General Insurance Issues

Keep Your Doctor? Your Preferred Hospital? Do Your Homework Before Selecting A Plan.

With healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act almost in full bloom, more potentially game-changing unintended consequences are starting to emerge.  One such consequence stems from the introduction of “narrow networks.” Initially intended for healthcare.gov or Exchange based products, most carriers have utilized the narrow networks to round out the low end of their 2014 individual and employer sponsored group plan offerings.

Employers changing plans in 2014 will have to pay closer attention to network selection. Or, potentially pay the price when you or your employees learn that preferred, familiar, closest and, in some cases, the best doctors and hospitals may not be in your plan’s network.

Until now, network size has not been a huge determinant in selecting carriers and plans. Most of the major insurance companies in the group market provided access to a vast selection of doctors and hospitals, especially those providers with the best reputations. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on rate structures, benefits, and plan designs, carriers have less discretion on plan designs and rate setting. As a result, they are turning to these “skinnied” down networks as a primary means to manage costs, differentiate, and vary premium across their respective plan offerings.

In order to gauge the impact, I checked the online directories of two of the major group health plans in one large county in the Tampa Bay market where I reside. While decidedly informal and unscientific in nature, it nevertheless highlights the contrast.

I compared a few key categories of each respective carrier’s heretofore “staple” network (still offered; higher rates than the narrow network plans) against the new skinnier network offering (newly offered; lower rates than staple network plans). In both cases the “staple” networks contained a significantly greater number of providers, were described as open access, and did not require referrals. The new skinnier networks offered fewer participating providers, required designation of a Primary Care Provider (“PCP”), and required PCP referrals to obtain other services.

In comparing several categories of specialists, the narrow networks were on average comprised of about 50% fewer specialist physicians than the traditional networks.  However, the biggest difference between the customary networks and the newer narrower networks came when comparing participating PCPs and hospitals.  Here’s the breakdown:

Carrier 1

Carrier 2

OA Network

Narrow Referral-Driven  Network

OA Network

Narrow Referral-Driven  Network

Primary Care

1280

227

1300+

325

Hospital Primary and Secondary

12

3 (includes 1 major)

18

10 (includes 1 major)

We’ll be monitoring further developments, reporting more on this issue in future posts as well as discussing practical alternative strategies to this growing cost vs. access issue (eg. direct contracting, plan customization, buying a lower cost plan and supplementing, etc.).

In the meantime, what can you do?

When it comes to changing to new plans, look before you leap.  Or, at least plan on doing some homework.

To read more about this topic go to these recent articles in the Washington Post, Insurers Restricting Choice of Hospitals and Doctors to Keep Costs Down,” and at Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review, If You Like Your Doctor You Will Be Able to Keep Your Doctor. Period.”

Year 2 of Medical Loss Ratio Rebates: A Refresher For Employers In Case the Check Comes

This month certain employers may be receiving rebate checks from their insurance carriers. Some may have received checks last year and know what to do. Others may be receiving the checks for the first time and scratching their heads on what to do with the rebates. Here’s a primer summarizing key points that may help guide you.

What is it? Medical Loss Ratio Rebates (MLR) are a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring insurance companies to issue a refund if they do not spend at least 80% (small group and individual; 85% large group) of premium on healthcare related services with no more than 20% going toward administrative costs.

What to do with the check? Rebates are considered plan assets to be used for providing benefits to enrollees and defraying plan costs. Employers are entitled to keep a portion of the rebate commensurate with the company’s percentage contribution to total premium. The remainder must be allocated to the benefit of those enrolled in the plan(s). Employers have some flexibility in terms of how to distribute the rebate. At a high level, the options include:

  • Reduce employees’ portion of premium for the next policy year.
  • Provide a cash refund to those employees covered under the health plan(s) associated with the rebate.

Allotment of the rebate needs only to include current employees. Employers are not required to track down or include former employees in the distribution or apportionment of rebates (any Cobra enrollees being the exception).

To drill into the technical details go to http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/tr11-04.pdf. IRS guidance on tax implications of the rebates can be found at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Medical-Loss-Ratio-(MLR)-FAQs.

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