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.
There are lots of opportunities coming up over the next couple of weeks to learn more about health policy priorities and how to take action. Here’s a few of them!
TODAY: Statewide Day of Action for Guaranteed Healthcare (link)
The Campaign for New York Health is holding a day of action for the New York Health Act, which would provide comprehensive health coverage for everyone who lives or works full-time in New York. Look for #PassNYHealth to see what people are saying and join in!
- Learn more about why we need the New York Health Act here.
- If you missed the day of action you can always show your support for the New York Health Act by clicking this link and telling your State Assemblymember and Senator to support the bill. If they already do, the link will give you an opportunity to thank them!
Tomorrow: #Coverage4All Virtual Day of Action
There are 400,000 New Yorkers without insurance because of their immigration status. A1585/S2549 would guarantee that all New Yorkers can access life-saving health coverage if they have had COVID-19. Look for #Coverage4All and #PassA1585 all day tomorrow to help get the word out!
What else can you do?
- Sign up for campaign updates here.
- Become listed as a supporting organization here.
- Contact your legislator any time using the instructions here.
Friday, 11:00-12:00: Budget Briefing for Health Justice Advocates
Join the Campaign for NY Health, the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, Coverage4All, Health Care for All NY, and Medicaid Matters NY for an overview of the FY22 Executive Budget Proposal and its implications for healthcare in New York. Register here.
Friday, February 5 1:00-3:00: HCFANY Annual Meeting
What can we expect from legislative session this year? How do we push forward and ensure quality, affordable health care for everyone in New York State during a pandemic and a budget crisis? Join us to learn more about our legislative and budget priorities for 2021 and how you can take action yourself! Click here to register!
During this virtual meeting we will:
- Award Senator Gustavo Rivera as this year’s Consumer Champion and present a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award to Kristin Sinclair, Director of the Senate Health Committee.
- Share information about the state budget and our legislative priorities, including expanding health coverage to all New Yorkers, ending medical debt, and addressing systemic inequity in our health care system.
- Talk about future workshops that will offer deep dives on different health policy issues and opportunities to take action.
Each year, the Department of Financial Services reviews applications from insurers in the individual, small group, and Medicare Advantage markets and decides whether rates should go up, down, or stay the same. This year, insurers are asking for an average increase of 11.7% in the individual market, which is too much for consumers to manage especially in the midst of the economic and health-related repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Submit your comments here by July 5.
HCFANY found plenty of reasons in the individual market filings to reduce or even reverse those increase requests. Find your carrier in the list below to see what we had to say!
- CDPHP Health Plan
- Emblem (HIP)
- HealthPlus (previously Empire)
- Independent Health
- MVP Health Plan
Consumers in New York have the chance to comment on requested premium increases in the individual and small group health insurance markets. The applications, where insurers justify their requests, are available through the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) (you can submit comments online here; see below for direct links to each individual application). Comments are due by July 5.
This process is called prior approval because in New York, the state must approve the changes insurance companies want to make to their premiums ahead of time. DFS reviews the applications to make sure that premium increases are linked to actual increases in costs, instead of things that insurers could do better at controlling.
In the individual market, the average request was 11.7 percent this year. The average requested increase was 11.4 percent in the small group market. Insurers attribute an average of 3.1 percent of the increases to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some plans cite COVID-related testing and treatment, increase in hospital costs, and the possibility of a vaccine next year as reasons to approve rate increases. It is also important to note that this year health care utilization dropped as consumers cancelled and postponed doctor’s visits and non-urgent surgeries because of the pandemic, while insurers continued to collect premiums.
DFS takes its regulatory duties seriously, and they want to hear from consumers about what it means for their families when premiums go up year after year. Last year, DFS decreased insurers’ requested rate for individual coverage from 9.2 percent to 6.8 percent, which saved consumers over $50 million. It also reduced rates for small group coverage from 12.2 percent to 7.9 percent, a 35% decrease that saved small businesses over $313 million.
HCFANY submits detailed comments every year – you can see the types of arguments we make in our letters from 2019 (link) and 2018 (link). However, consumer comments do not require as much detail as HCFANY provides. If you decide to comment, you can simply provide the name of your insurance company and plan and discuss how a rate increase would affect you. What changes would you have to make if your insurance company was allowed to increase their rates? Will you still buy insurance? We’ve written some longer instructions if you want more guidance (link), but the important thing is to speak frankly about your own experiences.
Comments are posted publicly. That means your comment won’t just inform DFS; it will be part of the bigger conversation occurring about the affordability of health care in New York. Consumers are not a big enough part of those discussions – we should take advantage of every chance we get to change that!
Individual Market Applications
Direct links are provided below for each insurance carrier that participates in New York’s individual market through our health insurance exchange. The narrative summary is a short (under ten pages) explanation for why the insurance company thinks it has to raise rates. The full applications are very long but links are provided for those who want to examine them more closely.
- CDPHP Health Plan: 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)
- HealthNow: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- HealthPlus Empire: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- HIP/Emblem: Narrative Summary (link), Complete Application (link)
- Independent Health: 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)