Health Insurance Roundup: N.Y.’s High Costs, COBRA Concerns, High-Risk Pools
News outlets are covering various aspects of the health insurance industry, especially in light of health reform.
The New York Times: "New York's insurance system has been a working laboratory for the core provision of the new federal health care law - insurance even for those who are already sick and facing huge medical bills - and an expensive lesson in unplanned consequences. Premiums for individual and small group policies have risen so high that state officials and patients' advocates say that New York's extensive insurance safety net ... is falling apart."
"The problem stems in part from the state's high medical costs and in part from its stringent requirements for insurance companies in the individual and small group market. In 1993, motivated by stories of suffering AIDS patients, the state became one of the first to require insurers to extend individual or small group coverage to anyone with pre-existing illnesses" (Hartocollis, 4/18).
Seattle Times reports on 27 year old Steve Ellison, a multiple sclerosis patient, who "like thousands of other state residents have done since 1988, grabbed a lifeline known as the Washington State Health Insurance Pool (WSHIP), also called the 'high-risk pool.' Insurance of last resort, it takes only those turned down for regular insurance, and can be very expensive - $462 per month for Ellison ... For all the political battling and harsh rhetoric surrounding the federal health-care law that passed Congress in March, each side agrees on this point: All sick people need a lifeline like this. The catch: That care can be extraordinarily expensive."
"In 2014, the new national health-care law will bar insurers from rejecting people like Ellison, who have chronic or complex "pre-existing" conditions. The law will require everyone to buy insurance, in theory diluting the high costs of treatment for very sick patients" (Ostrom, 4/17).
Earlier, related KHN story: The First Test Of New Health Law: Covering Hard-To-Insure People (Carey, 3/26)
Albany Times Union: "Public outrage over double-digit rate hikes for health insurance may have helped push President Barack Obama's health care overhaul across the finish line, but the new law does not give regulators the power to block similar increases in the future. And now, with some major companies already moving to boost premiums and others poised to follow suit, millions of Americans may feel an unexpected jolt in the pocketbook. Although Democrats promised greater consumer protection, the overhaul does not give the federal government broad regulatory power to prevent increases" (Levey, 4/18).
The Examiner has a timeline of key provisions of the new law: "In 2010 children age 26 and younger will be allowed to remain on their parent's family health insurance plans ... In 2011 Medicare will offer wellness visits for free (one per year) and discounts of 50% on prescription drugs. ... In 2014 the much publicized health insurance mandate kicks in and is enforced by the IRS. In 2018 the 'Cadillac Health Plan' tax begins" (Ohman, 4/17).
Wall Street Journal: "Despite all the commotion over the health-care legislation, some unemployed people say they're more worried about what will happen to their group health insurance under Cobra. 'Passing the health bill did nothing for us at the moment. It didn't help the immediate needs of those of us in the job market,' says Linda Blackford, a fiftysomething unemployed executive assistant in Denver, noting many of the overhaul's new benefits don't take effect for a few years."
"The 65% government subsidy for extended group health-insurance coverage under employers' medical plans was enacted in February 2009 as part of the economic-stimulus package. And it has been extended by Congress a few times since then. ... Congress is expected to continue debating whether to continue the subsidy until the end of the year in response to deep and prolonged unemployment" (McQueen, 4/18).