Access to health care services is not equal in the United States. Your health plan determines the type of care you receive. The health plans in the employer, individual, and Medicaid markets are separate and they are not equal. The ACA moved us in direction of more equality for all residents regardless of the market type of the health plan. Current Republican proposals under President Trump will widen the gap in disparity between group plans and individual plans. We need to move in a direction the guarantees access to the same level of health care services regardless of whether you work for government, a large employer, have your own individual plan, or are awarded Medicaid because of your income. It is time to dismantle the flawed ‘separate but equal’ assumption of health insurance in the United States.
First, let me clear that I support the concept of a single payer plan for health insurance coverage. It has worked relatively well for Medicare beneficiaries and a similar concept could be mirrored nationwide. However, proponents of Senate Bill 562, the single payer legislation, are long on promises and short on details. If we have learned anything from the launch of Covered California to serve as the market place for ACA health insurance it is that the best laid plans are far harder to execute than anyone could imagine.
Before I start gathering coverage information, I create a table with preferred or “must have” providers, hospitals, and drugs in rows, with the available health plans across the top columns. I then mark which health plan has the providers in-network and if the drugs are covered and at which Tier.
Forcing either the health plans or the providers to post a list of costs for routine services is a very low impact way of adding consumer information to the health care market. The government is not telling the providers what they should charge. The government is not telling the health insurance companies what they should pay the providers. A law mandating a simple fee schedule like Kaiser Permanente has published will create price transparency and allow consumers to compare valuable health care cost information across a variety of health plans and providers. This will ultimately slow down the rate increases as providers compete not only on patient satisfaction, but on price as well.
The California Department of Health Care released a report confirming that several health plans may have had inaccurate provider directories for their member to search through. The Timely Access Report year 2015 reviewed several different measurements to determine if health plan members could obtain timely access to health care services. The report noted that 13 health plans listed Primary Care Physicians who were not in the health plan’s provider network.
Since the beginning of Covered California, many individuals and families have complained that some doctors refuse to accept health insurance purchased through Covered California. Most health insurance companies have stated that contracted network doctors can’t refuse to see Covered California members. However, Blue Shield of California seems to have changed their position on doctors refusing service. They are now stating, as of November 7th, that doctors can discriminate against individuals and families who have Covered California plans.
One of the first filters in selecting an EPO or PPO individual and family plan, either through Covered California or off-exchange, is determining if your current doctor is in-network. For all the enhancements to online doctor directory search tools, they still suck. They are not consumer friendly. Consumers are given either too many conditions to select or the provider search tool offers too little information.
Covered California has implemented several changes to health plans to increase the access of doctors for patients. All EPO and PPO members will be assigned a Primary Care Physician and they have lowered the office visit copay for most plans, in addition to the no cost office visits for preventive care. But the one accessibility challenge that has not been addressed is the office hours of most doctors. It would make far easier for health care consumers to get care if they could visit their doctor in the evening or on weekends.
The California individual and family plan market place will be changing quite a bit in 2017. Next to confirming if your favorite doctors are covered by the new health plans, many consumers want to make sure their chosen hospital is in-network as well. From information provided by Covered California and the health plans, I have put together a table of California hospitals by region and the health plans they accept.
It is a reasonable expectation to assume that when a family enrolls in a health plan through Covered California that there will be local doctors to address their health care challenges. Unfortunately, some health plans have a virtual vacuum of providers in fairly large communities. This is the case for members of Anthem Blue Cross PPO individual and family plans in Livermore, California. For one family, the nearest in-network pediatrician is over 15 miles away from their Livermore home.