, SHERI FINK and SARAH COHEN –  JUNE 2, 2014

Charges for some of the most common inpatient procedures surged at hospitals across the country in 2012 from a year earlier, some at more than four times the national rate of inflation, according to data released by Medicare officials on Monday.

While it has long been known that hospitals bill Medicare widely varying amounts — sometimes many multiples of what Medicare typically reimburses — for the same procedure, an analysis of the data by The New York Times shows how much the price of some procedures rose in just one year’s time.

Experts in the health care world differ over the meaning of hospital charges.

While hospitals say they are unimportant — Medicare beneficiaries and those covered by commercial insurance pay significantly less through negotiated payments for treatments — others say the list prices are meaningful to the uninsured, to private insurers that have to negotiate reimbursements with hospitals or to consumers with high-deductible plans.

“You’re seeing a lot more benefit packages out there with co-insurance amounts that require the holders to pay 20 percent of a lab test or 20 percent of an X-ray. Well, 20 percent of which price?” asked Glenn Melnick, a professor who holds a Blue Cross of California endowed chair at the University of Southern California. “Some hospitals will charge 20 percent of what Blue Cross Blue Shield will pay; others will play games.”
Data released by the federal government shows that hospitals across the country charge Medicare differing amounts for the same types of cases. The data includes bills submitted in 2012 by 3,300 hospitals nationwide for the 100 most commonly performed treatments and procedures like hip replacement, heart operations and gallbladder removal, among hospitals that reported at least 11 cases.

Charges for chest pain, for instance, rose 10 percent to an average of $18,505 in 2012, from $16,815 in 2011. Average hospital charges for digestive disorders climbed 8.5 percent to nearly $22,000, from $20,278 in 2011.

In 2012, hospitals charged more for every one of 98 common ailments that could be compared to the previous year. For all but seven, the increase in charges exceeded the nation’s 2 percent inflation rate for that year, according to The Times’s analysis.

Experts say the increase in the price of some of the most common procedures may be offsetting rising technology or drug costs, declines in the number of patients being admitted to hospitals and a leveling out of reimbursements from Medicare. Between 2011 and 2012, Medicare increased payment rates by only 1 percent for most inpatient stays.

The number of patients admitted for chest pain under Medicare’s fee-for-service plans plummeted more than 28,000, to 107,224 in 2012, and inpatients with digestive disorders decreased more than 29,000, to 217,514.

Over all, the number of Medicare patients discharged from hospitals for the comparable 98 most common diagnoses dropped from 7.5 million to 7.2 million. The total amount Medicare paid for their care also declined somewhat between 2011 and 2012, from $62.8 billion to $61.9 billion.
In an effort to reduce overall health care costs, hospitals have been encouraged to admit fewer patients for conditions like asthma, for example, in favor of less expensive outpatient care.

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The Hospital-Dependent Patient

By PAULINE W. CHEN, M.D.

Interesting piece about the unintended cost and consequences of hospital re-admissions.  Spectacular advances in medical science have led to a growing population of patients who are “hospital-dependent” adding great cost to the healthcare system.

“He’s back?” my colleague asked, eyes widening as she passed the patient’s room. “He’s in the hospital again?”
Slender, pale and in his late 60s, the man had first been admitted nearly a year earlier with pressure in his chest so severe he had trouble breathing. When his heart stopped, doctors and nurses revived him by injecting the latest life-saving medicines into his veins and applying the newest electrical defibrillator paddles to his chest.

Within minutes, the cardiology team arrived, but when the blockage in the arteries of his heart proved too extensive for even their state-of-the-art techniques and equipment, they handed him off to the waiting surgeons. The surgeons, in turn, cooled down his heart until it stopped beating, sewed in bypass conduits with threads finer than human hairs, restarted the heart with a few well-placed jolts of electricity and then transferred the patient to the cutting-edge intensive care unit to recover.

The man survived. Sort of.

Weakened by this string of emergencies, he required a breathing machine for several days. When excess fluid in his lungs caused shortness of breath, he needed intravenous diuretics. When his heart began beating erratically, he was obliged to take a finely tuned cocktail of heart medications. And when his chest wound became infected, he had to return to the operating room.

Finally, after nearly two months in the hospital, he was discharged to a skilled nursing center. But then a urinary tract infection made him dizzy and confused, and he went right back to the hospital, beginning a cycle of discharge and re-admittance that would persist for almost a year.
To many of us who had cared for the man, it seemed as if he had spent more days in the hospital than out.

“What kind of life is that?” my colleague asked as we stood in the hallway and watched the man’s wife help him once again put on his hospital gown and pack away his street clothes. “You’ve got to wonder,” she whispered, “did we really do him a favor when we ‘saved’ him?”
I was reminded of the frail man and the many patients like him whom I have known when I read a recent Perspective piece in The New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Hospital-Dependent Patient.”

Over the last 30 years, American hospitals have become a showcase of medical progress, saving lives that not long ago would have been lost.

“Rapid response teams,” drilled in precision teamwork and the latest techniques of critical care, have become commonplace. Cardiac and respiratory monitors, once found only in intensive care units, are now standard equipment on most wards and even in many patient rooms. CAT scanners and M.R.I. machines, once rare, have become de rigueur, with some hospitals boasting duplicates and even triplicates.

But up to one-fifth of patients treated with these new medical advances and then deemed well enough to leave the hospital end up being re-admitted within 30 days of their discharge, at considerable cost. Insurers and third-party payers have begun penalizing health care systems for these quick re-admissions; and hospitals, in response, have begun significant efforts to improve the transition from hospital to home, creating clinics that remain open beyond usual working hours and marshaling teams of care coordinators, post-discharge pharmacists and “care transition coaches.”

The problem persists, though, because our spectacular advances in medical science have led to a growing population of patients who are “hospital-dependent,” according to the authors of the Perspectives article.

Hospital-dependent patients are those who, a generation ago, were doomed to die. Now they are being saved. But they are not like the so-called hot spotters, a group of patients more commonly associated with frequent re-admissions who return to the hospital because of inadequate follow-up care, failure to take prescriptions correctly or difficult socioeconomic circumstances. Instead, hospital-dependent patients come back because they are so fragile, their grasp on health so tenuous, that they easily “decompensate,” or deteriorate under stress, when not in the hospital.

Medical advances can snatch them from the clutches of death, but not necessarily free them from dependence on near-constant high-tech monitoring and treatments.

“They are like a house of cards,” said Dr. David B. Reuben, lead author of the article and chief of the division of geriatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When one thing goes wrong, they collapse.”

Not surprisingly, hospital-dependent patients feel more secure and are happier in the hospital than at home. While clinicians and even family members may judge theirs a diminished existence, these patients find their quality of life acceptable, relishing their time with friends and family or engaged in passive hobbies like watching sports or reading the newspaper, albeit in the hospital.

Over time, however, their recurring presence can result in conflicted feelings among those who were responsible for saving them in the first place. Some clinicians even begin to resent their obligation to continue administering resource-intensive care. “Physicians are socialized to cure patients, then move on,” Dr. Reuben observed. “They want to treat patients, not adopt them.”

Dr. Reuben and his co-author offer potential solutions, such as specialized wards or facilities that would be more intensive than skilled nursing homes yet less costly than a hospital. But they are quick to add that more research must also be done. Their concept of “hospital-dependency” is a new one, so no research is available to help identify patients at risk of becoming hospital-dependent, estimate the percentage of early re-admissions they are responsible for or calculate the costs they incur.

Even without studies, it’s clear that the numbers of these patients are increasing. With every triumphant medical advance, there are patients who are cured but who remain too fragile to live beyond the immediate reach of the technology that saved them. Until we begin making different decisions regarding how we allocate our resources, their presence will be a constant reminder of which medical research and health care we consider worthy and which we do not.

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Americans don’t know what’s in Obamacare, do know they don’t like it

By Sarah Kliff, Washington Post

Fifty percent of Americans now say they oppose the Affordable Care Act. This is the highest number that Kaiser Family Foundation’s poll has seen since October 2011, when Republicans were in the midst of a primary cycle and lots of anti-Obamacare rhetoric was in the air. The easiest explanation for the recent upswing in negative sentiment would be that lots of Americans tried, but failed, to buy insurance through HealthCare.gov. They ran into technical barriers that plagued the site in October and November. But Kaiser’s data don’t really bear out that thesis. There’s actually only been a tiny uptick in the number of Americans who say the health-care law has affected their lives over the past three months. A full 59 percent of Americans still report no personal experience with the law. 

Most Americans don’t know that Obamacare has, at this point, pretty much fully taken effect. When surveyed in January, after the insurance expansion began, 18 percent said they thought “all” or “most” provisions of the Affordable Care Act had been put into place.

There’s lots of confusion, too, about what policies are and aren’t part of the health-care law. Most Americans know there’s a mandate to purchase health insurance. A lot fewer are aware that the law provides financial help for low- to middle-income Americans (the tax subsidies) or gives states the option of expanding Medicaid.

For many Americans – particularly the 68 percent who get coverage through their work, Medicare and Medicaid — the launch of the exchanges probably doesn’t affect their coverage situation. They’ll continue getting insurance in 2014 just the same way they did in 2013. For them, an expansion of Medicaid or an end to the denial of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions isn’t a big change (unless, of course, they lose their current coverage).

So what’s driving the negative opinions of Obamacare? The Kaiser survey does point to one potential culprit: negative news coverage. More Americans say they’ve seen stories about people having bad experiences with the Affordable Care Act than good ones.

Politico’s David Nather had a great line on this recently, in a story about the very high bar for success stories about the Affordable Care Act.

“Here’s the challenge the White House faces in telling Obamacare success stories: Try to picture a headline that says, ‘Obamacare does what it’s supposed to do,’ ” Nather writes. “Somehow, the Obama administration and its allies will have to convince news outlets to run those kinds of stories — and to give the happy newly insured the same kind of attention as the outraged complainers whose health plans were canceled because of the law.”

We don’t have a great sense yet of what type of experience Obamacare’s new enrollees are having — whether they’re disproportionately bad or if the bad stories are just more interesting to cover. But the more negative news coverage does seem to have played some role in the recent uptick in negative opinions about the new law.

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The battle of the anecdotes: Gird yourself for Obamacare’s newest fight

By Sarah Kliff

Below is an interesting piece by Sarah Kliff on how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. At this stage, the report card for the program depends largely on who you ask.

Fliers promoting the Get Covered Illinois health insurance marketplace sit in a box at the Bureau County Health Department offices in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. Today’s deadline for Americans to sign up for Obamacare health coverage effective Jan. 1 was extended until midnight tomorrow as heavy traffic to the online enrollment system caused a queuing system to be activated.

If you want to believe Obamacare is going great, you should call up Linda Browne. She’s a 62-year-old retired accountant from California who already has an appointment to see her new primary-care doctor at Kaiser Permanente, the new health insurer she signed up with through Covered California.

“I thought I would have to wait a long time,” Browne says. “But when I called, they said she had an appointment Wednesday for a physical.”
If you’d prefer to believe Obamacare is going terribly, then Michael D. Scott has got a story for you. He’s a 36-year-old Texan who turned up at a pharmacy last week trying to fill a $700 prescription for anti-seizure medication — only to find the technicians had no record of his enrollment.
“I’m stuck,” says Scott, who takes the prescription to treat a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. “I’m going to have to start buying a couple days’ worth on my own if they can’t figure things out. It’s disappointing.”

Both Browne and Scott signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Browne has had the law work pretty well; Scott has spent hours on the phone with customer service representatives (actually, he spent one hour and 37 minutes on his last call — yes, he timed it). And stories like theirs are about to become central to the next Obamacare fight, what I like to think of as the battle of the anecdotes.

The battle of the anecdotes is all-but-guaranteed because access to health care is really difficult to measure, even more so than the number of people who have enrolled or how well HealthCare.gov is functioning. With enrollment, for example, HealthCare.gov can track all the people who pick a private insurance plan, as can the 14-state based insurance exchanges. That’s how we know 2.1 million people have selected private insurance plans (although we don’t know how many have paid their first month’s premium, which is due, for January coverage, by this Friday).

The federal government can gauge how well HealthCare.gov is working by tracking how long it takes pages to load, or how many enrollment files — known as ‘834s’ — contain errors. And the call centers know, too, how long customers have to wait to get a person on the line.

But when it comes to access to health care, there’s no analogous metric. Our health-care system is really fragmented. Since HealthCare.gov shoppers are buying private coverage, and not a government plan, we have no central clearing house to understand whether more shoppers are having an experience like Scott in Texas — or like Browne in California.

Nonprofit institutions do study these types of questions. The Commonwealth Fund, for example, regularly looks at how long patients in different countries have to wait to see a primary-care doctor or a particular surgeon. But these surveys take months to conduct and analyze, meaning that we will probably have to wait until late 2014 or early 2015 to get a sense of what access looks like under the Affordable Care Act.

Enter the anecdote, which can be great to understand how new policy programs are impacting the way that Americans receive health care. But they can also be a really terrible way to gauge whether Obamacare is going great — or is a complete disaster. One or two stories don’t do a great job of capturing the experience of the millions of Americans who have signed up for health plans.

And even the anecdotes themselves can be nuanced, portrayed in different ways to make Obamacare seem great, or horrible. Take Browne: She called for an appointment in her new network the morning of Jan. 2. But she couldn’t get through to a real, live person until that afternoon; she kept getting a message that said “all circuits are busy.”

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Health Law Pricing and the Exchanges

Implementation of several of the largest changes for Health Care Reform will take place in 2014. One major step is the creation of the Health Care Exchanges that will enable consumers to buy insurance directly, with or without employer sponsorship. As insurers and providers prepare their offerings for the exchanges, one goal is to offering lower cost options for consumers. A manifestation of this drive is the emergence of “Narrow Networks”. Providers are offering discounts to be part of a narrower group of providers that insured members can use to remain in network. Providers are expecting that they will get more volume for the lower price. These narrow networks will limit the choices consumers have and may add to additional out of pocket costs if they choose to go outside of the networks. Read on and Hold on, the changes are just beginning.

Health Law Pricing Begins to Take Shape.

Wall Street Journal – By ANNA WILDE MATHEWS and JON KAMP

Hospitals and health insurers are locking horns over how much health-care providers will get paid under new insurance plans that will be sold as the federal health law is rolled out.

The results will play a major role in determining how much insurers will ultimately charge consumers for these policies, which will be offered to individuals through so-called exchanges in each state.

The upshot: Many plans sold on the exchanges will include smaller choices of health-care providers in an effort to bring down premiums.

To keep costs low, the insurers are pressing for hospitals to grant discounts from the rates hospitals usually get in commercial plans. In return, participating hospitals would be part of smaller networks of providers. Hospitals will be paid less by the insurer, but will likely get more patients because those people will have fewer choices. The bet is that many consumers will be willing to accept these narrower networks because it will help keep premiums down.

Tenet Healthcare Corp., one of the biggest U.S. hospital operators with 49 hospitals, Tuesday said it had signed three contracts for exchange plans that would involve either narrow or “tiered” networks, in which people pay more to go to health-care providers that aren’t in the top tier.

Tenet said that in exchange for favorable status in these plans, it granted discounts of less than 10% to the three insurers, which it said were Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans covering 15 of its hospitals, or around 30%.

“It makes strategic sense for us,” said Trevor Fetter, Tenet’s CEO, in an interview. “There will be a market here, and it’s important for us, we believe, to participate in that market.” He said that insurers around the country have approached Tenet to discuss similar plan designs.

Analysts said Tenet’s disclosures, which came during an earnings call with analysts, are the most explicit from any hospital chain so far about how the negotiations are shaping up. “It’s the clearest statement they’ve gotten about exchange products, pricing and impact,” said Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst with CRT Capital Group LLC.

Exchange plans will take effect in 2014. In that first year, health plans sold on the exchanges could have 11 million to 13 million enrollees and generate $50 billion to $60 billion in premium revenue, according to an estimate from PwC’s Health Research Institute, an arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Stonegate Advisors LLC, a research firm that works for health insurers, has been testing clients’ plans with consumers in a mock-up version of an exchange, which is an online insurance marketplace. Marc Pierce, the firm’s president, says nearly all the products have included limited provider networks.

The tests have found that premiums are the most important factor in consumers’ choices, he said, with more than half typically opting for a narrow-network product if it cost them at least 10% less than an equivalent with broader choice.

Florida Blue, the Blue Cross & Blue Shield plan in the state, will offer plans with a “tighter, more select group of providers” in its exchange, said Chief Executive Patrick J. Geraghty in an interview. “We believe the exchange is going to be driven by price, and therefore we’re looking for a lower-price option.”

The insurer has already struck deals for narrow-network plans and will use those same terms for the exchange versions, it said. Florida Blue said it has been winning discounts of 5% to 10% off typical commercial rates from hospital systems, but getting breaks as high as 20% in some cases.

Plans with smaller choices of health-care providers are a big focus for insurers, partly because many other aspects of exchange plans, including benefits and out-of-pocket charges that consumers pay, are largely prescribed by the law, giving them few levers to push to reduce premiums.

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Health Care Reform Rules Give Patients A New Bill Of Rights

Health Care Reform initiatives have yielded a new “Patient Bill of Rights” since November. There will be a great number of changes enacted in 2013 leading up to 2014 when coverage mandates, state insurance exchanges and tax changes take effect for health care. Sound confusing?, It certainly will be. In the meantime, “Know your rights” and check back with us periodically to learn how to navigate health care cost and confusion.

Jeffrey Young – Huff Post Business – 11/20/2012

Health insurance consumers won’t be discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions, can’t be charged more because of gender and will be guaranteed a basic set of benefits under historic new federal regulations published Tuesday.

Think of them as the Patients’ Bill of Rights that eluded former President Bill Clinton more than a decade ago. The regulations carry out the promises of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, which will extend health insurance coverage to 30 million people over a decade and outlaw some of the industry’s most notorious practices.

Health insurance companies, state regulators and consumer advocates have eagerly awaited these rules since Obama enacted the health care overhaul in March 2010.

The details contained within the 331 pages of regulations are crucial for health insurance companies and states preparing for the new options that will be available to uninsured people and small businesses starting in 2014. The health insurance exchanges, online marketplaces where consumers can shop for plans and determine whether they qualify for tax credits to pay for private insurance coverage or Medicaid benefits, are slated to be open for business on Oct. 1, 2013.

“Americans in all 50 states will have access to an exchange and the benefits of the new law,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Beginning in October next year, families and small-business owners everywhere will be able to shop for affordable, quality health coverage.”

The Department of Health and Human Services published three separate regulations Tuesday. Broadly, the rules restate the health insurance market reforms in Obama’s health care law. But health insurance companies and state officials that aren’t actively resisting the implementation of Obamacare need the details to ensure that health insurance exchanges are ready, and health plans available for sale on time.

One lays out the rules requiring health insurance companies to sell coverage to anyone who applies, prohibits charging women more than men, limits how much people must pay additionally based on age, where they live, family size and whether they use tobacco, and guarantees renewal of health coverage every year.

A second set of regulations spells out which benefits all health insurance plans sold on the exchanges must cover — 10 categories of medical care, including emergency services, hospital stays, maternity care, prescription drugs and preventive medicine. In addition, the rule explains how states must designate an insurance product already on the market as a “benchmark plan” to serve as a model for what the new insurance products will cover starting in 2014. This regulation also sets up how health insurance companies must prove their plans will cover at least 60 percent of a consumer’s average annual medical expenses.

The cost of health insurance on the exchanges will be subsidized using tax credits for people with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $44,680 this year. People who make up to 133 percent of poverty, $14,856 in 2012, will qualify for Medicaid in states that opt into an expansion of the health program for the poor.

The Obama administration published a third rule on “wellness” programs that employers include in workers’ health benefits, such as discounts to employees who quit smoking, lose weight or lower their cholesterol. The new regulations are designed, in part, to prevent companies from using the programs to set prices to discriminate against workers who don’t meet the wellness programs’ standards.

Publishing these regulations is just one small step toward 2014, however, and major obstacles remain. As of Monday, just 17 states and the District of Columbia had committed to creating a health insurance exchange themselves as the law sets out, according to a tally by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The federal government will have to step in, and partially or completely establish these exchanges in the rest of the states, including those run by Republican governors like Rick Perry of Texas who have vowed continued opposition to the law.

“Now that the law is here to stay, I’m hopeful that states and other partners will continue to work with us to implement the law,” said Sebelius, who offered to meet with governors who have outstanding questions about states’ role in carrying out the health care reform law. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), an ardent opponent of Obamacare, last week wrote Sebelius requesting a sit-down.

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Hospital Bills Disputed by Patients

As the Health Care Reform Act is implemented over the next two years there will continue to be disputes between Insurers and providers regarding payment. Providers often take large discounts to be in network in return for a greater volume of patients through networks with insurers. It’s a  price for volume trade-off familiar to those who are economics minded. There are often problems in the interpretation and execution of agreements and the associated health care billing practices. Sometimes this results in balance bills being sent to consumers. This article profiles a dispute in New Jersey. Be prepared for other similar disputes across the country.

Meadowlands Hospital bills disputed by patients, Aetna

By  LINDY WASHBURN -The Record, Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center has billed hundreds of patients in the last few weeks for care they thought was covered by their Aetna insurance ­policies. The bills — some for thousands of dollars — demand payment within five days.

Aetna’s advice to the recipients: Don’t pay.

Aetna customers who receive bills from Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center are urged to contact the Department of Banking and Insurance at 800-446-7467, or file a complaint online at state.nj.us/dobi/consumer.htm

The dispute shines a light on the complicated terrain that underlies relationships between hospitals and insurers. When new owners bought the Secaucus medical center in December 2010, the state required that the for-profit company make “a reasonable attempt to continue the ­current commercial insurance contracts” for at least a year.

As a result, Aetna says, its contract with the hospital was in force in 2011 — when the bills were incurred — and so the hospital must accept the lower rate it had negotiated as payment in full.

The hospital, however, has told patients they must pay the difference between that contract rate and its regular, higher charges. The letters to those patients state clearly, “You remain obligated to pay all outstanding invoices.” They ask for payment by credit card, certified check or money order.

Meadowlands President Lynn McVey declined through a spokesman to address the contract question.

“Regrettably,” she said in a prepared statement, “a national health insurer is withholding some payments for its plan members who have previously utilized our services. Until this matter is clarified and resolved through negotiations, our reluctant recourse is to follow standard procedure … and seek payment from individuals who were previously treated by [the hospital] and still have an outstanding balance.”

Eileen O’Donnell of North Arlington was told she owed $4,745 for an emergency-room visit in May 2011 to treat a foot injury. That was more than 20 times Aetna’s member rate of $204. Her total responsibility, according to Aetna’s explanation of benefits, was $68.40.

And Kaarin Varon of East Rutherford received a demand from Meadowlands for $13,004 for the care of her son, who was hospitalized with pneumonia last year. Aetna already had paid $1,596 as its contracted rate for his stay.

“I have to admit, I was not sure how a contract dispute had me involved in all this,” said Varon. “But the [Meadowlands billing] representative basically told me it was now my responsibility.”

The state Department of Banking and Insurance is working with the health department to resolve the issue, according to Marshall McKnight, an insurance department spokesman. “Our goal is to protect consumers as much as possible through this process,” he said. Patients who receive the bills are urged to contact the department, he said.

The dispute comes at a time when questions are being raised about finances at the hospital. An independent draft audit for 2011 showed a 10 percent profit margin — four times the state average. A year after MHA LLC, a private investment group, bought Meadowlands in December 2010, the new owners had reversed the $10.4 million operating loss reported for 2010 and posted a $9 million profit, according to the draft submitted to the state.

The dispute also highlights the vast difference between a hospital’s customary charges and the rates negotiated with insurance companies for hospital care. The negotiated rates are often a fraction — 5 percent or 10 percent — of those customary charges.

Some hospitals opt to stay out of insurance contracts as a strategy to increase revenues.

(more…)

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Sixteen percent of Americans unable to pay medical bills, according to Consumer Reports’ Trouble Tracker Index

Medical Cost Advocate recently appeared in the September issue of Consumer Reports. One of the key points of this article is the assertion that consumers should line up a medical billing advocate or their own alternatives proactively. Don’t wait until its too late to do your research and find a health care negotiator.

Consumer Reports: How to Haggle With Your Doctor or Hospital

YONKERS, NY — When we visit our doctors, we don’t typically think of ourselves as “consumers” or buyers of health care, but in these tough times, that is precisely the role a patient needs to play to avoid drowning in a sea of medical bills. What are the best strategies for haggling with your doctor or hospital? A new report in the October issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org features advice from Consumer Reports’ medical expert and M.D., John Santa.

According to the latest Consumer Reports Index, which gauges the health of the economy from the consumer perspective, 16.3 percent of Americans are unable to afford medical bills.

“Americans are overwhelmed by health costs and many people simply can’t pay their bills, can’t afford their medications,” says John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “The last thing most patients want to do is haggle with their doctors, but a little bit of negotiating can go a long way. It’s also important to know that there are tremendous variations in health care costs—knowing this can help a consumer get a hand up and politely insist on the fairest possible price.”

Here’s Consumer Reports’ advice for three possible scenarios:

You’re healthy.The optimal time for patients to talk with their healthcare providers about costs is before any have been incurred. While doctors have a professional obligation to take a patient’s financial resources into account, patients should raise the issue with their doctors to let them know that costs are important to them. “For a variety of reasons, doctors are likely to suggest the most expensive options first. But you might be surprised by your doctor’s willingness to change course, for example prescribing fewer expensive brand name drugs or choosing watchful waiting over a costly diagnostic test,” says Santa.

The unexpected occurs. A patient lands in the hospital without the benefit of any planning and gets slammed with a huge bill, say $15,000 for a coronary angiogram, and insurance ends up covering only a fraction of the bill. Consumer Reports recommends these approaches to get the greatest reduction to their bill:

  • Sit down with the doctor who ordered or performed the hospital services to find out how the hospital costs ran so high. Were all the services needed and reasonably priced? Consumers can judge for themselves by checking www.healthcarebluebook.com which lists the going rates for many medical services for free. Closely examine each bill to identify errors, which are common.
  • Consumers should not assume the price on their bill is set in stone. Providers often discount rates substantially to insurers and others, so why shouldn’t a consumer ask for the same rate reduction? Consumers should dispute any charges they think their insurance company ought to cover.
  • Patients should not pay their bill until they have exhausted all of their options, but they should make clear to the hospital’s billing department that reaching a resolution is important to them. They might consider making a discounted offer they think would be manageable within a set time period. Consumers can consult one of the reputable groups that, for a fee, can help reduce the size of medical bills, such as Medical Cost Advocate (localhost/wp1).

You’re having an elective surgery. This situation allows for more planning and research into the best procedure, doctor, hospital, drug or other option. “Use your time wisely to do the research because variations in health-care costs can be significant, and providers will gladly let you overpay for a service that you could get for less,” says Santa. Keep in mind the following advice:

  • Consumers should shop around, talk to different providers, and bargain for what they think is a fair price.
  • Consumers shouldn’t hesitate to ask for the price upfront and get it in writing. Request an itemized list of all potential charges.
  • As with any purchase, consumers should beware of any offer that sounds too good to be true. If a provider suggests a shortcut, be wary and ask a lot of questions, and check out providers that are unfamiliar.

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