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.

WATCH: April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in New York

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 5:28 AM
Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 8:01 PM


            WATCH: April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in New York

UPDATE, 5:42 p.m. EST: The Animal Adventure Park gave an update in a Facebook post. In an update from a vet, it said, "Progression continues. We cannot confirm active labor at this time, however giraffes hide their signs as a natural instinct, that is why until we see hooves we will not announce active labor ... We are just waiting for the calf!"

 
Animal Adventure Park on Thursday, February 23, 2017

UPDATE, 9:42 a.m. EST: A live stream video was made active again on YouTube before the birth of April the giraffe's calf.

UPDATE, 8:02 a.m. EST: Officials from Animal Adventure Park took to Facebook Live to address YouTube's removal of the April the giraffe live stream.

Posted by Animal Adventure Park on Thursday, February 23, 2017

UPDATE, 7:37 a.m. EST: The live stream of April the giraffe was removed from YouTube early Thursday.

"Upset Youtube has suspended the LIVE FEED for nudity & sexual content? LET THEM KNOW," Animal Adventure Park wrote on Facebook. "You can thank Animal Rights Extremists for this issue."

The park said it will address the issue at 8 a.m. EST on Facebook Live. We will provide the stream when it is available.

We will be FACEBOOK LIVE from the Giraffe Barn at 8:00 AM EST

Posted by Animal Adventure Park on Thursday, February 23, 2017

ORIGINAL STORY: The impending birth of a baby giraffe has the internet waiting with bated breath.

April the giraffe is getting ready to welcome a calf with her mate, Oliver, at Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York.

>> Read more trending news

Animal Adventure Park has a webcam in April's quarters, capturing all the moments leading up to the birth.

>> Watch the live stream here

April is 15 years old, and this will be her fourth calf. Oliver is 5 years old, and this is his first calf. 

For more information, visit Animal Adventure Park's YouTube stream.

Single mother's tax return Facebook post goes viral

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 1:19 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 1:31 PM


            Single mother's tax return Facebook post goes viral

A Facebook post a single mother wrote about her tax return has gained a lot of attention online.

The woman, Christina Knaack, posted a photo of receipt and wrote, “I got back $5,600 on my taxes. Instead of buying my kids the latest Jordans or fancy electronics, I paid my rent for the year.”

>> Read more trending stories  

Knaack posted the photo Wednesday. As of Thursday afternoon, the post had received more than 90,000 shares and more than 26,000 comments.

Many have commented in support of Knaack: “Great job!” “Wow!! Good for you!!” and “You are such an example of a responsible mother! I don't know you, but I'm so very proud of you!”

Knaack told WHNS she is a single mother raising a 4-month-old and 2-year-old on a minimum-wage job.

"It's pretty crazy," she told WHNS. "I was just sharing a milestone with my friends and family."

Posted by Christina Knaack on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

In switch for Trump, White House signals opposition to recreational marijuana use

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 6:58 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 6:58 PM

A day after touting “states’ rights” in moving to lift an Obama Administration directive on transgender bathroom use in public schools, the Trump Administration signaled on Thursday that while it supports the legalization of medical marijuana, it might be ready to clamp down on states that have legalized personal marijuana use.

“I think there’s a big difference between that (medical marijuana) and recreational marijuana,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

“I think when you see something like the opiod addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” as Spicer suggested that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department would be looking at the issue.

“They are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana,” Spicer added.

That explanation from the White House is directly at odds with what President Trump had said on the campaign trail – in early August of 2016, he did an interview with KUSA-TV in Denver, where Mr. Trump made clear he thought the states should be allowed to legalize pot.

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“You think Colorado should be able to do what it’s doing?” reporter Brandon Rittiman asked the GOP nominee about the Colorado law that allows people 21 and over to legally have up to one ounce of marijuana.

“I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person,” Trump said. “I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

In October of 2015, Trump was asked about marijuana at a rally in Nevada, where he said he was all for medical marijuana, and then addressed recreational use.

“And then I really believe you should leave it up to the states; it should be a state situation,” Trump said.

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Nevada was one of four states to approve recreational marijuana use in the 2016 elections, along with California, Maine and Massachusetts, joining Colorado and Washington State.

It’s unclear how the Justice Department might shake things up in those states, in what would be a U-turn for President Trump on recreational marijuana use.

John Boehner: Repealing Obamacare just ‘happy talk’

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 1:58 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2017 @ 1:58 PM

John Boehner: Repealing Obamacare just ‘happy talk’

Despite repeated Republican pledges to scrap the 2010 health law, former House Speaker John Boehner said most of the law known as Obamacare “is going to stay there” because GOP lawmakers have never agreed on what to replace it with.

At a health care conference Thursday in Orlando, Fla., Boehner warned that Republicans will take the political blame for breaking the current health care system if they cannot immediately approve a substitute to take its place.

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Boehner, who represented West Chester until his retirement in 2015, said “all this happy talk” among Republicans after the November election that they should promptly cancel Obamacare and later pass a substitute made him laugh “because if you pass repeal without replace, first anything that happens is your fault. You broke it.”

He said he bluntly told congressional GOP leaders that if they “pass repeal without replace, you’ll never pass replace because they will never ever agree on what the bill should be,” Boehner said. “The perfect always becomes the enemy of the good. And so you’ve got to marry them together, that’s the only chance you’ll get it done.”

“In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never ever one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like,” said Boehner. “Not once.”

Instead, Boehner flatly predicted “most of” what is called the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 “is going to stay there,” including allowing those under age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans and federal financial help for middle-income people to buy their own individual plans.

Boehner’s remarks, delivered during a healthcare information technology conference, were made available on a video tape by the sponsor, HIMSS-17.

Boehner’s comments reflect growing doubts among Republicans that they can muster the votes in the House and Senate to scrap and fully replace the law, which provides health-care coverage to more than 20 million Americans — including about a million people in Ohio — who were without health coverage before Obama signed it into law.

The law expanded coverage through federally subsidized private insurance plans and an expansion of Medicaid, the joint state and federal program that provides health coverage to low-income people.

Boehner’s remarks placed him at odds with House GOP conservatives such as Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana, who took part in an effort to topple Boehner from the speaker’s chair in 2015.

In a statement released after learning of Boehner’s comments, Jordan said “now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House, it would be unacceptable to send anything less than a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare to the president’s desk.”

David Schnittger, a Boehner spokesman, said Boehner “has every confidence that congressional Republicans and President Trump will right the many wrongs of Obamacare, whether your preference is to call it a repair, a replacement, or something else.”

“His point was that the process of doing it from start to finish will not be an instantaneous one, and I think that’s already been borne out by recent developments."