Category Archives: Healthcare laws

The Insurances Companies have Created Two Classes of Insureds

I received an interesting email from one of my physicians in Manhattan NY.  I am copying and pasting it here.  I am making some modifications to protect the innocent.

I would like to first make a few comments before pasting the email.  It appears from this letter as well as an article that I read in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, the unwillingness of the insurance companies to learn how to work in a more competitive market, to become more efficient, more innovative because they have to be more price competitive is creating two classes of insureds.

The only way that insurance companies know how to deal with reduced premiums is to reduce what they pay to the facilities and providers of healthcare.  They don’t understand that another option is to find ways to reduce their costs of operations as others have been doing for the past 15 years as the insurance companies have continued to put downward pressure on the fees paid to doctors and the only cost doctors have had is to find ways to operate more efficiently and make less money.  They had no one to pass their reduced fees on to.

But insurance companies operate differently.  If their premiums are reduced, this time because of the increased competition that the Exchanges create for them, they in turn pass those reductions on to the facilities and the providers of healthcare.  But the reductions get too low at some point when the facilities and providers will finally say, no more, we refuse to accept your fee schedules.

And that has happened, as the Washington Post article has indicated, there are hospitals that are not included in exchange policies and now, I am finding out there are doctors groups selecting to not accept the reduced fee schedules being pushed on them by the insurance companies due to the Exchange competition forcing premium reductions.  These physician groups have said no and will not participate with these insurance plans because the fees offered by these insurance plans are too low.

So, the physicians and the hospitals participate with an insurance if it is not an exchange policy, but they do not participate with their exchange policies.  As a result, we have two classes of insured patients.  Those who have been lucky to have had insurance all along, usually through large employers, have the better class of insurance which more of the hospitals and doctors participate because the fee schedules, although not great, are more palatable.  Those who only have the choice to purchase their insurance via the Exchanges have a lower class of insurance and the same insurance companies are not considered participating plans with many of the same doctors and hospitals.  And these doctors and hospitals are the best and the brightest available to the population.  So, those purchasing in the exchanges are relegated to the second tier of hospitals and physicians, those who don’t have a choice but to accept the unacceptable low fees that these Exchange offer because they fear that they will not have enough patients to fill their schedules.

Here is the email I received from my specialist in Manhattan, part of the NYU Physician Group Independent Physician Association (Contracting arm for the physicians associated for the physicians):

Dear Patient

If you will be signing up for insurance through the New York State Health Insurance Exchange, there are some things you need to know.  I am currently in network with BCBS, Aetna, Cigna, United and Oxford.  For anyone with insurance that is a standard insurance plan, either obtained through your employer OR through the standard insurance market there will be NO CHANGE.  I WILL REMAIN IN NETWORK FOR THESE PLANS.  

BUT, if you purchase insurance through the NYS Exchange, the plans offered will be using a different network of providers.  That is, BCBS, Aetna, Cigna, and other insurers will have plans available but NYU Physicians have chosen to not accept to contract with those networks.  

On the other hand, I will be in network for Oxford and United insurances that are purchased on the NYS Exchange. 

If you will be insured under the NYS Exchange I will not be in network for any plans other than United/Oxford.

I will continue to accept commercial insurances as I have been and will remain in network for commercial non NYS Exchange plans in Oxford, United, Cigna, Aetna and BCBS.

Please feel free to contact me or my practice manager (Mary Jones, MaryJones@gmail.com) if you have any questions.

I think that we are going to still see things shaking out in the insurance company / provider of services relationships over the next year of so.  Part of the Affordable Care Act Law includes that the insurance companies have to sufficient quality care for the insureds.  If the remaining hospitals and physicians after fee schedule negotiations result in insufficient to support the number of patients needing care, there should be a basis for complaints to be filed against the insurance companies.  However, no one is sure what the process is for enforcing this provision at this time.

Insurance companies have had excessive operational waste because they have had no incentive to become efficient given the way their industry has worked.  All costs have been able to be passed on to their customers in the form of increased premiums (dollar inflow) as well as in reductions in fees to the providers of healthcare services (dollars outflow).

According to an article in the National Journal: (http://www.nationaljournal.com/healthcare/health-premiums-up-50-percent-from-2003-to-2010-report-20111117 )

Health insurance premiums rose by an average of 50 percent nationwide from 2003 to 2010, the Commonwealth Fund found in a report  (http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/Issue-Briefs/2011/Nov/State-Trends-in-Premiums.aspx)  released on November 17, 2011. And costs went up even more for people covered at work—employee contributions to annual premiums increased by 63 percent, the report found.

The average family health insurance plan cost an average of $13,871 a year in 2010, the report found. Annual premiums rose in every state over the seven years from 33 percent in Idaho to 70 percent in Mississippi.

Even though Insurance Companies do not show large profit margins on their income statements, they still pay their executives large salaries and give excessive bonuses.  This is accepted modus opererandi in the industry. One of the reasons the profit margins are reported at only 3-5% is that insurance companies use transfer pricing, moving services and assets between divisions to hide profit, reducing the bottom line. (http://www.iedc-consulting.com/profit-margin-for-health-insurance-companies/ ) This is for two reasons.  They do not want to appear to be the wicked insurance company, taking advantage of the customer, so low profit margins support the image they want to portray.  The second reason is the best reason.  Lower profits lower income tax liabilities.

One of the reasons that insurance companies do not want to add to their efficiency is because of the income they get from float, being able to hold onto premium dollars while not paying it out for services provided.  According to Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton: (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/how-much-money-do-insurance-companies-make-a-primer/ )

About 1 percent of WellPoint’s total revenue came from a category simply called “other revenue.” For the most part this probably comes from interest earned on the “float.” An insurer’s “float” is the money temporarily on hand when premium payments come in earlier than the outlays for insurance claims covered by these premiums.

In times when interest rates are high, an insurer’s float can be a major source of revenue, which is why sometimes health insurers stand accused of deliberately dragging out claims processing, strictly to increase the size of the float at any point in time.

WellPoint Inc. was formed from the merger of two companies that were once known as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Indiana (Now Anthem BCBS) and Blue Cross of California, both originally not-for-profit plans. It is now one of the nation’s largest commercial health insurers.

Those of us who have policies from the Exchanges can no longer just call a healthcare provider (physician, imaging facility, hospital, lab, etc) and ask if they participate with our insurance company.  We need to qualify our question and ask if they participate with our insurance company with plans that come from the ACA Exchanges.  We need to check this out before making an appointment to make sure that we are going to a provider that participates with our Exchange plan.

Our Exchange plan should also provide us with a director of providers, probably via an internet website.  So, if you are having problems finding a participating provider, check with your plan and find out where they have a list of participating providers. They may even have a help line to assist you in finding a participating provider.  Use the resources made available to you by your insurance company.

If your insurance company does not provide a sufficient breadth of options available to you in a reasonable geographical radius of quality providers, you should complain to the insurance company.  If they do not assist you in getting more providers available, ask for permission to see an out of network provider who will be paid their full fees.  If this is agreed to, because of a lack of available providers in the specialty you require in your geographical area, make sure you get this agreement in writing from your insurance company.  NEVER TRUST ANYTHING TOLD TO YOU OVER THE PHONE BY YOUR INSURER UNLESS YOU GET IT IN WRITING. 

If your insurer refuses to make any accommodations for you, contact HHS with a written complaint, outlining your requirements, needs, and what the offerings are from your insurance company and explain why those offerings are inadequate.  Explain in the letter to HHS that you requested accommodations to see an out of network physician and that the insurance refused your request.  Explain you understood that ACA requires that insurance companies are required to provide sufficient quality providers for participants in the ACA Exchanges and your insurer is not providing sufficient quality providers for the following reasons…1), 2), 3), etc.

Do not anticipate that this will deny you access to providers.  There should be providers who participate and accept the fee schedules and contract terms of the Exchange plans.  Just understand that the insurance companies have created a two tiered system for insured in the short term because they are not quite sure how to deal the stresses of the increased price competition in the Exchanges.

About the Authors: By: Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, CPC-H, CPC-P, CPC-I, CENTC, CPCO and Lynne Smith, MSSW. Barbara is an industrial engineer with an MBA. She worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years before moving into the healthcare industry where she had a company where she provided top quality coding, compliance and revenue cycle management services for physicians. She has since moved into full time consulting for physicians. Barbara is a nationally known expert known for her education, consulting and expert witness services. Lynne has dedicated her career to helping others. She has experience as a social worker in a rural county, an administrator in a large hospital network and as a College Professor. She uses the skills she developed over the years as an advocate in a variety of areas including her most recent venture serving as a Healthcare Advocate. Together, Lynne and Barbara own the ACA Healthcare Advocates consulting firm and are available to individuals, families and businesses to help them meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act in order to meet the specific needs of the client while optimizing the fiscal considerations.  Please direct your questions and/or inquiries to askcobuzzi@gmail.com.

Copyright:

© Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, CPC-H, CPC-P, CPC-I, CENTC, CPCO and Lynne Smith, MSSW, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, CPC-H, CPC-P, CPC-I, CENTC, CPCO and Lynne Smith, MSSW,  and The Place for Facts: Not Rhetoric with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Permission for more comprehensive use may be obtained by contacting the authors at askcobuzzi@gmail.com

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The “Must Know” Terms to Successfully Understand ACA and The Health Care Exchanges

When shopping and/or purchasing  an Individual  or family health insurance policy through the  federal and/or state exchange marketplace there are several terms you must know to best understand your options and insure you get the best policy for the best cost to cover you and/or your family.  The State and Federal Exchange Marketplaces have been up and available to consumers since October 1, 2013.  Healthcare.gov, the primary starting point for Americans seeking affordable health care, opened with a bang, receiving many more hits than expected.  Healthcare.gov saw 8 million unique visitors during the first four days it was open (October 1-4, Tuesday-Friday). (http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/10/it-doesnt-matter-if-no-one-signs-obamacare-week ) This does not include those who went directly to the state run exchanges, for example, California and New York.  Most of those visitors did not purchase insurance when they first visited the website.  There are a variety of reasons for this including but not limited to being a new program, failing to anticipate the number of people who would explore the site immediately after launching it.  Most of the people went on the exchanges to explore, to actually search for the insurance options and some logged on were curious about the exchanges.

Initially upon opening, the website was slow and experienced some glitches, as is often the case on new popular websites upon launch.  I do not think that the designers anticipated the large volume of people that would visit the exchanges all at one time.  As a result, the pent up demand by the long time uninsured, searching for insurance, finally, brought the web site to its knees.  This caused frustration by those excited to price out and find out more about their insurance options which will be effective for them as of January 1, 2014. While many people were frustrated with their inability to access the site, enrollees have until December 15th to sign up for insurance for 2014 beginning on 1/1/2014.  The open enrollment period for 2014 is actually extended for three additional months, from January, 2014 until 3/15/2014.  This will give potential enrollees a little extra time to decide about purchasing health insurance from the exchange.  Enrollment in subsequent years will  last just under three months, from October 1st of the year before the effective date of the insurance year until December 15th before the effective of the insurance year.  So, for the insurance year beginning on of January 1, 2015, we will have an enrollment period of just less than 3 months from 10/1/2014 through 12/15/2014. ‘If someone decides to not enroll in the exchange for 2014, elects to pay the tax penalty, and they get sick or have an accident in the year, they cannot get insurance back dated to the date of the event. This is a common myth that people, who are trying to turn the public against ACA tell people that they don’t need to sign up for insurance, because if something catastrophic happens they can sign up then.   In 2014, if a person happens to have a catastrophic event between January 1st and March 15th, the person will have the opportunity to enroll in ACA with the effective date being about two weeks from the date of their application since the open enrollment period is extended.  However, after March 15, 2013 and in subsequent years, if a person declines to enroll and then gets sick or has an accident, they will not be able to acquire insurance until the next enrollment period, from October-December and their coverage will not start until the following January 1st This could put a large financial burden on the uninsured person and could lead to potential personal bankruptcies.  It is important to remember that more than60% of households who declare bankruptcy say medical bills were one of the leading causes of their bankruptcy. (http://www.sbkass.com/new-york-bankruptcy-news/over-60-of-bankruptcies-caused-by-medical-bills/ ) 20% of the US population between the ages 19 and 64 are expected to suffer some kind of financial hardship due to healthcare costs. (http://madamenoire.com/284014/medical-bills-are-the-number-one-cause-of-bankruptcy-in-americaThis is something to keep in mind when trying to decide whether to purchase your individual insurance or not. the old adage “better safe than sorry” is a good lesson for all to remember in terms of buying health insurance.

Another reason people did not enroll is because they were just browsing, considering buying health insurance through the exchange while others just wanted to check out the pricing so they can budget for next year or just see what all the controversy is about.  Millions of people in the United States have been unable to purchase insurance because of high prices or because they have had pre-existing conditions which excluded them from underwriting. HHS issued a report on 1/8/2011 that stated “129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied without new health reform law. Without Affordable Care Act protections, in 2014, 1 in 2 non-elderly Americans could be denied coverage or charged more due to a pre-existing condition” (http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/01/20110118a.html)  These people, who number more than 10 million uninsured, when you consider the people using the  federal exchange and the state exchanges, were excited and relieved at the prospect of being able to purchase affordable insurance for both themselves and/or their families.  Many of these people immediately went on the exchanges to get the information they have been waiting for in the past two years.  They had been anticipating the ability to obtain insurance since the ACA bill was signed into law in 2010.  People with pre-existing conditions wanted to see if they qualified for coverage and those who prior to this time could not afford insurance wanted to see if the Affordable Care Act made insurance truly “affordable.”

According to Mother Jones, “Experience shows that getting lots of uninsured people into private health plans and new Medicaid plans is maddeningly difficult and time-consuming.” (http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/10/it-doesnt-matter-if-no-one-signs-obamacare-week ) This is based on the history from implementation of “RomneyCare” in Massachusetts.  The implementation in MA basically followed the same pattern as what we are seeing with the implementation of ACA nationally.  The Massachusetts exchanges opened in October of 2006 and by the time everyone had to be enrolled into an insurance plan, July 1, 2007, the kinks eventually were worked out and everyone got enrolled by the end of the enrollment period ended on 7/1/07.  It is our expectation that the same thing will happen with ACA.  We have a shorter window and many more states to get fully operational since Massachusetts only had to concentrate on their own needs.  Now, Healthcare.gov needs to address the specifics of 49 additional states, some on their own state exchanges and some on the federal exchange.  As matter of fact, HHS (Health and Human Services) took the website down on the weekend of October 11 and 12th for upgrading and maintenance so it would be able to handle the additional traffic. (http://healthcaregov.net/healthcaregov-news/category/healthcaregov/page/3/) Although we are experiencing better access after the upgrades this past weekend, the website still needs some work.  HHS is busily working on addressing all the volume demands

There has been an incredible amount of false information fed to the American people about ACA and many folks seem to have forgotten the primary goal of the Affordable Care Act was to insure that all Americans had access to affordable health care and that pre-existing illnesses would not longer be a reason people were denied insurance. The Democrats initially wanted a system that would serve all people, however this was an issue that upon negotiation and compromise resulted in the Affordable Care Act. This compromise meant that people who have insurance through their employer or Medicare, are not eligible to purchase insurance through the exchange marketplaces.  This also means, these folks are not eligible for subsidies or cost sharing, which has been frustrating for people who work in low paying jobs, with barely adequate insurance. Only those who do not have any insurance and small businesses can purchase their insurance in the exchanges.  The small business exchange will not be ready for exploring and sign-up until November.

Although small businesses under 50 employees will not be penalized if they do not provide insurance for full time employees (30 or more hours a week), these small businesses, with under 50 employees, can offer insurance to their employees through the SHOP Marketplace designed specifically for small businesses with less than 50 employees (https://www.healthcare.gov/what-is-the-shop-marketplace/).  There are small business tax credits worth up to 50% of the premiums paid available to these small businesses when they do offer insurance to their employees.  Some employers have stated that the tax incentives have made it possible for them to hire more employees.

When you go to Healthcare.gov to shop for and purchase your individual/family insurance, you will see a lot of different terms that sometimes get confusing.  Below, are the definitions of many terms that will make understanding the policies that you are considering purchasing easier and guarantee you ultimately get the coverage and the premium you feel most comfortable paying.

  • Tax Credit: Tax Credits are a subsidy provided by the government for lower income individuals and families that offset the cost of the monthly premium.  Even though this is a “credit” on your income taxes, it can be taken up front and directly applied to your monthly premiums.  You select that you want to apply the Tax Credit to your premiums and the government will pay that portion to your insurance company towards your premium and you will owe the balance.  This subsidy can be applied to any level policy (Bronze-Platinum) It is important to remember that if you under estimate your 2014 income, you will be liable for any over payment on your 2015 tax return.
  • Cost Sharing: Cost sharing is also a subsidy, but this subsidy is only available on SILVER POLICIES.  Lower income people applying for Silver Plans will see their Deductibles and Co-Pays reduced by a Cost Sharing subsidy.  So, although the policies have a standard deductible and co-pay, this subsidy reduces the out of pocket costs for the individuals.  For example, instead of the standard $2000 deductible and $45 co-pay found in a Silver policy, based on the purchaser’s income and where they live, their deductible might be lowered to $500 and the co-pay to $25.  It is important to remember that if you under estimate your 2014 income, you will be liable for any over payment on your 2015 tax return.
  • Co-Pay:     There are multiple Co-Pays in the policies, depending on the type of service.  Each one is a different flat, pre-defined amount that the patient pays for that service. The services and Co-Pays without cost sharing subsidies in the Silver policy are exhibited below:
    • Preventative Service                                       $ 0
    • Primary Care Doctor’s Office Visit                     $45
    • Specialist Doctor’s Office Visit                          $65
    • Generic Prescription                                        $19
    • Brand Prescription                                          $50 after $500 Rx deductible
    • Lab Testing                                                    $45
    • X-Ray                                                            $65
    • Maternity                                                       $30% after deductible
    • Out-patient surgery                                         $30% after deductible
    • Hospital Stay                                                  $30% after deductible (up to 5 days)
    • ER Visit                                                          $250 after deductible
    • Urgent Care                                                    $90

It should be noted that prior to completing the application for health insurance through the exchange, you can review the available plans.  These plans will not show any cost sharing subsidies for which you may be eligible.  Do not panic or assume you will not be eligible for cost sharing.  You must go through the entire process of signing up and verifying your income and identity to be shown what cost sharing subsidies for which you may be eligible.  You will also have to sign an attestation statement indicating you have stated your potential income correctly and understand that you will have to pay back any subsidy over-payment.

  • Deductible:   Some services, such as Maternity, out-patient surgery, in-patient hospital stay and ER visits require a Deductible be met by the patient before the insurance starts paying anything.  Note above, that this is not the case for Doctor’s visits, prescriptions, lab tests or radiology services.  All of the co-pays for those services are applied to the deductible.  The Silver plan has a $2000 deductible with no cost sharing applied. Note that Brand name prescriptions have their own separate deductible in the plan.
  • Coinsurance:  Unlike the flat Co-pay which is a single flat amount per service, a Coinsurance is a percentage of the approved fee, usually assessed after the deductible has been met.  As you can see above, the Deductible and the Coinsurance are tied together.  So, Maternity, Out-patient surgery, and inpatient hospital stays are all paid at 70% of the negotiated fee schedule once the patient meets the deductible on the silver plan.  This means that the patient pays the amount of the deductible (in the case of a Silver policy, before any Cost sharing, this is $2000).  Then the patient pays a 30% coinsurance of the fee schedule for these services.
  • Out of Pocket Max: Out of pocket maximums are often confused by those purchasing insurance as a deductible and assume this is an added burden or cost.  But this is actually an added benefit of the plan.  Once the patient has spent the out of pocket max in Co-Pays, Coinsurance and Deductibles, the insurance starts covering everything at 100%.  So, for example, the Silver plan has an Out of Pocket Max of $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family without the application of cost sharing.  This means that once the patient has expended $6,300 out of their own pocket in Co-Pays, Coinsurance and Deductibles, the insurance will start to pay for every service in full (at 100%).  Once a family has paid $12,800 over all the members in the family out of their pocket in Co-Pays, Coinsurance and Deductibles, the insurance will start paying in full, at 100% for all the members in the family.

Hopefully, this has given you a better understanding of the unfamiliar terms in your health insurance policy.  It is important to understand each of these terms and how they affect you.  Remember, all of the figures included in this blog are before any subsidies are determined, because the subsidies are personally customized just for you.

Make sure you follow our blog as the next one published will be a description of the four plans, plus an overview of the step by step process on the exchange to shop for, select and purchase your health insurance policy at: http://wp.me/p3QGSP-1r

Check out our other new blog: Concessions Demanded by Republicans for ACA: Do They Pass The Truth Test?  at http://wp.me/p3QGSP-ap

and Best Use of Tax Dollars: Paying for Government Shutdown or Paying Healthcare Subsidies at http://wp.me/s3QGSP-385

and Do You Choose Life (The Affordable Care Act) or Do You Choose Money? at http://wp.me/p3QGSP-9c

About the Authors: By: Barbara J. Cobuzzi, MBA, CPC, CPC-H, CPC-P, CPC-I, CENTC, CPCO and Lynne Smith, MSSW. Barbara is an industrial engineer with an MBA. She worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years before moving into the healthcare industry where she had a company where she provided top quality coding, compliance and revenue cycle management services for physicians. She has since moved into full time consulting for physicians. Barbara is a nationally known expert known for her education, consulting and expert witness services. Lynne has dedicated her career to helping others. She has experience as a social worker in a rural county, an administrator in a large hospital network and as a College Professor. She uses the skills she developed over the years as an advocate in a variety of areas including her most recent venture serving as a Healthcare Advocate. Together, Lynne and Barbara own the ACA Healthcare Advocates consulting firm and are available to individuals, families and businesses to help them meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act in order to meet the specific needs of the client while optimizing the fiscal considerations.  Please direct your questions and/or inquiries to askcobuzzi@gmail.com.

ACA/Obamacare and the Self Employed/Entrepreneur

ACA/Obamacare and the Self Employed/Entrepreneur

“How is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) going to affect me?  Where am I going to find the money to pay for an added expense?  I’m not even sure I need health insurance, I’m healthy.”   These are the most typical questions asked by people, who have started their own business and are sole proprietors with no additional employees, as the new health care exchanges begin to roll out.   The efficacy of ACA has been debated ad nauseum in the media and political arenas for over two years.    So, let’s get straight to the facts and explore how using the state or federal health exchange will be a good investment that will help the sole proprietor at a very low cost.

First, based on preliminary information purchasing a health care plan through ACA may be less expensive than a comparable health plan, which is completely opposite of what many right leaning media organizations suggest.  These organizations have spent nearly one billion dollars trying to “scare” people, especially small business owners and sole proprietors, into believing that rather than saving the enrollee money, it will drive health care premiums up, keep the enrollee from seeing the same doctor they have for many years, and cause them to have higher taxes.  What are the real facts?  A health care plan through the exchange is likely to be as good as or better than the policy in which a sole proprietor is currently enrolled.  People are often surprised when they determine that the health care plan they have thought had  ”incredibly good” coverage barely matches up to the lowest level, bronze plan offered through ACA. However, a sole proprietor can also simply choose to maintain their current plan if they obtained it prior to 2010.  This may or may not save money and it is important to remember there is not a guarantee that plans that are “grandfathered in” include the minimum or essential benefits mandated by the ACA.

The ten essential benefits which must be included in a person’s health insurance effective January 1, 2014 include, but are not limited to,  ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care. (https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/essential-health-benefits/)  These benefits must be a part of any health care plan offered to enrollees regardless of whether  buy insurance through the state or federal exchange or in the private arena unless a sole proprietor chooses to “grandfather” in a health insurance plan they have had prior to March 23, 2010. (http://outright.com/blog/what-sole-proprietors-should-know-about-the-affordable-care-act/)

It is important, as will be explained, that a sole proprietor verify whether their current insurance plan contains these provisions as well as the lifting of a life time cap and per year cap on payable benefits prior to deciding whether or not to keep their previous plan.  If a sole proprietor chooses to “grandfather” in their current health plan, there are no safety nets or rules that insure that the “grandfathered” plan has the same provisions as a plan purchased through the health care exchanges. These plans may not give the sole proprietor the protection they need if a an unexpected catastrophic illness or accident happens.

Just because a business is brand new or doesn’t include any other employees doesn’t mean the owner can’t afford health insurance.  The new healthcare law will not be devastating to your attempt to experience “the American dream” as some pundits have predicted.   In fact, as will be outlined, nothing could be farther from the truth, enrolling in a health care plan through the exchange may “save” your business.    When starting a new business, health insurance is often thought of as an “added” cost, a luxury and/or something that is simply not a necessity.   New business owners often take a risk and hope that they won’t find themselves in a position of needing health insurance, in the first year or even few years, while building their business.    ACA will protect sole proprietors when or if someone in their immediate family, experiences a medical catastrophe (accident, injury or illness).  ACA better protects Americans and specifically sole proprietors because of the ten essential benefits, previously outlined, as well as changes in deductibles, out of pocket yearly maximums and life-time maximums an enrollee must pay.   No one disputes the soaring costs of medical care.  Development of new technology combined with an aging population, rising incomes and other variables, have resulted in medical care consuming a larger and larger portion of the nation’s economy for years, jumping from about 5% of the gross domestic product in 1960 to over 17% in 2010.  (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/04/nation/la-na-healthcare4-2010feb04)

ACA protects the sole proprietor because there will be no limit on the maximum amount a health insurance company will pay if someone has a life changing accident or diagnosis such as cancer. The ability to purchase adequate health insurance for the sole proprietor is an absolute must in order to protect themselves and their company.  There are countless stories of people who have lost their homes, their business, and everything due to overwhelming medical bills which have led to bankruptcy. In fact, over sixty percent of bankruptcies filed each year are due at least in great part to medical bills.   (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/01/05/1051848/-Medical-bills-cause-62-percent-of-nbsp-bankruptcies) ACA also has other added benefits for the self-employed individual.  Many companies started by an entrepreneur are family businesses and the owner wants one of their offspring to join the family business.  ACA allows children to be covered by their parent’s policy until the age of 26, regardless of whether they are in college or working.  ACA also guarantees that anybody can be covered even if they have a pre-existing condition without an enormous increase in premiums or even being denied health insurance due to that pre-existing condition. The PCIP (Pre-existing Condition Insurance program) was rolled out almost 3 years ago and more than one hundred thousand people who were previously uninsured have been able to BUY insurance at a reasonable cost based on their age. ( https://www.pcip.gov/) This program offered insurance equal to the silver plan offered in the new health exchanges. Prior to the development of the healthcare exchanges many variables impacted the premium a sole proprietor was charged, including but not limited to age, gender, health status, and even being of child bearing age. Premiums though the exchange will be calculated on age, but may have an extra charge if the person is a smoker. These changes will result in a significant cost savings for most sole proprietors.   Prior to the implementation of ACA the cost of health insurance for people trying to buy a private health insurance plan was considerably more costly, than for those people who obtained health insurance as a part of a large group.  The exchanges allow sole proprietors to obtain health insurance at prices equal to or less than many group health insurance rates.

The ACA law clearly indicates that by January 1st, 2014 you must have healthcare insurance as laid out by the individual mandate.    The health exchanges will be available for you to choose your plan on October 1st, 2013.   Remember you have several months to determine which plan you want and to compare plans offered by various companies.  Why is this important?  As a business owner, you understand the need to find the best product at the best price in order to be successful.  The exchanges allow you the freedom to shop for insurance plans like you would for any other product such as a car or television.   The new healthcare exchanges reflect “the open marketplace” at its best in a democracy.

How does a sole proprietor/business owner go about finding the best plan?  The first thing to do is to find out whether your state has elected to run its own healthcare exchange or whether they have elected to use the federal health exchange.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has a website that clearly identifies what each state has chosen to do.  Go to http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/health-insurance-exchanges/ and find your state.  If your state has chosen not to set up its own health exchange you will be able to choose a plan off the federal exchange.  If the state in which you reside is offering their own state run health exchange you will be redirected to the correct website to find the best plan for you. The federal government has tried to make finding the best insurance plan for sole proprietors and small business owners a fairly simple process. When you are ready to begin comparing the plans go to this website:  https://www.healthcare.gov/marketplace/shop/.

Be sure and look carefully at the plans.  When choosing a health care insurance plan it is important to understand the various types of plans available within the exchange.  There are four levels of plans range from the bronze plan which is the least expensive, but also has the highest co-pays and deductibles to the platinum plan which has the highest monthly cost but also has the lowest co-pays and deductibles.  Some of these plans are eligible for tax incentives and even reducing the deductible and/or out of pocket yearly expenses. There are many things to consider when selecting a plan, such as does the plan have dental or other coverage?  What are the deductibles and co-pays?  Am I eligible for subsidies, a decrease in my deductible and a lesser out of pocket maximum?  While some tax incentives such as the premium subsidies can be used toward any plan, certain tax incentive are only available on the bronze or silver plan.   There are many other things to take into consideration when deciding about the company you select, such as are the medical professionals I currently use covered by the company and what do they charge?  If you want your health insurance to be effective January 1, 2014, you have two and a half months to make a decision on what plan is best for you.  Take the time to run the numbers and decide which plan makes the most sense for you. If you are unsure about how to choose the best plan and insurance company for you and your family, contact a health care advocate who can analyze your needs and make suggestions based on your personal needs.

If an entrepreneur/sole proprietor chooses not to obtain health insurance coverage for 2014 they will incur a tax penalty.  In 2014 the tax penalty will be $95.00 or 1% of income, whichever is higher.  The penalties will increase through 2016 when the minimum penalty will be the greater amount of $695 or 2.5% of income.  (https://www.healthcare.gov)  After 2016, the penalties will be adjusted based on the cost of living increase.  A sole proprietor must ask themselves, is this penalty worth not purchasing health insurance?  However, there is even a more important question sole proprietors must ask themselves.  ”Am I willing to risk my business on a hope and a prayer?”  The risk is high because no one can predict if and when something catastrophic may occur.  ” People often ask, why is there a penalty?  Why am I being told “I have to” buy health insurance?  The answer to this is both simple and complex. In 2011, there were nearly 50 million people without health insurance. (http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/13/news/economy/census_bureau_health_insurance/index.htm)   In addition, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act that was passed in 1986 guarantees that people who go to emergency rooms for care cannot be turned away based on the lack of insurance or inability to pay.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Medical_Treatment_and_Active_Labor_Act). These two factors have resulted in an increased reliance on Emergency Rooms for non-emergency care.  It is estimated that hospitals provide almost 40 billion dollars of uncompensated care annually.  http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1040&context=nursing_honproj About 14 million dollars of this is “wasted” on people going to the emergency room for a cold, the flu, or some other ailment that could best be treated by a primary care doctor  This fact, along with the number of uninsured and/or under insured people has placed a great deal of financial pressure on hospitals and has caused the retail cost of health care to sky-rocket.  Contrary to what some people have reported, emergency room care is not free.  In fact,  people with no insurance suffer a double whammy because they are charged the full retail price of care instead of the negotiated rate provided by an insurance plan.  Finally, the number of employers who offer insurance has dropped dramatically from over 64% in 2000 to less than 53% in 2010.  (http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/13/news/economy/census_bureau_health_insurance/index.htm) All the information considered together results in only one common sense conclusion. Health Insurance is a must for everyone, sick or well, young or old to balance, high risk or low risk in order to pay for healthcare costs and stop the retail costs from spiraling out of control.

Clearly, based on the evidence presented, health insurance is not a choice but rather is a necessary cost for the sole proprietor. It is important to remember that health insurance will only be available for purchase during the open enrollment period for the exchanges.  The open enrollment period for 2014 will run for 6 months, from October 1, 2013 through March 30, 2014.  Should an entrepreneur not purchase insurance and then get injured or a diagnosis which needs medical care after these dates, they will not be eligible to purchase insurance to cover their care until the next open enrollment period.  This means they will be fully financially responsible for all costs for the balance of the year, in addition to the tax penalty.  After the extended enrollment period runs out in March 2014 open enrollment will be every October through December with an effective date of the following January 1st.   Remember a significant injury or diagnosis can bankrupt a person, or at the very least put a significant dent into your financial status both personally and in your business.   Unless you’re a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you’re one illness away from financial ruin in this country,” says author Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School, in Cambridge, Mass.” (http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/05/bankruptcy.medical.bills/) It simply isn’t worth the risk.

No person in the United States, especially not sole proprietors should run the risk of not purchasing health insurance.  ACA makes certain that a sole proprietorship’s most important asset is protected:  the health and well-being of themselves. Sole proprietors may qualify for significant tax incentives for purchasing health insurance through the marketplace exchange. The biggest tax incentive for sole proprietors will be the potential of qualifying for an Advanced Payment Tax Credit.  This tax credit may reduce a sole proprietor’s monthly premium in accordance with income thresholds set by the federal government. (http://insuremekevin.com/2013/08/13/sole-proprietor-small-group-plans-dropped-under-health-care-reform/)  It is important that every sole proprietor be aware of this and other possible tax incentives.   If you have any questions or would like more information on how to choose the best health care plan for your needs contact the authors. 

ACA/OBAMACARE MYTH BUSTER: If ACA/Obamacare is implemented the government will spy on me and have access to my bank account.

One of my favorite Professors at the University of Texas at Arlington always said “Nothing ever is, it only appears to be.”  He went on to remind people, that when you read the results of study or listen to someone’s conclusion about a study, a law, or anything in life, that a true researcher will go to the source to determine the validity of the statements or conclusions made.  In the course of my career, I have tried to live by these instructions when reading research, watching commercials, or even listening to political speeches.  Facts are facts, but facts can be manipulated to imply something other than the truth.  What?  It is true, people take things out of context, change a word here or there or even summarize things insinuating they mean something other than the purpose of the statement.  This has been especially true in terms of the information published about ACA/Obamacare.

I have written a series of blogs about the myths associated with ACA/Obamacare.  Things have been taken out of context and frankly outright lies have been told about this program which will allow millions of Americans to obtain health insurance at a reasonable cost.  One of the most frightening lies being told is that if people sign up for the health exchanges and buy insurance through them, the government will be given free access to a person’s financial information and bank account.  Some politicians and Tea Party members even suggest that the IRS will be policing every American’s financial data.  Privacy laws will be ignored.  The government will be able to remove money from anyone’s bank account according to these fear mongers  Guess what?  It isn’t true.  The government will not have access to your bank account.  The IRS will not be able to go into your bank account and take your money without permission.

The Republicans and the Tea Party are doing anything and everything to try and scare you about ACA/Obamacare.  I have PCIP insurance which is the first health exchange program that was offered to people with pre-existing illnesses almost 2 years ago.  I pay $300.00 a month for this insurance.  When I signed up for the insurance, my eligibility for the insurance was determined.  The eligibility test consisted of several questions.  They wanted to know my name, my address, my age, whether or not I had current insurance, and my social security number.  The purpose of the social security number was to insure I was a an American citizen. They asked about insurance coverage because you had to have not had health insurance for the past six months. That is all the information I had to give out to obtain the insurance.  It sure wasn’t intrusive.  Do you know what, they didn’t care about my pre-existing conditions, they didn’t care whether I was a female or a male, they didn’t care if I had been diagnosed with a catastrophic illness…they just wanted to know I was an American citizen and how old I was.  Insurance premiums are based on age and nothing else.  It doesn’t sound so scary does it.  Certainly not the evil doings suggested by the Republicans and Tea Party.

Now here is the funny part.  The GOVERNMENT did not ask ME any questions.  When I went to the website, much like you will do in October, to sign up for the new health insurance exchanges,  I was directed to a page that was created by the insurance company.  When PCIP started there was only one insurance company from which to choose.  In this case it was GIHA.  This is the insurance that federal employees including members of Congress have as a benefit.  They managed the PCIP program.  After I was approved, I had to set up a way to pay my premiums.  I CHOSE to have them automatically deducted from my checking account each month.  Why?  It is suggested that every enrollee either have their premiums deducted from their checking account or charged to their credit card so there is no lack of continuity of care.  It is a protection for the patient, because it is paid each month on time.  It is a protection for the doctor’s and hospitals because they don’t have to worry about someone dropping their coverage and then perhaps not being paid by the insurance company.  It also is a protection for the insurance company so they don’t lose their credibility with provider’s.

What I described in the previous paragraph is the only access anyone would have to your checking account or credit card through ACA/Obamacare.  There is no government involvement.  You make the contract with the INSURANCE company.  The only role the government will have in the implementation of ACA/Obamacare is providing potential enrollees with a vehicle to find the insurance companies providing plans in your state or hooking you up to plans that will be offered on the federal level if you happen to live in a state that refused to participate and develop state based exchanges.

The Republicans, The Tea Party and others have banded together and taken words and phrases out of context in the Affordable Care Act as well as the rules and regulations to make it appear like something it is not.  These lies or manipulations of the truth are designed to provoke fear in the reader.  Let me reiterate.  The federal and/or state government will not have access to your checking, savings, or credit card accounts if you choose to participate in the health insurance exchanges.  You will have a contract with the health insurance company to pay your premium every month just like you might have if you joined a gym or pay your bills through automatic withdrawal.  I pay almost all my bills in this manner including my health insurance, car insurance, home owners insurance, and other bills as well.  It is nothing to be afraid of and certainly not an invasion of anyone’s privacy.

So, don’t fear the government’s intrusion of your privacy.  It won’t happen under ACA/Obamacare.