Category Archive - News

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Mini-Med Health Care Policies Under Senate Investigation

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Mini-medical plans are controversial. On the one hand, they provide some coverage for emergency care, and in many cases are better than nothing. On the other hand, they often come with extremely low annual benefit payout limits that make them nearly useless if a person needs major medical treatment.

Mini-meds are typically offered by low-wage companies, and administered by major health insurance plan providers like Cigna and Aetna. A Senate committee is currently investigating the issue; the probe has been expanded from McDonald’s to other employers. The issue is that although policyholders are usually saddled with high medical bills, the plans are sometimes promoted as full-fledged comprehensive health care.

Although the healthcare reform law bans annual and lifetime limits, dozens of mini-med providers have been granted exceptions from that provision. Mini-meds are also subject to a lower medical loss ratio, which determines the percentage of premiums that must be spent on medical care.

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Congress’ Health Insurance Coverage Takes Time to Kick In

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Image: SourceWatch

Elected officials tend to enjoy generous health insurance benefits, fully paid for by the government. Members of Congress are no different. However, in one way they aren’t different from you and me: their employer-sponsored health coverage doesn’t kick in immediately.

Newly hired (or elected) representatives and senators must wait 28 days before they can take advantage of the federal health insurance plan. Rep.-elect Andy Harris of Maryland is currently protesting this waiting period, and expressed his problem during freshman orientation earlier this week. It may raise the eyebrows of some that Harris is a Republican who largely ran (and won) on his opposition to healthcare reform and the Obama administration’s increased involvement. He has vowed that he will seek to repeal the law as a member of the House of Representatives.

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Will AT&T’s New Business Make Health Insurance Plans Cheaper?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Last week, AT&T announced that it will be launching a new unit called ForHealth. The target market is doctors, health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical firms.

It aims to provide cloud-based networking solutions, which are set to lower medical costs while improving communication–and therefore patients’ health. Many believe that moving to digital record keeping will lower the cost of health insurance plans, with the savings hopefully being passed onto consumers.

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Oklahoma Passes Ban On Health Insurance Plan Mandate

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Image: KB35 under CC 3.0

The big story involving last week’s elections is the resurgence of Republicans; they took over the House, and made up lost ground in the Senate. That will surely impact several policy priorities, including healthcare reform repeal.

Voters in Oklahoma also spoke out by passing an amendment to their state constitution that prohibits the federal government from forcing residents to purchase a health insurance plan, in response to the unpopular mandate provision.

Two thirds of voters in the state sent a message that the Obama administration should not become involved in Oklahoma health insurance matters. However, the amendment will probably have little actual impact on the federal government’s actions.

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Stay Vigilant With Your Health Insurance Benefits

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Image: Mike Sansone under CC 3.0

If you have generous health insurance benefits provided by your employer, you may not think about it that often. For the most part, you choose the most affordable health insurance option that fits your needs during the open enrollment period and then run on autopilot.

Unfortunately, it seems that sticking your head in the sand isn’t good enough. Teachers in several school districts in New Jersey were recently uninsured for several months. A clerical error meant that although premiums were taken out of their paychecks, premiums were not paid to the insurers for four months.

Teachers in Newark still haven’t had their coverage restored. However, Paterson teachers are luckier–all covered expenses that occurred during that period will be paid for, and their coverage was reinstated.

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Health Insurance Company CEO Retiring

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Image: Listphile

Health insurance companies are going through many changes at the moment. For Aetna, this is just one more: their CEO, Ronald A. Williams, is stepping down from that role next month. (He will retire from the company entirely early next year.) Williams was the chief executive officer since 2006, and was in charge of the lucrative segment of health insurance plans during a period of soaring costs.

Who will replace him? Aetna President Mark T. Bertolini is being promoted to fill the gap. Bertolini will also have a seat on the board of directors. However, Williams will still be involved as a consultant on healthcare reform issues until February 2012. He will receive $20,000 a month for those services, in addition to a retirement package valued at over $7 million. (Presumably, his health insurance is fully covered.)

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Do Health Insurance Stocks’ Profits Hurt Patients?

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Image: kevinzhengli under CC 3.0

According to financial analyst Sarah James, the health insurance industry is a great investment. Profits are estimated to be higher in the third quarter of 2010, so firms like Aetna, Coventry, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, and Humana have had their price targets increased.

Unfortunately, what is positive for stockholders may not be as good for health insurance plan customers. One of the reasons for lower costs is a milder flu season than expected, which is obviously good for everyone. Increased enrollment is another explanation, which is generally neutral. Another, more worrying, factor is price increases.

Lower usage rates of costly inpatient hospital services could go either way: if the decline is because patients are truly becoming healthier and don’t need them, that’s great. However, if it is a result of insurers forcing patients into outpatient care before they are ready to cut their costs, it is not a good sign for consumers.

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Self-Employed Health Insurance Plans To See Tax Breaks

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Image: shimelle under CC 3.0

Unlike employees with corporate-sponsored health insurance, the self-employed have had to take charge of their own health care. In most cases, they must pay for their health insurance plans out of pocket.

This year, a provision in the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act will allow self-employed S-corp, single member LLC, or sole proprietorship business owners to deduct the cost of health insurance premiums from their tax returns. Like other corporations, they can deduct health care as a business expense for their 2010 tax returns.

This is especially helpful since sole proprietors have to pay both the employer and employee portions of payroll taxes.

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Is Your Health Insurance Plan Being Dropped?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Image: TheAlias under CC 3.0

If you’re insured through Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield or MVP Health Care, you may be caught in the middle of their shrinking their product lines. Like any business, they want to eliminate unpopular products–but is this an end run around a new New York health insurance law that forbids insurers from dropping entire products as a sneaky way of canceling the coverage of people with serious pre-existing conditions and high medical claims?

The insurers defend their actions as normal business practice, adding that a relatively small percentage of customers use the plans slated to be eliminated. Just 605 policyholders will be affected, most of them either group health insurance plans based on a company’s claim history or community-rated individual health insurance priced with a large pool. Those whose health insurance plan will be discontinued will be offered an alternative, though it remains to be seen if the terms are as appealing.

Excellus plans slated to be canceled will expire on January 1st, while MVP plans (which have rolling enrollment schedules) will be discontinued on October 1st or November 1st, depending on the product. The state’s Ian’s Law will take effect early next year.

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Census: Percentage of Americans With Health Insurance Plan Dropped

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Image: Michigan Municipal League (MML) under CC 3.0

Since the Census Bureau began tracking the percentage of Americans who are insured in 1987, last year showed the lowest rate on record. 253.6 million reported having a health insurance plan in 2009, which doesn’t seem so bad until you find out that 255.1 million were insured last year.

The recession is largely to blame, because it caused hundreds of thousands of employees to lose jobs with health benefits. Supporters of healthcare reform will likely use this statistic as an argument for the necessity of the Obama administration’s legislation.

At the same time, Medicaid enrollment rose, along with the poverty rate.

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