Thursday, January 28, 2016
Kaiser Health News
January 25, 2016
Check The Fine Print: Some Work-Based Health Plans Exclude Outpatient
By Jay Hancock
Last year regulators blocked companies with millions of lower-wage
workers from claiming that coverage with no inpatient hospital benefits
met Obamacare's strictest standard for large employers.
Now that those so-called "skinny plans" aren't allowed, insurance
administrators and many cost-conscious employers are purporting to meet
the rules with a new version that excludes another major category:
outpatient surgery. The new plans may not survive regulatory scrutiny
any more than the old ones did, some experts believe.
For 2016, such insurance has been marketed primarily to staffing
companies, home health agencies, hoteliers and other lower-wage
employers that had historically never provided major medical coverage.
Those are the same firms that were sponsoring skinny coverage a year
ago, industry consultants say.
"I really wonder whether they can do that," said Timothy Jost, a law
professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia who is an
authority on the health law. "Refusing to cover any outpatient physician
surgical services is arguably a violation."
Unlike insurance sold to individuals and small businesses through online
marketplaces, large employers are not required to offer a list of
"essential health benefits." Instead, they must offer minimum value —
roughly comparable to that of a high-deductible, "bronze" marketplace
plan — as determined by an online calculator and regulatory guidance, or
face a penalty. There is also a lesser standard for large employers —
"minimum essential coverage" — that triggers different fines for
noncompliance. But nearly all workplace-based plans that offer some
types of preventive care meet this requirement.
Comment by Don McCanne
One of the arguments made for choosing the incremental policies of the
Affordable Care Act (ACA) over a comprehensive single payer model of
reform was that the politicians wanted to avoid disrupting the part of
health care financing that was working well - particularly the
employer-sponsored health plans. So are employees being assured of
adequate health care coverage?
The onslaught of higher deductibles and narrower networks indicates that
maybe these plans are not working so well after all. But you cannot
underestimate the conniving behavior of some of the private sector
employers in shirking their responsibilities for providing adequate
coverage, as supposedly was intended by the architects of ACA.
Since the employers are allowed considerable flexibility in plan design,
some thought that they could exclude inpatient hospital benefits. That,
of course, would be disastrous for anyone requiring hospitalization.
Fortunately that loophole was closed.
Now they claim that they can exclude outpatient surgery. Considering
that now about two-thirds of surgeries are done on an outpatient basis,
that too will lead to financial disaster for far too many patients. It
is likely that our federal stewards will also disallow the exclusion of
outpatient surgery. But then what scheme will they think up next?
Leaving the private sector in control inevitably leads to devious
behavior designed to save money for the employers or insurers at a cost
to the patients. That is the way the private sector and their markets
work. In contrast, responsible public stewards act in the interests of
patients, and part of that means ensuring an adequate health delivery
infrastructure to take care of the patients.
We really do need to dismiss private managers of health care funds and
replace them with our own public administrators. That's precisely what a
single payer national health program would do.
at 5:01 PM