Stuck On The Bus

Garage Door Opener

The bus stopped right in front of my office.  I knew this because the driver often blocked the exit from our Chagrin Blvd. building.  And there I was, about a dozen years ago, riding the RTA to work.  I had already walked a half a block from my Shaker Hts. home to the Rapid and waited in the rain to transfer to the bus.  All of this because of my reliance on technology.  Our electricity had been knocked out in the storm.  My garage door opener, a first generation behemoth, wouldn’t disengage and I couldn’t get my car out of the garage.

I contacted a client, Smooth Door, a week later and replaced the opener.  The new garage door openers, built with a better understanding of what the consumer needed, allowed me to manually lift the door when the power failed.

My last post, The Not Ready For Primetime Players, detailed the problems I have had in getting the government to help me insure a newborn.  I have exciting news: As previously noted, Senator Brown’s office has been a real asset.  I can now report that there are people doing their jobs at both The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Last Friday. August 29th, an HHS employee left a message on my client’s cellphone.  A Special Enrollment had been granted for the client’s baby son and was made retroactive to his birth.  My client was told that “The Plan” would contact him early the next week and advise him on the next steps he would need to take to get the baby added on to his policy through the Exchange.

There were no further contacts and the HHS employee, a Mr. Ryan had blocked his number.  We could not call him back.

On Friday, September 5th, the client and I called Healthcare.gov.  We reached a helpful, professional woman who was able to verify everything that had been left on the client’s voicemail.

  • A Special Enrollment had been granted
  • It was retroactive
  • There were notes detailing the efforts of the Senator’s office and CMS

Success?    NOPE!

If the goal was to get the federal government to recognize that a baby had been born in Cleveland in April, we did it.  But insuring the child is still beyond our grasp.

The system crashed four times.  Our helpful professional became as frustrated as the client.  She rebooted, cleared histories, and begged for help from her supervisors.

One hour and forty-five minutes into the call our contact was forced to provide the required statement.  I was told the Healthcare.gov will provide “support feedback to Technical Support and that the individual should try again in 72 hours”.

And I was back to where I had been in May.

I have already heard from on CMS employee, thrilled that this is no longer on her desk.  “I understand your frustrations with this whole process, but please try to continue to touch base with the Call Center from Marketplace to effectuate the babies (sic) enrollment.  We cannot process enrollments.  I hope this helps.”

The Technology that was supposed to make the acquisition of health insurance quicker and easier is preventing my client from covering his child.  As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the government has created these unnecessary, inefficient Exchanges.  They are populated by well-meaning workers who are scandalously unprepared and who know nothing about insurance.  And, the government has failed to design a way to manually fix the inevitable problems of their glitch ridden computer system.

Our unwarranted faith and over-reliance on technology has again left us stuck on the bus.

 

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The Not Ready For Primetime Players

flowers

It was another one of those meetings.  The regional manager of some insurance company spoke for two hours.  No handouts.  No collateral.  Two hours of power point.  The important stuff was glazed over or skipped entirely.  He returned to the irrelevant again and again.  I was in a room full of agents desperate for the news that this company, or any company, had found a clear path through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Would this insurer solve our clients’ problems, provide access to the best doctors, and be reasonably priced?

Yes and No.

This particular insurer will be a great answer for a limited number of people in our market.  But it won’t be just the people well served by this insurer and its products who will be carrying that card next year.  For some the coverage and the medical providers will be OK, at best.  And some Ohioans will make a bad decision based on their familiarity with the company’s name or the price on the government’s website.

Unprepared.  Rushed by a timetable that neither the insurers nor the government seem capable of meeting, we emerge from our summer stupor to confront the upcoming open enrollment and renewal season.  In fact, even the insurance company executive noted that this year, 2014, was going to be a bigger mess than last year’s initial healthcare.gov debacle.

Insurance agents are people who have figured out how to monetize empathy and problem solving.  The following are some of the pressure points, issues, and concerns that we have as of the end of August 2014.

  1.  We haven’t solved last year’s problems!  Healthcare.gov, which appears to default to Medicaid, is still incorrectly blocking Ohio women from regular, subsidized, health policies.  It has been less than a week since I last encountered this issue.  Women who have recently given birth seem to fight this more frequently.
  2. Speaking of babies… I noted in April the difficulty I was having adding a newborn to an exchange policy.  The problem was solved in May’s Climb Into The Ring.  NO IT WASN’T.  The baby has yet to be added to the policy.  The client is frustrated.  I’m beside myself.  Our senator’s office doesn’t understand why the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can’t resolve this and can’t seem to provide any of us with an answer or the courtesy of a returned call.  We’ve all given up hope.  To the shock of my peers. I was forced to write a short term major medical policy for the baby this week.  The child will have coverage if he suffers, G-d forbid, a major accident or illness.  I mailed the application to the insurance company and mailed a check for the $25 I made on the sale to a charity.  I can’t keep that money.  I’m embarrassed that I was forced by the government’s incompetence to write the application.
  3. Perfect Storm… My peers are justifiably concerned about the 24 hour day.  There just isn’t enough time.  Senior citizen (65+) Medicare Open Enrollment is October 15th through December 7th.  A large percentage of our group health policies renew January 1st.  Client meetings will be held during the months of October and November with everything finalized, if we’re lucky, by the first week of December.  AND, all individual PPACA compliant policies renew January 1stThe Open Enrollment Period for individuals and families (under 65) is November 15th through February 15th.  Because of the subsidies and changes, most people should resolve their 2015 coverage prior to December 15th.  30 Days.  The overlap of all of our senior business, most of our group clients, and every single individual policyholder under age 65 converging on our offices in time for Thanksgiving dinner has more than a few of us nervous.
  4. Lack of concern… At least one of our insurers has, effectively, eliminated the reinstatement of lapsed policies.  All of our new individual policies are due on the first of the month.  This particular insurer sends a late notice on the 3rd if payment wasn’t received on time.  Policies not sold on the exchange have a 30 day grace period and only have to be eligible for reinstatement to the 30th day after the first late notice.  Yes, you are seeing that correctly.  If the policy was due September 1st it would be permanently terminated by October 3rd.  Once terminated for non-payment, the individual or family is not eligible for comprehensive major medical coverage until the next Open Enrollment Period in November.  Have they met their clients?  This has already had a big impact on some of my clients.  And this will get worse as the premiums rise.
  5. Subsidies and tax returns… Christmas comes twice a year for some retailers.  There is the traditional excitement of December and there is the joy of March and April, when W-2 wage earners receive their income tax refunds.  That money is immediately plowed back into the economy.  Jewelry!  Clothing!  Appliances!  New and Used Cars!  We have no idea what is going to happen this coming spring as many people will be receiving smaller tax refunds due to adjustments from the subsidies.
  6. Deductibles… As the deductibles for individuals on our new policies rise to $6,000+ and families face out of pocket liabilities well in excess of $10,000, we will soon face a new reality.  How many families can afford both the premiums and the deductibles of the PPACA?  This is not about health.  Never has been.  This entire enterprise is designed to (efficiently?) transfer money to doctors and hospitals.  The current system implodes if they don’t get paid.  Sure, your insurer may cover $88,000 of that $100,000 hospital bill, but what about the $12,000 that you failed to pay?  Will you be forced to provide your MasterCard in the emergency room?  Copy of the deed to the house?  This is going to get ugly.

There’s more, but there is a limit to how stressed any of us should be on Labor Day weekend.  In the end it is about faith.  Our faith in our systems, our government, and our leaders will be tested.  And they will disappoint us, but this will get resolved.  It has to be.  Healthcare is almost 20% of our economy.  And though health is seldom a consideration, there are real impacts from decisions made in Washington and our state capitals.  We just need to remind them every now and then.

The Not Ready For Primetime Players became legends at what they did best.  Who knows?  One day we may look back in appreciation at some of our current politicians and bureaucrats.   It could happen…

DAVE

www.bcandb.com

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The CPA Enrichment Act of 2010

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires most Americans to have health insurance.  This is the Individual Mandate.  Failing to purchase coverage without a good excuse will cost you a fine, the Shared Responsibility Payment.  How will the federal government assess that fee?  Your annual income tax return! 
The PPACA also provides tax credit subsidies to help Americans earning less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level pay their premiums if the policy is purchased through a state or federal insurance exchange.  The final calculations are supposed to be recorded on your tax return. 
Our friends in Washington are trying to create the form to record your compliance with the new law.  As a patriotic American, I thought that I might be able to help.  Below is a Schedule I (Insurance) Form. 
 
                                Health Insurance Compliance    
                             
Section I
(Form 1040)                                                                             2014
 
Name as shown on Form 1040, Line 6a____________________________ 
Social Security Number____-__-____ 
Name of Individual, Spouse, or Dependent ____________________________ 
One Schedule I per person. 
This form will determine whether or not you had qualified health insurance for 2014.  Complete a separate Schedule I for each person listed on Form 1040, Lines 6a through 6c. 
A. Insurance
            1. Did the above named individual have comprehensive major medical
                coverage through an Employer sponsored group health policy for all
                of 2014?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 and check YES
                        ___  NO     Continue
            2. Did the above named individual have a qualified individual health
                policy for all of 2014?
                        ___ YES    Not purchased through a state or federal exchange
                        ___ YES    Grandfathered policy (purchased prior to March
                                           2010)
                        ___ YES    Grandmothered policy (purchased March 2010
                                           to December 31, 2013)
                If YES, Return to Form 1040, Line 29 and check YES
                        ___ YES    Purchased through a state or federal exchange.  
                                           Proceed to Section B
                        ___  NO     Continue
            3. Did the above named individual have a qualified health policy
                during 2014?
                        ___ 9 – 12 months   Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES
                        ___ 0 – 9 months     Continue
            4. Was the above named individual granted a Hardship Exemption?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 and check YES
                        ___  NO     Return to Form 1040, Line 29 and check NO.
   The Shared Responsibility Payment is computed on Form 1040, Line 65
 
B. Tax Credit Subsidy
The above named individual purchased health insurance through a state or federal exchange.
            1. Was an employer sponsored group health policy available through
                 personal employment, a spouse, or parent?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES, Line 29a
                                          check NO
                        ___  NO     Continue
            2. Was the above named individual incarcerated during 2014?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES, Line 29a
                                          check NO
                        ___  NO     Continue
            3. Insert income from Form 1040, Line 23 ___________________
            4. Determine tax credit subsidy from Table I.
            5. Did the above named individual qualify for a tax credit subsidy?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES, Line 29a
                                          check YES
                                          Enter earned subsidy here _____________ and
                                          on Form 1040, Line 65a.
                        ___  NO     Continue
            6. Does the above name person want to dance?
                        ___ YES    Under the moonlight
                        ___  NO     Don’t ask me
            7. Did the above named individual receive a tax credit subsidy?
                        ___ YES    Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES, Line 29a
                                          check NO and enter subsidy received on Form 1040,
                                           Line 65b
                        ___  NO     Return to Form 1040, Line 29 check YES, Line 29a
                                          check NO and leave Form 1040, Line 65b blank. 
 
The above is my initial stab at this.  The Internal Revenue Service may, or may not, be even this far along in the process.  CPA’s are gearing up for forms that may not be available until mid or late February.  Tax preparation software will be updated, and updated again before April 15th. 
My advice is to make friends with an accountant.  You’re going to need one.
DAVE
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Nope, Not Today

.Mayfield Heights-20140809-00361 (2)

Juan (name changed) used to have health insurance.  Over the years Juan had been covered by his employer, his wife’s employer, and for the last several years he had been insured through an individual health plan that he had paid for himself.  Juan dropped his policy in March 2013.  It doesn’t matter why.  He just did.  And he has been uninsured since.

On Wednesday, August 6, 2014, Juan decided to buy a policy.  He called his agent (me!) and asked to get a policy like the one he used to have.  And I was forced to say, “Nope, not today”.

Four years since the passage of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and eight months into 2014 and all of this year’s changes and we still have a large number of Americans unaware of the law’s basics.  Here are a few of the most important:

  • It’s all Obamacare.  The good.  The bad.  On or off the government’s online sale’s portal.  Whether you are celebrating the success of Kentucky’s Kynect or flailing about with healthcare.gov, it is all Obamacare.
  • You no longer have to answer health questions.
  • Preexisting conditions are now covered.
  • The premium is determined solely by your age, your address, and whether or not you smoke.
  • We now fully cover annual physicals and preventive care.
  • Maternity is covered the same as any other medical condition.
  • Since we don’t ask questions, the only time most of us can buy a policy is during the Annual Open Enrollment Period.
  • If you lose your policy or have a major life event, you are granted a Special Enrollment Period and allowed to buy a policy.
  • Medicaid was expanded to help the working poor acquire needed coverage.
  • There are tax credit subsidies to help a surprisingly large portion of our country pay for their policies.
  • You will be fined if you don’t have coverage.

There’s more.  Of course there’s more, but the above hits the high points and covers most of what you really need to know.  What Juan needed to know was that he couldn’t simply wake up one morning, dig out my card, and buy a comprehensive major medical policy.

 Nope, not today

Juan was able to purchase a short term policy to cover himself for the rest of 2014.  He and I will talk again in the middle of November during the Annual Open Enrollment Period.

Everyday used to be a great day to buy insurance.  Those days are gone

 

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Beep Beep

photo 3 (2)

The Chase.  The endless effort to reach that which is just beyond our grasp has piqued our imagination since we, as small children, watched the Coyote try to capture the Roadrunner.  We knew, instinctively, that the Coyote would never succeed.  But what if he did?  What if the Coyote actually had his arms wrapped around the Roadrunner?  Would he know what to do?

The Coyote’s struggles are humorous entertainment.  The Republican’s efforts to eliminate or destroy the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) have been just as entertaining if your tastes run towards political drama.  John Boehner and the Republican controlled House of Representatives have been chasing the PPACA for nearly four and a half years.  What would Boehner do if he actually got his hands on the PPACA, if the law was crippled or repealed?  We may soon find out.

This blog has long contended that the PPACA is a poorly written law in desperate need of tweaking.  Today’s problem revolves around the issue of subsidies.  The law was designed, in part, to help the working poor to acquire and PAY for quality health insurance.  The law’s framers envisioned individuals and families accessing a system of simple, online, state-based marketplaces and, when appropriate, tax credit subsidies to help with the premiums.  The process wasn’t all that easy and over two thirds of the states decided not to build an exchange.

Creating a state-based exchange requires an incredible amount of time and energy.  Some states see this as a huge waste of resources.  Others, like Oklahoma, have no interest in participating in the PPACA.  The federal government created the much beloved healthcare.gov so that the millions of residents in states like Ohio could purchase coverage and qualify for the tax credit subsidies.

This past Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled (2-1) that people purchasing coverage through the federal exchange are not eligible for the subsidies.  Sure, a couple of hours later the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia reached the opposite conclusion (3-0) on a similar case, but the door had been flung open.  One side or the other can still appeal, but the conflicting decisions, alone, may be enough to get this matter before the Roberts’ Supreme Court.

Could the Supreme Court eliminate the tax credit subsidies, the only way millions of Americans can afford to pay for health insurance?  Yes, they could.  Would the Supreme Court gut the PPACA?  Who knows?  Based on the Court’s recent decisions, any outcome is possible.

If the Supreme Court takes this case, I suspect that it won’t be until the fall of 2015.  That means that a decision would be handed down in June 2016, right in the middle of a Presidential election.  So let’s explore what would happen if the Supreme Court ruled that tax credit subsidies were only available on policies purchased on state-based exchanges.

  • The immediate effect would be the elimination of assistance to approximately 5 million Americans.
  • The Employer Mandate, a rule predicated on the availability of affordable (subsidized) coverage, would be shelved.

Republicans, having finally caught the PPACA, would be forced to actually do something.

There would be nowhere to hide.  Both parties would have to state clearly how they would solve this problem.  The quickest way to solve this specific issue would be to amend the law and allow subsidies for policies purchase on either the state or federal exchange.   Another option would be for the states could form their own exchanges or contract with a third party to piggy back on the federal exchange.  OR, we could just let everyone fend for themselves as we review the long-awaited Republican alternative.

The Republicans lose under all these scenarios.

If they fix this and a half dozen other major flaws in the law after six years of demonization, they will appear to be weak and hypocritical to their base.  The few Republican members of the House and Senate needed to pass the legislation will be pilloried on FOX and by the right-wing opinion makers.  It was Eric Cantor who originally introduced the “Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Law Act” HB 2 in January 2011.  He will be long gone before the summer of 2016, but Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz will still be in Congress and neither could let a fix get through Congress if they still have Presidential aspirations.

The state governors face a similar problem.  Republicans pushed through constitutional amendments in Ohio and other states that make the creation of a state-based exchange difficult if not impossible.  Many of the Republican governors are defined by their anti-Obama/Obamacare position.  They can’t bend.

The average tax credit subsidy is $5,000 per year, over $400 per month.  I’m not sure which would be worse, the actual suffering caused by the repeal of the subsidies or the inevitable hair on fire commercials about the suffering.  Hell, I’m suffering just thinking about it.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is almost within John Boehner’s grasp.  The House has voted to repeal or change the PPACA over 50 times.  But it may be the framers’ own mistakes, punished by a highly politicized Supreme Court, that will be the law’s undoing.  A victory he doesn’t want over a law he loves to hate.  Poor Mr. Boehner.  No matter where he goes the only sound he hears is “Beep Beep”.

 

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad-Ali-ap_1468665c[1]

The late George Carlin had a great bit about the Champ, Muhammad Ali, who was prosecuted by the federal government for refusing to participate in the draft and take a free trip to Vietnam.    As Carlin pointed out, Muhammad Ali’s career involved beating people up.  The government wanted him to change jobs.  They wanted him to kill people.  Ali said that that was where he drew the line.  He’d beat them up, but he wouldn’t kill them.  So the government said, “if you won’t kill ‘em, we won’t let you beat them up”.

The House of Representatives has voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) over fifty times since January 2011.  Repeal.  Tear it up.  Throw it away.  The Republicans hate the law and want to eliminate it.

Last July the Administration chose to postpone for a year one of the most complicated and confusing portions of the new law, the employer mandate. So what do the Republicans want to do about President Obama choosing to hold off part of the implementation of this law that they hate?  The Speaker of the House, John Boehner, wants to sue the President.

Even though the House has tried to postpone and/or eliminate the employer mandate, the Republicans are really offended that the President did it without them.  It doesn’t seem to matter to the Boehner and his team whether this was necessary.  It is strictly political for them.

All or nothing.  Enforce the entire law including all of the mandates, or none at all.  Except contraception, but that’s a different issue.

No President has ever delayed the implementation of a law, especially a health care law, on his own without Congressional approval.  None, as long as you don’t count George Bush and the Medicare Part D (Rx) rollout in 2006.

At some point we are going to get a Congress interested in governing.  This sideshow does nothing to solve the problems with healthcare.gov.  This lawsuit or threat of legal action will not help even one more American have access to care.

The Supreme Court’s decision of June 28, 1971 recognized the Champ’s Conscientious Objector status.  We have faith, as a country, that the Supreme Court will normally get it right.  Normally, but not always.

And soon we will have the spectacle of John Boehner – a man who doesn’t want to be President, he just doesn’t want anyone else to be President – suing Barack Obama.  And we are left to wonder if all of this could have been avoided if the President had just taken Boehner golfing more often or if he had invited him to build a snowman.

I know George Carlin would have been amused.

 

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Corporations Are People (When It’s Convenient)

Bar Mitzva Invite

You are cordially invited to a very special Bar Mitzvah as Bogart, Cunix & Browning LLC becomes a man.  Please join us at Temple Azrikim Hamochdim (Temple Citizens United) on Saturday, January 7, 2023.  Services begin at 10 AM.  The Torah will be removed from the Ark at 11.  A Kiddush and Reception in the Romney Social Hall will follow the conclusion of services.

It was Mitt Romney who famously declared that corporations were people.  He was derided for that comment.  So many of us knew that corporations, especially closely held corporations, were artificial entities created by people for tax or liability purposes.  Few of us ever imagined that this small stack of paperwork, $1,000 of attorney’s fees, would one day be considered to have the same rights and religious convictions of its creators.

And soon Bogart, Cunix & Browning LLC, our little BCB, will be a man.

The actual definition of corporation (click here) from Merriam Webster doesn’t speak of Bar Mitzvahs or Christenings.  In the old days (pre-Citizens United January 2010) corporations were mainly entities created to help businesses function efficiently.  Political spending by corporations in candidate elections had been prohibited.  The immediate impact of the decision was the deluge of corporate sponsored attack ads over the last four years.  The Hobby Lobby decision is simply the next step to dehumanize individuals while we anthropomorphize corporations.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has decided that closely held corporations are capable of having sincere convictions and that providing all twenty forms of federally mandated contraception imposes a “substantial burden” on Hobby Lobby’s ability to exercise its religion.

I have included the link to the actual Supreme Court decision as well as to Amy Howe’s excellent analysis on ScotusBlog.  As I have noted in previous posts, ScotusBlog is the first place to visit after any important Supreme Court decision if you want a plain English explanation.

Bad Law

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. opined that great cases like hard cases make bad law.  In its fight against a few forms of birth control, Hobby Lobby may give birth to numerous bad laws.  Justice Kennedy wrote in a separate concurring opinion that this ruling was narrow and limited.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably closer to the mark on this point.  Why won’t every business owner with strong opposition to blood transfusions, same-sex marriage, or even women driving not seek to have their day in court?  And how will the Supreme Court decide what is a “substantial burden” and what is not?

Even before the decision was read I had heard from clients interested in opting out of certain coverages.  Some of this, as noted in Isn’t That Convenient (May 2012), is simply about employers looking to save a buck.  But not all.  Some business owners now see a way to express (PUSH?) their values through their business.

The first out of the gate may be businesses concerned about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and whether it may force federal contractors to not discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT).  Will businesses owned and controlled by Christian Scientists eliminate coverage for blood transfusions?  It is too early to say and there is nothing up on the Church’s official website.

It is important to remember that this is a fight that the Obama Administration wanted.  Not once does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mention an IUD.  The law included 100% coverage for Preventive Care.  It was Kathleen Sebelius, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who chose to define birth control pills, IUD’s, and the morning after pill as part of Preventive Care.  Good decision?  Bad decision?  Either way it is important to note that it was a DELIBERATE DECISION.  This, as is the case with so many of the sticking points of the PPACA, is a regulatory issue.

Hard Cases + One sided Regulations = Really Bad Law

Today the ruling applies simply to closely held corporations, but Ted Olson, the attorney who successfully argued the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court scoffs at the notion.  And one day we will have corporations of any size and any religion.  And these corporations will need the free exercise of their sincerely held beliefs.

Will future theologians debate whether a Christian corporation’s pathway to Heaven is through Grace or Works?   And speaking of Heaven, if a Muslim corporation executes a successful hostile takeover, are there 72 shareholders waiting for it in Heaven?

I am positive of one thing.  Should Hobby Lobby ever decide to convert to Judaism, there will a long line of people volunteering to perform the Bris.

 

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And Now A Note From The Department of Gobbledygook

Mayfield Heights-20140626-00340

 

The calls started coming in last week.

Dave, I want to keep my current policy.

Well of course you do.  We had this conversation in October.

Yeah, well I got a letter that said that I had to call in to Medical Mutual if I want to keep my policy, so I called you.

You got a letter?  I wasn’t copied.  I have no idea what you’re talking about.  Would you read the letter to me?

The client read the letter to me over the phone.  It was long and rambling and sounded more like a request for him to dump his old cost effective policy in favor of a new contract than anything else.

That came from MMO?

Yes.  It came in today’s mail.

Do me a favor.  Scan and email it to me or fax it over.

The letter had, in fact, been sent by Medical Mutual to the client.  Identical letters were sent by the insurance companies to all insureds with non-grandfathered policies.  Identical.  The letters were prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The insurance companies were forbidden to move a comma.  If the objective was to confuse and/or frighten the people who have to this point avoided the government’s website, then they have finally managed to find an achievable goal.

Some Americans are well-served by the new health care law.  If you are purchasing insurance for yourself and your family and you

  • Need maternity coverage
  • Have preexisting conditions
  • Would qualify for a premium subsidy

You might benefit from a new health insurance policy.  But if you are healthy and/or don’t qualify for the subsidy, you probably want to keep your old policy.

A surprisingly large number of people want to keep their old policies.

The initial pushback resulted in the Obama Administration granting Transitional Relief, the ability to keep certain existing, non-grandfathered policies for 2014.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in March that we were getting another 2 years and possibly more.

The Good News – My current policy is $400 per month less than a comparable 2014 plan.  I am not alone.

The Bad News – Allowing the healthy to avoid the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) for another couple of years spells higher rates for those in the system.

So to avoid upsetting millions of people the President and CMS are letting you keep your current policy.  To avoid upsetting millions of people with ridiculous rate increases HHS is trying to get you to voluntarily dump your old policy.  Hence the letter.  If you give up your current policy, as opposed to having it taken from you, then you are part of the system by choice.

Don’t Do Anything

If you get the letter, the one that tells you that you can keep your current plan and then lists eight bullet points of what you are missing by not switching to a new health plan, you don’t need to do anything.  Nothing.  You will still get your renewal notice in a timely fashion.  You will have the opportunity to keep your current policy and pay the new 2014/2015 rate.  Or you will be able to shop for a policy under the new rules.  There is no need to do anything today.  That especially means that there is no need to get nervous or aggravated today.

The government’s website, the national frustration number, and letters like this prove again that the people in charge really didn’t know what they were doing when they invaded my business.  The purpose of insurance is twofold – money and peace of mind.  You write small checks to the insurance company so that if, G-d forbid, you get really sick or injured we’ll write the really big checks to the doctors and hospitals.  And peace of mind, the knowledge that this will all work.

There is no gobbledygook on the path to peace of mind.

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Please Remind Me Why We Did This

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It was an ugly, ugly bedroom.  The only solution I could think of was to scrape off the seven layers of paint and wallpaper to get back to the original plaster.  At that point we would be able to make the room ready for my daughter.  It was the spring of 1983 and I was living in University Heights.  The work was backbreaking and monotonous.  Success was measured in inches.  “Surely there must be a better way of doing this”, was muttered on an hourly basis.  I even wondered if it would have been easier to just knock out the walls and hang new Sheetrock.  But we persevered because we knew why we were doing this.  We were doing this for Jenny.

Is the effort worth it?  Are our goals worthy of the time and effort it might take to achieve them?  That question pops up again and again when we look at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  We were told that there were 50,000,000 uninsured Americans and that the PPACA would solve this problem.  We were told that the cost of insurance and the actual cost of healthcare would decrease.  We were promised easy access to affordable care.

Are we there yet?

 According to the Gallup Pole published in March 2014, the number of uninsured in the United States has decreased.  Of course, that number has steadily INCREASED until it peaked in the middle of last year.  But now it is going down.  Gallup conducted more than 28,000 interviews and has determined that 15.9% of all Americans are uninsured.  With a US Population of Approximately 318,000,000, that would mean that about 50,562,000 of us are uninsured.  For comparison sake, the uninsured rate was in the 14% range until the crash at the end of 2008 and did not exceed 17% until the middle of 2011.

It might be fair to ask if the new law is really having any impact on the number of uninsureds.   Is the economy, slowly recovering, the reason more people are now getting coverage?  Or it could be the expansion of Medicaid in those states that chose to fully cover the working poor.  It is way too early to tell.  The numbers released so far, rounded to the nearest hundred thousand or so, are neither firm nor reliable.

Allow me to provide you with a small but accurate sampling of the individual health insurance market in Greater Cleveland.  I wrote 62 contracts (individuals or families) during the first three months of 2014.  Here is the breakdown:

On Exchange (Subsidy Eligible)                                                                  Off Exchange

23                                                         Contracts                                            39

48                                                 Insured Individuals                                     66

7                                                 Previously Uninsured                                  10

15%                                                  Newly Insured                                        15%

Twenty-three individuals or families successfully purchased a policy with me on the new exchange.  We only used the exchange because they are going to receive a tax subsidy to help to pay for the policy.   There were a total of 48 people involved and only 7 of them, 7 total adults and children, were previously uninsured.  The other 41 changed coverages to get cheaper insurance or to pick up maternity.

My Off Exchange experience is essentially the same.  Thirty-nine individuals and or families applied for coverage.  Of the sixty-six people covered, only 10 had been previously uninsured.  The balance purchased policies, in many instances, because we are no longer rating for risk.  In other words, these are individuals and families who may have paid a lot more for coverage in the past due to their preexisting conditions.  Their conditions and the cost to treat them didn’t disappear, just the money it took to cover the risks.

It is my experience, with my admittedly little sample, that only 15% of my transactions involved covering the uninsured.  Most of this is simply shifting risk and cost.  People with lower incomes have shifted a large chunk of the cost of insurance to the US taxpayer.  Unhealthy people have shifted the risk of their insurance to the general population.  The uninsured, the people who would be swamping our offices (sarcasm intended), didn’t stand in line outside of my door.

I talked with an uninsured gentleman this morning.  Harry (name changed) lives in Parma.  He is 62, uninsured since he left his last job in 2010, and has no interest in spending a dime more than necessary.  He has pension, savings, and is getting by.  He uses the word Obamacare like expletive.  Why did he call my office?  It may be because his right knee, the one that was surgically repaired in 2009, may be acting up.  It could be because his buddy is in the hospital and he got scared.  Who knows?   Harry didn’t purchase coverage when we talked in October and he didn’t do anything today.  And he won’t do anything this November at the Open Enrollment unless that knee starts to really hurt or that buddy dies.

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So please remind me why we did this.  Did we need to destroy the village to save it?  Was it worth it?  If our goal was to cover the uninsured and the working poor, we could have done a better, more thorough job expanding Medicaid.  The rest, affordability and patient protection, seem just beyond our reach.  But it is only June 2014.  It is still too early to tell.

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No? Did You Say No? Thank You!

 NO!

February 11th.  The young family applied for health insurance on the government’s exchange on February 11, 2014.  It was a frustrating experience that resulted in the young husband and his child being invited to apply for health insurance.  They were even offered financial assistance.  The 22 year old mom?  The feds thought that she’d be better off with Medicaid.

We tried to fix this.  No luck.  Nothing could be done about this error until the State of Ohio reviewed her case and ruled that she was not eligible for Medicaid.  We applied for the subsidized health policy for the father and son.  We kept the woman on her existing coverage.

The notice was dated Sunday, May 4, 2014.  Ohio, swamped with over 300,000 new Medicaid enrollments since last fall, finally got to my client’s paperwork and declined her.   She is now officially eligible for the subsidized health insurance that she should have been able to purchase months ago.

No, for once, is the answer you want to hear. 

My clients are responsible people who have always had insurance and always will.  They found a way to put the monthly premium into their budget.  But what if they couldn’t?  This is a huge problem that has not been resolved.  I am still having clients incorrectly shipped off to Medicaid.  And what if the client has any ongoing health or financial problems?  Then he is screwed.

In the last month I have had numerous conversations with CMS and federal exchange employees, Senator Brown’s staff, and our elected officials in Columbus.  Our main topic was how to make The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) work better.  Some of what I’ve learned was told to me in whispers.  Some of what I’ve learned from experience has been grudgingly confirmed.  And of course, there are glitches and problems that no one will acknowledge.

  • Healthcare.gov works best when using all capital letters and your Chrome browser.
  • Do not show a husband and wife earning the same exact monthly income.  It throws the system.
  • Healthcare.gov has a big problem with large families.
  • Ditto newborns.
  • Unofficially, part of healthcare.gov’s problem is that there was this assumption that it would be serving the uninsured.  The government’s exchange defaults to Medicaid.  You must qualify OUT of total assistance to earn a subsidy.
  • Undertrained, unprepared, and overworked, the call center workers shouldered a huge part of the burden.  They are now fielding fewer, but more intense calls.  Sitting in a cubicle, forbidden to use paper or pen to take notes, and unable to email for help, the call center assisters are totally overwhelmed by service issues.  I have talked with healthcare.gov veterans (8 months!) who are willing to try trial and error to solve problems.  I’ve also had them hang up on me.

This is my work environment.  The State of Ohio has just about cleared its back log of Medicaid applicants.  Many of our citizens have recently learned that they will now have access to the health care that they need.

And a few of my clients will get the letter they really want.  They will be declined for Medicaid and will now be able to buy an affordable policy.

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