Tagged Insuring Your Health

‘You’ve Got Mail’: Emails And Robocalls Hit Home In Promoting Medicaid Enrollment

Postcards, robocalls and other low-tech outreach tools can be as effective as personalized enrollment assistance at encouraging eligible people to sign up for Medicaid, a new study found.

Researchers conducted two randomized, controlled trials in Oregon that evaluated the extent to which people who were potentially eligible for Medicaid signed up for coverage following different types of outreach in 2013.

Medicaid is the federal-state health insurance program for low-income people, and Oregon is one of 31 states and the District of Columbia that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,000).

For one study group, researchers targeted people who were likely eligible for Medicaid coverage under the ACA because they were already enrolled in assistance programs with similar income standards, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (often referred to as food stamps) or those whose kids were signed up with the state Medicaid program.

Michelle AndrewsInsuring Your Health

For the other study group, researchers identified people who had expressed interest in and won a lottery to enroll in Medicaid coverage under the state’s existing program for low-income nondisabled adults. After winning the lottery, they had 45 days to sign up for coverage.

Members of the lottery trial were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The control group received the state’s basic outreach materials, which included a notification letter and an application packet. In addition to the basic state outreach materials, the second group got other “low-intensity” nudges, including additional postcards and other mail, emails and automated phone calls to encourage them to sign up. The third, “high-intensity” group received all the other materials plus in-person enrollment help from trained assistants as well as personalized phone calls.

Twenty-seven percent of the people in the lottery control group signed up in the roughly six weeks after being notified. Enrollment was significantly higher — 41 percent — among those who received extra outreach efforts. There was no difference in enrollment between the people who received one-on-one help and those who were sent mass-outreach materials.

The low-intensity interventions cost an average $1.75 per person, while the high-intensity interventions cost $28 per person, on average, the study found.

“The extra personalization and individual-level contact that we layered on didn’t add much,” said Katherine Baicker, a professor of health economics in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard University’s school of public health, who co-authored the study published in the May issue of Health Affairs. That’s good news for states, Baicker said, who can get more enrollment bang for the buck.

Since the high-intensity interventions had proven relatively ineffective, researchers tested only the low-intensity interventions against the control group in the second trial of people who were likely eligible under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and looked at the effect on enrollment in the program over time.

The differences in enrollment were less pronounced in that trial. Thirty-eight percent of the control group were still enrolled a year after the intervention, compared with 41 percent of those who had received additional low-intensity encouragement to sign up.

The less dramatic difference in results for this study group makes sense, said Baicker.

In contrast to the lottery group, who had already expressed an interest in being included in the state’s Medicaid lottery, “this group didn’t proactively express any interest in being insured,” she said. However, once the outreach tools got through to them, people stayed insured. “Those people that we reached, there was a durable response,” Baicker said.

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

Categories: Insuring Your Health, Medicaid

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GOP’s Health Bill Could Undercut Some Coverage In Job-Based Insurance

This week, I answer questions about how the Republican proposal to overhaul the health law could affect job-based insurance and what the penalties for not having continuous coverage mean. Perhaps anticipating a spell of uninsurance, another reader wondered if people can rely on the emergency department for routine care.

Q: Will employer-based health care be affected by the new Republican plan?

The American Health Care Act that recently passed the House would fundamentally change the individual insurance market, and it could significantly alter coverage for people who get coverage through their employers too.

Michelle AndrewsInsuring Your Health

The bill would allow states to opt out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including no longer requiring plans sold on the individual market to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization, drugs and maternity care.

Small businesses (generally companies with 50 or fewer employees) in those states would also be affected by the change.

Plans offered by large employers have never been required to cover the essential health benefits, so the bill wouldn’t change their obligations. Many of them, however, provide comprehensive coverage that includes many of these benefits.  

But here’s where it gets tricky. The ACA placed caps on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket in deductibles, copays and coinsurance every year, and they apply to most plans, including large employer plans. In 2017, the spending limit is $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for family coverage. Yet there’s a catch: The spending limits apply only to services covered by the essential health benefits. Insurers could charge people any amount for services deemed nonessential by the states.

Similarly, the law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime or annual dollar limits on services — but only if those services are related to the essential health benefits.

In addition, if any single state weakened its essential health benefits requirements, it could affect large employer plans in every state, analysts say. That’s because these employers, who often operate in multiple states, are allowed to pick which state’s definition of essential health benefits they want to use in determining what counts toward consumer spending caps and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

“If you eliminate [the federal essential health benefits] requirement you could see a lot of state variation, and there could be an incentive for companies that are looking to save money to pick a state” with skimpier requirements, said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: I keep hearing that nobody in the United States is ever refused medical care — that whether they can afford it or not a hospital can’t refuse them treatment. If this is the case, why couldn’t an uninsured person simply go to the front desk at the hospital and ask for treatment, which by law can’t be denied, such as, “I’m here for my annual physical, or for a screening colonoscopy”?

If you are having chest pains or you just sliced your hand open while carving a chicken, you can go to nearly any hospital with an emergency department, and — under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — the staff is obligated to conduct a medical exam to see if you need emergency care. If so, they must try to stabilize your condition, whether or not you have insurance.

The key word here is “emergency.” If you’re due for a colonoscopy to screen for cancer, unless you have symptoms such as severe pain or rectal bleeding, emergency department personnel wouldn’t likely order the exam, said Dr. Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not the standard of care to do screening tests in the emergency department,” Pines said, noting in that situation the appropriate next step would be to refer you to a local gastroenterologist who could perform the exam.

Even though the law requires hospitals to evaluate anyone who comes in the door, being uninsured doesn’t let people off the hook financially. You’ll still likely get bills from the hospital and physicians for any care you receive, Pines said.

Q: The Republican proposal says people who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” would have to pay extra for their insurance. What does that mean? 

Under the bill passed by the House, people who have a break in their health insurance coverage of more than 63 days in a year would be hit with a 30 percent premium surcharge for a year after buying a new plan on the individual market.

In contrast, under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” people are required to have health insurance or pay a fine equal to the greater of 2.5 percent of their income or $695 per adult. They’re allowed a break of no more than two continuous months every year before the penalty kicks in for the months they were without coverage.

The continuous coverage requirement is the Republicans’ preferred strategy to encourage people to get health insurance. But some analysts have questioned how effective it would be. They point out that, whereas the ACA penalizes people for not having insurance on an ongoing basis, the AHCA penalty kicks in only when people try to buy coverage after a break. It could actually discourage healthy people from getting back into the market unless they’re sick.

In addition, the AHCA penalty, which is based on a plan’s premium, would likely have a greater impact on older people, whose premiums are relatively higher, and those with lower incomes, said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, who authored an analysis of the impact of the penalties.

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

Categories: Health Care Costs, Health Industry, Insurance, Insuring Your Health, Repeal And Replace Watch, The Health Law

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Preexisting Conditions And Continuous Coverage: Key Elements Of GOP Bill

Before he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2015, Anthony Kinsey often went without health insurance. He is a contract lawyer working for staffing agencies on short-term projects in the Washington, D.C., area, and sometimes the 90-day waiting period for coverage through a staffing agency proved longer than the duration of his project, if coverage was offered at all.

When Kinsey, now 57, learned he had cancer, he was able to sign up for a plan with a $629 monthly premium because the agency he was working for offered group coverage that became effective almost immediately. The plan covered the $62,000 surgery to cut out the diseased bone and tissue on the left side of his face, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. His share of the treatment cost was $1,800.

If the American Health Care Act, which the House recently passed, becomes law, people like Kinsey who have health problems might not fare so well trying to buy insurance after a lapse.

Michelle AndrewsInsuring Your Health

The Republican bill would still require insurers to offer coverage to everyone, including people who have preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or even cancer. But it would allow states to opt out of the federal health law’s prohibition against charging sick people more than healthy ones. In those states, if people have a break in coverage of more than 63 days, insurers could charge them any price for coverage for approximately a year, effectively putting coverage out of reach for many sick people, analysts say. After a year, they would be charged a regular rate again.

Coming up with a figure for how many people have preexisting conditions that could put them at risk for facing unaffordable health insurance premiums has been the subject of debate, with estimates ranging from 133 million on the high end to 2 million on the low end.

What we know is that before the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, insurers in the individual market frequently charged people more if they were sick. According to a 2009 survey of individual market insurers by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, 34 percent of coverage was offered at higher-than-standard rates, while 6 percent of those offers included waivers that excluded coverage for specific conditions.

But some health policy analysts suggest that it’s not only people who have a gap in coverage who could be affected if a state seeks the health law waiver. There could be consequences for anyone with a preexisting condition, even those who have maintained continuous insurance coverage. That’s because the bill opens the door for insurers to set rates for people based on their health. For example, those without a health condition could be offered discounted premiums.

“If you have a preexisting condition, you’re going to be put into the block of business with the sicker risk pool,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Requiring people to maintain continuous coverage is the Republicans’ preferred alternative to Obamacare’s individual mandate that requires people to have insurance or pay a fine. But there are many reasons people may have a gap in coverage, especially if they’re sick, say consumer advocates.

“If they’re diagnosed with cancer and going through a grueling treatment, they might move closer to their caregiver or the cancer center,” said Kirsten Sloan, vice president for policy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “They may quit their job for that reason, or they may lose their job.”

Once people have a gap in coverage they may really be in a bind if the available coverage is unaffordable. To address this, the Republican bill requires states to set up a high-risk pool or reinsurance program or participate in a federal risk-sharing program.

State high-risk pools, which were available in 35 states before the ACA passed, have been widely criticized, however, as inadequate for people with expensive health care needs. Premiums were often extremely high, and there were frequently lifetime or annual limits on coverage. Some plans excluded coverage for as long as a year for the very conditions people needed insurance.

Still, Thomas Miller, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says high-risk pools offer a reasonable solution for the 2 million to 4 million people in the individual market he estimates have preexisting conditions but would otherwise be medically uninsurable or offered such high-cost coverage that they couldn’t afford it. The $130 billion over nine years that the bill sets aside to use for high-risk pools or other individual market activities, along with an additional $8 billion over five years for states that get waivers from ACA community-rating requirements, “could be adequate” to meet the need, he said.

Besides, he argued, the higher rates would last for only a year.

“Once you’ve paid up, you graduate back to the regular market,” Miller said. “It’s not like being sentenced to the Gulag.”

Kinsey said he plans to keep his coverage up to date from now on, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to charge sick people higher rates even if they have a break in coverage.

“It would be problematic,” he said. “I’m not in favor of that.”

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

Categories: Cost and Quality, Insurance, Insuring Your Health, The Health Law

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