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If You’ve Lost Your Health Plan In The COVID Crisis, You’ve Got Options

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The coronavirus pandemic — and the economic fallout that has come with it — boosted health insurance enrollment counselor Mark Van Arnam’s workload. But he wants to be even busier.

The loss of employment for 21 million Americans is a double blow for many because it also means the loss of insurance, said Van Arnam, director of the North Carolina Navigator Consortium, a group of organizations that offer free help to state residents enrolling in insurance.

Calls to the consortium have increased sharply, but he believes many more people are going without insurance and could use his help. He suspects these newly unemployed people don’t realize they have options. Years of budget cuts by the federal government have hampered outreach from nonprofit groups like the consortium, so many consumers don’t understand that policies are available to help them regain or maintain health coverage.

“Large numbers of folks aren’t getting the message,” said Van Arnam.

Some newly unemployed people are taking advantage of special enrollment periods to sign up for plans offered on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces, while others find they qualify for Medicaid. Some might have the option to stay on their former employer’s plan, even while bearing the full cost themselves.

But the clock is ticking for some of these options.

A Special Enrollment Period For You

The ACA is a critical backstop for many of the newly unemployed.

Under the federal health law, people who experience certain “life events” — such as moving, getting married, having a baby or, in this case, losing your job and job-based coverage — qualify for a special enrollment period. They can sign up for new coverage without waiting for the open enrollment period, which generally occurs near the end of each calendar year.

Applicants must submit certain documents to prove they qualify for special enrollment, such as proof of prior job-based coverage. The Obama administration in 2016 began random checks of these documents — and the Trump administration stepped up that scrutiny — in response to insurers’ concerns that some people were “gaming” the system with special enrollments, waiting to sign up until they were sick, thus driving up health spending. The claim was controversial, with little evidence presented on how prevalent a problem it was.

Because of COVID-19, some navigators report, these requirements have been loosened. Specifically, the Trump administration appears to have cut back on preapproval documentation checks — perhaps a nod to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary paperwork from employers since so many offices are operating remotely.

“Even in good times, employees almost always need help from their HR department to identify what they needed to provide,” said Deepak Madala, program manager for Enroll Virginia, a nonprofit that helps people sign up.

The administration has, reportedly, stayed vigilant in its document requirements regarding the immigration status of applicants. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to enroll in ACA plans, Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Time Is Of The Essence

It’s important to remember, too, that the clock is ticking. In general, people have 60 days after they lose their job-based insurance to use that as a reason to qualify under an ACA special enrollment period.

“Those in the first tranche of layoffs would need to act quickly to get into the marketplace,” said Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It’s also important to watch the calendar if you live in a state that runs its own marketplace and opened it for a special enrollment period because of the coronavirus outbreak. Some windows of opportunity have now closed, but in Maryland and Vermont, the deadline is June 15. Special enrollment in California is scheduled to remain open until at least June 30 and in the District of Columbia until Sept. 15.

There is no national tally of how many people have signed up for ACA coverage since January, as the federal marketplace does not release statistics. However, some states do. In California, the largest market, more than 125,000 have enrolled, more than two times the typical special enrollment rate. Smaller numbers are seen in other states.

Finally, an option few may be aware of: People who otherwise qualified for a special enrollment — say, by losing job-based insurance — but failed to sign up within the 60-day window because they were affected by the COVID-19 emergency — perhaps they were sick or were caring for someone who was ill — might qualify for additional time, according to the federal government’s website, healthcare.gov. This is similar to what the government has done in cases of natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

If seeking this special enrollment, applicants may need to ask for a supervisor when calling healthcare.gov, said Straw, as front-line staff may not be as well versed in the exception.

Other Avenues

The best bet for some applicants is Medicaid, said Straw.

That’s because this joint federal-state health program doesn’t require a special enrollment period. Applicants can seek to enroll at any time during the year and eligibility is based on income and other qualifying factors.

Generally, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cover families with children, pregnant women, older adults and people with disabilities. Income eligibility varies by state. Maximum income levels vary and can be restrictive in some states, but applicants should know that the additional $600 weekly in unemployment benefits Congress approved in the CARES Act does not count toward that total (although it does for ACA plans).

Another complication: Fourteen states have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA, and another, Nebraska, has enacted, but not implemented, an expansion. In those states, some people, especially adults below the poverty line with no dependent children, might not be eligible for Medicaid coverage at all. This creates a catch-22: They don’t earn enough to get them over the poverty line, but they don’t qualify for a subsidized ACA plan, either. These people are caught in what is called the “coverage gap.”

Still — some good news — some adults in that gap might be lifted out of it by the additional $600-a-week payment for unemployment.

“The vast majority of people we see are getting coverage and reach 100% of the federal poverty level with unemployment benefits and year-to-date income,” said Van Arnam in North Carolina, one of the states that have not expanded Medicaid. “They are usually able to get an ACA plan with a zero or low premium, which is a big weight off their shoulders.”

Staying on a former employer’s plan, through a law commonly known as COBRA, is also an option for some. The deadline to enroll in this has been extended until 60 days after the national COVID emergency ends, although people who wait to enroll are still liable for past premiums dating back to when they lost their coverage.

And those could be substantial. In COBRA, employees must pay the full cost of the premium — although some employers are sharing that cost during the pandemic — and Congress may consider a full or partial subsidy in upcoming legislation.

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By: Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News
Title: If You’ve Lost Your Health Plan In The COVID Crisis, You’ve Got Options
Sourced From: khn.org/news/if-youve-lost-your-health-plan-in-the-covid-crisis-youve-got-options/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2020 09:00:46 +0000

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Retirement Planning

At Least 1.7M Americans Use Health Sharing Arrangements, Despite Lack of Protections

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A new report has provided the first national count of Americans who rely on health care sharing plans — arrangements through which people agree to pay one another’s medical bills — and the number is higher than previously realized.

The report from the Colorado Division of Insurance found that more than 1.7 million Americans rely on sharing plans and that many of the plans require members to ask for charity care before submitting their bills.

The total membership numbers are likely even higher. The state agency collected data from 16 sharing plans across the U.S. but identified five other plans that did not report their data.

“These plans cover more people than we had previously known,” said JoAnn Volk, co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.

Under the arrangements, members, who usually share some religious beliefs, agree to send money each month to cover other members’ health care bills. At least 11 of the sharing plans that reported data operated in or advertised plans in all 50 states in 2021.

Sharing plans do not guarantee payment for health services and are not held to the same standards and consumer protections as health insurance plans. Sharing plans are not required to cover preexisting conditions or provide the minimum health benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act. And unlike health insurance, sharing plans can place annual or lifetime caps on payments. A single catastrophic health event can easily exceed a sharing plan’s limits.

In Colorado, at least 67,000 people were members of sharing plans in 2021, representing about 1 in 4 Coloradans purchasing health care coverage on their own. That rate concerns Kate Harris, a chief deputy commissioner of the Colorado Division of Insurance, which she said regularly receives complaints from sharing plan enrollees.

“What we hear from consumers is that when they purchase one of these, they do think there is some guarantee of coverage, for the most part, despite the disclaimers on many of the organizations’ websites,” Harris said.

The Colorado report found that health sharing arrangements often require their members to seek charity care or assistance from providers, governments, or consumer support organizations before submitting sharing requests. Those costs are then shifted to other public or private health plans.

Katy Talento, executive director of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries, which represents five of the largest and longest-operating sharing plans in the country, said sharing ministries encourage members to act like the uninsured people they are. Such requirements to seek charity care reflect a desire to be good stewards of their members’ money, Talento said.

“Think about it like a soup kitchen,” she said.

Fourteen sharing plans reported that Colorado members submitted a cumulative $362 million in health bills in 2021, and nearly $132 million of those requests were approved. The remainder, sharing plan executives told the division, reflected duplicative bills, ineligible charges, negotiated discounts, and the members’ agreed-upon portion of medical bills.

“It’s not like every claim line on a health care sharing request is going to be eligible for sharing,” Talento said. “They have to submit the whole bill. They can’t just pull out a piece of it.”

But consumer complaints to the Division of Insurance and to consumer assistance programs, such as the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, show that members do not always realize what sharing plans will cover.

“We have seen firsthand the risks that people face when they sign up for these arrangements without recognizing the magnitude of the risk that they’re assuming for their health care costs,” said Isabel Cruz, the initiative’s policy director.

Talento disputed the notion that members don’t know the parameters of their sharing plans.

“That’s just suggesting that our members are dumb,” she said. “Is it likely that somehow our people are going to be willy-nilly jumping blindly into something?”

Theresa Brilli, a small-business owner in Longmont, Colorado, said she and her partner signed up for a direct primary care plan in 2017 that covered primary care visits for $179 a month. Direct primary care plans are payment arrangements between patients and providers for receiving health services without billing insurance. The plan had an arrangement with Liberty HealthShare, a Canton, Ohio-based sharing plan with more than 131,000 members nationwide, to cover additional services like preventive screenings, emergency room care, and hospitalizations for $349 a month with a $1,000 deductible. The rates increased to $499 a month, with a $1,750 deductible, in 2020, Brilli said.

But Brilli said getting payments was a major hassle.

“It took about four to eight months to get reimbursed,” she said. “It was a fight, every bill.”

When she heard about enhanced subsidies for ACA marketplace plans in 2022, she decided the hassle was no longer worth it and switched to a Kaiser Permanente plan for $397 a month.

“I will never go back to Liberty Health or a health care sharing plan,” she said. “I didn’t agree with the whole ministry thing. They made you sign off saying you believed in God, which was like, ‘Whoa, I guess that’s what I have to do to get my health insurance.’”

Laura Murray, 49, of Aurora, Colorado, said she signed up for a Liberty HealthShare plan in 2017 as a more affordable alternative to her husband’s employer-based plan.

“We kind of felt we were cutting out the middleman in a way, and it was a helping-out-your-neighbor sort of deal,” she said.

But when she became pregnant unexpectedly, she had trouble getting her health bills paid. Initially, Liberty paid only a portion of the tab, and her bills got sent to a collection agency. It was only through multiple calls that she learned she needed to send the bills to a third party that would negotiate with the providers.

“It took years to get it cleared up,” she said.

Timothy Bryan, Liberty’s vice president of marketing and communication, disputed many of the details of Brilli’s account and attributed some of the delay in payment to her “failure to submit the required supporting documentation.” Murray’s payments, he said, were delayed more than 10 months because she had failed to provide the required pre-notification.

Mike Quinlan, 42, of Denver, turned to a health sharing ministry in 2014 after the birth of his first child cost him more than $17,000 out-of-pocket, on top of nearly $24,000 in premiums that year, under an employer-sponsored health plan. He said the births of his three youngest children were covered in full by Samaritan Ministries International, a Peoria, Illinois-based sharing plan with 359,000 members, to which he contributes $600 a month. When he incurs large health expenses, he receives a slew of $600 checks from other members, he said.

Every year, Quinlan attests that he is a Christian and identifies the church he attends.

“This is a group of like-minded people who have said voluntarily we’re going to trust each other to cover each other’s health costs,” he said.

The rules differ from plan to plan. Some sharing plans require members to pledge to abide by Christian principles, and some exclude payment for out-of-wedlock births or health issues that arise from drug use. Many sharing plans exclude coverage of contraception, mental health services, and abortion, often with no exceptions for rape or safety of the mother.

Regulators in Colorado and other states have also expressed concerns that health sharing arrangements are paying brokers much higher commissions for signing up members than health plans do. That could create financial incentives to push sharing plans over health insurance without adequately educating consumers about the differences.

In 2019, Covered California, the Golden State’s ACA marketplace, instituted a requirement that its certified agents who sell both sharing plans and health insurance provide consumers with a list of disclosures about sharing plans and show them the subsidies they could receive for buying traditional health insurance coverage.

“It’s really important that consumers understand what these arrangements are, and what they are not,” said Jessica Altman, executive director of Covered California.

Harris said the Colorado Division of Insurance is investigating multiple health sharing arrangements based on consumer complaints but declined to name them.

Colorado officials are also concerned that health sharing arrangements might appeal primarily to people who don’t expect to use many health services. That could increase the proportion of sicker and more expensive patients among enrollees in traditional health insurance plans, driving up premiums.

Harris said many consumers can get a health plan for less than the cost of a sharing plan, particularly with increased federal and state subsidies put in place in recent years. State officials are also working to inform consumers of the financial risks associated with health sharing arrangements, some of which have gone bankrupt in recent years.

“It might look cheaper on its face, month to month,” Harris said. “But if they do really actually need their costs covered, there’s a real risk that they may not be.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

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By: Markian Hawryluk
Title: At Least 1.7M Americans Use Health Sharing Arrangements, Despite Lack of Protections
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/health-sharing-arrangements-ministries-protections-risks/
Published Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2023 09:00:00 +0000

 

 

 

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Retirement Planning

Give Yourself the Perfect Retirement Gift

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Give Yourself the Perfect Retirement Gift

From day one, everyone looks forward to retirement, that day where they can finally let go of the stresses of the daily grind and spend their leisurely days traveling, reading and basically having fun. As compared to previous generations, we have longer life spans so we all expect our golden years to be fulfilling and rewarding.

Instead of waiting for people to help you plan your retirement, you should do it yourself. Although retirement planning is probably one of the most draining activities where one spends loads of time perusing over financial and brokerage statements, benefits brochures and insurance policies. One does this in terms of the benefits of long term planning: if one retires earlier, he/she will think and anticipate less on government-funded plans which only gives a pittance of a pension and focus more on the beauty of life.

Why Retirement Planning is Necessary

Obviously, retirement planning isn’t all about numerous hours of stress by chugging down numbers and analyzing mutual funds: it’s about fixing and deciding how you will live the final years of your life. If one can balance financially and plan fully on a retirement plan, rest assured that your future is secure.

But remember that retirement planning isn’t a singular activity. It is something that stretches forth to decades, spanning your 30s, 40s and 50s. In every decade, one must rethink their strategies since you are inching closer and closer to retirement, thus one must forgo risky investments and go to bonds and reliable mutual funds as the years pass by.

Build the Right Retirement Plan

A retirement plan must be suited to your risk tolerance and apparent need for cash when retirement comes. If you prefer a general 401(k) that has a good balance of everything, you may go for equal amounts of low-risk bonds and riskier stocks or you may also opt for an assortment of mutual funds that both have high-risk and low-risk funds.

Generally, risk tolerance is congruent to one’s age. If you are on your 20s or early 30s, you may opt for a more stock-saturated mutual fund in the hope of getting a good return because of the added risk stocks give. If ever the worst comes and you face some declines in the stock market, you still have a good 20 to 30 years to compensate for the losses.

On the other hand, if one is teetering on the 40s or 50s, it is necessary that one must go low-risk in his/her investments. One’s mutual funds must now be concentrated more on low-risk government bonds, which virtually assure no losses and minimum gain, if there will be no huge political crisis, of course.

If one follows this general age/risk rule, then one has better chance that one has an ample amount of cash to spend on the pleasures of life when retirement age finally comes.

Conclusion

One has always dreamt of traveling the world, playing golf all day and enjoying the best life can give. But one cannot do all that while working away in the office. Therefore one must give importance to the rising necessity of building a retirement plan.

It is probably as stressful as work itself, but if you can carry all that heap of information and mix it into the delicacy that is a finely tailored retirement plan, then rest assured that your dream of tasting and relishing the best of life is definitely reachable by 65.

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Retirement Planning

Ends-of-the-World Every Year Since 1970

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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,
Ashby


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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: retirementfieldguide.com/ends-of-the-world-every-year-since-1970/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ends-of-the-world-every-year-since-1970
Published Date: Tue, 04 Aug 2020 13:26:19 +0000

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