Thousands of consumers get insurance cancellation notices due to health law changes

Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 8:05 AM
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 8:05 AM

Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.

The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010.  At least a few are cancelling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

By all accounts, the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost -- especially after the inclusion of federal subsidies for those who qualify. The law requires policies sold in the individual market to cover 10 “essential” benefits, such as prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care. In addition, insurers cannot reject people with medical problems or charge them higher prices. The policies must also cap consumers’ annual expenses at levels lower than many plans sold before the new rules.

But the cancellation notices, which began arriving in August, have shocked many consumers in light of President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their plans if they liked them. 

“I don’t feel like I need to change, but I have to,” said Jeff Learned, a television editor in Los Angeles, who must find a new plan for his teenage daughter, who has a health condition that has required multiple surgeries.

An estimated 14 million people purchase their own coverage because they don’t get it through their jobs. Calls to insurers in several states showed that many have sent notices.

Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people – about half of its individual business in the state.  Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.

Some Policies Targeted

Both Independence and Highmark are cancelling so-called “guaranteed issue” policies, which had been sold to customers who had pre-existing medical conditions when they signed up. Policyholders with regular policies because they did not have health problems will be given an option to extend their coverage through next year.

Consumer advocates say such cancellations raise concerns that companies may be targeting their most costly enrollees.

They may be “doing this as an opportunity to push their populations into the exchange and purge their systems” of policyholders they no longer want, said Jerry Flanagan, an attorney with the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog in California.

Insurers deny that, saying they are encouraging existing customers to re-enroll in their new plans.

“We continue to cover people with all types of health conditions,” said Highmark spokeswoman Kristin Ash.

She said some policyholders who may have faced limited coverage for their medical conditions will get new plans with “richer benefits” and the policies “in most cases, will be at a lower rate.”

Paula Sunshine, vice president of marketing with Independence, said the insurer hopes the cancelled policyholders will “choose Blue when they decide on a new plan.”

Higher Costs?

Some receiving cancellations say it looks like their costs will go up, despite studies projecting that about half of all enrollees will get income-based subsidies.

Kris Malean, 56, lives outside Seattle, and has a health policy that costs $390 a month with a $2,500 deductible and a $10,000 in potential out-of-pocket costs for such things as doctor visits, drug costs or hospital care.

As a replacement, Regence BlueShield is offering her a plan for $79 more a month with a deductible twice as large as what she pays now, but which limits her potential out-of-pocket costs to $6,250 a year, including the deductible.

“My impression was …there would be a lot more choice, driving some of the rates down,” said Malean, who does not believe she is eligible for a subsidy.

Regence spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said the new plans offer consumers broader benefits, which “in many cases translate into higher costs.”

“The arithmetic is inescapable,” said Patrick Johnston, chief executive officer of the California Association of Health Plans. Costs must be spread, so while some consumers will see their premiums drop, others will pay more -- “no matter what people in Washington say.”

Health insurance experts say new prices will vary and much depends on where a person lives, their age and the type of policy they decide to buy.  Some, including young people and those with skimpy or high-deductible plans, may see an increase. Others, including those with health problems or who buy coverage with higher deductibles than they have now, may see lower premiums.

Blue Shield of California sent roughly 119,000 cancellation notices out in mid-September, about 60 percent of its individual business.  About two-thirds of those policyholders will see rate increases in their new policies, said spokesman Steve Shivinsky.

Like other insurers, the Blue Shield letters let customers know they have to make a decision by Dec. 31 or they will automatically be enrolled in a recommended plan.

“There is going to be a certain amount of churn in the marketplace as people have to make their decisions,” Shivinsky said.

Jay Hancock contributed.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Taco Bell is testing Kit Kat quesadillas at some locations

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 8:18 PM

Some Taco Bell restaurants in Wisconsin are testing quesadillas with Kit Kats instead of savory cheese and chicken.
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Taco Bell/Getty Images for Taco Bell
Some Taco Bell restaurants in Wisconsin are testing quesadillas with Kit Kats instead of savory cheese and chicken.(Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Taco Bell/Getty Images for Taco Bell)

Taco Bell is no stranger to unique food mashups, and the latest menu item the fast-food restaurant is testing is no different.

According to Mashable, the chain is testing the Kit Kat Chocoladilla. As its name may imply, the product is a flour tortilla with broken bits of melted Kit Kats inside. Brand Eating was among the first to report the new item.

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A representative for Taco Bell confirmed the item to Mashable. It’s being sold for $1.

Before heading out to the nearest Taco Bell to sample the treat, it’s worth noting that it is only being tested at a few locations. Taco Bell spokeswoman Emily Erskine told USA Today that the item is at select Wisconsin locations.

The item has been tested since Oct. 5. and will reportedly continue through mid-November. Other locations in the state have a Twix version, according to Brand Eating.

The item itself isn’t new to the chain. Taco Bell UK had the item last year.

The rep for Taco Bell told Mashable that “customer response” to the testing will determine if there will be Chocoladillas for all.

Loretta Lynn returns to the spotlight to induct Alan Jackson into Country Music Hall of Fame

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 6:54 PM

Alan Jackson (L) is presented with a medallion by Loretta Lynn (R) onstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Medallion Ceremony to celebrate 2017 hall of fame inductees Alan Jackson, Jerry Reed And Don Schlitz at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on October 22, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum/Getty Images for Country Music H
Alan Jackson (L) is presented with a medallion by Loretta Lynn (R) onstage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Medallion Ceremony to celebrate 2017 hall of fame inductees Alan Jackson, Jerry Reed And Don Schlitz at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on October 22, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.(Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Country Music Hall Of Fame & Museum/Getty Images for Country Music H)

Alan Jackson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame at the annual Medallion Ceremony on Sunday. The honoree requested that country icon Loretta Lynn be the one to place the Country Music Hall of Fame medallion around his neck. Lynn suffered a stroke in May and has only made one public appearance since then.

When she walked onto the stage with a little help from fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member George Strait and her daughter, Patsy, the audience erupted into applause.

Lynn spoke slowly, but her thoughts were very clear as she explained why she made the effort to travel from her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, to Nashville for Jackson’s induction.

“This is the first time I’ve been out of the house. You’re the only thing that could have brought me here,” she said. “I love you, honey, and I want to say, ‘Congratulations.’ I am so proud of you.”

>> Read more trending news

Lynn also shared the story of her first conversation with Jackson after hearing him perform a few songs.

She recalled, “The first time I ever met Alan and seen Alan, he looked like a scared little boy. He was practicing backstage going through his songs. I remember, I looked at him and I said, ‘You’re gonna be one of the greatest singers in country music.’ He hasn’t let me down.”

Strait sang Jackson’s 2003 song “Remember When” for the honoree. Lee Ann Womack delivered Alan’s 1990 debut hit, “Here in the Real World,” and Alison Krauss performed another hit from Alan’s early years, 1991’s “Someday.”

Lynn joined Alan, George and fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Connie Smith to close out the ceremony with a singalong of the official anthem of the Hall of Fame, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Before the event, Rare Country caught up with Jackson and his wife, Denise, to see what he was thinking going into the big event. Alan told us he’d spent most of the day just watching football and watching his wife and three daughters get ready for the ceremony.

Jackson’s daughters have inspired several of his biggest hits, most notably 2002’s “Drive (For Daddy Gene).” We asked him what they thought of their father getting country music’s highest honor.

“They are all so proud,” Jackson said. “They all say how proud they are. They’ve always been that way about my music and been such a big part of it, influencing songs and everything. I’m so happy they were able to be here tonight to be a part of this.”

Jackson said it’s a little overwhelming to realize the plaque with his name on it will now hang in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s rotunda beside the plaques of other giants of country music.

He said, “A lot of ’em are heroes I’ve patterned myself after, or tried to. All the way from Hank Williams to, more recently, Don Williams that passed away. Everyone from George (Jones) and Merle (Haggard). Just so many people that have been a part of all this history. Especially when you look at how many are members here and how many that aren’t -- I feel so blessed and special to be included with these guys and girls.”

Others inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame include late country star and actor Jerry Reed and songwriter Don Schlitz, best known for writing Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Randy Travis’s “Forever and Ever, Amen” among scores of other major country hits.

What is the difference between a serial killer, spree killer and mass murderer? 

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 6:47 PM

The Most Infamous Serial Killers in the U.S.

Police in Tampa, Florida, think they have a serial killer on their hands, after the shooting death of three people over an 11-day period in the same neighborhood, but do they?

>> Read more trending news

Federal authorities and criminologists actually classify people who kill more than one person into three different groups: serial killers, spree killers and mass murderers.

The dictionary defines a serial killer as “a person who kills more than one victim in more than one location in a very short period of time,” but according to the FBI that definition actually reflects the behavior of a spree killer. 

A spree killer is someone who kills two or more victims over a short period of time without a cooling-off period, the FBI said. At this point and with what we know about the case, it seems this description fits the killer in the Tampa shooting deaths better than serial killer.

Spree killers don’t resume their normal lives in between killings like serial killers do, according to Psychology Today.

“The maximum duration between murders in spree killing is generally considered to be seven days. Serial killers, on the other hand, may cool off for weeks, months and, in rare instances, even years between murders,” the magazine reported. 

The lack of a cooling-off period is the difference between a spree killer and a serial killer, the FBI said.

“This is very different than serial killers who are much more likely to stalk and target complete strangers who somehow fulfill deranged and secret fantasies that only they understand,” Psychology Today reported

The D.C. sniper case from 2002 is a good example of a spree killing when 10 people were killed over 23 days by two shooters.

>> Related: Possible serial killer on loose; Florida police link 3 separate murders

A mass murder is defined as the killing of a large number of people, usually in one place, like the attack in Las Vegas earlier this month when 58 people were shot to death from a window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

An actor portrays serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer at Killers: A Nightmare Haunted House, at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on October 5, 2012.(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Someone paid $16,000 for a sketch by President Donald Trump

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 6:56 PM

The Empire State Building (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore/Getty Images
The Empire State Building (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)(John Moore/Getty Images)

Someone has a new presidential addition to his or her art collection and paid $16,000 for it: a sketch of the Empire State Building by President Donald Trump.

>> Read more trending news

Julien’s Auctions reports that a portion of proceeds from the hand-drawn work, created in “black marker” and signed by Trump (before he was president), will be donated to National Public Radio. It was an item in the auction house’s biannual “Street, Contemporary & Celebrity Art” event.

“The illustration was reportedly donated by Trump to a fund-raiser auction in the early 1990s as part of the ArtiGras Fine Arts Festival in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump enjoyed a residence at what is now the Mar-A-Lago club,” according to information posted in the online auction brochure. “During this time the Empire State Building occupied a great deal of Trump’s attention as he was attempting a takeover of the iconic New York City landmark and eventually brokered a deal for the sale of the building.”

The item was “acquired from a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. estate” and had been anticipated to fetch between $8,000 and $12,000. Here it is: