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For COVID Tests, the Question of Who Pays Comes Down to Interpretation



In advance of an upcoming road trip with her elderly parents, Wendy Epstein’s physician agreed it would be “prudent” for her and her kids to get tested for COVID-19.

Seeing the tests as a “medical need,” the doctor said insurance would likely pay for them, with no out-of-pocket cost to Epstein. But her children’s pediatrician said the test would count as a screening test — since the children were not showing symptoms — and she would probably have to foot the bill herself.

It made no sense. “That’s two different responses for the exact same scenario,” said Epstein, a health law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, who deferred the tests as she clarified the options.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic — when scarce COVID testing was limited to those with serious symptoms or serious exposure — the government and insurers vowed that tests would be dispensed for free (with no copays, deductibles or other out-of-pocket expense) to ensure that those in need had ready access.

Now, those promises are being rolled back in ways that are creating turmoil for consumers, even as testing has become more plentiful and more people — like Epstein — are being advised to get them.

Late last month, the Trump administration issued guidance saying insurers had to waive patient costs only for “medically appropriate” tests “primarily intended for individualized diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19.” It made clear that insurers do not have to fully waive cost sharing for screening tests, even when required for employees returning to work or for assisting in public health surveillance efforts.

Left unclear are situations like that faced by Epstein — and others who seek a test to clear a child for summer camp or day care. Public health officials have been unanimous in the opinion that widespread, readily available testing is crucial for getting businesses and schools open again, and society back on its feet.

But who should bear the costs of that testing — or a share of them — is an unresolved question.

Who pays when all employees are required to have a negative COVID test in order to return to work? Or if a factory tests workers every two weeks? Or just because someone wants to know for their own peace of mind?

The questions may be compounded in some cities and states where tests are widely available at clinics or drive-thru centers. In New York, CityMD clinics bill insurers $300 for the service, according to an explanation-of-benefits document given to KHN by a patient. The related charge from the lab that processed the test, according to the same patient’s insurance statement, was $55. Most patients don’t have to pay a share of those amounts.

The clinic has a partnership with the city allowing anyone who wants a test for the virus to get one. Still, no test is truly free, as labs bill insurers or submit for reimbursement from government programs.

Until a recent spike in virus cases created long delays in many areas, some other regions also took a test-everyone-who-wants-a-test approach. While that is one way to get a picture of where the virus is spreading, it can also become a cash cow providing income to clinics and labs, as residents seek multiple “free” tests after each potential exposure.

In an email, a spokesperson for CityMD would not say how much the clinic is reimbursed for testing. The clinics do not bill for lab testing, she wrote, referring questions about those costs to the laboratories that process them.

Insurers will be making judgment calls — likely on a case-by-case basis — about how they will handle cost sharing for screening tests under the new Trump administration guidance.

What is clear: Insurers have argued against requirements that they waive all cost sharing for workplace COVID testing, noting they don’t do that for other screening efforts, such as drug-testing programs. For now, insurers will “continue to pay for tests recommended by a doctor,” Kristine Grow, spokesperson for AHIP, an industry group, wrote in an email to KHN.

But AHIP also sent a clear signal that it would not embrace cost sharing waivers for workplace or public health screening efforts. Earlier this month, the organization lobbied federal lawmakers to include funding in the next stimulus package for public health surveillance and workplace testing programs — a cost estimated between $6 billion and $25 billion annually in an earlier study commissioned by the group.

The Evolving Rules for Free Testing

The coronavirus relief legislation passed by Congress in March, and April guidance from the Trump administration implementing it, agreed that patients should not be burdened with payments for COVID testing and treatment that is “medically appropriate.”

But as the pandemic has evolved and grown, the definition of that term has both broadened and become fuzzier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says testing is appropriate for people who fall into five broad categories, including those with suspected exposure and those required to be tested for “purposes of public health surveillance,” which it defines as checking for disease hot spots or trends.

“There’s definitely a disconnect between what public health experts are recommending for testing and how it’s going to be paid for,” said Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.

And tension is mounting among insurers, employers and consumers over who should pay. While insurers say employers should cover the cost for back-to-work testing, many employers are struggling financially and may not be able to do so. At the same time, workers, especially those in lower-wage jobs, also cannot afford out-of-pocket costs for testing, particularly if it is required regularly.

Among those waiting to hear if their insurance will cover the test is Enna Allen of Glencoe, Illinois, who urged her au pair to get a test after the young woman traveled to New Orleans. She had been on a plane, after all, and New Orleans has its share of COVID cases.

“I wanted her to have a test before she returned to work with my kids,” said Allen.

As Allen called around to find a testing site, she explained the test was needed for employment — for someone with no symptoms. After some effort, she found a clinic that, for $275, offered a 15-minute rapid test and said it would accept her au pair’s insurance.

“I’m assuming they [the insurer] will cover it unless I get a bill weeks from now,” said Allen, who said she would pay the bill for her employee if that happens.

There is also a great gray area in deciding who should qualify for free testing after “suspected” exposure. What is suspected exposure? Sharing a small office with an infected co-worker? Participating in a protest? Or simply living in or visiting the Sun Belt, where community spread is accelerating?

“If the au pair went to a clinic and said she was just in New Orleans, and the doctor said that’s enough of a risk to order a test, even though she doesn’t have symptoms, my read of the guidance is the health plan has to cover it 100%,” said Corlette.

Yet a child who’s mainly been sheltering at home who needs a test before being admitted to summer camp probably would not meet the definition.

“That’s a different story because it’s harder to argue there’s been exposure or potential exposure,” said Corlette. “At the end of the day, there’s many ways to interpret the guidance.”

Congressional Democrats have accused the Trump administration in its new guidance of “giving insurance companies loopholes instead of getting people the free testing they need.”

Insurers, patients and politicians have locked horns before when screening tests were billed differently than those same tests for diagnostic purposes, since the boundary is often unclear. Under the Affordable Care Act, for example, colonoscopy screening for cancer is “free,” meaning no patient copayment. But if a polyp is found, doctors sometimes code the procedure as a diagnostic test, which can lead to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in copayments.

While vital, testing is costly — or can be. Medicare reimburses up to $100 for the COVID test. On top of that, there may also be costs associated with the office or clinic visit. And the price is widely variable in the private market, according to a report out last week by KFF, the Kaiser Family Foundation. Prices ranged from $20 to $850 for a single test. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Media reports have shown tests average $100, but some labs bill insurers for thousands of dollars for each one.

Without a copay, many patients never learn how much their tests actually cost their insurers, which could lead to overuse.

Also, when patients are entirely shielded from the cost, test makers, labs and medical providers are more likely to seek price increases, said Heather Meade, a principal at Washington Council Ernst & Young.

In the end, consumers may still feel a resulting pinch in the form of higher premiums.

Wondering about the sharply different views of her doctors on whether her insurance would fully cover the cost, law professor Epstein called her insurer, which assured her the tests would be covered 100% at in-network providers with no copay or deductible, as long as they were coded correctly. The family will be tested soon, and it appears she’s dodged a financial bullet. But Epstein cautioned in an email: “It’s unclear to me how many insurers will maintain this policy.”


By: Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News
Title: For COVID Tests, the Question of Who Pays Comes Down to Interpretation
Sourced From:
Published Date: Mon, 20 Jul 2020 09:00:54 +0000

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Retirement Planning

Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970



There always has been and always will be a reason not to invest or not to stay invested. This is all the mainstream media reports to us. Below you will find a list of some of the worst global events each year since 1970. I have some commentary to follow.

1970: War: US troops invade Cambodia.
1971: Civil Unrest: Anti-war militants march on Washington.
1972: Political: Start of Watergate Scandal.
1973: Economic: OPEC raises oil prices in response to US involvement abroad.
1974: Political: Nixon resigns as President of the United States.
1975: Political: Multiple assassination attempts on President Ford.
1976: World: Ebola virus.
1977: Political: Government shutdowns.
1978: Market: U.S. Dollar plunges to record low against many European currencies.
1979: World: Iranian militants seize the U.S. embassy in Teheran and hold hostages.
1980: Economic: Inflation spiked to a high of 14.76%.
1981: Political: President Reagan assassination attempt.
1982: Economic: Recession continues in the U.S. with nationwide unemployment of 10.8%.
1983: Economic: Unemployment in the U.S. reaches 12 million.
1984: Economic: 70 U.S. banks fail during the year.
1985: World: Multiple airplane hijackings around the world.
1986: World: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station explodes.
1987: Market: DOW drops by 22.6% on October 22.
1988: Environment: Awareness of global warming and the greenhouse effect grows.
1989: Environment: Exxon Valdez dumps 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
1990: World: Persian Gulf War starts.
1991: World: Mass shooting in Killeen, TX.
1992: Human Rights: Los Angeles riots following the death of Rodney King.
1993: Terrorism: World Trade Center bombing.
1994: World: Mass genocide in Rwanda.
1995: Terrorism: Oklahoma City bombing.
1996: Terrorism: Olympic Park bombing.
1997: World: Bird flu.
1998: World: Multiple U.S. embassy bombings.
1999: World: Columbine shooting.
2000: Economic: Start of the Dotcom Market Crash.
2001: Terrorism: Terrorist Attacks in NYC, DC & PA.
2002: Economic: Nasdaq bottomed after a 76.81% drop.
2003: World: The U.S. invades Iraq.
2004: World: The U.S. launches an attack on Falluja.
2005: World: Hurricane Katrina
2006: World: Bird flu.
2007: Economic: Start of the Great Recession.
2008: Economic: Great Recession continues.
2009: Economic: S&P bottomed after a 56.8% drop.
2010: Market: Flash crash.
2011: Market: Occupy Wall Street and S&P downgrades U.S. Debt.
2012: Political: Fiscal cliff.
2013: Political: Taper tantrum.
2014: World: Ebola virus.
2015: World: Multiple mass shootings.
2016: Political: Divided U.S. Presidential election.
2017: World: North Korea testing nuclear weapons.
2018: Economic: U.S. & China trade war.
2019: Economic: Student loan debt reaches an all-time high of $1.4 trillion.
2020: World: COVID-19.

While many of these events were undoubtedly terrible (and there are certainly others not named here that were worse), most of these were broadcast as end-of-the-world events for the stock market. Despite that attention, it is worth noting that these were, for the most part, one-time events. In other words, most faded into the newspapers of history. We moved on.

Obviously, some caused monumental shifts in the way the world works. Just think about how much air travel continues to be impacted by the events of 9/11. But, outside of the resulting inconveniences (if we want to call safety protocols inconveniences) associated with air travel, flying is safer than ever before.

Take a look at just about any of the events and you will find there are many that people will hardly remember. My point here isn’t that these events are to be ignored or that they were easy to stomach at the time, but that they have become a distant memory.

I want to also make the point that we should expect these types of negative events. As investors, we know these types of crises, economic catastrophes, and global phenomena are going to happen.

But in almost all cases, here is what we can say in the next breath – this too shall pass.

Will there be legal, humanitarian, economic, or some other aid required as a result of these events? Almost certainly the answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean it they won’t eventually fade into history.

Lastly, what’s worth noting is how the market has performed over these last 50 years despite the continual advertisements of the world crashing down around us. On January 2, 1970, the Dow Jones stood at 809 and the S&P at 90 -> those are not typos. These same indexes have grown (not including dividends) to 26,387 and 3,232 respectively. Amazing, no?

Perhaps what gets overlooked more than anything else is what separates the above one-time negative events from the positive stories that go largely ignored over our lifetimes. And that is a story worth telling. See the companion post below:

Unheralded Positive Events Every Year Since 1970

Stay the Course,

Retirement Field Guide Mission:

“To help 10 million people make better retirement decisions.”

If you would like to join us in achieving our mission, I hope you will consider sharing our site if you have found it helpful in your own retirement planning.

This post is not advice. Please see additional disclaimers.

The post Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970 appeared first on Retirement Field Guide.


By: Ashby Daniels, CFP®
Title: Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 04 Aug 2020 13:26:19 +0000

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Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing



The post Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing appeared first on Live Insurance News.

The bill is expected to be heard in upcoming weeks as opposing sites prepare for major battle.

A new California bill, the outcomes of which will have a lot to say about coverage for wildfire prone property in the state, will soon be headed for hearing. The hearing is expected to be a heated one as strong opposing opinions have the opportunity to be voiced.

Opponents of this bill are calling it a direct attack on consumer protections in insurance.

That said, proponents of the bill claim it is the best method for making coverage available to wildfire prone property in California. The bill in question is Assembly Bill 2167. It was written by Assemblyperson Tom Daly (D-Anaheim). If it passes,it will create the Insurance Market Action Plan (IMAP) program. The IMAP program is meant to protect residential properties.

So far, AB 2167 has progressed quickly, when taking into consideration that a chunk of the legislature has been considerably restricted by pandemic crisis precautions. It was first presented in early June and backers have been saying that it was brought forward in good timing and that it has all the momentum it needs to be passed.

That said, AB 2167 has not been without opposition. In fact, it has faced considerable opposition, having been called an attack on Proposition 103, insurance consumer protection law. California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara lobbed that argument at it, calling it an “insurance industry wish list, with nothing to help consumers,” and Consumer Watchdog, whose founder, Harvey Rosenfeld, was the original author of Proposition 103.

The insurance industry strongly supports the bill, saying it will help wildfire prone property coverage.

Insurance organizations such as the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and the Personal Insurance Federation both support AB 2167. The bill also has the support of the California Association of Counties (CSAC), as well as Fire Safe Councils of California, and the CalFIRE union.

The Consumer Federation of America, another watchdog organization, has predicted that if AB 2167 passes, it will cause 40 percent increases in insurance rates. On the other hand, insurance groups claim that the bill offers owners of wildfire prone property a greater opportunity for choice and competition among insurance companies based on coverage and premiums while avoiding the limitations and high costs associated with FAIR Plan coverage.

The post Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing appeared first on Live Insurance News.


By: Marc
Title: Wildfire prone property insurance bill in California due for hearing
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:00:14 +0000

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Is this the last hurrah for bonds?



Recently, I have written quite a bit about the long-term return expectations for investing in bonds. See here, here, here and here.

Spoiler alert: I don’t think it’s good.

But long-term bonds this year have been quite an amazing story as the COVID pandemic has caused the Fed to take historically monumental actions. As a result, we’ve watched long-term Treasuries tear the roof off the market. For instance, a 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (name withheld for compliance purposes) is up more than 31% YTD as of July 31st.

That is insane!

But there is a good reason for this increase shown below.

The red circle shows a decrease in the 30-year Treasury rate of almost 40% over a span of six months. That’s practically unprecedented with only two periods (2008 and 1981-1982) having similar declines over such short periods.

But this begs the question: Is this the last hurrah for bonds as a driver of any meaningful return? Below is the 30-Year Treasury rate over the last 40+ years.

For what it’s worth, people have been forecasting the end of the bond bull market since 2012 (maybe even earlier) and yet it has continued despite those predictions. But at some point, the bond party will come to an end.

The Fed has been clear that they are going to keep rates stable until at least 2022 which means this may not change for a little while longer. Or in the near term, I could even see the high returns continuing if we experience pandemic economic shutdown round two.

But, I can’t see a world where this is the case for much longer than that – most importantly over the span of a 30-year retirement.

The official end of the bond bull market depends on a recovery from the pandemic economy as well as a few other factors causing rates to rise. But when they do, it seems likely to me that this may be the last great hurrah for bonds for quite some time.

The question is when to get off that train and that undoubtedly requires a personal answer.

Stay the Course,

Retirement Field Guide Mission:

“To help 10 million people make better retirement decisions.”

If you would like to join us in achieving our mission, I hope you will consider sharing our site if you have found it helpful in your own retirement planning.

This post is not advice. Please see additional disclaimers.

The post Is this the last hurrah for bonds? appeared first on Retirement Field Guide.


By: Ashby Daniels, CFP®
Title: Is this the last hurrah for bonds?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 12 Aug 2020 13:47:16 +0000

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