Both Health Net and Blue Shield have wasted thousands of hours of time for consumers, agents, and their customer service staff. Tempers have become short and patience has run thin. And as of December 21st, a month after some people have applied for health insurance, 10 days before the plans are to become effective, many families don’t know if they will have insurance on January 1, 2018.
Health insurance companies are smarter than your average house cat. They have reams of data about health care claims and demographics. They can forecast, with reasonable confidence, that altering some of the member cost-sharing benefits may reduce their final exposure to pay member claims. It has also been suggested that consumers who purchase health insurance off-exchange, paying the full premium rate with no subsidy, may be more judicious in how they use health care services. In other word, off-exchange consumer mays tend to file fewer health care expense claims. This results in lower rates to the consumer.
The health plans don’t recognize the invoiced amount of the health care services from out-of-network providers as either accruing toward the deductible or for their cost-sharing of 50% before the maximum out-of-pocket amount is met. The health plans apply a Usual and Customary Rate (UCR) or the Allowable Amount. This limits their responsibility for payment and increases the health plan members costs.
The health plans and Covered California may give lip service to the value of the agent community, but it is not reflected in the compensation we receive. I’m not trying to get rich as an insurance agent. My net revenue listed on my Schedule C for 2016 was $34,000. If the new compensation schedules significantly erode my insurance revenue then I will have to find other income streams. Maybe Covered California will hire me to answer phone calls; I hear they have a great benefits package.
If a consumer was in a market where the only choices were Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Blue Cross was the SLCSP (Blue Shield necessarily being the least expensive Silver plan offered) then these consumers may see their relative tax credit subsidy decrease. This will hold true if the Blue Shield plan, and now the only plan available, continues to have a rate lower than what Blue Cross would have had in 2018.
If you are going to be spending an extended period of time outside of your plan area, for work, vacation, or going to college, carefully review your plan’s Evidence of Coverage to make sure the BlueCard Program is part of the covered benefits. I was surprised to learn that both Blue Cross and Blue Shield HMO plans included the BlueCard Program for 2017.
But if you don’t have an account, are trying to help a family member or friend, or are just checking to see if you current mental health provider might be covered in a new health plan, you will have to swim in the sea of confusion for finding the doctor or counselor. Some of the health plans have great online directories and others really suck. Here is an overview of what I learned.
California individual and family plan health insurance carriers have been combating fraudulent enrollment for open and special enrollment periods. Many of the health insurance companies have placed additional requirements on applicants to verify California residency. Unfortunately, enrollments through Covered California, which have virtually no verification of special enrollment eligibility, continue to be a source of high-cost claims from fraudulent enrollments.
For most Covered California consumers there will be only one PPO health plan to select. Blue Shield is the only health insurance company participating in Covered California that will offer a PPO health plan in the major metropolitan regions of California. While the PPO plan design signals to consumers that they have some freedom to use out-of-network providers, the Blue Shield benefits may be very restrictive.
For individuals and families who do not qualify for the Covered California tax credits, there are some alternative off-exchange health plans that may save you money. Health plans offered off-exchange, or directly from the health insurance company, can have different plan design benefits than the standard benefit design available through Covered California. Not only are the rates for these non-standard benefit plans usually less, the design of the plan may save you and your family additional money.
Covered California sets the metal tier plan design for Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) that are eligible to receive the Advance Premium Tax Credit subsidy when enrolled through Covered California. These are the standard benefit designs. Health insurance companies also offer the standard benefit design plans off-exchange at the same rates. But many health insurance companies have created non-standard benefit design plans that also fall within the metal tier levels of Bronze, Silver, and Gold.
Because the non-standard benefit plans meet the actuarial level of the metal tier (Bronze 60%, Silver 70%, Gold 80%) their rates are fairly close to the standard benefit design plans. However, the health insurance companies have tweaked some member cost-sharing elements of the plans. For instance, a non-standard plan may have a higher deductible amount and lower copayments or coinsurance than a standard benefit plan. In addition to the lower premium rates, some of the lower cost-sharing benefits may actually be beneficial to some consumers who utilize different elements of a health plan. Some consumers are willing to accept a higher deductible if they receive lower copayments for offices, labs, or prescription drugs.
Here are a few of the non-standard benefit designs offered off-exchange from some of the health insurance carriers in California.
Anthem Blue Cross Bronze Pathway EPO/PPO* 6900
The Bronze 6900 has a $6,900 medical deductible versus $6,300 for a standard plan. But whereas the standard Bronze has only three office visits at a $75 copay, the Bronze 6900 has a $55 primary care office visits not subject to the deductible. Another benefit is going straight into Tier 1 and Tier 2 prescription drug copayments without meeting a pharmacy deductible. The Bronze 6900 might be great for someone who is generally healthy, can accept a high deductible amount, but needs to see their doctor on a regular basis and takes a couple of medications. It has the potential to save them some money over a Silver plan.
*Home address will determine if a EPO or PPO is offered in the region.
Blue Shield of California Silver Seven 3750
The Silver Seven 3750 has a $3,750 deductible versus $2,500 for a standard Silver plan. The Seven indicates the plan has $7 primary care office copays, $7 acupuncture visit copay, $7 Tier 1 generic drug copay, and $7 lab copay. The Tier 2 and 3 drugs also have a lower copay than standard Silver plan subject to the pharmacy deductible of $250. This plan would appeal to consumers who have frequent doctor office visits and labs to manage a chronic health condition, but are relatively healthy.
Kaiser Silver 70 HDHP HMO 2700/15%
The Silver 70 HDHP 2700/15% is H.S.A. (Health Savings Account) compatible with a $2,700 deductible. Like all of the High Deductible Health Plans, excluding preventive health care, nothing is covered until you meet the deductible. Most HDHP are Bronze plans and have a $4,800 deductible. In addition, the standard Bronze HDHP plans have 40% coinsurance after the deductible is met while the Kaiser Silver 70 2700/15% has 15% coinsurance. A major benefit with for a Kaiser H.S.A. plan is getting an accurate quote for health care services. Kaiser has a list of costs for the most common health care services and they are generally very reasonable compared to other hospitals. This plan should be considered by people who like the Kaiser model of health care, want the tax benefits of an H.S.A., but don’t want the higher $4,800 deductible of a standard Bronze HDHP.
Oscar Simple Bronze
The Oscar Simple Bronze plan is about as close to a major medical catastrophic plan as a person can get who does not qualify for the Minimum Coverage plans. The individual deductible is $7,150 and the only items that are covered are generic drugs at a $5 copayment. Oscar is an EPO so the member does have a selection of doctors and hospitals they can visit without a referral. The Simple Bronze is only offered in parts of Los Angeles County and all of Orange and San Francisco counties. For a 30 year old in those regions the Simple Bronze will still be slightly more expensive than the standard Bronze plans offered by Chinese Community Health Plan, Kaiser, L.A. Care, and Molina. This off-exchange plan would work for someone who is super healthy, never visits a doctor except for an annual physical (which is included at no charge), and can afford the $7,150 deductible in case of a major accident or illness.
Sutter Health Plus
Sutter Health Plus offers health plans in the greater Sacramento region and Bay Area. None of their plans are available through Covered California. However, the rates for the Sutter Health Plus HMO standard benefit design plans are very competitive. Virtually the only way you can get access to Sutter hospitals and doctors are with the Blue Shield plans. A Sutter Health Plus Silver 70 plan for a 40 year old in Sacramento County is $417.37, while Blue Shield PPO is $478.95. Sutter’s rates tend to be slightly higher than Blue Shield in San Francisco, but comparable in other areas around the Bay Area. If you are a fan of Sutter and their doctors, and don’t like the uncertainty that Blue Shield might drop Sutter facilities and doctors from their health plans, a Sutter Health Plan should be given serious consideration.
Western Health Advantage Silver 3600 H.S.A
The $3,600 deductible of the Western Health Advantage Silver 3600 HDHP is also the maximum out-of-pocket for the plan. Once the member has spent $3,600, all benefits of the health plan are covered 100% by WHA. Excluding preventive office visits which are $0 cost, the member is responsible for all the health care costs up to $3,600. That includes prescription medications. This plan would work for individuals and families who infrequently use health care services, but want the assurance that if something big happens; there will be a low maximum out-of-pocket amount.