Tagged Insurance

Viewpoints: Murkowski Explains Her Opposition To Individual Mandate; Cost-Sharing Burdens

Viewpoints: Murkowski Explains Her Opposition To Individual Mandate; Cost-Sharing Burdens

Podcast: ‘What The Health?’ Meanwhile, In Other Health News…

Most followers of health policy have been consumed lately by the potential repeal or alteration of the Affordable Care Act, as well as the ongoing open enrollment for individual insurance for 2018.

But that’s far from the only health news out there. In this episode of “What the Health?” Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo, and Sarah Jane Tribble of Kaiser Health News discuss some of the important but under-covered stories you might have missed this fall, including prescription drug price fights and women’s reproductive health.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • Lobbyists are coming out of the woodwork – spending more than $42 million over the last quarter — on a battle over whether Medicare should reduce what it pays for drugs at hospitals that primarily serve low-income patients.
  • Massachusetts has passed its own guarantee of no-cost contraceptives for women, after the Trump administration rolled back the federal health law provision.
  • The health law’s individual mandate is front and center in the tax debate, but it’s not clear how the Senate will come down on it. Some GOP moderates are suggesting that they might support the repeal if another bill to help stabilize the individual insurance market is approved. Yet at the same time, the White House is signaling that it might be fine dropping the mandate.
  • Of course, if Congress opts not to tackle the mandate, the White House could take some actions later to neutralize the provision. That could add another log on the fire as critics seek help through the courts to stop administration actions.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week they think you should read, too.

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post and Kaiser Health News’ “Ambulance trips can leave you with surprising – and very expensive – bills,” by Melissa Bailey.

Joanne Kenen: The New York Times’ “Skin Cancers Rise, Along With Questionable Treatments,” by  Katie Hafner and Griffin Palmer.

Alice Ollstein: The Washington Post’s “What the parasites in a defector’s stomach tell us about North Korea,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Sarah Jane Tribble: The Washington Post’s “How we got the story about monkeypox,” by Lena H. Sun.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

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Health Care Costs Health Industry Insurance Multimedia Pharmaceuticals The Health Law

Viewpoints: Rising Medicare Premiums Pinching Budgets; GOP Needs Alternative To Individual Mandate

VA Secretary Signals New Support For Privatized Care For Veterans

Mass. To Require Insurers Cover Contraception No Matter What Happens To Health Law

When Wait Times Become A Death Sentence: A Look Inside Backlog For Disability Benefits

Puertorriqueños desplazados enfrentan obstáculos para tener seguro médico

El gobierno federal otorgó a las personas afectadas por los devastadores huracanes que impactaron en los estados costeros y en Puerto Rico este verano 15 días adicionales para inscribirse y obtener cobertura médica bajo la Ley de Cuidado de Salud Asequible (ACA).

Sin embargo, los puertorriqueños que se han instalado en los Estados Unidos continental después que sus casas o negocios fueran destruidos enfrentan problemas más complejos que esa fecha límite.

Muchos de estos estadounidenses tienen preguntas complicadas sobre si su cobertura del Medicaid o Medicare de Puerto Rico puede modificarse (o incluso no funcionar) en sus nuevos hogares. Y para aquellos que buscan seguro privado, usar los mercados de ACA probablemente sea una experiencia nueva, ya que la ley federal de salud no se estableció en la isla.

Los miembros del Congreso de Florida dijeron el miércoles 15 de noviembre que les preocupa que muchos de estos recién llegados, así como las aseguradoras y los navegadores que ayudan a los consumidores con la inscripción, estén confundidos. El grupo envió una carta a Seema Verma, directora de los Centros de Servicios de Medicare y Medicaid (CMS), exigiendo que los funcionarios federales envíen una hoja informativa para “proporcionar la claridad necesaria y aliviar la confusión” entre los puertorriqueños que se han trasladado a los Estados Unidos.

Para la mayoría de las personas, el período abierto de inscripción para obtener cobertura a través de los mercados de la ley de salud termina el 15 de diciembre. Ante las dificultades causadas por las tormentas de agosto y septiembre, los residentes de las zonas más afectadas de Texas, Florida y Georgia tienen un período de gracia de 15 días extra para inscribirse, hasta el 31 de diciembre. Pero retrasar la inscripción significa que el inicio de su cobertura tendría que esperar hasta el 1 de febrero.

Muchos puertorriqueños expulsados ​​de sus hogares, sin embargo, están enfrentando un proceso más complicado. Además de aquellos que están aprendiendo cómo usar los mercados de seguros privados, algunos están aplicando para obtener una nueva cobertura del Medicare. En Puerto Rico, casi tres cuartas partes de los beneficiarios del Medicare tienen planes privados Advantage. Muchos tienen preguntas sobre si seguirán cubiertos por esos planes en el continente.

Además, el programa del Medicaid para residentes de bajos ingresos en Puerto Rico cubre casi a la mitad de los residentes de la isla, una tasa más alta que cualquier otro estado, por lo que las personas que se mudan a Estados Unidos continental pueden no calificar. Esto es especialmente cierto si su nuevo estado no expandió el Medicaid bajo ACA para todos los adultos que ganan hasta el 138 por ciento del nivel de pobreza federal (alrededor de $16,000 para un individuo). Tal es el caso de Florida.

Como mínimo, los nuevos residentes que deseen cobertura del Medicaid deberán volver a presentar una solicitud. Generalmente, la forma más efectiva de hacerlo es a través de los mercados de ACA. Ese proceso les mostrará si son elegibles para el Medicaid o tal vez para un subsidio federal con el cual podrían comprar un plan privado.

Según un memo de los CMS publicado en septiembre, los desplazados por los huracanes pueden llamar a la línea de ayuda de cuidadodesalud.gov (1-800-318-2596) y presentar una solicitud. La nota, que no proporciona detalles sobre qué documentación se necesita, también dice: “las personas pueden experimentar eventos que califican debido a un huracán que los hace elegibles para un período de inscripción especial (SEP)” para acceder a otro plan de salud. Por ejemplo, las personas que se mudaron temporalmente a Florida debido a un huracán y ahora están fuera del área de cobertura de su plan de salud podrían ser elegibles para un período especial de inscripción debido a la mudanza.

Después de las tormentas en agosto y septiembre, la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA) designó a todos los condados en Florida y Georgia, y 53 en Texas, para recibir “asistencia individual” o “asistencia pública”. En Puerto Rico, esta categoría fue otorgada a 31 de los 78 municipios de la isla.

Aun así, Anne Packham, directora del proyecto de mercado de seguros en Covering Central Florida, una organización con sede en Orlando, dijo que la atención debe enfocarse en alentar a los consumidores a registrarse antes del 15 de diciembre, el último día en que la gente puede inscribirse para la cobertura que comienza el 1 de enero.

“Todo es ya muy confuso, y creemos que decirles a los consumidores que pueden registrarse hasta el 31 de diciembre durante un período especial es agregar confusión”, dijo. “Estas personas necesitan un seguro en este momento, el 1 de enero, no en febrero”.

Después del huracán, más de 140,000 puertorriqueños llegaron a la zona central de Florida, según la oficina del gobernador Rick Scott, para quedarse durante meses, o para establecerse y comenzar una nueva vida. Buscar seguro y atención médica ha sido arduo.

Marni Stahlman, presidenta y CEO de Shepherd’s Hope Inc., una organización con sede en Orlando que ayuda a las personas a encontrar cobertura y servicios, recordó a una pareja de puertorriqueños que la pasó mal.

“El hombre tenía Medicare, y ella, quien es maestra retirada, tiene seguro de salud a través de su sindicato. Ambos se encontraron con obstáculos”, contó Stahlman. “El plan de Medicare del esposo no era aplicable en el continente y tampoco el plan privado de la esposa. Ambos han tenido que comenzar de nuevo. Él volvió a solicitar el Medicare y ella tuvo que presentar una solicitud por primera vez en un mercado de seguros. En este momento todavía están sin cobertura, algo que nunca tuvieron que enfrentar”.

Maria Gotay y sus hijos, Edwin Rodriguez (izq.) y Cristian Rodriguez. Los tres llegaron a Orlando, Fla., dos semanas después de la tormenta y tuvieron que realizar el proceso para tener cobertura de salud. (Foto: cortesía María Gotay)

Para muchas familias, la falta de documentos y suministros complica la situación. Los huracanes no solo devastaron vidas, hogares y se llevaron la electricidad, también arrasaron con medicinas, recetas, tarjetas de seguro médico y copias de declaraciones de impuestos.

“La ayuda para todos, pero para los puertorriqueños en particular, tiene que ser integral porque estas personas solo llegan con sus pasaportes”, dijo Jean Zambrano, vicepresidenta de operaciones médicas de Shepherd’s Hope.

Entre los recién llegados a Florida, hay al menos 18,000 niños y adolescentes que necesitan atención médica inmediata, debido a que se les exige exámenes de vista y audición, y presentar sus vacunas, para asistir a la escuela. Stahlman y Zambrano dijeron que no hay un esfuerzo coordinado a nivel estatal para allanarles el camino.

La articulación de estos procesos entre los territorios y Estados Unidos continental no es un mecanismo aceitado, y la atención médica puede pasarse por alto, lo que significa que el último recurso para muchos que necesitan un doctor es la sala de emergencias.

Aquellos que llegan con sus documentos importantes tienen el éxito un poco más asegurado. María Gotay, de 51 años, llegó a Orlando desde Bayamón, Puerto Rico, con sus dos hijos, Cristian, de 17, y Edwin, de 22, 10 días después que el huracán María devastara la isla.

“Guardamos nuestros documentos en un lugar seguro”, dijo, por lo que los tuvo listos cuando solicitó cobertura de salud para sus hijos.

La navegadora Doris Allen, de Covering Central Florida, la ayudó a inscribir a su hijo menor en el Programa de Seguro de Salud Infantil (CHIP) y al mayor en un plan privado por $33 al mes después de un subsidio. Maria Gotay ya estaba cubierta por el Medicare: tiene un status de discapacidad ya que sufre de fibromialgia.

“Fuimos muy afortunados de conocer a personas que nos apoyaron”, dijo Gotay. Recordó haber llegado al centro de salud y haber caído en los brazos de Allen llorando desconsoladamente. “Nunca quise salir de Puerto Rico, nunca imaginé estar al borde de la muerte”.

“Durante el huracán, todos estábamos juntos, nuestra casa se dañó e inundó, pero resistió el ataque de María”, dijo Gotay.

La mujer trajo a sus hijos a Orlando porque sus dos hijas ya viven allí. Su esposo se quedó en la isla cuidando a su padre, que muestra signos de Alzheimer.

Gotay dijo que vive con estrés y miedo desde el huracán, y que ha estado viendo a un psiquiatra en Orlando que la está ayudando a superarlo. A pesar de todo, regresará a Puerto Rico este mes, mientras que sus hijos se quedarán en Florida y comenzarán una nueva vida.

Esta historia fue producida por Kaiser Health News, un programa editorialmente independiente de la Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Canceled Appointments And Lengthy Wait Times Still Occurring At VA Medical Centers

Podcast: ‘What The Health?’ Tax Bill Or Health Bill?

Republican efforts to alter the health law, left for dead in September, came roaring back to life this week as the Senate Finance Committee added a repeal of the “individual mandate” fines for not maintaining health insurance to their tax bill.

In this episode of “What the Health?” Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Sarah Kliff of Vox.com, Joanne Kenen of Politico and Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo discuss the other health implications of the tax bill, as well as the current state of the Affordable Care Act.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The tax bill debate proves that Republicans’ zeal to repeal the Affordable Care Act is never dead. The new congressional efforts to kill the penalties for the health law’s individual mandate could seriously wound the ACA since the mandate helps drive healthy people to buy insurance.
  • One of the most overlooked consequences of the tax debate is that it could trigger a substantial cut in federal spending on Medicare.
  • A $25,000 MRI? That’s what one family paid to go out of their plan’s network to get the hospital they wanted for the procedure for their 3-year-old. Such choices are again drawing complaints about narrow networks of doctors and hospitals available in some health plans.
  • Although they don’t likely say it in front of cameras, many Democrats are relieved at President Donald Trump’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former HHS official Alex Azar.
  • Federal officials have given 10 states and four territories extra money to keep their Children’s Health Insurance Programs running but it’s not clear what couch they found the money hidden in.
  • And in remembrance of Uwe Reinhardt, a reminder that he always stressed that a health care debate was about more than money – it was about real people.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week they think you should read, too.

Julie Rovner: Statnews.com’s “This Tennessee insurer doesn’t play by Obamacare’s rules – and the GOP sees it as the future,” by Erin Mershon.

Also: Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s “What’s Going on in Tennessee? One Possible Reason for Its Affordable Care Act Challenges,” by Kevin Lucia and Sabrina Corlette.

Sarah Kliff: Bloomberg Businessweek’s “How to Make a Fortune on Obamacare,” by Bryan Gruley, Zachary Tracer, and Hannah Recht.

Joanne Kenen: Politico Magazine’s “How Bourbon and Big Data Are Cleaning Up Louisville,” by Arthur Allen.

Alice Ollstein: Talking Points Memo’s “Trump’s Abrupt Policy Shift Fuels Misleading Obamacare Renewal Info,” by Alice Ollstein.

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

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Health Care Costs Insurance Medicare Multimedia The Health Law

State Highlights: Calif. Officials Continue To Search For Source Of Legionnaires’ Cases; Texas Lawmakers Fund Anti-Abortion Program

State Highlights: Calif. Officials Continue To Search For Source Of Legionnaires’ Cases; Texas Lawmakers Fund Anti-Abortion Program

Despite ACA Cost Protections, Most Adolescents Skip Regular Checkups

As children move through adolescence, some face health hurdles like obesity, sexually transmitted infections, depression and drug abuse. Regular checkups could help families address such problems, and the Affordable Care Act paved the way by requiring insurers to fully cover well-child visits, at no charge to patients.

But, both before and after the ACA was established, fewer than half of kids ages 10 to 17 were getting routine annual physical exams, according to a recent study.

“Most adolescents are pretty healthy, but a lot of them are headed for trouble with obesity” and mental illness and substance use, said Sally Adams, a research specialist on adolescents and young adults at the University of California-San Francisco, the study’s lead author. “These are things that can be caught early and treated, or at least managed.”

For the study, published online this month in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which tracks health insurance coverage and health care use and spending. Researchers used data from 25,695 people who were caregivers of adolescents ages 10-17. About half were surveyed from 2007 to 2009 and the rest from 2012 to 2014.

Before the health law passed in 2010, caregivers reported that 41 percent of children had a well-child visit in the previous year. After the ACA’s preventive services protections became effective, typically in 2011, the rate climbed to 48 percent, a “moderate” increase, Adams said. The increase was greatest for minority and low-income groups.

Still, more than half of children in the survey didn’t go to the doctor for routine care over the course of a year, even though many families gained insurance and wouldn’t have owed anything for the visits.

That’s cause for concern, Adams said. A primary care provider can screen youngsters for risky behaviors and treat them if necessary. A checkup is also an opportunity to educate patients on health.

“The behaviors they pick up as adolescents have a strong influence on their adult health across their life course,” she said. For example, she noted, “if you can keep them from starting to smoke, then they probably won’t smoke.”

Young children typically have regular pediatrician visits for recommended vaccines, hearing and vision tests as well as school checkups. But those needs may change as children get older, and state requirements that kids get physicals before entering school vary. Some may require a checkup every year, others only at intervals.

“Healthcare professionals have told us that rates of well-child visits tend to be lower after the early childhood years,” Adams said.

The ACA required that most health plans cover preventive services recommended by four medical and scientific expert groups without charging consumers anything out-of-pocket. For children, many of these services are spelled out in the Bright Futures project guidelines, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and supported by the federal government, and by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of medical experts that evaluates the evidence for clinical care.

About a fifth of adolescents ages 12 to 19 are obese, and between 13 and 20 percent of children have a mental disorder in any given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some research has shown that parents may believe that adolescents do not need to go to the doctor unless they’re sick and that they can’t afford to pay for checkups, Adams said.

“What we would like is for families to understand that this is a right families have and that these are valuable services that can help their children,” she said.

Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

KHN’s coverage of children’s health care issues is supported in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

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About A Third Of Americans Unaware Of Obamacare Open Enrollment

While the Affordable Care Act’s fifth open enrollment season is off to a surprisingly good start, many uninsured people said they weren’t even aware of it, according to a survey released Friday.

Nearly a third of people overall — including a third of people without health insurance — said they had not heard anything about the sign-up period for individuals who buy health plans on their own, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Open enrollment started Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15 in most states. Advocates fear enrollment will decline this year because President Donald Trump has been repeatedly saying the health law is “dead,” and his administration severely cut funding for publicity and in-person assistance.

Nonetheless, nearly 1.5 million people have enrolled on the federal health insurance exchange healthcare.gov, which handles coverage in 39 states, federal officials reported Wednesday.

One factor that could be pushing more people to sign up earlier this year is the open enrollment season was cut in half from three months to 45 days for the states relying on the federal exchange. Some state exchanges allow enrollment into January.

Several state health insurance exchanges have also said early sign ups are running higher than last year. The Colorado insurance exchange on Thursday said it has enrolled more than 22,000 people in the first two weeks — a 33 percent jump from last year’s first weeks.

In the previous open-enrollment season, 12.2 million people nationwide selected individual market plans through the marketplaces. The number dropped off during the year because not everyone paid and some found coverage elsewhere.

Forty-five percent of all respondents to the KFF survey and 52 percent who said they were uninsured said they have heard less about open enrollment this year compared to previous years.

Insurers are trying to pick up some of the challenges of publicizing enrollment, and some of those ads are getting noticed.

The percentage of survey respondents who said they saw ads attempting to sell health insurance increased from 34 percent to 41 percent between the October and November KFF tracking polls. The share who say they saw ads that provided information about how to get health insurance under the ACA increased from 20 percent to 32 percent.

The poll found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans were aware the Affordable Care Act was still in effect.

The survey of 1,201 adults, which was conducted Nov. 8-13, has a margin of error +/-3 percent.

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Policy Perspectives: The Individual Mandate Fight Goes On – This Time, In A Tax Bill

State Highlights: In Calif., Anthem Blue Cross Faces Hefty Fine For Failing To Resolve Consumer Grievances; Texas Nursing Home Chain Files For Bankruptcy

For Millions of Insured Americans, State Health Laws Don’t Apply

Let’s say you have health insurance through your employer and live in one of 21 states with laws protecting consumers against surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.

Should one of those unwanted bills land in your mailbox, you can turn to your state law and regulators for help, right?

Not necessarily.

If you’re among the millions of Americans with a category of job-based health coverage known as self-funded insurance, most state health care laws do not apply to you.

Plus, if you have an issue with your coverage, you must go through a different appeals process than other state residents with private insurance. You must seek help from a federal regulator that may — or may not — be responsive.

“We have unequal consumer protections for a big chunk of our population,” says Tam Ma, legal and policy director for the advocacy group Health Access California.
For Millions of Insured Americans, State Health Laws Don’t Apply
Nationally, 61 percent of covered workers were in self-funded plans last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

In California, about 5.7 million people were enrolled in such plans. Last year, the Golden State’s two health insurance regulators received more than 1,000 requests for help from consumers in self-funded plans. The departments have no authority over those plans and had to refer many of the enrollees to the U.S. Department of Labor, which regulates them.

Businesses that opt for self-funded plans — also called self-insured plans — generally pay the medical bills of their employees directly.

Under a fully insured plan, on the other hand, the employer — or an individual or family — buys coverage from a state-regulated insurance company, which assumes the financial risk. In California, fully insured plans are overseen by the state Department of Managed Health Care or the state Department of Insurance.

Large companies are more likely to self-insure. Among companies with 5,000 or more employees, 94 percent of covered workers were in self-funded plans last year, KFF data show.

More businesses — including smaller ones — are self-insuring because they can save money, says Dean Hoffman, an employee benefits consultant based in Wisconsin who specializes in self-insured plans.

One way they save is by avoiding the cost of complying with state-mandated benefits. For example, Hoffman says, for every premium dollar spent on fully insured plans in Wisconsin, about 11 cents goes toward state-mandated requirements.

“Every time you add a benefit, there’s a price associated with that,” he says.

It might not be obvious that you’re covered by a self-funded plan. Most businesses contract with health insurance companies to administer them, pay claims and provide access to their provider networks. That means your insurance card will likely have a Cigna, Blue Shield or other familiar logo on it even if your plan is self-funded.

If you’re not sure whether your plan is self-insured, ask your human resources department.

“To the consumer, it feels no different,” says Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at KFF. “If you work for a big company, it’s a pretty good bet you’re in a self-funded plan.”

If you are, you may feel the difference in coverage, consumer protection and grievance procedures, however. “The only consumer protections available to those folks are just what federal law provides,” Ma says.

Consider state laws relating to surprise medical bills. Among the states that have adopted various protections against such bills, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Florida, Maryland and California have the strongest and most comprehensive measures.

But even if you live in one of these states, “you still might get hit by large medical bills” if you’re in a self-funded plan, Pollitz says.

Some self-insured businesses, however, voluntarily provide many of the same protections as state law, says Lauren Vela, a senior director at the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents about 75 companies that self-insure nationwide.

In the case of surprise bills — from out-of-network doctors such as anesthesiologists, for instance — “a lot of employers, not all of them, would have it written into their plan that it would not be considered out-of-network,” Vela says. “No employer wants to have employees get these kinds of surprise bills.”

To handle complaints about coverage, most states have laws allowing consumers in private health plans to appeal to an independent, external reviewer chosen by the state if your plan denies a claim and you disagree, Ma says.

In self-insured plans, you are entitled to external review — but your employer chooses, hires and pays the reviewer, Pollitz says. “It’s not independent in the way that state programs are.”

Plus, your regulator, the U.S. Department of Labor, may be slow to get involved in the grievance process, Ma says.

The department “doesn’t really have the resources or the ability to protect consumers in a timely way,” she says. “It may take them a very long time to get to your case, if they do at all, compared to state-regulated plans.”

So, if you’re in a self-funded plan and disagree with a coverage decision, look at your explanation of benefits, which will describe how to appeal. You can also ask your human resources department for guidance, or your union, if one represents you.

Most experts agree that your first step will likely be to contact the customer service line on your insurance card and request a review.

If your concern isn’t resolved that way, reach out to the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) through the Department of Labor at 866-444-3272 or www.askebsa.dol.gov.

EBSA “has experts who can help on this,” says Michael Trupo, a spokesman for the department, though he did not answer follow-up questions for more details.

If you don’t get your questions answered, many states have Consumer Assistance Programs that help you navigate insurance problems, including those with self-funded plans. The Department of Managed Care administers California’s program, which can be reached at 888-804-3536.

“They’ll help you file your appeal and make inquiries on your behalf,” Pollitz says. “They can be your advocate.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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California Fines Anthem $5 Million For Failing to Address Consumer Grievances

California’s managed-care regulator has fined insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross $5 million for repeatedly failing to resolve consumer grievances in a timely manner.

The state Department of Managed Health Care criticized Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, for systemic violations and a long history of flouting the law in regard to consumer complaints.

“Anthem Blue Cross’ failures to comply with the law surrounding grievance and appeals rights are long-standing, ongoing and unacceptable,” said Shelley Rouillard, director of the Department of Managed Health Care. “Anthem knows this is a huge problem, but they haven’t addressed it.”

Before this latest action, California had already fined Anthem more than $6 million collectively for grievance-system violations since 2002.

The state said it identified 245 grievance-system violations during this latest investigation of consumer complaints at Anthem from 2013 to 2016.

Rouillard cited one example in which Anthem denied a submitted claim for an extensive surgical procedure, even though it had issued prior approval for the operation. Twenty-two calls contesting the denial — placed by the patient, the patient’s spouse, the couple’s insurance broker and the medical provider — failed to resolve the complaint. It was not until the patient sought help from the managed-care agency, more than six months after the treatment, that Anthem paid the claim.

Anthem Inc. could not be immediately reached for comment. The company, based in Indianapolis, sells Blue Cross policies in California and 13 other states.

California is known for having tough consumer protection laws on health coverage and for assisting policyholders when they exhaust their appeals with insurers. In other actions, the state has fined insurers for overstating the extent of their doctor networks and for denying patients timely access to mental health treatment.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group in Santa Monica, Calif., said the regulatory response to these problems varies greatly by state.  He singled out New York, Washington and Kansas as some of the states with good track records of holding health insurers accountable.

“The real problem is when states don’t act there is not a great avenue for the consumer. It’s very hard to bring legal action,” Court said. “Anthem definitely needed a wake-up call. But this will also send a message to other insurers.”

Nationally, consumers continue to express their displeasure with health insurers over a wide range of issues, including denials for treatment, billing disputes and the lack of in-network doctors.

Verified complaints related to health insurance and accident coverage rose 12 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, totaling 53,680, according to data compiled by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The data only includes incidents in which state regulators confirmed there was a violation or error by the insurer involved.

Court and other advocates welcomed the significant fine in California and said this is just the latest example of Anthem’s failure to uphold basic consumer protections.

Overall, state officials said that calls to Anthem’s customer service department often led to repeated transfers of calls and that the company failed to follow up with enrollees.

After previous fines, Anthem has pledged to provide more training to employees and to better track grievances and appeals in order to reduce delays.

“If you look at the history of Anthem and the penalties assessed over the years, they are definitely an outlier compared to other health plans,” Rouillard said.

“All the plans have some issues with grievances, but nothing to the degree we are seeing with Anthem.”

The managed-care department said a health plan’s grievance program is critical, so that consumers know they have the right to pursue an independent medical review or file a complaint with regulators if they are dissatisfied with the insurer’s decision. The grievance system can also help insurers identify systemic problems and improve customer service, state officials said.

The state’s independent medical review program allows consumers to have their case heard by doctors who are not tied to their health plan. The cases often arise when an insurer denies a patient’s request for treatment or a prescription drug.

In 2016, insurance company denials were overturned in nearly 70 percent of medical review cases and patients received the requested treatment, according to state officials.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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Viewpoints: Using The Health Law To Pay For Tax Reform; HHS Secretary’s Challenge: Defining Affordability

Repeal Of ACA Individual Mandate To Be Added To Senate Tax Bill

Repeal Of ACA Individual Mandate To Be Added To Senate Tax Bill

Policy Thoughts: Weighing The Wisdom Of Using The ACA To Pay For Tax Cuts; Have Efforts To Scrap Obamacare Made It Stronger?

Opinion writers offer their thoughts on a range of health policy topics, including future congressional efforts to move on the Alexander-Murray bill, the importance of access to health insurance and the latest on Medicaid from Ohio and Iowa.

Los Angeles Times: Sabotage Obamacare To Finance More Tax Cuts For The Rich? No Thanks
As Republicans try to rush a tax bill through Congress, some lawmakers want to use the measure to kill a key piece of the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would free up more dollars for tax cuts, but in the most shortsighted and cynical way: by inducing fewer low- and moderate-income Americans to sign up for health insurance. Oh and yes, it would cause premiums to rise even faster for those who get their insurance coverage through Obamacare. (11/14)

CT Mirror: Everyone Should Be Entitled To Health Insurance, Even The Middle Class
The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, is a perverse twist on the Robin Hood tale. Rather than steal from the rich, Obamacare has taken from the middle class. Prior to ACA, the self-employed middle class had many options for comprehensive insurance. They were largely able to afford their premiums and deductibles, and out of pocket costs were manageable. Most importantly, they were free to choose their own doctors and hospitals from a nationwide provider network. (Martin H. Klein, 11/13)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Medicaid Cuts Will Hurt Hospitals, Patients
Ohio hospitals have long been committed to being part of the solution to curtailing health care costs while ensuring quality health care can be delivered efficiently; ultimately leading to a healthier Ohio for all citizens. But hospitals now are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in new Medicaid cuts. Ultimately, patients will be affected. (Dr. Kevin Webb, 11/13)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

Policy Thoughts: Weighing The Wisdom Of Using The ACA To Pay For Tax Cuts; Have Efforts To Scrap Obamacare Made It Stronger?

Opinion writers offer their thoughts on a range of health policy topics, including future congressional efforts to move on the Alexander-Murray bill, the importance of access to health insurance and the latest on Medicaid from Ohio and Iowa.

Los Angeles Times: Sabotage Obamacare To Finance More Tax Cuts For The Rich? No Thanks
As Republicans try to rush a tax bill through Congress, some lawmakers want to use the measure to kill a key piece of the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would free up more dollars for tax cuts, but in the most shortsighted and cynical way: by inducing fewer low- and moderate-income Americans to sign up for health insurance. Oh and yes, it would cause premiums to rise even faster for those who get their insurance coverage through Obamacare. (11/14)

CT Mirror: Everyone Should Be Entitled To Health Insurance, Even The Middle Class
The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, is a perverse twist on the Robin Hood tale. Rather than steal from the rich, Obamacare has taken from the middle class. Prior to ACA, the self-employed middle class had many options for comprehensive insurance. They were largely able to afford their premiums and deductibles, and out of pocket costs were manageable. Most importantly, they were free to choose their own doctors and hospitals from a nationwide provider network. (Martin H. Klein, 11/13)

Cincinnati Enquirer: Medicaid Cuts Will Hurt Hospitals, Patients
Ohio hospitals have long been committed to being part of the solution to curtailing health care costs while ensuring quality health care can be delivered efficiently; ultimately leading to a healthier Ohio for all citizens. But hospitals now are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in new Medicaid cuts. Ultimately, patients will be affected. (Dr. Kevin Webb, 11/13)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.