How Much Will Free Cost You?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I looked at the Medical Mutual form again. Yes, I was a bit flustered by the beautiful woman with the deep dark eyes sitting there, next to me, in my office. But thirty-two years of experience kicked in and I continued to study the form. The numbers did not make sense. It took a call to the insurance company to solve the mystery.

I understood the answer immediately. Natasha’s health insurance policy renews November 1st. One premium, $510.96, is for her current “grandfathered” policy covering her and her college student son. The non-grandfathered version of the same policy is $547.75, a difference of $36.79 per month.

Welcome to the next phase of the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. New provisions became effective on September 23rd. Like day following night, new prices became effective on September 24th.

In my post, Addicted to Other People’s Money, I wondered how much the new free basic preventive care services would cost us. We now have the initial price tag.

First, let’s detail what changed on September 23, 2010. The two key elements are Essential Benefits and Preventive Care. The definitions, below, come courtesy of Medical Mutual of Ohio. The email quoted in my July 20th post from Mrs. Obama bragged of even more comprehensive (expensive) benefits.

Essential Benefits: The law requires plans to remove lifetime limits on what the government defines as “essential” benefits. The law will also prohibit annual dollar limits, but not until 2014, which allows insurers to phase lifetime limits out by implementing annual dollar limits that will be incrementally increased each year until 2014. Essential benefits include: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services (including behavioral health treatment), prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services, chronic disease management and pediatric services (including oral, vision and hearing examinations).

Preventive Health Services: Plans may not impose any cost-sharing requirements (e.g., copay, coinsurance or deductible) on preventive health services, as defined by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, when administered by a network provider.

Quick summary:
Essential Benefits become limitless.
Preventive Care Services become free.


Natasha (all names changed) and her son would be forced to pay $431 more over the next year for this. Another client, Paul, had a much more expensive experience. His new Anthem policy was effective September 20th. The premium for Paul, his wife, and two children for a high deductible contract is $402.55 per month. Since he had already paid his September and October premiums for his old policy, he wanted to re-date the new policy to November 1st. The premium for the exact same policy, enhanced with the new Free benefits, would be $480.77, an increase of $78.22. Are these new provisions worth almost $1,000? Not to Paul. And probably not to you.

So here we are, less than a year into the new law, and we are already seeing the impact of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is harder, not easier, to insure Americans. Insurance is more expensive, not less. And the words Cost Containment are still missing from the President’s vernacular.

The September 23rd changes are just becoming effective. More mandated changes are due for January 1st. And the rules are still being written, on the fly, as we reinvent the delivery of healthcare. I’m just hoping that nothing else is Free. We can’t afford free.

DAVE

www.bogartcunix.com

By the way, Jeff, my business partner, was concerned that this post was too dry and contained too much detail. I told him that I could trust my readers to not only plow through a fact laden piece, I could even count on some of you to add pithy, timely comments.