Contributor’s Corner: Even the Cat Has Lost Health Insurance!

Continuing Concerns for Both 2- and 4- Legged Creatures

Ok. Now that I have your attention, STOP LAUGHING! It’s not funny–but, true. Poor Milo is now uninsured. Several months ago, we received a notice that the health insurance pet policy that had been in effect for years was looking for a new underwriter, and the affordable policy would terminate on 10/31/16. Finally, a new policy was made available, at rates, which you guessed it, would be considerably higher with larger deductibles and less coverage. Not surprising, but true. The message: two- and four-legged creatures beware.

The decision to let that policy lapse wasn’t easily made; but economically, it didn’t make sense to purchase a policy that had a very low cost/benefit payoff. Of course, Milo wasn’t faced with paying a penalty on his taxes (LOL; we can’t even claim him as a dependent) for remaining uninsured, as you or I might possibly be subjected to, if we made the same decision. It was much more like passing on dental insurance. Unless you have it as a fringe benefit, the narrow networks, and limited benefit schedules makes the value proposition easy enough to pass on. In effect, being self-insured, while not desirable, is a viable option. However, for medical insurance, it’s a very different story.

Elections matter, and with some form of “repeal and/or replace” looming in the next Congress, millions of individuals will likely find themselves in Milo’s situation, except with more uncertainty and risks, as availability, benefits and costs are unpredictable at this point in time. For those that think it’s going to be as simple as ABC! Think again. The new Congress and Administration are soon going to realize that the denouement (I liked that word in high school when learning how the plot unraveled in a novel) will be complex and fraught with obstacles.

O, what tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive![1]

Right now, there is much speculation about the outcomes, and it is far too soon to really know. Call me skeptical, but after the pundits and polls missed the outcome of the election, I’m not too sure that conventional wisdom still applies. For all we know, Obamacare may become Trumpcare. After all, we learned that packaging and showmanship works. It reminds me of local government after an election, all of the town signage is changed so that the same park or arena now has the new town leader’s name emblazoned on the sign, lest we forget it’s still the same park. Nothing has really changed, just the name. The decision-makers should remember: Will the “quality go in before the name goes on?”[2]

Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but just imagine like the game, “Cat’s Cradle,” when you try to take the string off your partner’s hand for the fourth or fifth time by correctly and deftly interlocking your fingers about the string to transfer it from your partner’s hand to yours while making sure the integrity of the cradle is preserved. From “cradle to grave,” there is plenty to be concerned about.

For the Young at Heart

The “invincibles” may find themselves unburdened by the penalties that may be lifted for not having health insurance. But the gamble still exists: what will you do if accident or illness befalls you in spite of your youth? Will insurance companies be able to make policies available at competitive or affordable prices without the youthful demographic helping to even out the risk pool? For those without company provided healthcare, will the likely elimination or reduction of government subsidies force newly insured individuals to abandon their insurance after finally obtaining it. Maybe there’s hope, based on some reporting, for those 26 and younger still being carried on their parent’s policy

For Those in the Middle

But wait a minute-what if the parent had an exchange policy with a 26 or under child on the policy, and now the exchange is defunct, or healthcare.gov no longer is supported, the entire family will be in need of insurance. The same will be true if exclusions or high risk premium pools are established for those with pre-existing conditions. And if lifetime benefit limits are reintroduced, given what we know today about the wonderful (but expensive) life-saving treatments and medications, it will give new meaning to the “sticker shock” millions will face as “open enrollment” periods will become a serious exercise to be called: “In search of….”

Crossing State Lines and Population Health

We generally associate the “state lines” argument with the anticipated competitive structure of premiums if insurance companies can sell their policies without geographic restrictions. It may also call into question in which state you live, and if there was adoption of the Medicaid expansion allowing many millions of individuals, previously above qualifying income levels, becoming eligible, and whether that too will change.

With all the emphasis on population health and treating patient outcomes, does the nation run the risk of losing ground it has just started to gain? I’ve never been a fan of the term “accountable care organizations.” When seeing the blue H, or MD after the name, there is the presumed quality and accountability associated with it. If what we now have today is better than what we had before, then the new Congress and the Administration will need to be “accountable” for whatever evolves as a result of its actions and/or inactions.

Don’t Mess with My Medicare

For those of us above a certain age, Medicare (whether “Regular” or “Advantage”) comes with a special “seal of approval” and certain safeguards. There may not be an appetite to change Medicare for those already on it, but it may not be necessarily true that it will be preserved “as we know it” for those approaching age 65 over a 5-10 year horizon. In today’s political landscape, it’s not clear that the “graying advocacy” of seniors will be strong enough to maintain this safeguard for all.

Metamorphosis

I wonder how many of us hope that when we wake-up we find this was all a dream.

One day, Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant insect. Confused, he looks around his room which appeared normal. He decides to fall asleep again and forget what happened in the hope that everything will revert back to normal. He tries to roll over his right but discovers that he cannot due his new body he is stuck on his hard, convex back.[3]

Unfortunately, we are in a new reality. And it’s too early to forecast what will happen next. Change for the better will be good, and the current system can be improved. Change for “change’s” sake won’t do much except waste a lot of time and money, and cause needless anxiety. Milo’s just hoping that there’s water and food daily, and that his litter box is changed regularly, and that his visits to the vet are uneventful. For everybody else, pay your monthly premium, stay healthy and stay tuned.

Allan P. DeKaye, MBA, FHFMA, is President and CEO, DEKAYE Consulting, Inc., a revenue cycle healthcare firm. He is also a member of the Health Law Editorial Advisory Board for Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S. Mr. DeKaye is author/editor of The Patient Accounts Management Handbook. He is working on a second book, My Medical Bills Are Killing Me © What Americans Need to Know About Health Insurance.

[1] “Marmion,” by Walter Scott, 1808.

[2] Original slogan of Zenith Electronics

[3] Franz Kafka, Die Verwandlung (or The Transformation or Metamorphosis), 1915.

 

Copyright © 2016-2017 Allan P. DeKaye. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Federal and beneficiary spending on Medicare will skyrocket if ACA repealed

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as promised by the incoming Congressional leadership and President-elect Donald Trump’s (R) Administration, would not only increase Medicare spending but also lead to higher beneficiary costs, a less-solvent Part A trust fund, and the return of the Part D drug benefit “doughnut hole.” The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) published an issue brief on the Medicare implications of repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), finding that the Medicare provisions of the ACA have strengthened Medicare’s financial status for the future, and repeal would weaken the program.

KFF noted that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated an increase in Medicare spending of $802 billion from 2016 to 2025 if the ACA were repealed in full (see Repealing the Affordable Care Act—an unaffordable idea?, Health Reform WK-EDGE, June 24, 2015). This increase would primarily be attributed to higher payments to health care providers and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, which the ACA reduced based on the expectation that due to coverage increases, hospitals would have fewer uninsured patients.

Repeal of the ACA would increase Medicare Parts A and B spending by $350 billion over 10 years. It would also increase Part A deductibles and copayments and Part B premiums and deductibles. Similarly, the ACA removed a payment per enrollee discrepancy that paid MA plans 14 percent more than traditional Medicare; in 2016, MA plans only received 2 percent higher payments than traditional plans. A repeal would increase MA spending; however, it would also potentially reduce MA enrollees’ costs or allow them to receive additional benefits.

Under the ACA, certain Medicare benefits are available with no cost-sharing, including a yearly exam and some preventive screenings. The ACA also closed the coverage gap, or doughnut hole, in the Part D drug benefit. Without these changes, beneficiary costs would increase for preventive services and drugs.

The ACA played a role in extending the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by establishing new dedicated sources of revenue. As a result, four years’ time was added to the Medicare trustees’ projection of asset depletion in 2014 (see Life expectancy of Medicare trust funds extended to 2030, July 30, 2014). A repeal of these revenue provisions would give the Trust Fund a shorter lifespan.

The analysis also considered repeal of the ACA’s provisions for the following:

  • Freezing income thresholds for the Part B income-related premium;
  • Creating a formal method to expand payment and delivery system reforms through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI);
  • Reducing preventable hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions; and
  • Establishing new accountable care organization (ACO) programs.

Overall, KFF determined that ACA repeal without corresponding replacement legislation would weaken Medicare’s financial status for the future while costing beneficiaries and the federal government more.