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.
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.
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.
The one aspect of health insurance that the Affordable Care Act did not address is the cost of health care services. Without a governor on the prices that doctors and hospitals can charge, the health insurance companies must constantly increase their rates to cover the cost of health care expenses that seem to rise faster than the national average for inflation. One way to reign in the ever increasing costs of health care is by providing consumer information on the cost of health care services through price transparency. The Health Care Transparency Project has started an online petition to request the Trump administration implement price transparency for consumers.
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.
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.
The narrow doctor networks of California’s individual and family health insurance plans are actually smaller than first thought as doctors use a bait and switch tactic to lure in patients and then bill for their services with “out-of-network” providers. The health insurance companies have little control over this practice that has a doctor listed as in-network for their health plan, but the services are actually billed by a facility that is out-of-network. This bait and switch tactic, aided and abetted by confusing online provider search tools and opaque billing statements and codes, leaves consumers paying more for health care services than they should.
On a weekly basis I get calls from people telling me they can’t find doctors who will accept Covered California health plans. The prospective patient is told that the doctor will only accept off-exchange health plans and not Covered California health plans. This is after the health insurance company shows the physician as in-network. Are doctors really discriminating against Covered California consumers or do we just have a failure to communicate?