Let’s Put Some Muscle on Those Skinny Health Care Networks

LAH Orange 2019735258** This article by LeeAnn Hall  first appeared in Huffington Post **

Have you heard about the latest fad in health care? It’s called “skinny networks.”

Normally, when I hear the words “skinny” and “health” in the same sentence, I think about the importance of diet and exercise. Yet, when we’re discussing health provider networks, there’s nothing healthy about skinny.

A health provider network is the set of primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, and other facilities in a patient’s health plan. When you’re selecting your health insurance, often one of the first things you do is check the provider list on the insurer’s website. You want to know whether you’ll be able to see your doctor if you choose that plan.

However, being able to see your family doctor isn’t the only thing that matters in a health provider network. Patients also count on networks to offer specialists and facilities close to home, so they can get care they need when they need it, without exorbitant out-of-network costs. Read more

Legislators Who Block Medicaid Expansion Are Stiffing Veterans Out of Health Care

** This article by LeeAnn Hall  first appeared in Huffington Post **

r-VETERANS croppedThe scandal over long wait times for veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system has grabbed a lot of headlines and elicited a lot of righteous anger – as it should. America’s veterans deserve so much better.

But as Ezra Klein pointed out in a piece in Vox, there’s another health care scandal that also deserves its share of righteous anger, and it also has a big impact on veterans with health care needs: the self-destructive refusal of lawmakers in 20-plus states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs.

Klein catalogued “24 health-care scandals that critics of the VA should also be furious about” (that is, the 24 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion). Thanks to lawmakers’ kneejerk opposition to expanding health coverage in those states, there are huge numbers of uninsured veterans who should be eligible for coverage, but aren’t: 41,200 veterans in Florida, 24,900 in Georgia, 48,900 in Texas… and the list goes on.

All in all, about 250,000 uninsured veterans are getting stiffed out of eligibility for health coverage by lawmakers who have blocked Medicaid expansion, according to Pew’s Stateline. As it turns out, those lawmakers are also stiffing their own states out of economy-boosting jobs – health care jobs that are overwhelmingly good-paying jobs. Medicaid expansion would create thousands more of these jobs.

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Who’s Really Behind the “Voice of Small Business?”

small biz calculator*This article was originally published in The Hill *

How much does it cost to rebrand a fee levied on health insurers as a “HIT on small business”?

Well, $1.593 million, according to this exposé in the New York Times a few days ago.

A little background: a provision of the Affordable Care Act levies a fee on health insurance companies.  This fee helps to fund the law’s sliding scale premium assistance for individuals, as well as tax credits for small businesses to make health insurance more affordable. It’s expected to cost the insurance industry $100 billion over the first decade.

The New York Times investigation reveals that in 2012, the insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) funneled $1.593 million to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) – the self-proclaimed “Voice of Small Business” – doubling down on an $850,000 dark money contribution the year before. Read more

Civil Rights, Human Rights, Obviously Don’t Extend to Health Care in Georgia

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 2.14.01 PMI got to thinking about the State of Georgia a few weeks ago when the Atlanta City Fathers proudly announced the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It is right there in Atlanta next to the Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.

Martin Luther King grew up in Atlanta and his life and other achievements of the Civil Rights Movement are celebrated in this new institution.

Georgia takes pride in its attraction to outside visitors – it ranks third in the nation in tourism. Tourism is the 5th largest employer in the state with an annual economic impact of $53.6 billion, including $2.8 billion in direct and indirect tax revenues.

Surely the opening of the new Center will burnish Georgia’s reputation and add an additional attraction for tourists. Folks like me, whose lives have been so influenced by the Civil Rights Movement might just want to pay it a visit.

But I could not stop thinking that these folks, who project to the world the image of a refurbished, modern part of the “New South,” live in the Capitol of a state that refuses to expand Medicaid. Read more

Poor, in Prison – and Pregnant

pregnant-inmateAs poverty levels in the U.S. increase, safety nets are  slashed, and families are left with few options for survival. As a result, more people are forced into difficult economic decisions, including alternative street-based economies and crime from sheer economic desperation. Many of these people are women and mothers.

Among women who are fortunate enough to have employment – women of color, are still making 64 cents on the dollar compared to men. (For white women, it is  77 cents on the dollar.) These women are also most likely to be the primary caregivers for children. Add in the high cost of childcare and the amount of money that women have left to live on is abysmal. Read more

Dumbing Down Health Benefits: More Bad Ideas From Insurance Hustlers

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 12.12.19 PMThe U.S. House has passed an interesting little bill titled “Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014.”

This innocuous little title hides behind it a serious threat to both the Affordable Care Act and to some of the 13 million immigrants living and working in the U.S.

The supposed idea behind this bill is to make legal an insurance product for sale to people who spend considerable portions of their time living outside of their countries.

In order to free insurance companies to sell these products the bill exempts this type of insurance from significant portions of the ACA, including minimum benefit coverage. Dumbing down the benefits under the ACA is exactly the wrong direction to take, but there is an even bigger problem with this bill. Read more

Will Health Coverage Translate into Receiving Health Care?

LAH Orange 2019735258LeeAnn Hall, executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, published this article originally in Huffington Post.

More than 7.5 million people have signed up for new health coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s state and federal health insurance marketplaces at the close of the first enrollment period.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that another 3 million people have gained health coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as of the end of February, compared to figures five months earlier.

Now we’re about to find out something critically important: whether having health coverage translates into receiving health care.

Let’s be blunt: one of the biggest problems with America’s health care system is that it neglects the poorest among us. People of color suffer more and die earlier than others. The U.S. continues to have one of the highest infant mortality rates among the 14 wealthiest countries, and it’s higher in communities of color. Read more

After Obamacare Enrollment, Three Critical Steps

Massachussetts Considers Mandatory Health InsuranceThis article by LeeAnn Hall, first appeared in Colorlines.com

More than 7.1 million people have obtained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, despite the early confusion and glitches with the computer system. In addition, 6.3 million are approved for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and an estimated 3 million more young people gained health insurance by staying on their parent’s plans.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to eliminate health disparities so people of color are no longer living sicker and dying younger. If we do our job, no mother will ever have to choose between paying the rent or taking her sick child to the doctor.
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ACA Off to Good Start, But Will Coverage Translate to Care?

waiting room photo copyIt was nice to be out in the Pacific Northwest for a few days enjoying the rain, seeing my kids, and spending time over at the Alliance office. It was also good to see the beginnings of the effect that the Affordable Care Act is having. The guy in the bar who tells me his brother was alive because he had qualified for Medicaid. The waiter who tells me he signed up for insurance, even though he is young and healthy.

It was fascinating to sit through an Alliance staff meeting where we were shown the options they have under proposed new health insurance plans. They were being offered pretty comprehensive benefits and a couple of economic choices. The economics had to do with the size of deductions and co-payments the staff thought they could bear.

What is really different are the new limits on how much co-payment and deductability a person has to sustain in a year. Well, it is still pretty steep, between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on your plan, but that’s it. No more $80,000 medical tabs. No more need to sell the heirlooms, the car, and the family home just to survive. Maybe just the car.

This ACA is working, in spite of all the yelling about it on the part of the President’s enemies. Read more