Are health insurance companies getting rid of customer service?

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The trend among health insurance companies used to be to outsource their customer service overseas. United Healthcare was the biggest proponent of this practice in my opinion.

Recently I received word through my job that a national carrier and a large east coast regional carrier are moving towards eliminating customer service reps altogether.

I work for a service that contacts insurance companies on behalf of doctors. Within the past few weeks a major national carrier has made it where doctors, at least, can not speak with a live person and are being directed to the carriers website. I have no problem in using an insurance company’s website. I’ve been using them since as long as they’ve been around and they can be very helpful and a time saver.

However there are plenty of times where the information you need is not on the website and you need to speak to a live person. For example on most websites they only give you a general benefit breakdown. If your doctor needs to perform a specialty service the website probably won’t have that benefit.

Now granted, that’s an infrequent occurrence for most general practitioners. So what does this mean to you? I’m sure the insurance companies view this as a cost cutting measure. Do you think that they’ll pass the savings on to you? Probably not. If anything, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there will probably be an increase in premiums.

As long as the ACA stays in effect our healthcare industry in this country is doomed to crash.

Obamacare stifles competition

Little Competition, High Premiums In NC Health Insurance Marketplace:

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Ok, first I need to get some prefaces out of the way. The first is the usual about I have 20+ years of working in the healthcare administration field. The other is that the article I linked to came out before the October 1st health exchange deadline. I haven’t yet checked to see if North Carolina’s is running yet.

Anyway in North Carolina, and probably a lot of other states, the plans that are being offered from ONE insurance company. They claim that they will offer 20+ different type of plans but only having them offered by one insurer is not really choice. I believe that’s called single-payer and a virtual monopoly. To the surprise of actually no one in North Carolina the big winner was Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

So you can only have BC/BS if you live in North Carolina and are forced to get your own coverage. UNLESS, you live in one of the magic 39 counties that will have a second payer. NC has 100 counties in case you were wondering. Of course it includes major cities like Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro but for the majority of the state it’s BC/BS or pay your government forced healthcare ‘tax’. However even if you live in one of the magic counties, which I do, I seriously have some doubts about what the other payer will have available. I’m sure they will be over inflated premiums with little to no coverage where the BC/BS conglomerate will look like the only option.

This is exactly the problem that healthcare already had, not enough insurers in the states. As I’ve been saying for years now in most states only one or two insurance companies keep a stranglehold on the healthcare benefits of employees in their respective states. This lack of choice is just making the insurance companies monopolies government approved. And in the magic counties if you do choose the second payer I can only imagine the bureaucratic nightmare a patient would have to go through to get treatment since you’re not using the state’s hand-picked golden child.

The Affordable care act is definitely not affordable but it is just all an act.

Home Depot and Walgreen’s cut health benefits because of Obamacare

Home Depot Transitioning Part-Time Workers to Health Insurance Exchanges:

Walgreens Drops Employee Health Insurance Coverage:

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Following in the footsteps of UPS national retail chains Home Depot and Walgreen’s have both announced drastic cuts to their employees’ health benefits. Home Depot is getting rid of healthcare coverage for their part-time employees while Walgreen’s is cutting healthcare for all employees.

In both cases the chains are encouraging employees to purchase coverage from state healthcare exchanges mandated by the Affordable Healthcare Act more colloquially as Obamacare. Now in Walgreen’s defense they will be paying their employees an additional amount to the purchase their insurance but I would lay odds that it won’t be near enough to buy any kind of substantial coverage. Home Depot is just letting their part timers twist in the wind.

Meanwhile the exchanges that are supposed to go live on October, 1st are either nowhere near ready or don’t even exist yet. Tick-tock.

As I’ve mentioned time and time again if you really want to make healthcare affordable the markets in each state need to be opened to more competition. It always seems that one or two insurance companies have a strangle hold on in each state. Think about it this way. Why do most towns and cities only have one cable TV provider? That’s because the cable providers make exclusive deals with the city governments that lock out most competition. I would bet that insurance companies are following the same tactic except on a state level.

What can Obamacare do for you?

UPS cuts insurance to 15,000 spouses, blames Obamacare:

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UPS announced to its employees recently that they were eliminating benefits for the spouses of some 15,000 employees. This should not come as a shock to anyone. The only thing that should be shocking was that it was only 15,000. UPS is putting the blame square on the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare…

UPS blamed the move on several aspects of Obamacare, including mandatory coverage for dependent children up to age 26 and new government fees.

“We are making these changes to offset cost increases due to the [Affordable Care Act],” the memo states.

I actually posted about this three years ago. At the time I was working for a company who did the annual enrolments for UPS. Even at that time UPS was limiting benefits for spouses. As I keep saying the Affordable Care Act is having the reverse effect of its alleged original intention.

As I’ve also said before if the government really wanted to have true healthcare reform they would investigate the health insurance carriers on the state level because it always seems that one or two healthcare carriers seem to control the majority of healthcare insurance accounts in each state. I’m not saying it’s collusion between the states and the insurance companies but if it walks like a duck.

Forced health insurance now ruled unconstitutional

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Federal judge in Pa. rules in favor of suit challenging insurance mandate in health care law:

(Again I have to preface this by saying that in my real life I have 20+ years experience working in the healthcare field.)

The last time I talked about the ‘individual mandate’ was here. The individual mandate is the part of President Obama’s healthcare reform that says everyone in the country must carry some form of health insurance by 2014. In my last post a federal judge in Cincinnati, the pseudo Queen City, ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional. I argued that forcing anyone to spend money outside of taxes is very unconstitutional and now a different Federal judge agrees with me.

Federal Judge Christopher C. Conner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

“The nation undoubtably faces a health care crisis,” Conner said. “Scores of individuals are uninsured and the costs to all citizens are measurable and significant. The federal government, however, is one of limited enumerated powers, and Congress’s efforts to remedy the ailing health care and health insurance markets must fit squarely within the boundaries of those powers.”

I’m sure as long as President Obama is in office this will be an issue that is argued all the way to the Supreme Court.

However as I have said before the individual mandate would not make health insurance more affordable for families. In fact it would probably make it more expensive. In most states there is a monopoly or duopoly of health insurance companies. With current practices health insurance companies could raise their rates and then say you can’t do anything about because it’s illegal for you not to carry it. As I’ve also said before these market strangleholds that the insurance companies hold on states needs to be broken to make healthcare more affordable.

Forced health insurance ruled constitutional

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Federal appeals court rules health care reform bill is constitutional:

This is the part where I remind you that I worked in the healthcare industry for 22 years. Not only have I worked for several major health insurance companies but I have also worked for medical practices and for a company that did annual enrollment for several major corporations. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that for the fact that I may have a little knowledge about the subject at hand.

Anyway, yesterday a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the “individual mandate” part of President Obama’s healthcare reform is constitutional. The “individual mandate” is the part that says all US citizens will be required to carry some form of health coverage by 2014.

How is this even remotely constitutional? Not only that but this does not make healthcare more affordable. In my opinion it’s quite the opposite. If health insurance is made mandatory the government is basically giving the insurance companies carte blanche to charge whatever they want for something that your forced to have.

There is no real choice in the health insurance markets since most states only have a duopoly at best of what health insurance carriers you can ‘choose’. The only thing that will make health insurance more affordable is if these market strangleholds are broken and not the so-called reforms that President Obama is forcing upon us.

I’m not saying that President Obama is in the pockets of the health insurance industry but it seems like he is sure putting more of the people’s money into their pockets.

The healthcare war of attrition continues

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A new wrinkle has developed with the company that I do annual enrollment for and I would imagine that other companies are doing it as well.

Last time I talked about how they were more or less excluding spouses from coverage in order to make up the cost for the mandate of covering adult dependent children. Now it seems that the children themselves are not immune from the cost cutting knife.

It used to be that if you had to cover children under your health insurance it was one price no matter how many children you covered. Whether it was one or one hundred you would still pay the same premium. Not anymore. For 2011 the company that I assist has instituted a new rule that if you have three or more children you have to pay an additional amount on your premium.

Again, if all the people clamoring for reform meant making healthcare even more expensive, then mission accomplished.

More on Healthcare ‘Reform’

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The last time I talked about healthcare reform I bemoaned the fact that the new healthcare regulations allow adult dependent children to be covered under their parents’ plans until the age of 26. I’m sure some of you are kicking up your heels about that. If you are you don’t realize at what price that is costing. Not only is it increasing premiums but some employers are cutting costs elsewhere with benefits in order to defer the costs of covering adult dependents.

For example the company I am currently doing annual enrollment for has basically eliminated coverage for spouses/domestic partners in order to have the adult dependents covered. They haven’t come right out and admitted it but corporations like this often will cut a part of a benefit in order to regroup mandated losses.

Also with corporations and insurance carriers being what they are if you did want to cover your spouse or partner there are only a few circumstances where they could be covered. If your spouse/partner works for a company that has more than 40 left-handed employees with red hair then they can be covered. Of course that’s sarcasm but you get the idea.

So really there has been no true healthcare reform merely healthcare shuffling. Whatever the politicians legislate the carriers and corporations can counter in the name of expenses. It’s a healthcare war of attrition and we’re the casualties.

Healthcare reform Part 2

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When I was 19 I was going to school part-time. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My dad told me that since I was 19 I either needed to go to school full-time or I needed to get a job that had health coverage. So I went to work full-time and never looked back.

So now one of the aspects of healthcare ‘reform’ that was passed was the fact that now dependent children can be covered on health insurance up to the age of 26 without having to be a full-time student. That even includes if they have moved out or have gotten married. That’s not reform. That’s not only basically endorsing a welfare state but that’s also opening the gates to a multitude of fraud opportunities. I’ve already encountered, more than likely unintentionally, where people have tried to add ineligible dependents back on to their health coverage.

Real reform would be increasing competition of health insurance carriers in each state instead of having one or two companies who handle the majority of medical policies for the entire state. I wouldn’t be surprised if the healthcare carriers were acting in collusion  trying to keep competition out of their respective states.

Increased competition would bring the down the cost of healthcare coverage, not government interference.

Healthcare reform

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For those of you who may not know I’ve been working in the healthcare industry for over 20 years.

I’ve been a health insurance claims processor, a medical biller for several medical facilities and now I’m assisting employees of a major corporation enroll in their health benefits. So I may know a little something when it comes to the healthcare debate.

When I first started in the business dependents could be covered under a health insurance policy up until the age of 19. If the dependent children were full-time students they could be covered until the age of 23. That always seemed reasonable to me.

Not too long ago the industry raised the full-time student age to 25. I thought that 25 was a little too excessive. Full time students who are 25 years old are either pursuing major degrees and their parents can afford to pay for private insurance or they’re on the 8 year college plan and need to get a job.

To be continued.