Insurance Exchange Triage
Long wait times, changes in coverage for those covered under high risk pools, and changes in provider networks are some of the problems which have occurred with the national insurance exchange implementation. This article provides pragmatic advice for those seeking insurance through an exchange, working with an agency who has to implement some of the mandates, and who want straight talk on how to accomplish your mission. First and foremost, apart from the standardization of insurance coverage and national role out of a quasi national health care policy, much of the griping over the exchange implementation is merely a ramped up “open enrollment process” which occurs annually for those covered by private insurance plans. To help allay some of the misconceptions, each of the concerns are addressed below.
Timely Processing of Insurance Exchange Applications
Firstly, we can all acknowledge that the federal exchange roll-out has been problematic and now let’s move on to the concern of a delayed application, which is-will I still have medical coverage. If you applied timely, provided all of the documentation, such as proof of income, address, family information, and plan selection your application will be processed with the date you requested. The federal law isn’t effective until January 1, 2014 which is the earliest your exchange plan will be effective. If you miss the December 15thenrollment deadline, you can still enroll for a plan with an effective date of February or March of 2014. Since the majority of the people purchasing insurance on the exchanges are uninsured, this is not a crisis as these people do not have insurance now. Secondly, if you are having trouble getting through on the phone or the web site for exchange enrollment, get a paper enrollment form and attend one of the free sessions at local libraries on how to enroll on the insurance exchange.
Limitations on Provider Networks
Health care clinics or hospitals in the insurance exchange offerings may not be the same as other private sector plans outside the exchange. The reason for this is the insurance companies had to meet both price and strict benefit guidelines to participate in the exchanges and the way they were able to achieve this is to negotiate with hospitals and other providers. Provider limitations or changes Is nothing new in the insurance industry, as there are contract changes every year. For example, Premera has aligned with Virginia Mason as its main hospital for their Washington State Insurance Exchange Plans in Seattle. For me, this is not a negative as Virginia Mason has annually had one of the best patient safety records of all Washington State hospitals, based on publicly available data.
It is the insurance applicant’s job to review the provider/insurer network information and discern whether it is adequate for their needs. And hold the phone, if you doctor doesn’t have privileges at your in-network hospital, you can obtain a referral to someone who does. The primary concern shouldn’t be that you may have a different hospital network, it should be about having the safest facility.
Here is a list of the latest patient safety rankings by the LeapFrog Group, a nonprofit patient safety advocacy and research group that conducts an annual hospital survey on patient safety, as mentioned in Unraveling U.S. Health Care-A Personal Guide. Leapfrog Group identifies five patient safety criteria for prevention of medical errors including: prevention of medication errors, appropriate intensive care unit staffing, steps to avoid harm to patients (ex. falls), managing serious errors (ex. surgical site mistakes), and safety focused scheduling (ex. post discharge follow-up). There were only four hospitals in the entire State of Washington that met all of these criteria 100% of the time for the 2012reporting period and these stellar performers are:
Swedish Hospital-Cherry Hill
Swedish Hospital-First Hill
Virginia Mason Medical Center
Access to Doctors
One of the primary concerns with the implementation of the insurance exchanges has been how this newly insured population will access health care since many do not have a doctor. This is a huge issue and is also one of the reasons the federally qualified health centers known as community health plans have taken a lead in enrolling folks without insurance. Group practices are better able to integrate new patient populations. Also, most clinics these days employ an array of health care professionals, from nurse practitioners, to physician assistants, and licensed practical nurses, so seeing a doctor doesn’t necessarily mean an M.D. Being under the care of a good group practice will mean the organization has oversight and adheres to guidelines for primary health care treatments. And finally, since many of these people have not been insured at all, having access to a clinic is still an improvement in the potential for care. So, if in doubt on where to find a health care provider, look for a community health clinic or a group practice, like Group Health Cooperative or Virginia Mason as an initial point of entry.
Cost of Health Care and Individual Responsibility
Though the grousing about premiums has been somewhat minimized, U.S. health care is the most expensive in the world because we tolerate over charging and tremendous system inefficiencies. Because of these factors we have to pay taxes and premiums to finance our health care system, which is primarily based on user fees. Medicare recipients pay copayments and premiums for their plans, just like the private sector insured. This will not change in this country, you will have to pay for your insurance (unless you are very poor). So please consider whether you are better off paying for a higher insurance premium for a more comprehensive medical plan or a low premium for catastrophic coverage. In essence you are making a philosophical decision about how you want to spend your money and how much risk you are willing to take up front.
In the United States if you want health care, you must pay for it, via an insurance plan and/or at the point of service. To make this manifest you may actually have to do something, like read a brochure, complete an application, go to a free seminar at the library (which have had sparse turnouts), and make a decision to enroll. Failure to do so will result in a tax penalty in 2015, unexpected medical expenses, or the inability to obtain care. For those of you who still have questions on the 2014 health care mandates or the Gordian knot of U.S. health care system, pick up a copy of my book, Unraveling U.S. Health Care-A Personal Guide, published by Rowman & Littlefield in July. http://www.amazon.com/Unraveling-U-S-Health-Care-Personal/dp/1442222972And if you can’t afford to buy it, your local library may have a copy to borrow.
And this is the healthpolicymaven signing off wishing you a safe and merry holiday season-lights up and on!
Leapfroggroup.org Washington State Hospital Survey 2012 results