Health Care Reform March 15 2010

Week of March 15, 2010

The White House last week continued to rail against rising health insurance premiums to help build popular support for his health care reform package. But the effort to focus the blame for rising costs on insurers was questioned, in particular, by state insurance experts and economists quoted in a New York Times story last week. Insurance commissioners said that trying to hold down premiums before costs were under control would be very risky. This approach could mean solvency issues in some cases, they told the Times. To help educate Americans about the true drivers of rising health care costs, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade association, last week launched a new national ad campaign. The ad demonstrates that health insurance company costs represent a small slice of the overall health care cost pie.

Federal

With a cadre of staff operatives searching for the right health insurance reform provisions among those previously discarded from the House, Senate and the President’s proposals, Democratic leadership has been relentlessly pursuing every possible pathway to pass a final bill. The expected process would have: 1) the House pass the Senate-adopted reform bill (which most House members hate), 2) the House passing a bill to “fix” all the things it hates using a reconciliation legislative vehicle, followed by 3) the Senate passing the very same reconciliation bill — requiring only 51 votes in the Senate. The House Budget and Rules Committees are expected to start the review, hearing and mark-up process of the reconciliation bill this week. The Senate commitment to using reconciliation was made official in a scathing letter from Leader Harry Reid to the Minority Leader. Along the way the two Chambers will need to see the latest CBO “scores” on the bill before voting, and 216 House Democrats will have to resolve policy disagreements over abortion, federal health insurance rate review and authority, and other substantive issues. Additionally, the House will have to trust that the Senate can pass the reconciliation measure without changing one comma. Partisanship has blossomed into open hostility over health reform. Whether Congress can overcome these policy, process and political mine fields remains as murky as ever, but Democrats have chosen to try and will push for resolution by the Easter recess.

The Senate has passed Jobs Bill II and shipped it off to the House, where passage is not certain. Within the bill are two health-related items of note. First, the COBRA eligibility and subsidy program will be extended to the end of 2010. (These provisions are set to expire at the end of March.) Second, the bill contains a suspension until September 30, 2010 of the cut to physician Medicare reimbursements for the current calendar year. (This provision is also set to expire at the end of March.) Aetna urged Congress to apply the “doc fix” to next year’s reimbursement as well, since insurers’ Medicare rates are based on what doctors are paid, but in the end Congress failed to make this change. Aetna and the industry will continue to find ways both to establish a more lasting, if not permanent, doc fix and to devise a legislative solution to the disconnect between doctor reimbursement and Medicare Advantage rates for 2011 and beyond.

States

ARIZONA: Budget issues remain front and center as the governor and Republican leadership proposed a plan they hope will close the $700 million deficit this year and reduce the anticipated $2.6 billion deficit in 2011. Righting the state’s fiscal ship has become a very partisan exercise, with the Republicans supporting reductions in Medicaid and KidsCare, and the elimination of full-day kindergarten. As the special session on the budget is running concurrently with the regular session, no other bill hearings were held. The oral chemotherapy parity bill may be dead for this year as proponents did not meet the deadline for submitting amendatory language.

CALIFORNIA: The Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee chaired by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre held a hearing last week to examine how the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) and the Department of Insurance (CDI) has handled issues surrounding the rescission of policies in the individual market. According to a report prepared for the committee by Bryan Liang, director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law, fewer than 300 of 6,000 former policyholders are participating in health insurers’ agreements to settle such cases. Republican committee members were highly critical of this witness, while De La Torre was critical of the Departments. The DMHC reported that since their settlements were completed there have only been nine rescissions over the past two years, proof that the DMHC and the health plans have revamped their processes for rescission and have worked to address the problem.

COLORADO: A bill mandating maternity and contraceptive coverage in individual policies continues to receive significant attention in the Senate. The most recent amendment proposes requiring maternity coverage in at least three of the plans marketed by an insurer. It would also allow a current member of a plan without maternity coverage to switch to a plan with maternity coverage from the same carrier during the first trimester. The other major bill would require that second level appeals be performed by physicians who are actively involved in clinical practice. This measure is counterintuitive in the current economy, since it would result in outsourcing appeals and drive up costs for plan sponsors and their employees.

CONNECTICUT: A proposal that would require health insurance plans to cover oral chemotherapy in the same way that intravenous chemotherapy is covered made it through the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee last week. Currently, many health plans treat the two kinds of cancer treatments differently. Chemotherapy treatments that come in pill form are often categorized as prescription drug benefits that can require patients to pay a larger share of the cost. Cancer patients, doctors and patient advocates spoke in favor of the bill, while insurers and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposed it, arguing that it would put a mandate on health plans that could raise costs and make it more difficult for employers to afford insurance.

GEORGIA: A bill restricting the use of rescissions in individual health insurance policies passed a Senate committee last week. Aetna continues to work with its trade organizations to educate legislators about the adverse effect of this type of legislation. Discussions also continue regarding legislation affecting the use of rental networks.

KANSAS: Roughly half way through the legislative session, several health care bills are still moving through the process. On the regulatory front, the Insurance Department has proposed a regulation that would mandate coverage of routine patient care costs while the insured is enrolled in a cancer clinical trial – a mandate that was rejected by the legislature in 2008. A hearing will be held on April 20, and Aetna will have an opportunity to present testimony on this issue. Bills still alive include mandates for autism and orally administered chemotherapy, legislation prohibiting dental contracts that require the dentist to follow a fee schedule for non-covered services, and a ban on “most favored nation” clauses by some insurers. Another bill would allow small employers to create individual HRAs to fund premium payments on individual policies, require administering insurers to offer employees the option of receiving health insurance coverage through a high-deductible health plan with an HSA, and requiring insurers who offer small group health plans to offer high-deductible health plans with HSAs, while authorizing tax deductions for health insurance premiums for individual insurance policies. Separate legislation would amend the definition of “eligible employee” to include part-time workers (currently less than 30 hours per week). Pending legislation concerning hospital charges would prohibit charging private-pay patients more than 25 percent of what the hospital’s highest volume private payer would pay for the same goods or services. Legislation that died includes a telemedicine mandate and creation of a health care insurance database for employers.

KENTUCKY: Health issues that are being hotly debated by the legislature right now include an autism mandate, a dental bill that would not allow insurers to hold dentists, optometrists or ophthalmologists to a fee schedule for non-covered services, and a bill setting a reimbursement floor for chiropractic services. The chiropractic services proposal would allow chiropractors to bill, and would require insurers to reimburse, an evaluation and management (E&M) CPT code on each and every visit. In addition to billing for follow-up services for manipulations and other therapies, the chiropractor would be allowed to submit, and the insurer required to pay, for another E&M code on each and every visit. The legislation would also add a new mandated benefit to the Kentucky statutes. Currently, reimbursement for chiropractor visits is required only if the chiropractor performs a service already covered by the health benefit plan. Under the proposal, any service within the scope of practice of a chiropractor that is billed would become a mandated benefit. Finally, the bill would require health benefit plans to provide reimbursement without the chiropractor having to provide any documentation that the services were medically necessary. Each of these bills has, or is expected to, pass at least one chamber.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Several important legislative deadlines are approaching, resulting in a flurry of activity. Bills or resolutions not passed by the second chamber by March 9 died. But the Governor has already signed a bill that amends the premium rate-setting procedure for the high-risk pool so that rates for a given classification are 150 percent of the average actively marketed premium. The pool will have to offer three or more plan designs, remove coverage requirements for the plans (such as disease management) and remove set cost-sharing values. The bill was signed by the Governor on March 1 and will become effective on July 1, 2010. The Governor has also signed a bill prohibiting rating based on injuries caused by domestic violence and legislation requiring refunds of premiums for partial months, in the case of mid-month cancellations. Both chambers have passed legislation prohibiting contract language requiring dentists to accept a fee schedule for non-covered services, and the bill awaits the Governor’s signature. Finally, the legislature passed a resolution opposing the federal health care reform proposals passed in the U.S. Senate and House.

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