Short-term ‘junk’ plans widely discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, House probe finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/short-term-junk-plans-widely-discriminate-against-those-with-pre-existing/580556/

U.S. Rep. Castor's Statement Following a Federal Judge's Ruling on ...

Dive Brief:

  • A yearlong probe by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce into bare-bones insurance plans encouraged by the Trump administration found widespread discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, even as a growing number are enrolled.
  • Top congressional Democrats investigated eight insurers selling short-term, limited duration plans, finding they all denied medical care claims if they found a consumer had a pre-existing condition. Some refused to pay for medical claims for no discernable reason, processing them only after consumers sued or complained to state regulators. Most rescinded coverage if they determined a member had a pre-existing condition or developed one later.
  • An HHS spokesperson defended the coverage as an affordable option to pricier Affordable Care Act plans, telling Healthcare Dive, “We’ve been abundantly clear that these plans aren’t for everyone.” America’s Health Insurance Plans made similar points, with spokesperson David Allen noting: “For Americans with pre-existing conditions, they may not be protected at all.”

 

Dive Insight:

The investigation looked at 14 companies that sell or market the plans, including eight insurers such as market giants Anthem and UnitedHealth Group, and six brokers.

It found insurers frequently turned down consumers with pre-existing conditions and discriminated against women, turning down applicants who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant and charging women more than men for the same coverage.

The plans had significant coverage limitations. Some excluded routine care like basic preventive visits and pelvic exams. Some plans had hard coverage cutoffs that left consumers with massive medical bills.

In one case, a consumer was billed a whopping $280,000 and lost coverage after being treated for an infection. The insurer said the patient previously had gotten an ultrasound that was “suspicious for deep venous thrombosis.”

AHIP spokesman Allen said it is not surprising given the plans are not intended to replace comprehensive coverage.

“They often do not cover the care and treatments that patients need throughout the year — preventive care, prescription drugs, mental health care or treatments for chronic health conditions — or if they do, they may limit or cap the benefits,” he acknowledged.

On average, short-term plans spend less than half of premium dollars collected from consumers on medical care: only 48%, the investigation found. That’s in stark contrast to plans in the ACA’s individual market, which are required to shell out at least 80% of all premium dollars on claims and benefits.

Short-term insurance represents a significant and growing share of the individual healthcare market. Roughly 3 million consumers bought the plans in 2019, a 27% growth from 2018, the investigation launched in March last year found.

The growth came after the Trump administration, in a controversial move, extended the maximum duration of the plans. The skimpy coverage, which isn’t required to cover the 10 essential benefits under the ACA, was originally designed as cheap safety net coverage for three months.

But in August 2018, HHS expanded the plans to 12 months, with a three year renewal period, and opened them up to all consumers, not just for those who can’t afford other coverage.

ACA supporters and patient advocates blasted the move, which sparked an ongoing legal challenge from safety net providers. Reports of consumers purchasing the coverage, believing it was comprehensive, then being shocked by balance bills prompted the House investigation.

The report also found brokers are paid up to 10 times more compensation for peddling short-term plans than ACA-compliant coverage. The average commission rate for short-term plans compared to ACA plans was 23% versus 2%, respectively.

Currently, 24 states ban or restrict the sale of short-term plans. Some states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, prohibit their sale entirely, while others like Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico and Rhode Island have such strict regulations that no plans are sold.

Democratic leaders unveiled a bill on Wednesday to bolster the ACA and rescind the administration’s expansion of the plans and expand subsidies, allowing more people to qualify for coverage.

The effort has zero chance of moving this year with Republicans in control of the Senate, but both it and the probe are likely to play into the looming 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

“The heavy-handed tactics uncovered in this investigation demonstrate why Congress must reverse the Trump Administration’s expansion of these junk plans,” E&C Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wrote in a joint statement. “It also shows how dangerous a post-ACA world would be if Republican Attorneys General and the Trump Administration are successful in striking down the law and its protections.”

That lawsuit, led by 18 red states, argues the ACA, which expanded insurance to some 20 million people, is unconstitutional because a tax bill passed in 2017 zeroed out the penalty for its individual mandate. It’s currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump and his health officials have repeatedly promised people with pre-existing conditions will be protected if the ACA is struck down, but neither the administration nor Republicans in Congress have said specifically how.

 

 

 

 

 

Gladwell: COVID-19 should push healthcare to consider its ‘weak links’

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/malcolm-gladwell-covid-19-should-push-healthcare-to-consider-its-weak-links?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWlRJMk9UYzVZVFl4Tm1VMSIsInQiOiJ0aElzSllzTkpISWNIcU13ZXErNVdPSzU3K05cLzRVY2FEWFMycDNHZTZcLzlTYUo3UVNNQXd3ZjlwZXlFbVA3c3NQTHI0NFhqcjhFNk1VUXc4aVlnYW9aSnFVOVIydEFqWG5weWdEc2Viall1elwvK0RIRWtEajhPWGw3TEFTNDlkUCJ9&mrkid=959610

Gladwell: COVID-19 should push healthcare to consider its 'weak ...

The coronavirus pandemic has shown the healthcare industry that it needs to decide whether it’s playing basketball or soccer, journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell said. 

Gladwell, the opening keynote speaker at America’s Health Insurance Plans’ annual Institute & Expo, said the two sports exemplify the differences in thinking when one tackles problems using a “strong link” approach versus a “weak link” approach.

In basketball, he said, the team is as strong as its strongest, most high-profile players. In soccer, by contrast, the team is only as strong as its weakest players.

For healthcare organizations, that means making investments in the “weakest links”—such as harried clinicians who may need more training and low-income communities that cannot afford or access coverage—rather than the stronger links, like building out teaching hospitals and physician specializations.

“In healthcare, this is a chance for us to turn the ship around and say we can benefit far more from making health insurance more plentiful and more affordable,” Gladwell said. 

Gladwell emphasized that healthcare is far from the only industry to largely follow a “strong link” approach to improvement. In higher education, for example, much of the investment and funding goes to Ivy League institutions and other wealthy, top-performing universities.

Meanwhile, the education system could see significant benefits if it invested in the “weak links” like community colleges and bringing down tuition, Gladwell said. 

It’s a similar story in national security—and that “strong link” thinking led to two of the largest security breaches in American history, Gladwell said. Both Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were relatively low-ranking people within the security apparatus, but they were able to access critical files and release them.

“I would argue that ‘strong link’ paradigm has dominated every part of American society,” Gladwell said. “We have really put our chips down on the ‘strong link’ paradigm.” 

How could a “weak link” approach have impacted the response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Gladwell argues that, for instance, widespread testing is hampered by a lack of supplies like nasal swabs. Investment in the supply chain could have mitigated that challenge, he said.

The virus also disproportionately impacts people with certain conditions, notably diabetes. A broader focus on preventing and treating obesity could have had a large impact on how the pandemic played out, he said. 

“With this particular pandemic, I think we’re having a wake-up call,” Gladwell said.

 

 

 

COVID-19 could cost insurers up to $547B through 2021: report

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/report-covid-19-could-cost-insurers-up-to-546b-over-next-two-years?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWlRnNU16RmxOemM1WXpWaSIsInQiOiJ0TFFnRkR2OUVoQjY5SXArbjU0ZXVmcjJaMFdNWXZ6cXBHOGQxVzZ1dkxhMHJVK0t3dmRtcUVicFIrVDdlMUJPY3doWlQzeVN0VVZxakdnUFBHY2w2a0VVQ0s2WFI1anhqR2xvSFBtMDZZcVlaYVwvK2xlRWdcL01uQmFRVTA0VGtMIn0%3D&mrkid=959610

COVID-19 could cost insurers up to $547B through 2021: report ...

The estimated costs for treating COVID-19 could add up as much as $547 billion for private insurers from 2020 to 2021 depending on the rate of infection, an updated report found.

The report, released Monday from consulting firm Wakely and commissioned by insurance lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), looks at the utilization of medical services associated with a COVID-19 infection and the costs for such services. The analysis is restricted to insurers operating in commercial, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care markets.

Wakely estimates that the pandemic could cost insurers between $30 billion and $547 billion.

The report explores the costs of COVID-19 based on a series of potential infection rates, which represent the total population infected. The study modeled infection rates based on 10%, 20% and 60%, while acknowledging that the true infection rate could be far lower.

Wakely then looked at the total costs the plan is liable to cover based on each infection rate.

A 10% rate would lead to a total cost of $30 billion to $92 billion from 2020 to 2021, and a rate of 20% would be $60 billion to $182 billion.

But an infection rate of 60% would cost insurers the greatest, with a range of $180 billion to $547 billion.

“We assume that a higher volume of COVID related services will be incurred in 2020 and lower volume in 2021, distributing approximately 75% of the total services to 2020 and 25% to 2021,” the study said.

Wakely notes it did not model any long-term costs for treating people recovering from COVID-19 infections.

The firm also didn’t factor in vaccine mitigation in 2021 nor a scenario in which large-scale infections occur throughout 2021.

While private insurers have waived cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments, it remains unclear how long the waivers will last. Anthem and Molina announced Monday they will extend their cost-sharing waivers through the rest of 2020.

The report is an update to an earlier one distributed by Wakely back in March at the onset of the pandemic. That report pegged the total COVID-19 costs between $56 billion and $556 billion.

The main reason for the decline is Wakely factored in deferred care due to the pandemic.

Wakely also reduced the overall assumed rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19-infected individuals to align with more recent studies. But the estimated unit cost for a hospital admission also increased, based on survey data from AHIP members.

People have been putting off necessary care for fear of going to a doctor’s office, and hospital systems have canceled or postponed elective surgical procedures for months.

Hospitals have slowly started to resume elective procedures, but only after installing stringent requirements on cleaning and testing.

Insurers are bracing for a wave of healthcare utilization some time later this year or in 2021 to deal with this pent-up demand.

The deferred care costs would differ based on the infection rate of the virus.

“We assumed, particularly for higher infection rate scenarios, that there may be limited capacity to make up care in 2021,” the report said.

 

 

 

 

Insurers face uncertainty in setting 2021 premiums

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/insurers-face-uncertainty-setting-2021-premiums?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldabE9UTTFZbU16TkRneSIsInQiOiI1djBwUWV6SVpzNlJtRUJEdXBEcEM1UkdGZWtvYTZpdkZ5V1NkTHhpNVFnVFwvR2FJSGlDTVVDcE5lTGtmTDhHY0hWQ05XU1NQNWt3UjRRYUtCOVZtS1ZoNG9SN2wxNU1xYmJVT1k5YWptY2hYVVBObCszNVhiREVFSERNT1hxRkMifQ%3D%3D

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Insurers need to project the future cost of delayed elective procedures and total expenses of COVID-19 care.

While health insurers have saved money by the cancellation of elective surgeries and many are currently refunding excess revenue under the Medical Loss Ratio, premiums for the 2021 plan year are still in question.

There is a lot of uncertainty, America’s Health Insurance Plans said. Without comprehensive data, insurers are working to estimate 2021 healthcare costs and must base their rates on projected costs, AHIP explained in an infographic.

It is too soon to know what the real healthcare costs of COVID-19 will be. Also, delayed elective and non-urgent care will likely be delivered – and paid for – later.

That care could be more complex and costly because it was delayed, AHIP said.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Insurers are working to meet state deadlines to file 2021 premiums in the individual market.

THE LARGER TREND

Federal law requires insurers to spend 80-85 cents of every premium dollar on medical services and care. The rest, under the Medical Loss Ratio, may go towards administrative expenses, regulatory costs, federal and state taxes, customer service and other expenses.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s postponement of elective surgeries and regular care has created a surplus in revenue for insurers due to lower spending, which many are refunding now.

ON THE RECORD

“COVID-19 has had a very real impact on the economic, physical, and mental health of millions of Americans,” said Jeanette Thornton, senior vice president of Product, Employer, and Commercial Policy at AHIP.  “Our members are working through this uncertainty to strengthen access to affordable care as the fight against the coronavirus continues. COVID-19 dramatically changed the healthcare landscape–in 2020 and for years to come.

 

 

 

 

AHIP to insurers: Extend approvals for surgeries postponed by COVID-19

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/payer-issues/ahip-to-insurers-extend-approvals-for-surgeries-postponed-by-covid-19.html?utm_medium=email

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America’s Health Insurance Plans, the national trade association for health insurers, is telling members to extend prior authorizations for elective surgeries and procedures that were postponed due to COVID-19.

Some payers, like Anthem and UnitedHealthcare, have already extended prior authorizations for procedures that were delayed to curb COVID-19 exposure and to conserve medical resources for patients with the virus. AHIP’s board of directors is encouraging more health insurers to extend approvals for surgeries and procedures that were authorized before the national emergency declaration March 13.

“These grace periods will enable surgeries and procedures to be scheduled and performed without having to be re-authorized,” AHIP said. “Because circumstances will vary significantly by geography based on the incidence of COVID-19 and the availability of clinical resources, we encourage approvals to be valid for at least 90 days or until local backlogs are cleared.”