Health Insurance Info for Colorado

news & commentary on health insurance and benefits

Gruber-ized in Colorado!

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Everyone’s aware of the infamous Gruber statements. Let me paraphrase: you’re all idiots – now pay me. Followed by an evil laugh.

Well, apparently the good folks over at your local Marketplace Exchange, Connect For Health Colorado, fell for it, too. (And I should add a disclaimer that I am a Certified Agent for C4H-CO, and I’m just reporting the facts, Ma’am).

Those pesky folks over at the Independence Institute, namely their Health Care Policy Center, run by the charming Linda Gorman, an economist by trade and a member of Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform, have published a very interesting piece of analysis titled “How The Gruber Model Failed In Colorado”. You can get it here. The bottom line assessment? “Its poor predictions will likely end up costing taxpayers billions of dollars”.

This is so good it’s hard to summarize: I think anyone interested in the effects of Obamacare and the lackeys employed to carry the water for it should read it, re-read it, and pass it around. And, if you know anyone in Vermont …

Seriously, I’m no economics expert (or anything else for that matter, except maybe good coffee) but for really educated folks to buy into Grubers’ predictions, as highlighted in the reports and analysis he got paid to do by Colorado, simply defies explanation. I mean, really: the idea that, based on somebody’s economic assumption, there wouldn’t be an almost catastrophic rise in Medicaid recipients is simply stunning. As almost anyone who’s been around the health insurance business knows, it isn’t the folks who can buy insurance and don’t who are the biggest problem, it’s the folks who couldn’t buy coverage at all due to extreme low-income or other circumstances. The farcical notion that many more people would get subsidies rather than a short trip to Medicaid says that no one really understood what’s been happening in Colorado. Guess what? Medicaid enrollment has exceeded expectations by 40%, and drastically overestimated the demand for subsidized policies (one-sixth of what was projected!).

Even unsubsidized policies are far below Grubers’ prediction. (And here’s an odd thing: why would anyone buy an unsubsidized policy through the exchange, anyway? There is simply no reason to buy an unsubsidized individual policy through the Marketplace exchange – something that comes as a surprise to many people.)

The reports go on to (laughably) suggest that insurance premiums would go down “27% on average”, with people buying richer plans because of their tax savings. I should send this to my clients who have a) had their premiums rise at least that much, b) their deductibles go up dramatically, and c) their networks and doctor choices curtailed, seeing that the market switched from PPO to HMO offerings almost immediately. That would be all of them, by the way.

The list of predictions that were wrong read like a list of Obama statements, that’s for sure! Like Grubers’ predictions that people in grandfathered plans would “see no change in their premiums”. Actual fact: they rose by 37% by early 2014.

And we won’t even talk about how Obamacare wrecked a high-risk pool that was actually cheaper than it’s replacement (and rather than an HMO was an any willing provider network, to boot).

This, my friends, is what happens when common sense and good public policy get replaced with redistributive ideology: any argument works so long as it advances the political objective, true or not. And the essence of Obamacare wasn’t about “health insurance reform”, it was about federalizing the health insurance markets prior to a move to a single-payor system (that’s my own opinion, by the way, not anything taken from the report).

Best take-away quote: “.. substituting tax subsidies for direct payment does not affect the cost of health insurance”. Of course not.

Download it, have a good read, and discuss it. Better yet, share it with every Colorado legislator you can! Good job, Ms. Gorman!

 

 

 

 

The Alternative to Obamacare is Easy

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I’ve said for some time that “health care reform” wasn’t the goal of Obamacare, and it certainly shouldn’t have cost however many trillions of dollars thats been forecast to pay for it (the actual figure isn’t important, save for one fact: it’s a lot more than we were promised, before we knew “what was in it”).

The mass media seems to be of the opinion that Republicans have no alternative to Obamacare, but the truth is that any number of alternative policies have been discussed within Republican circles. Most critics of outright repeal like to point out that the individual and employer mandates were Republican ideas; this canard has been bandied about for so long that it now been accepted as fact. The reality is that the mandates were viewed as essential only by a handful of think-tank policy wonks, and never really achieved critical mass with conservatives who study health care policy closely.

One of those individuals is John C. Goodman, from the Independence Institute. Mr. Goodman is considered to be the “father” of the health savings account, and he has a brand new article on what Republicans can do, now, to repeal the worst parts of Obamacare. In a previous article, “How The GOP should now deal with Obamacare”, he discussed the pitfalls that Republicans will likely encounter as they try to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with a new system that will inevitably be some version of what is currently in place.

In “A Republican Alternative To Obamacare”, he expands on his earlier work, by advising Republicans to concentrate on the promises made to voters in the 2014 elections: “keep your job; keep your health insurance; and keep your doctor”. And his solutions to health insurance, and health care, issues are the best I’ve read, encompassing great ideas and solutions to the kind of Washington-driven, centrally-planned health insurance environment we find ourselves in, with narrow networks, a return to highly steered “managed care”, rigid health care design, and lack of choice and flexibility.

I highly recommend the policy solutions he puts forward, and dearly hope that someone in the Republican leadership is listening and taking copious notes. The bottom line is this: without a clear cut and simple approach to replacing the disaster now known as Obamacare, Republicans will stand little chance of gaining any ground against entrenched interests, which include progressive Democrats, insurance company executives, and others who are beginning to reap the benefits of a quasi-monopoly driven by the central planners at HHS. Taking the alternative directly to the American people is the best way to get the message out, and that requires more than a statement in front of a podium at the Capitol, which is essentially all we’ve been given from the current Speaker of the House. It requires a full-court press by the leadership, because there isn’t a more pressing issue than repeal and replace Obamacare. I believe the political will can be found, and not just from Republicans.

Obamacare individual mandate: slip-slidin’ away!

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Today, The Wall Street Journal reports on  Obamacare’s secret mandate exemption. An amazing read!

A few choice quotes below:

“last week the Administration quietly excused millions of people from the requirement to purchase health insurance ..”

“the mandate suspension was buried in an unrelated rule that was meant to preserve some health plans that don’t comply ..”

“shifting legal benchmarks offer an exemption to everyone who conceivably wants one.”

The article concludes: “The larger point is that there have been so many unilateral executive waivers and delays that ObamaCare must be unrecognizable to its drafters, to the extent they ever knew what the law contained.” Indeed.

 

Enter the Colorado Single-Payor Amendment

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Senate Concurrent Resolution 13-002, a measure introduced by Sen. (Dr.) Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, will create a single-payer, government-run health care system in Colorado via the amendment process. Run by a health care “board”, the legislation, if allowed to become law as a constitutional amendment to the Colorado Constitution, would impose a capitated, single-payor health care system in Colorado. By capitated, we mean capping health care expenditures, and reducing, eliminating, or forgoing costs of care: in essence, rationing.

The measure builds on a bill, first proposed, and then shelved, by the Democrats in the run-up to Obamacare. The bill establishes a so-called non-governmental health care authority that on the surface is not part of the Colorado state government, but is in fact controlled by the political structure and funded by payroll tax dollars, estimated to cost around $16 billion yearly once the system is in effect.

The measure, 19 pages long, would provide the authority to seek waivers from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and would replace it for all Colorado residents. According to a press release from Co-Operate Colorado, a single-issue advocacy group that appears to work closely with Sen. Aguilar on health care issues, the cooperative would “offer comprehensive and accessible health care, including dental, vision, and mental health services”.

The resolution prominently includes ACOs – Accountable Care Organizations – which are set up strictly as non-profit organizations and are viewed as a threat to the current system of reimbursement and private practice through independent physicians. The Obama Administration has aggressively pushed ACOs, even as reports mount that ACOs will be unable to provide the same quality of care as our current health care delivery system, or even deliver the savings they have promised.

For funding, the resolution imposes a 6 percent payroll tax increase on every business in the state; 3 percent payroll tax on every worker in the state;  9 percent payroll tax on every self-employed worker in the state. This would be on top of the $1 billion tax hike approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature but not yet approved by voters. [UPDATE: the tax hike was overwhelmingly defeated by Colorado voters in the fall of 2130 – ed.]

The article states that “nothing … prohibits private health insurers from conducting business in Colorado”. However, the tax burden imposed on Colorado residents, since it is a mandatory tax on payroll or self employment earnings, tilt the playing field so far in favor of the state cooperative that the private health insurance market would become unsustainable and economically impossible. Exit from the state insurance market would be swift.

The Colorado model appears to be based on the single-payor system enacted by Vermont, which had to quickly back-pedal in the face of rising costs and other issues. The fact remains that Colorado,  like Vermont, will face dozens of anti-market price controls and policy decisions which will impact the state, especially in the rural areas.

The resolution for the amendment to the Colorado State Constitution, known as the Health Care Cooperative, has been introduced in the Senate chamber, but has not yet been voted on.

The Supreme Court decides

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Media reports suggest that today (or, at, least, this week) the Supreme Court will hand down its decision on The Affordable Care Act. To briefly recap, dozens of states sued the federal government to overturn the act; the reasons for that suit are varied, such as the individual mandate, but include such issues as Medicaid funding requirements, which is a huge unfunded liability for states.

I’ve resisted the urge to handicap the forthcoming possibilities, but I do have an opinion. Right or wrong, I’m going to publish it today; one way or the other, the debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney about health care in the upcoming general election will be fascinating to discuss in light of what the SCOTUS decides.

There are four possible outcomes: to do nothing and leave the entire Act standing; to narrowly strike down just the mandate provisions; to strike down the mandate and two other major provisions (which is the position that the Obama Administration said should happen if the Supremes conclude that the individual mandate is unconstitutional), and the fourth: declaring the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

I have no idea what the “Vegas line” is on this decision, so, I will take my shot-in-the-dark and lay odds:

Do nothing: 12 to 1. Not likely.

Strike down just the individual mandate: 6 to 1. Too narrow, and creates a bigger problem.

Strike down the mandate and the provisions relating to it (the position argued by the Administration if the mandate is unconstitutional): 4 to 1. The Administration wins, and the remaining Act becomes a rallying cry for progressives who always wanted the single-payor option (and this decision almost guarantees it).

Strike down the entire Act: 3 to 1. The most sensible solution of all.

My reasons for giving the best odds for striking the entire Act lay in the unprecedented suit brought by a coalition (frankly, a majority) of states against the federal government. I’m unaware of any action brought against the government by so many states, and this alone should prompt an unprecedented examination of the role of the federal governments’ power to pass legislation that intrudes on the right of the states to govern themselves. It also bears pointing out that the federal government is, technically,  a government of limited powers (the term “states rights” is not a pejorative for discrimination, despite what liberals have always said) with the remaining powers reserved exclusively to the states. With the individual mandate exceeding any rational understanding of the purpose and use, even in liberal hands, of the Commerce Clause, the demand by the states to be relieved of a burden they clearly feel is unconstitutional has to be carefully considered. The strange manner in which the Act was passed, the lack of ANY bipartisanship (or, of that matter, any input from anyone except the Progressive Caucus in the bills ultimate form) the distorted cost projections, not to mention the majority view of the Act across the nation by voters – all of these things must be taken into account by the Justices. Never mind that they are legal scholars who pass judgment on constitutional issues at the highest level; there is and always will be a political element to every controversial Supreme Court decision. Couple this with the lack of a severability clause, and my opinion is that the Supremes err, not on the side of caution, but on the side of good sense: telling Congress that this legislation is so flawed and so intrusive that it would be best to just start over.

And that is what I think the Supremes will do. If they don’t, they will be performing a major disservice to the country, by leaving in place a huge entitlement program that completely remakes the social contract between the government and its citizens (or should they now be called subjects?) without any rational means to pay for it (assuming that the Commerce Clause doesn’t allow the government to tell you what you must buy), while dooming a portion of the insurance industry to almost-certain extinction or, worse, outright nationalization or regulation as a monopolistic utility, with the government calling ALL the shots, while re-distributing massive tax increases to pay for it.

Whatever they decide – it’s going to be interesting. And don’t forget that, in the absence of any new federal legislation, states, including Colorado, will be in a position to craft their own solutions, which is how it should be in the first place. The fact is that Colorado state Republicans control the House by a slim one vote margin – and history shows that in the early 90’s, Colorado’s Governor Roy Romer (D) threatened to pass a single payor system unless “health reform” was enacted, which set us upon the very path we now walk.

Let the games begin! Quoting Rep. Michele Bachmann: ““The decision on Obamacare goes well beyond health care,” she wrote. It “will determine whether or not the court believes the government has a right to mandate that Americans buy a product or service, a direct impact on our freedom and liberty.”

 

 

 

HHS update on women’s health care

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has just announced that any and all FDA approved “contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity,” will be provided under ObamaCare “without cost” in college/student-based health plans, and for women of college age but not attending school.

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”.

 

 

 

DOI reverses on mandatory maternity in individual health plans

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In a bulletin issued March 15th, 2011, the Colorado Division of Insurance has “changed its interpretation” of their previous bulletin, issued in December of 2010, regarding maternity coverage for individual health policies issued in Colorado.

The controversy stems from a difference between the “applicability clause” in the enabling legislation, HB 10-1021, and the statute, as enacted. The applicability clause states that maternity coverage was to be provided for both issued and renewing policies, while the statute, as enacted, calls for maternity coverage to be provided only for “issued policies”. The Divisions’ initial guidance under the previous Bulletin did not require the coverage on renewal policies.

In it’s new bulletin, the Division, after “further statutory review”, finds that, in its opinion, the provisions of HB-10-1021 does indeed require coverage for maternity expenses for issued and renewing individual sickness and accident insurance policies and health care coverage contracts, reversing in toto it’s previous position, without showing any specific reason or legal basis for the change in its position.

Now, it’s no secret that this Bill was controversial, rammed through a Democrat-controlled legislature without any input from either the industry or the minority, and signed by the Governor post-haste. While touted as a “reproductive services” bill that ensured fairness, in actuality there is no fairness in requiring males of any age, children, and females of non-child bearing years to pay for this expansion of maternity coverage. Certainly, purchasing individual health insurance with maternity coverage was available in Colorado – so, what was the point of the legislation?

Colorado’s Democrat legislators have been attempting to recast the individual health insurance market as the mirror image of the small group market for years, and this legislation is one result of that thinking. The downside to this, and the biggest problem, is the cost to such a policy. Anyone who looks at group coverage, as compared to individual coverage, is aghast at the price, a point most Democrats seemingly ignore, and which has contributed to the decline in Colorado’s small group insurance pool, especially since the repeal of risk-based premium provisions in the small group market.

A quick analysis of the rates now being charged for individual health policies shows that the legislation has, indeed, made individual health insurance policies more expensive, and will have a negative effect on new policy issuance in Colorado. One wonders if that was the intent of the legislation – after all, with higher premiums, a certain segment of the population is locked out of the market, just simply based on price. If one can only buy Cadillacs, rather than something cheaper, does one simply not buy? This has the effect of increasing the pool of un-insureds in Colorado,  rather than expanding the pool of covered individuals, regardless of what the PR coming from Democrats would suggest.

Let’s not forget that Colorado residents lost a strong carrier when Aetna withdrew from the Colorado market due to this legislation. Will we have others withdraw, as well? One only needs to look at the disastrous outcome of the Kentucky health insurance market (and others, notably New Jersey) to see what will transpire as more and more carriers flee the state because of their inability to expand the risk pool because of high premiums, mandated benefits, and hostile regulatory and legislative actions.

Of course, Democrats have us covered there, too: their real solution is to get rid of all carriers and saddle the residents with a single-payor system. I shudder to think what that will cost in higher taxes and job loss.

Lastly, to add insult to injury, the Division, in its decision requiring maternity coverage in all policies renewing after January 1st, 2011, has authorized carriers to retroactively charge additional premium for the coverage, assuming the carrier has filed and has approved such premium. Even if the carrier has not filed for rates relative to renewal maternity coverage, the Division will allow such retroactive charges, once rates are approved, to the policyholder.

I’ll research and comment on the average rate increases this latest exercise in “fairness” will cost the average Colorado health insurance consumer in another post, assuming that such information is even available.

DOI advises on change in statute interpretation

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In May 2010, the Colorado Legislature passed HB 10-1021, which amended the Colorado Revised Statutes to “expand the state’s mandatory maternity coverage to individual [health insurance] policies”. This change in the law is effective January 1, 2011.

On December 3, 2010, the Colorado Division of Insurance has issued a new bulletin, B-4.36 “Statutory Interpretation of Possible Conflicting Provisions in HB 10-1021”, which advises carriers of the Division’s position and interpretation of the statute’s language in Section 10-16-104(3). According to the DOI, “bulletins are the DOI’s interpretation of existing insurance law or general statements of Division policy”.

In issuing their bulletin, the Division has found conflicting provisions in the law between the statute and the applicability clause in HB 10-1021. In part, the bulletin reads “based on the Division’s reading of the statute… the clear intent… was to expand coverage only to policies issued (and not renewed) on or after January 1, 2011…”.

The statute is in conflict with the applicability clause in HB 10-1021, which uses the term “issued or renewed”,  whereas the statute language simply uses the word “issued”.  The Division takes the position that “the language to the contrary in the applicability clause was an inadvertent mistake”. The Division cites discussions with the bill sponsor and Legislative Legal Services in making this interpretation of the statute.

Therefore, while insurers are encouraged to offer maternity and contraceptive coverage to renewing policies, they are not required to do so, and the change in law only applies to individual and group sickness and accident policies issued after January 1, 2011.

 

UPDATED: This interpretation of statute has been overruled – see my new post, dated March 15th, 2011.

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