In a recent survey, one-third of people who still haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19 said fear of the cost is a factor. Federal law is very clear: no health care provider is allowed to bill any patient for the vaccine. But with a health care system that produces so many medical billing horror stories, it’s little wonder that patients don’t trust providers to follow the law.
Many patients trying to obtain preventive care like vaccinations or cancer screenings receive unexpected medical bills. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits cost-sharing for these services, and for good reason: regular preventive care helps people avoid or manage many chronic illnesses, gives them better outcomes for many types of cancer, and helps us control infectious diseases like flu and Covid-19 through vaccinations. But bills for preventive care still sneak through. One common issue arises when providers use the wrong billing code. If a service isn’t coded as protected preventive care, patients get charged. Patients then have to try and decipher what went wrong, even though the bills they receive are not required to include those codes or even explain what services are being charged for. Legislation proposed in New York State called the Patient Medical Debt Protection Act would have required providers to list all services being charged for in plain language on every medical bill but has failed to pass two years in row.
Facility fees are another way that patients end up with bills for preventive care. Facility fees are administrative charges not associated with any medical service. They are typically charged by hospitals. However, as hospitals purchase more outpatient medical offices, more patients get hit with facility fees outside of hospitals. Facility fees aren’t charges for any specific medical service, so the ACA’s prohibition on charging for preventive care doesn’t apply. (You can learn more about facility fees here and here.) Legislation that would have barred billing for facility fees after preventive care visits passed the New York Senate this session but failed to move in the Assembly. The bill also would have required providers to tell patients ahead of time that facility fees will be applied to their bill, giving them the chance to schedule appointments somewhere else.
Patients are so distrustful of our health care system that it is interfering with our ability to achieve public health goals. Patient protections such as those that prohibit cost-sharing for Covid-19 vaccinations can help. However they can’t solve the problem. Patients should only receive medical bills that clearly explain charges and be told ahead of time about fees that will be added to their bill no matter what care they receive. Health care providers and public health officials can educate the public about vaccinations and preventive health screenings, but it won’t convince patients who have learned from experience that the only way to avoid unaffordable medical bills is to avoid medical care whenever they can.
Premium requests made by New York’s insurance companies have been posted, and consumers have the chance to share their thoughts on these requests! New York State requires this approval for all individual market, small group, and Medicare Advantage plans. If your plan is part of this process, you should have received a letter from your insurer explaining what they requested and how you can submit comments to the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS). The insurers’ applications are available through DFS’s website and are linked below. Public comments are due in late June and can be submitted online here.
It is important to remember that at this point, these are only requested changes; DFS will review insurers’ applications along with consumers’ comments when determining the approved rates for 2022. Last year, DFS decreased insurers’ requested rate for individual coverage from a 11.7 percent increase to a 1.8 percent increase, the lowest rate increase ever approved. The changes saved consumers over $221 million. DFS also reduced rates requests for small group coverage from 11.4 percent to 4.2 percent, a 63 percent decrease that saved small businesses over $565 million.
This year, the average request was 11.2 percent in the individual market. Healthfirst PHSP, Inc. requested the highest increase at 34.4 percent. The plan cites higher provider charges in its new service areas in Westchester and Rockland counties for most of this increase. Six other plans requested double digit increases: Highmark (18.1 percent), MVP (16.9 percent), Unitedhealthcare (13.9 percent), Oscar (13.6 percent), CDPHP (11.4 percent), and HealthPlus (10.2 percent). MetroPlus (-3.9%) and Independent Health Benefits Corporation (-.2%) each requested decreases. For small group plans, the average requested increase was 14 percent, ranging from a 17.6% requested increase by Highmark Western and Northeastern New York (formerly Healthnow) to a 4.5% requested decrease by Aetna Health.
HCFANY submits detailed comments each year, which you can see in our letters from 2020 (link) and 2019 (link). Consumers do not need to provide this much detail; if you do comment publicly, you can speak about how the proposed changes to your plan would impact you. For example, what changes would you have to make if your insurance company were allowed to increase their rates? Would you still buy insurance? HCFANY has longer instructions available (link), but the most important thing is to use your own experience.
Individual Market Applications
We’ve compiled the links to applications for each insurance carrier that participates in New York’s individual market through our health insurance exchange below. We’ve included both the narrative summaries, which are shorter (under 10 page) explanations for the requested rate changes, as well as the complete application links for those who wish to review the applications in greater detail.
- CDPHP Health Plan: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Emblem (HIP): Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Excellus: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Fidelis (NYHQC): Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Healthfirst PHSP: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Highmark Western and Northeastern New York (Formerly HealthNow): Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- HealthPlus Empire: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Independent Health Benefits Corporation: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- MetroPlus: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- MVP Health Plan: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Oscar: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- UnitedHealthcare of New York: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
Ellen, a Long Islander, received an unexpected and unwelcomed bill from a hospital system when she went to her doctor’s office for a biopsy. She was not anticipating a “net facility charge” of $2,142 which she was not informed of. She protests that she was not provided with any notice that she would be charged extra for a facility charge when she was visiting a doctor. She also received a bill for net charges of $618.07 from the Doctor. “Had I known that was the billing practice, I would not have visited this doctor,” she says.
She adds, “There was nothing from the doctor or her staff, or from the circumstances of the procedure, that would have indicated to me that I was being treated at a hospital. Both the examination and the procedure took place in a typical examining room at the doctor’s office. I was not even placed on a special chair for the procedure— I was wearing my street clothes.” The facility fee is not a charge for an actual health service. As of now, it is a legal way for the hospital that bought your doctor’s office or clinic to add the hospital’s overhead cost to your doctor’s bill. Health Insurance often will not pay these facility fees, leaving the patient stuck with the bill, uninsured patients are always stuck with these facility fee bills.
A new bill, the (A3470B/S2521B), would regulate these health care facility fees and provide some semblance of protection by not allowing a provider to seek payment of these fees if not covered by insurance, unless they had notified and explained the fee and amount at least seven days in advance of the procedure. If approved by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, the would ensure that patients will no longer be held responsible for this kind of surprise bill and what happened to Ellen will no longer happen to any other New Yorker. The bill would also prevent facility fees for preventive care – New York will be the first state to do so if it passes!
More New Yorkers than ever turned to NYSOH for affordable health coverage at the beginning of 2020. The latest NY State of Health (NYSOH) report shows that 25 percent of New Yorkers (4.9 million) enrolled in health coverage through the NY State of Health during 2020’s Open Enrollment Period. This represents a 150,000 increase over 2019. The report documents enrollment between November 1, 2019 and February 7, 2020. Enrollment through NYSOH has increased every year since it was created, an indication of the need New Yorkers have for health coverage.
Most New Yorkers who used NYSOH enrolled in public plans like Medicaid (3.4 million), Child Health Plus (452,000), and the Essential Plan (797,000). Medicaid and the Essential Plan cover New Yorkers who earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Child Health Plus covers New Yorkers under the age of 19 with subsidies for families at lower incomes. About 273,000 New Yorkers used NYSOH to purchase private health insurance (Qualified Health Plans or QHPs), 60 percent with financial assistance through premium subsidies. QHP enrollees continued to show a preference for lower-cost options, with Bronze and Silver plans (plans with lower premiums) being the most popular throughout the State. Increasing premium costs are likely the cause of this trend towards lower premium plans, but those lower premiums come with higher deductibles. Even insured New Yorkers report struggling to afford health care – the trend towards enrollment in plans with lower premiums but higher cost-sharing is an important one for advocates to monitor.
Assistors continued to play a key role in the success of last year’s Open Enrollment period, with around 80 percent of last year’s enrollments being conducted by assistors. Navigators, who are trained and certified by the state, are available to provide assistance all across New York – you can find help in your own community by calling 888-614-5400.
NYSOH has proven itself resilient over the years, from the early days when it was unclear whether or not consumers would use it at all through the Trump era when federal policy changes hurt Marketplaces in other states. In the months after this report covers, NYSOH took steps to ensure that New Yorkers were able to keep enrolling in health coverage even as millions lost their jobs or experienced other disruptions during the pandemic. Preliminary data shows that between February 2020 and February 2021, an additional 885,000 New Yorkers used NYSOH to obtain health insurance, and now a record 5.8 million people are enrolled through NYSOH—nearly a third of the state’s entire population. This was only possible because of the investments New York has made over the years towards building a strong, integrated Marketplace where consumers have lots of help available to make the best choices for themselves.