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Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Hospitals Seek To Help With Obamacare Premiums

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But the issue of “third-party payments” has taken on new urgency because of a provision in the federal health law that could leave providers on the hook for unpaid bills.  Under the law, insurers must give subsidy-eligible enrollees who fall behind on payments a 90-day “grace period” before cancelling their policies. 

While insurers must cover bills for the first 30 days, they may hold off paying those bills for the next 60 -- and ultimately, deny payment if the patient doesn't catch up on premiums. That means doctors and hospitals face the prospect of not getting paid for their services, or having to seek payment directly from their patients.

That’s a big incentive for providers to help pay those premiums.

“It’s a situation where patients will be better off and the providers are better off as well if patients are able to maintain coverage,” said Mark Rukavina, a Massachusetts-based expert on medical debt who consults for the hospital industry. “But it does raise questions.”

Insurers argue that if federal regulators permit such programs, they should bar hospitals from selecting participants based on their health, or from directly paying the premiums.

"If third parties provide incentives to gain coverage only once someone is sick, that will -- as the administration has warned -- clearly lead to a less healthy risk pool and put upward pressure on premiums for everyone,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

But Gold of the New York hospital group thinks insurers’ concerns are overblown. He says insurers have already calculated into their rates that a certain percentage of policyholders will be sicker than average.

“If a couple of people who show up at hospitals or other providers have a premium lapse, I don’t understand why someone making them whole [by paying their premiums] would skew the risk pool,” he said.

Hospitals Try To Allay Fears

To avoid problems, hospitals are drafting selection criteria tied to income level -- and are paying consumers’ premiums for an entire year, rather than simply when they lapse.

Wed, Aug 13 2014

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