The real looming threat is the loss of health plans participating in the IFP market. In 2017 three carriers dominated the market with 72% of the enrollments: Anthem Blue Cross 19%, Blue Shield 25%, Kaiser 28%. With the loss of Blue Cross in the major metropolitan markets such as the Bay Area and Southern California, two carriers, Blue Shield and Kaiser, are likely to command over 60% of the market place in 2018. If one of those two carriers determines that offering IFP plans is just too risky in 2018, it could lead to other carriers such as Health Net, Molina, or Oscar also pulling out of the market.
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.
Families don’t all have to be with the same carrier either. Some parents have chosen a PPO plan for their children because certain doctors who are treating their children are in-network with the PPO plan. The parents then choose a less expensive HMO plan for themselves. It could be that a family member needs surgery during the next year. That person might opt for a Gold or Platinum plan to reduce out-of-pocket expenses while the other family members hang out in the Bronze or Silver metal tier level.
Because of all of the numerous ways a provide network search can give incorrect results, I am now recommending that people print out a list of providers in their area. Usually the list can be created in a PDF format that is searchable with Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can look through the list of doctor names alphabetically. You might see Dr. Balabat and realize that is your doctor when you thought the name was spelled Baladat.
But once you cross the border, some plans can be a little coy in whether they will cover any health care services. For both travel in the United States and abroad, you really need to study the health plan’s member agreement also referred to the Evidence of Coverage (EOC). The EOCs are those big documents that tell you have the plan works, what’s included, and what’s excluded. Some EOCs are specific about foreign travel coverage while others that I have studied make no mention of coverage outside the U.S.
Finally, some folks are considering just enrolling in Medi-Cal because they are eligible. They have very little or no income to report on their taxes because they are living off of savings, interest, and dividends. Here again, Medi-Cal would be used as a containment strategy to an unexpected accident or illness. Medi-Cal is typically a HMO plan which requires a Primary Care Physician to make referrals to specialists, order tests, or imaging.
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.
I know people hate health insurance companies and their health plans. But once you read some of the restrictions contained in the health care sharing and short term medical plan, you begin to get a sense of how comprehensive creditable health insurance really is. Seriously, I could have a couple beers, hop on my motorcycle; lay the bike down at 35 miles per hour going around a corner in a 25 MPH zone, and my Affordable Care Act health insurance would cover my injuries related to my stupidity.
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.
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.