Is it covered?
Decisions regarding coverage for a medical service or procedure are generally governed by the language of the insurance policy. These policies are developed by the insurance companies and act like a legal contract between the insurance company and the patient. Insurance policies usually, but not always, cover all “medically necessary” services and procedures. These insurance policies, however, contain many exceptions to exclude those services and procedures that are determined to be experimental, elective, inappropriate, or otherwise medically unnecessary. Some, but not all, policies will specifically exclude coverage for a particular condition.
Most patients do not negotiate their insurance policies with the insurance company, which makes it difficult to know whether a service or procedure is covered. Some insurance companies allow customers to review their policies online or have a telephone hotline with customer service representatives who can assist you in determining whether a service or procedure is covered by your policy.
Under PPACA, starting in 2014, insurance policies will be required to cover a package of “minimum essential benefits” falling into general categories ranging from hospitalization to prescription drugs to rehabilitative services. As of publication in 2011, the final list of services and procedures that will be considered “minimum essential benefits” has not been determined. For more information on PPACA, go to: http://www.ppaca.com/CMS-MMA/
What can I do if coverage is denied?
A recent government study indicated that coverage denials are reversed on appeal approximately 40% of the time. Insurance companies deny claims for coverage for a variety of reasons, usually relating to billing errors or questions about a patient’s eligibility for a given service or procedure. It is important to find out why you are being denied coverage in your particular case. The first step in resolving a coverage dispute is for the insurance company to provide the patient and/or the patient’s treating physician with a written explanation for the coverage denial.
Many insurance policies have an appeal process which guides the process for patients and their families to follow when insurance coverage for a service or procedure is denied. Therefore, consulting your insurance policy is one of the first steps you should take when responding to a denial of coverage. Appeal forms may be available through the insurance company’s website. There is often a time limit to how long a patient can wait to file an appeal, so do not delay!
Frequently appeal procedures require a patient to write a letter explaining why the service of procedure is medically necessary and appropriate for the patient’s condition. Insurance companies may also need medical records from a physician to support the position that a service or procedure should be covered or to dispute the insurance company’s reason for denying the claim.
If you feel that your insurance company acted improperly in denying your claim, you may file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department or the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office:
Iinsurance Department main site
Insurance Department complaint form
Attorney General main page
Attorney General complaint form
Under PPACA, insurance companies will be required to provide detailed reasons for coverage denials and also provide patients with specific information regarding their appeal procedures. As of publication, these rules were not completed. For more information on PPACA, go to:
Can my premiums be raised?
A number of factors play a role in the rise of health insurance premiums. A patient should not expect that his/her insurance rates will rise immediately following a claim on his/her insurance policy. Nonetheless, insurance companies track patient medical data for all patients in a health plan and consider this medical data when negotiating policy renewals. Therefore, if a patient has an individual health insurance policy, it is more likely that his/her premiums will be increased in future policy years following a significant claim against the insurance policy. If a patient receives insurance through a group health plan, such as through the patient’s work, premiums will be increased or decreased each year based, in part, on the medical data reviewed for all of the group health plan’s participants. The greater the number of participants in a group health plan, the less likely that one patient’s benefit claims will affect premium rates.
Portions of PPACA are designed to discourage employers from imposing drastic increases on their employee’s health insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket health care expenses, but such increases are not prohibited. For more information on PPACA, go to:
A pre-existing condition is a medical condition that existed before someone applies for or enrolls in a new health insurance policy. It can be something as serious as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, or as minor as allergies or a prior sports-related injury. In the past, some insurance policies limited, or even denied, coverage for conditions existing before a patient obtained the insurance policy.
Under HIPAA, an insurance policy is only allowed to look back six months for a condition that was present before the start of coverage in an insurance policy. If you have a pre-existing condition that can be excluded from your insurance policy, HIPAA provides a limit to the length of time that pre-existing condition exclusion period that can be applied. This time period is 12 months in most cases, although for some individuals with prior health insurance coverage, this time limit can be decreased even further. For more information on HIPAA, go to:
Under PPACA, insurance companies cannot exclude children with pre-existing conditions from being covered by their family’s insurance policy. Insurance companies will not be able to exclude adults with pre-existing conditions from being covered by his/her insurance policy after January 1, 2014. For more information on PPACA, go to:
Life insurance is often purchased to protect your loved ones financially after your death. It is intended to allow your dependents to maintain their current standard of living in the event that you die. However, because families undergoing a medical crisis often encounter many unexpected expenses, such as the cost of medical services that are not covered by health insurance or the cost of providing for long term care, there are times when an individual needs to access the cash value of the policy prior to his/her death. If you have a life insurance policy and you are in need of financial resources, you may be able to accelerate your policy’s benefits in order to pay for your medical costs and other expenses, or those of a family member. Often a policy will allow you to either cash your policy in early, or to take a loan against the policy. It is important to remember that if a loan is not repaid, the death benefit under the policy will be reduced, or even eliminated. Your options will vary greatly depending on the type of life insurance policy you have, as well as the terms specific to that policy. As such, you may wish to contact your insurance agent to discuss the options available to you pursuant to your life insurance policy.
General information regarding life insurance in Pennsylvania can be found at Pennsylvania Insurance Department website at: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/life_insurance/9194
Long-term care insurance
Because long-term care services are generally not medical in nature, this care is often not covered by private health insurance policies. Additionally, Medicare and Medicaid may cover long term care only in certain situations. As a result, many individuals choose to purchase long-term care insurance.
In Pennsylvania, long-term care insurance policies are required to offer what is considered to be comprehensive coverage. Specifically, these policies must cover skilled nursing care when ordered by a physician, intermediate care, custodial care, and home health care. Often long-term care policies provide a daily benefit dollar amount (such as $250 per day) and may provide coverage for a specific period of time, such as a year, or up to a lifetime. Additionally, it is important to know that long-term care policies sometimes impose a waiting period. This means you may need to be covered under the policy for a certain amount of time before you are eligible for benefits under the policy. You may find additional information about purchasing long-term care insurance in Pennsylvania at:
Additionally, pursuant to federal health care reform, a national voluntary long-term care insurance program will be developed which will give most working adults the option to purchase long-term care insurance. This provision is known as the CLASS Act. While this coverage is not immediately available, it is expected that the HHS will announce the details of this program on or before October 2012, and the opportunity for individuals to enroll will follow that announcement.
Additionally, the following links may provide useful information:
http://www.longtermcare.gov/LTC/Main_Site/index.aspx - HHS’s National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information
http://aoa.gov/AoARoot/CLASS/index.aspx - HHS’s Administration on Aging, Office of Community Living Services and Support
PA Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
If you do not have health insurance available through your employer, you can still obtain health insurance for your children through Pennsylvania’s CHIP program. CHIP stands for Children’s Health Insurance Program and is available to all Pennsylvania uninsured children that are not covered by Medicaid. There are no exclusions for pre-existing conditions under the CHIP program and you do not have to be low-income to qualify. The premium for health insurance provided through CHIP is determined by a sliding scale based on income. For many families, it’s free and for others, there is a low monthly premium. For more information and to apply for CHIP health insurance coverage, please go to:
While during an emergency, you will be treated in the emergency department of a hospital regardless of whether you have health insurance coverage, most doctors and hospitals will not provide care to individuals in a non-emergency situation unless they are insured or can otherwise guarantee payment. In the event that you have no coverage and cannot pay for care, there are medical clinics that will provide free or low cost medical services in Pennsylvania. A listing of free or low cost medical clinics can be found at:
Importantly, the services you can receive at these clinics may be limited.
In most cases, however, it is vital to obtain health insurance coverage in the event that you do not currently have coverage. There are several avenues through which you can obtain health insurance if you are uninsured. First, if you are eligible for employer sponsored coverage, either through your own employer or through that of a family member, you should contact your employer (or the employer of your family member) for information as to how you may enroll in its health plan. While some group health plans will allow you to enroll in coverage at any point through the year, most have an annual open enrollment period, during which you may enroll in coverage. Additionally, if you have originally declined coverage due to the fact that you had other coverage, you may be eligible to enroll outside of the annual open enrollment period. This is known as “special enrollment.” If you lose the other coverage or if you gain or become a dependent though marriage, birth, adoption, or placement for adoption, you may enroll in the plan outside of the open enrollment period. Importantly, you must notify your employer within 30 days of the special enrollment event. If you need to wait until the next open enrollment period to gain coverage under an employer’s policy, you may wish to enroll in a short term individual insurance policy in the interim. Short term policies are intended to provide coverage for only a limited period of time.
Another avenue to gain coverage is through Pennsylvania’s high risk pool, known as Fair Care. This high risk pool was a temporary solution established pursuant to federal health reform to provide coverage for adults with pre-existing conditions until 2014 when a host of additional reforms will become effective. You are eligible for Fair Care if you are an adult who: (1) is a resident of Pennsylvania; (2) is a citizen or a legal resident of the United States; (3) has been diagnosed with a pre-existing condition, and (4) has not had health insurance coverage for at least six months. You may find additional information about Fair Care and apply for coverage at: www.pafaircare.com
Likewise, children may be eligible for CHIP. Additional information regarding eligibility for and enrollment in CHIP may be found at: www.chipcoverspakids.com.
Finally, in Pennsylvania, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association companies are considered to be the “insurers of last resort.” This means that even if you are sick, these companies must cover you in what is known as a guaranteed issue policy. In western Pennsylvania, you may visit: www.highmarkbcbs.com to gain information about coverage for which you may be eligible, and to apply for that coverage. It is important to be aware that these policies often temporarily exclude coverage for conditions for which an individual has received medical advice or treatment within a certain amount of time prior to the application for individuals who are over the age of 18. This is known as a pre-existing condition limitation. It is always important to read your policy carefully so you will understand what is covered and is not.
(APPRISE Health Insurance Counseling Services)