Health Insurance Info for Colorado

news & commentary on health insurance and benefits

U.S. health care: an alternative reality

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This article by John Goodman, a noted commentator on health care issues, makes many of the points I’ve discussed with clients over the years. It’s an excellent treatise on why true competition in the delivery of health care would result in lower prices.

I’d add one thing: federal health care spending is a major cause of the exorbitant prices charged for health care, as the federal government simply imposes a price control on itself and passes the unpaid costs on to you, the insured consumer. By demanding that care be provided at below the cost to produce it, the federal government is essentially imposing an ever escalating tax on anyone who has insurance and then forcing you to pay it. This of course leads to the scenario that we see all around us: insurers, forced to cover the “hydraulics” of cost shifting, charge higher and higher premiums, while the federal government ratchets down what they pay for care, further exacerbating the premium crisis, and then, lo and behold, the government announces that it’s the solution to the crisis – a crisis that they created and compound every day.

I submit that the federal government should get out of the health care industry all together. States do a far better job of administering social welfare programs for it’s citizens. Incidentally, this is the same idea Paul Ryan has, among others, for an alternative to Obamacare.




Health Reform = higher health insurance premiums

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We tried to tell ’em, but no one on that side of the aisle listens: health reform inevitably drives health insurance rates even higher due to mandates and required coverage benefits on every policy (in Colorado, this was made worse by action at the state, not federal, level, when the Democrat ‘super-majority’ passed mandatory maternity coverage for every individual health policy sold or renewed in the state). This year, the average premium nation-wide rose 9 percent, higher than the last two years combined.

Want the whole story? go here.

And, before you think this report is biased, read this: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates the growth in health insurance costs will increase 10 extra percentage points in 2014 because of health reform – a 14 percent increase, versus 3.5 percent without the law.

A perspective on agents and brokers: now and…

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An interesting comment on what agents and brokers bring to their clients:

“The thing many people don’t know about our industry is that health insurance agents are in the business of saving lives. Like family physicians or ER surgeons, agents are intimately connected with their clients’ quality of care — and are often exceptionally hands-on in fighting for a treatment or surgery to be approved by the insurer so that it can be performed by the doctor.

This same hands-on guidance is needed before coverage is in place. Choosing a health care plan is no easy task, as anyone who has shopped for an individual health plan will tell you. It is also frequently not an affordable task. In a struggling economy, one of the biggest challenges agents now face is convincing people that health care coverage is a necessary expense, not an expendable one.”

I thank the contributor for an industry newsletter for this observation. This commitment to the client is a hallmark of all good agents and brokers. Somehow, Washington misses the point when they pass legislation that specifically excludes agents from assuming their rightful place as a trusted advisor to the public, and instead empowers entities with an agenda not wholly in keeping with the best interests of the general public (or, private-sector employees!) to do the job that trained and ethical insurance agents have been doing for decades. How so, you say? Believe it or not, under the Affordable Care Act, agents and brokers may not be compensated, and aren’t recognized as traditional insurance licensees for the purposes of placing health insurance. In essence, your health insurance agent or broker, whether you use individual or group insurance, will be out of business on January 1st, 2014. He most likely won’t be able to assist you – and, assuming you need to use an exchange-based product (a good bet for many people) you won’t be allowed to use him.

Of course, the conventional wisdom from HHS is that agents and brokers will of course be allowed to assist their clients and prospects through the exchanges. And this is about as far as the mainstream media will take it (they really don’t want to get involved in the details, you see). What HHS is really saying is that if a state wants to allow agents to enter the exchanges, they can do so, under new rules announced recently. But under the AFA, they still can’t earn a commission for the placement of a health insurance policy or group plan. We can however, receive “grant money” through the health insurance exchange, known as a “Navigator” grant (but the funding for these grants cannot come from federal funds). What’s really interesting is that agents and brokers are a long way down on the list of specific “entities” are are allowed as navigators, and, as I recall, weren’t originally included in the Navigator section under Obamacare, and this is telling: included in this list are groups and organizations whose primary focus isn’t in serving the public with accurate insurance information: consumer-based nonprofits and unions lead the list. I’ll let you, the reader, figure out why unions would be allowed to act as navigators with employees of primarily non-union employers.

Of course, HHS will allow the state exchange to “enforce existing licensure standards, certification standards, or regulations for selling or assisting with enrollment in health plans and to establish new standards or licensing requirements tailored to navigators”. Color me sceptical, but I foresee some Insurance Departments making it easier, not harder, for previously unlicensed entities to act as navigators, and harder for traditional agents and brokers, who primarily work as independent contractors with a cottage-industry business model. It’s simply a matter of scale – a union or a non-profit is very familiar with the way government works, and can easily acquire any expertise required to achieve navigator status and apply for grants to enroll large numbers of eligible individuals – they themselves have the resources to hire employees, under a broker license, to do just that. As a national operation, they are tailored-made for the kind of large scale enrollment activity that Obamacare requires. Individual agents work alone, sometimes in larger agencies, but rarely with more than a few dozen agents. Inevitably, there will be problems with compensation for agents and brokers. We don’t receive salaries from a union.

There are other hurdles that agents will find hard to meet – almost as if they were specifically being targeted for extinction through the use of the navigator process. For instance, navigators must “provide information in a manner that is culturally and linguistically appropriate to the needs of the population being served”, along with other heretofore nonexistent requirements for agents and brokers working in the private-sector insurance market. While, again, the devil is in the details, I doubt that many agents, assuming a strict interpretation of these requirements to receive navigator grants, will be able to meet these onerous requirements, especially given the nature of the lack of any clear compensation path. It’s another matter entirely if the governing board of the health insurance exchange, empowered with granting navigator status, is anti-broker, as will almost certainly happen in some (most?) states. As proof of the politics involved, consider the number of state insurance commissioners who continue to insist that agent compensation not be excluded from the Minimum Loss Ratio rules as a pass-through cost – almost ensuring the death of the traditional insurance agent in the role he’s always played in the delivery of health insurance policies to the public.

In Colorado, exchange legislation was adopted in May 2011, with the passage of SB 11-200, The Colorado Health Benefit Exchange. The legislation as passed and adopted does not address any issues regarding navigators in Colorado, and in fact does not mention agents or brokers in any way shape or form.

I can only draw the conclusion that, barring a Supreme Court decision invalidating The Affordable Care Act in it’s entirety, or the election of a super majority of Republicans in the House and Senate at the federal level (and the election of a Republican President in 2012) my role as an agent/broker advising the public as a licensed insurance agent on health insurance and group benefits will most likely come to an end in 2014. This isn’t anything new, of course: Hillary Clinton, who headed up her own scheme for a government takeover of health care, was asked by an agent in 1993 what would happen to health insurance agents under her plan. The Wall Street Journal quoted Clinton as saying, “I’m assuming anyone as obviously brilliant as you could find something else to market.”

Spoken as a true central planner. One wonders what else they will “nationalize”.




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