Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Health care reform: Where to find a good summary (or several) of what's in the bill

We've been getting calls and emails for days from people who want more details on what the federal health reform law will do, for whom, and when.

We're working on several web pages that will address just that. In the meantime -- and in one handy place -- listed below are some of the most comprehensive and reader-friendly summaries we've seen so far.

First, though, here's an update on one of the biggest surprises about the legislation: That the wording left it unclear whether insurers could continue to deny coverage to children with pre-existing medical conditions. The intent was not to. But until last night, it was unclear whether insurers would accept such kids before 2014.

The Associated Press and others have now reported that the industry's top lobbyist said that insurers will accept new federal regulations aimed at dispelling the uncertainty over this issue. The headline says it all: Insurance industry agrees to fix kids coverage gap.

Here are some of the best summaries we've seen of what's in the law and how it would work:

HealthReform.Gov: Answers for families and small businesses: From the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, this is a brief but excellent overview of how the law will affect real-world situations. When does the free preventive care start? What about Medicare's "donut hole"? Will small businesses get tax breaks? Etc.
Kaiser Family Foundation: Summary of coverage provisions in the bill. Packs a lot of detail into three pages.
Kaiser Family Foundation: Summary of new health reform law: This is not light reading, although it's broken down nicely into handy sections (employer requirements, individual mandate, cost containment, etc.) Includes 13 pages of information.
The Christian Science Monitor: What Obama's new health care bill means for us: Breaks down the changes by year -- 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2018 -- in bulleted points.
The New York Times: How different types of people will be affected by the health care overhaul: Examines the bill from the perspective of different people: an older married couple with jobs and insurance, a jobless single woman, a self-employed single man, an uninsured young married couple, etc.
The White House: Health reform puts American families and small business owners in control of their own health care: As you can tell from the headline, this includes a lot of "why" to go with the "what." It breaks things down by policy goal, rather than by what happens when.
Kaiser Health News: Consumers Guide to Health Reform: Uses a frequently-asked-questions format, and includes a lot of good detail re: incomes, subsidies, and what happens when.
CNN: Answers to your questions on health care law: Also uses an FAQ format, but has a broad range of questions. For example, was the "doctors' fix" in the bill? Does the elimination of lifetime caps apply to existing policies? Will an HIV-positive person who cannot get coverage be able to now?
CNN: Timeline: When health care reform will affect you.

Climate change survey surprise: insurance regulators scale back climate-change survey of companies

In the New York Times this morning:
A surprise rebellion by a majority of insurance regulators Sunday reversed key elements of a landmark regulation requiring the nation's largest industry to publicly disclose its efforts to address climate change. Companies can now submit their answers confidentially in most states.
..."To me personally it was very disappointing," said Mike Kreidler, the insurance commissioner of Washington state and vice chairman of the task force that developed the survey.

"The dynamics started to change after Copenhagen," he added, saying that political unrest among regulators grew as the controversy around national climate legislation and the controversy over hacked e-mails from climate scientists expanded. "Probably more so, I think, was the conservative backlash that's been somewhat evidenced in the tea bag party movement, somewhat being in denial that there's any problem with climate."
And from public radio's Marketplace:
While Congress tries to figure out what to do about its energy and climate change bills, some regulators have been trying to change things on their own. Last year, state insurance commissioners decided insurance companies had to disclose what global warming might mean for their profits and losses. A year of lobbying by those insurance companies later, and the commissioners have changed their minds.

Washington flood market assistance plan: Details, documents and FAQs

Within minutes of yesterday's bill signing, our office invited more than 150 insurance companies to take part in a voluntary matchmaking effort called a flood Market Assistance Plan. The goal: pairing companies selling flood coverage with Green River Valley businesses needing it. (The bill doesn't affect homeowners, who typically get adequate coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program.)

Here's a list of the companies.

Here's a copy of the letter we sent to insurers.

And a here's a list -- which we'll update frequently -- of frequently asked questions about the plan.

Kreidler launches program to help Green River Valley businesses get flood coverage

 Businesses struggling to find flood coverage due to a weakened dam in south King County may soon get some help, thanks to a bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Within minutes of the bill signing, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler called on more than 150 insurance companies to voluntarily form a “Market Assistance Plan” (MAP), under the oversight of Kreidler’s office, to help businesses get flood coverage. The bill is ESHB 2560.

Due to concerns about potential flooding below the Howard Hanson Dam, some Green River Valley businesses have said that they can’t find adequate flood coverage. To avoid stressing the dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it temporarily may release more water than usual. Recent work has reduced the chance of serious flooding to 1 in 33. But a complete fix is expected to take at least several years, contingent on federal funding.

“We’re essentially trying to set up a matchmaking service that pairs businesses wanting coverage with insurers willing to sell it,” said Kreidler. “This region is a key part of the state’s economy, with billions of dollars in property and tens of thousands of jobs. We want to make sure that businesses can get the coverage they need to manage this temporary risk.”

The voluntary Market Assistance Plan is the first of several potential steps approved by lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire to help bolster flood coverage in the valley. If the voluntary approach doesn’t work, Kreidler has the authority to compel insurers to form a “joint underwriting association,” which would act as an insurer of last resort.

“The good news is that for most homeowners and some businesses, the federally-run National Flood Insurance Program provides adequate coverage,” said Kreidler. “And that coverage is widely available and relatively inexpensive. We strongly encourage Green River Valley residents to consider signing up for that first.”

Since federal coverage is capped at $500,000 per structure and $500,000 for contents, however, it’s often not enough for businesses. Also, the federal program doesn’t provide business-interruption coverage, which can be critical.

“I hope this voluntary approach works, but it will depend largely upon how many insurers participate,” said Kreidler. “If necessary, we’ll take additional steps.”

For more information, including a copy of Kreidler’s letter to insurers, a list of companies that received it, and frequently asked questions about the plan, please see http://www.insurance.wa.gov/MAP.shtml

Federal flood insurance program lapses as Congress wrestles over changes

The industry press, like Insurance & Financial Advisor and National Underwriter, have covered this a lot in the past few days, but it hasn't been mentioned much in the general media: The National Flood Insurance Program has (again) been allowed to expire.

That means that the federal flood program -- which is the first place most people go to to find flood coverage, insurance that in many cases is required by their banks -- cannot sell new policies. And Congress has gone on a two-week break.

How big a problem is this? Probably just a short-term one. (This has happened repeatedly.) In a March 29 memo, a FEMA official said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office said that the bill that restores the authority for the program "will be the Senate's first item of business when they return to session April 12th. Reid's office also said that the Program will be extended retroactively to make up for the time it expired."

In a useful list of Frequently Asked Questions, FEMA says that most of the 5.6 million flood insurance policyholders will not be affected. Policies in place will remain in force. Claims will still be paid.

But during the lapse, the program cannot issue new policies, boost coverage on existing policies, or issue renewal policies. The biggest concerns are likely to be from folks trying to renew coverage or buy it as a requirement for getting a mortgage. The FAQs listed above have some specifics on how things will work during the lapse (i.e. if the premium payment was made from the escrow account as part of the loan closing, the policy may be issued.)