August 1st, 2016 marked the first day that I’ve been covered by health insurance since leaving the W2 workforce in 2000 as Vice President of Payor and Provider Contracting at Wellspan Health Network a ‘Super PHO’ launched by Texas Health Resources, post combination of Presbyterian Healthcare System, Harris Methodist Health Services and Arlington Memorial Hospital.
Granted the choice to ‘go bare‘ (i.e., self funding my acute, elective or urgent healthcare needs and exposure for accident or injury risk) and incur the tax (shared responsibility) penalty associated with the post ACA era was a conscious choice. The calculus was derived via a cost/benefit analysis of sorts taking into consideration premium costs, plus deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance of principally the ‘silver metal‘ plans offered via Covered California – the State health insurance exchange operating in California.
My decision to remain bare was in part supported by my history as a low utilizer of physician and hospital services, i.e, as a healthcare insider who rarely used his health plan coverage while insured, and saw the consequences and risks of medical errors and hospitalization ‘up close and personal‘, I reasoned though older and therefore at greater relative risk than when I was in my 40s and 50s, if I continued to eat well, stay physically active (running, cycling and surfing) and refrain from avoidable risks (smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, etc.), the decision to self fund the exposure was somewhat of a ‘reasonable’ if not calculated gamble.
But make no mistake, the decision to bear the tax penalty and retain the health risk was principally a matter of economics. As a self-employed small business operator (I am the founder of Health Innovation Media, a boutique digital media agency) with the typical unpredictable start-up income stream and thus low earnings visibility, I chose to preserve cash and remain uninsured. Unfortunately, the ‘affordable nature’ of ACA related health insurance offerings in the exchange marketplace were neither affordable nor of sufficient value for me to dig into my pocket and pull the trigger on coverage.
That I was three years away from Medicare eligibility was also another consideration in my decision to remain bare. Fortunately that chapter in my life ended today. And other than the tax penalties paid, I have remained in relatively good health while still a card carrying member of ‘the worried well‘ club, i.e., I typically though temporarily obsess over this pain, or that bump or lump as signs of my impending demise. For example, though approaching 65 this month, I have NOT had that colonoscopy recommended for men starting in their 50s. So since I don’t know what’s going on down there, I often wonder about the potential for colorectal disease though I have no classical symptoms per se.
As one of the estimated 10,000 baby boomers per day turning 65 and thus qualifying for a ‘public option’ aka ‘Medicare’ one of the first decisions to make is the selection of health plan coverage options via Medicare. There are basically four key considerations:
- Stay in the traditional Medicare program (Parts A and B); and
- Optionally purchase a ‘Medicare Supplement‘ plan; or
- Elect a Medicare Advantage participating health plan (Part C)
- If principally staying in traditional Medicare, add an optional Prescription Drug Plan (Part D)
Medicare Part A covers ‘hospital services’, while Part B which is optional and requires the payment of a monthly premium covers ‘physician services’. Medicare Supplement insurance typically covers the co-payments and co-insurance present in traditional fee-for-services Medicare. While Medicare Advantage is a private health insurance option that contracts with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and offers typically HMO plan options to Medicare beneficiaries often with little to no premium payment required, and some plans even add drug benefits without having to elect a Part D Prescription Drug plan. Part D is typically purchased when electing to stay in the traditional Medicare program and layer into your benefits prescription drug coverage.
As you approach your 65th birthday be prepared for the tsunami of marketing materials you will receive from health insurance companies, their participating broker/agents and Medicare Advantage plans participating in your service area.
Having made my decision, I can see why the typical senior who is not a ‘insider’ in the ways of healthcare operations and finance might need help working through all the plan options presented. This is a potentially confusing experience with a series of questions and plan options to sort through. Yet, for me the choice was relatively easy. I know the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage, the limits of traditional Medicare (with or without a Supplement) and have written about the limits of the Prescription Drug Program off and on over the years. Further, I am almost within walking distance to a Kaiser Permanente Ambulatory Care Center and Kaiser San Diego offers in my service area a no premium Medicare Advantage program that provides additional benefits including drug coverage and health club participation via the Silver Sneakers program.
When I added the maturity of KP San Diego as a quality operator in the integrated delivery space with a reasonably extensive and accessible ambulatory and inpatient facilities network vs. other options that relied upon ‘IDNINOs’ (integrated delivery networks in name only) commonly associated with name plate hospital/health system operators in San Diego (Scripps Health, UC San Diego Health System, Sharp Healthcare) county in partnership with the likes of Humana, Anthem or United Healthcare, the decision was a relatively easy one.
I reasoned if I get seriously sick, I will be cared for by a coordinated team of health professionals who’s incentives are to keep me healthy and out of the inpatient theater (a literal fail moment). Further, as a real IDN, KP San Diego is more likely to operate in a seamless care coordination manner vs. many of the aforementioned players who have to more or less degrees grafted an IDN culture on top of a traditional, silo-ed fee-for-services network of providers.
Finally, I have watched my mother spend hours on the phone dealing with toxic and dated (in excess of a year) billing matters from UC San Diego associated with her membership in Humana’s Medicare Advantage program. Try as they might, the non KP players in this market have yet to achieve the level of IDN operational excellence demonstrated by KP San Diego (and its sister regions in both Southern and Northern California) from point of care services to any billing and collections infrastructure associated with ‘revenue cycle management’ (RCM) purposes.
So a new chapter has begun. We shall see if I reasoned correctly, and KP San Diego is what I assume it to be. More to be revealed!