Archive by Month - April, 2010

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WellPoint Stops Dropping Sick Patients from Health Insurance

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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After pressure from the Obama administration, WellPoint has agreed to quit dropping policyholders from their health insurance plans once they get sick.

Although the law only bans rescission six months from now, recent controversies have resulted in some demanding action earlier. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius congratulated WellPoint on their quick action, and hopes that other companies follow suit in implementing affordable health insurance reform.

The new guidelines will become effective on May 1st.

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Insurers Will Keep Selling Medicare Advantage Coverage

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

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Even if you’re not quite eligible for Medicare Advantage yet, it’s a heartening sight. Private health insurance companies predict that the upcoming cuts in payments to their programs won’t stop them from selling the supplemental plans after the majority of the subsidies end in 2014.

United HealthCare has stated that they will continue to sell their Medicare Advantage health insurance plans, and other major competitors will probably follow suit. About 10 million senior citizens have these policies.

Contrary to prior belief, it looks like healthcare reform won’t kill Medicare Advantage, although the programs may adapt to the new market. The best, most efficient plans will actually receive a 5% bonus in payments.

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How To Avoid Medical Bankruptcy

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

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One of the most common causes of bankruptcy is medical costs. In fact, 62% of bankruptcies are the result of health care expenses. Even those who have health insurance are affected, due to crushing co-payments and co-insurance percentages! That’s why it’s essential to pick the right health insurance plan for your needs, with the correct level of benefits.

Here are some tips on avoiding these pitfalls:

  • Think twice before selecting a health savings account. High-deductible HSA plans are appealing due to lower premiums, but studies have found that people with higher deductibles are more susceptible to bankruptcy.
  • Whatever health coverage you choose, keep a separate savings account with money in the bank to pay for unexpected emergencies or other medical expenses.
  • Check with your health insurer to confirm that they actually paid the providers, even if they are responsible for the billing.
  • Ask for a copy of your bill, and look for mix-ups that could cause you to owe more than you expected.
  • If at all possible, avoid opening credit card accounts to pay for health care, even if the provider offers it to you. Credit card debt is harder to eliminate than medical debt, comes with far higher interest rates, and leaves a black mark on your record.
  • Don’t take out a home equity loan, either. Not only is it also harder to eliminate through bankruptcy, but it could also lead to you losing your home.
  • Try to negotiate a payment plan with the hospital or doctor’s office, even if you have health insurance. They may offer more favorable terms.
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Some Health Insurance Reform Provisions Already Late

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

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Although affordable health insurance reform legislation was only passed last month, some provisions have already been delayed longer than expected.

Why? Since the law was passed through the budget reconciliation process–which allows no actual editing of the bill–the dates listed in the bill still stand. For example, the bill includes a supplemental drug rebate. According to the bill, which was written last fall, the rebate was supposed to begin in January. Obviously that didn’t happen, because the bill didn’t end up becoming law until mid-March.

What happens now? Guidelines for the retroactive deadlines will be released soon. Federal and state governments will have to move fast to implement all of the elements of the law, including the upcoming health insurance plan mandate: the latter will become effective on January 1st, 2014. Each state must either have its own health insurance exchange active or take part in the national exchange by then.

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Humana Reports Increased Profits

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

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Humana, one of America’s major health insurance companies, has reported higher-than-expected profits for the first quarter. Their net income was $258.8 million.

Despite their success, investors fear that affordable health insurance reform will cut into those profits in the future. Much of the income resulted from Medicare Advantage programs, which will see cuts due to the new law. Their individual health insurance plans will be especially affected.

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Health Insurance Law Will Increase Costs

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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Contrary to some initial estimates, a Medicare actuary predicts that health insurance reform will actually end up increasing the cost of health care in the United States!

On the positive side, there are measures to control the cost of Medicare by cutting provider payments and a tax on employer-sponsored high-cost health insurance plans that encourages more affordable options. Unfortunately, those are outweighed by the expansion of coverage and accompanying subsidies. According to Richard S. Foster, spending will increase by 0.9% ($311 billion) by 2019 than it otherwise would have without healthcare reform.

Some may believe that the relatively small increase is worth it in order to insure up to 30 more Americans, especially for progressives who consider affordable health insurance a human right. However, the findings go against the Obama administration’s promises that costs would eventually decrease.

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Even Married Adult Children Can Use Parent’s Health Insurance!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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One of the immediate benefits of healthcare reform is that adult children can extend their coverage on a parent’s health insurance plan as a dependent for a longer period of time–until age 26.

In most cases, that is no longer necessary once they get married; the otherwise uninsured young adult would get on their spouse’s coverage. However, the recession has put a wrinkle in that plan: their new husband or wife may be in similar circumstances. Whether he or she is unemployed, underemployed, or working for a company that does not offer health benefits, they may be unable to afford family health insurance at the moment. They may even have a pre-existing condition that prevents them from finding coverage altogether.

You can thank the package of reconciliation fixes for including this exception; the initial Senate bill that passed didn’t. In addition, you can’t stay on a parent’s plan if your employer begins offering health insurance coverage.

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Sebelius: WellPoint Must Stop Dropping Breast Cancer Patients

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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An update on an earlier story: the U.S. government has stepped into the controversy surrounding WellPoint, one of the nation’s top health insurance companies.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has demanded that the health insurer quit its practice of dropping policyholders shortly after they are diagnosed with breast cancer. An AP investigation found that their software had algorithms that automatically flagged related diagnostic codes, unfairly targeting them for fraud investigations. Patients were then dropped with very little justification.

Affordable health insurance reform plans to phase out this practice, known as rescission. Sebelius considers WellPoint’s actions deplorable. In their defense, the insurer claims that they do not single out breast cancer; rather, they are searching for a variety of pre-existing conditions a person may have known of and lied about when purchasing coverage.

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Tips: Beware of Health Insurance Reform Scams

Monday, April 26th, 2010

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Many people are using the healthcare reform law to sell products and services. Unfortunately, some are using scare tactics to scam consumers out of their hard-earned money.

Here are some tips to avoid being ripped off:

  • If anyone calls you and claims that they are a government employee collecting payment for an Obamacare health insurance plan, don’t give them any information. The federal government will not be collecting premiums directly.
  • There is no such thing as coverage against “death panels”. However, telemarketers are attempting to sell that non-existent coverage.
  • Make sure that you are speaking with a licensed health insurance agent before giving out any bank account information, either over the phone or in person.
  • If rates seem too good to be true, they probably are. $30 a month plans are extremely rare.
  • Do not buy coverage from an anonymous fax. Most of them list no company information.

States are increasingly investigating health insurance fraud. Be careful out there!

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Meet Stephanie Cutter: Healthcare Reform PR Flack

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Image: Harvard University Institute of Politics

The Obama administration has just hired a new employee to help sell affordable health insurance reform to the public: Stephanie Cutter is now the Assistant to the President for Special Projects. In other words, she’ll be in the media on a regular basis sparring with political pundits and news anchors.

Who is Cutter? She was a senior adviser to First Lady Michelle Obama, and has significant experience in political communications. Cutter also worked for the Clinton administration, the Democratic National Committee, late Senator Ted Kennedy, and Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

She is replacing Office of Health Reform Communications Director Linda Douglass, who was responsible for effectively promoting the benefits of the health insurance legislation. Let’s see if Cutter’s public relations efforts are any more successful for skeptics.

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