Insurers hiding the benefits of ‘ObamaCare’

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

One thing I have found missing in the absolutely craptacular reporting of the past week about "ObamaCare Sticker Shock," particulary from the AP (All Propaganda), is the failure to point out that the "cancellation notice letters" from insurers to customers with substandard crappy insurance that does not meet minimum coverage standards is that these insurers are "upselling" their customers to their pricier plans — hence the so-called "sticker shock" — and are not advising their customers of less expensive comparable options.

Insurers also are not directing customers to the health insurance exchanges where they might find a less expensive, better quality plan from another insurer.

In other words, insurers are still engaging in the consumer fraud practices that the Affordable Care Act is trying to end.

Luckily, Dylan Scott at Talking Points Memo today does real investigative reporting in How Insurers Are Hiding Obamacare Benefits From Their Own Customers:

Donna received the letter canceling her insurance plan on Sept. 16.
Her insurance company, LifeWise of Washington, told her that they'd
identified a new plan for her. If she did nothing, she'd be covered.

A
56-year-old Seattle resident with a 57-year-old husband and 15-year-old
daughter, Donna had been looking forward to the savings that the
Affordable Care Act had to offer.

But that's not what she found.
Instead, she'd be paying an additional $300 a month for coverage. The
letter made no mention of the health insurance marketplace that would
soon open in Washington, where she could shop for competitive plans, and
only an oblique reference to financial help that she might qualify for,
if she made the effort to call and find out.

Otherwise, she'd be automatically rolled over to a new plan — and,
as the letter said, "If you're happy with this plan, do nothing."

If
Donna had done nothing, she would have ended up spending about $1,000
more a month for insurance than she will now that she went to the
marketplace, picked the best plan for her family and accessed tax
credits at the heart of the health care reform law.

"The info that
we were sent by LifeWise was totally bogus. Why the heck did they try
to screw us?" Donna said. "People who are afraid of the ACA should be
much more afraid of the insurance companies who will exploit their fear
and end up overcharging them."

Damn straight, Donna!

Across the country, insurance companies have sent
misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the
companies' own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather
than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare
marketplaces
— which could lead to people like Donna spending thousands
more for insurance than the law intended. In some cases, mentions of
the marketplace in those letters are relegated to a mere footnote, which
can be easily overlooked.

The extreme lengths to which some
insurance companies are going to hold on to existing customers at higher
price, as the Affordable Care Act fundamentally re-orders the
individual insurance market, has caught the attention of state insurance
regulators
.

The insurance companies argue that it's simply
capitalism at work. But regulators don't see it that way. By warning
customers that their health insurance plans are being canceled
as a result of Obamacare and urging them to secure new insurance plans
before the Obamacare launched on Oct. 1, these insurers put their
customers at risk of enrolling in plans that were not as good or as
affordable as what they could buy on the marketplaces.

* * *

It's not yet clear how widespread this practice became in the months
leading up to the marketplace's opening — or how many Americans will
end up paying more than they should be for health coverage. But
misleading letters have been sent out in at least four states across the
country, and one offending carrier, Humana, is a company with a
national reach.

"If you're an insurance company, you're trying to
hang onto the consumers you have at the highest price you can get them,"
Laura Etherton, a health policy analyst at the U.S. Public Interest
Research Group, told TPM. "You can take advantage of the confusion about
what people get to have now. It's a new world. It's disappointing that
insurance companies are sending confusing letters to consumers to take
advantage of that confusion
. The reality is that this could do real
harm."

I would term this "consumer fraud."

A LifeWise spokesman told TPM that the Washington marketplace had
done plenty of its own advertising and the company assumes that
customers know they have other options. He also noted that more
information was available on the company's website.

"Our
experience is that our customers are already aware that they have other
options in the market and that we've never had to tell them in the past
that we have competitors," Eric Earling, director of corporate
communications at Premera Blue Cross/Blue Shield, said. "We knew that
(the marketplace) would have a robust marketing campaign for themselves
and knew they didn't need any additional help from us."

As a result of the letter LifeWise sent to Donna and other customers, state regulators in Washington issued a consumer alert
on Sept. 19, warning residents about the misleading information
. "Don't
just take what your insurance company says, make sure you shop around.
You have the right to buy any plan inside the new exchange or in the
outside market," Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in the alert.

But the agency doesn't have the statutory authority to stop LifeWise
from sending the misleading letters, a spokeswoman told TPM. The company
controls one-third of the state's 300,000-person individual health
insurance market — leaving a lot of people at risk of being duped.

"This is a great example of the kind of consumer abuses that are typical
of the insurance industry, and they're supposed to stop under the ACA,"

Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care For America Now, a
pro-Obamacare advocacy group, told TPM. "In this case, they're trying to
get in just one more abuse."

UPDATE: Then there is this counter-GOPropaganda narrative from the New York Times, Under Health Care Act, Millions Eligible for Free Policies:

Millions of people could qualify for federal subsidies that will pay the
entire monthly cost of some health care plans being offered in the
online marketplaces set up under President Obama’s health care law, a
surprising figure that has not garnered much attention, in part because
the zero-premium plans come with serious trade-offs.

Three independent estimates by Wall Street analysts and a consulting
firm say up to seven million people could qualify for the plans, but
federal officials and insurers are reluctant to push them too hard
because they are concerned about encouraging people to sign up for
something that might ultimately not fit their needs.

The bulk of these plans are so-called bronze policies, the least
expensive available. They require people to pay the most in
out-of-pocket costs, for doctor visits and other benefits like hospital
stays.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act say that the availability of
free-premium plans — as well as inexpensive policies that cover more —
shows that it is achieving its goal of making health insurance widely
available. A large number of those who qualify have incomes that fall
just above the threshold for Medicaid, the government program for the
poor, according to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey and
Company.

The latest analysis was conducted by McKinsey’s Center for U.S. Health
System Reform, whose independent research has been cited by the federal
government and others.

Many insurers tried to price their least expensive plans so they would
become free or nearly free with the addition of subsidies that are set
based on a person’s income and the cost of a midlevel, or silver, plan.

“We’re not advertising zero dollar,” said Brian Lobley, a senior vice
president at Independence Blue Cross. But the company is promoting
monthly premiums in the $20 to $30 range, he said.

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