Friday, October 9, 2009

Major health insurers doing the right thing on H1N1 flu shots

Our office has been calling on health insurers in Washington to eliminate as many barriers as possible for people looking for H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine and treatment. (We can't rewrite your policy and force the insurers to cover these things if they normally wouldn't, but we can encourage them to cover things, as in this recent letter.)

The good news: Some of the state's major insurers have said that they'll cover the costs associated with the vaccine. Premera says it will waive co-pays and deductibles for the shot, as does Regence. The latter wrote to members:
To remove financial barriers associated with administration of the H1N1 vaccine and to encourage members to seek vaccination, Regence will provide coverage for the costs associated with the administration of the H1N1 vaccine, waiving co-pays and deductibles for all members covered by its insured plans. Regence will strongly encourage self-insured employers to cover the full cost to ensure that the greatest number of people are protected.

Good advice for open enrollment and choosing a health plan at work

Also, New York Times' writer Walecia Konrad has good advice for the millions of workers about to hit "open enrollment" season for their health insurance coverage: Open the envelope and actually read the stuff.

Writes Konrad:
Doing nothing is no longer an option. Many companies insist you fill out open-enrollment forms even if you intend to stay with the same benefits package. What’s more, with so many changes and cost increases on the horizon, you owe it to yourself and your family to take a close look at your options.
 Konrad's NYT colleague Lesley Alderman has a more in-depth story designed to guide you through "the annual task of choosing an insurance plan." Expect to pay more, Alderman writes, for fewer choices, higher deductibles, more questions and a system that steers you toward generic drugs and wellness.

Insurance news: WA 16th in health care, new law covers college students, and "windfall profits" tax on insurers?

The Commonwealth Fund has issued a new study rating health care by state. (Washington comes in 16th.)

The AP (via the Seattle Times) reports on a surprising change from the Congressional Budget Office:
Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits would lead doctors to order up fewer unneeded tests and save taxpayers billions more than previously thought, budget umpires for Congress said Friday in a reversal that puts the issue back in the middle of the health care debate. The latest analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that government health care programs could save $41 billion over ten years if nationwide limits on jury awards for pain and suffering and other similar curbs were enacted. Those savings are nearly ten times greater than CBO estimated just last year.
The AP also reports on a new federal law that will allow college students to take up to a year off from school for medical reasons and to still remain on their family's health insurance plan.

House Democrats, according to this NYT story, are also considering a "windfall profits tax" on insurers:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that House Democrats were considering a "windfall profits tax" on insurance companies to help pay for legislation that would provide coverage to most of the uninsured. The idea, she said, is to capture some of the profits that insurance companies might reap if the government required nearly everyone to have insurance and subsidized premiums for millions of low- and middle-income people.
In Miami, meanwhile, a local insurance agent "has been arrested for the second time in two months for submitting thousands of fraudulent premium finance contracts for fictitious policyholders."