Archive for October, 2013

Online Health Exchanges Will Take a Month to Fix

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

After a laundry list of glitches have made it difficult – if not impossible – for consumers to use the online health exchanges, the Obama administration has announced a repair timetable that will have the sites fully operational by the end of November.

The administration has hired private firm Quality Software Services Inc. to fix the more than 100 issues with the exchange server that have frustrated consumers since the exchanges opened October 1. QSSI, an arm of UnitedHealth Group, is one of three contractors originally engaged to create the system. Among the reported issues are inaccurate reports and the failure of as many as 30 percent of consumers to successfully complete the enrollment process.

Though the proposed timeline is shorter than originally anticipated, it still cuts very close to the December 15 deadline for purchasing coverage to begin January 1. As a result, many lawmakers have called for extending the individual mandate deadline or deferring penalties for non-enrollment. The current deadline to avoid a tax penalty is March 31.

Issues with the exchange have frustrated consumers who are already unsure about the impact of the ACA and have prompted criticism from both sides of the aisle. The Obama administration is facing political fallout as well as a public relations quagmire: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been called upon to step down, and President Obama has addressed ongoing concerns with varying success.

Troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients remarked that the exchanges will “get better” by the week until it “will work smoothly for the vast majority of users” at the end of November.

Consumers should be prepared for a shortened enrollment period if an extension is not enacted. If you are one of the millions who will purchase insurance on the exchange, PRN Funding can provide the cash flow you need to be ready when the exchanges are fully functional. Learn more about our healthcare factoring programs and contact us today to get started.

Who is to Blame for Healthcare Exchange Glitches?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

The rollout of online health exchange site Healthcare.gov at the beginning of the month has been stymied with glitches preventing millions of consumers from creating accounts or completing the enrollment process, along with as many as 100 additional flaws found in the system. Testimony before a panel convened by the House of Representatives has provided an object of public blame for these glitches: contractor from Canadian firm CGI Group Inc.

Cheryl Campbell, senior VP of the unit responsible for site design, testified before the House that more time should have been devoted to end-to-end testing and refused to give a set date for the site to be fully functional. Campbell claimed that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – the Health and Human Services agency responsible for the health exchanges – made the final decision to take the site live despite inadequate testing. She also testified, however, that CGI did not make a recommendation to delay the site launch.

Other contractors testified that they were only given two weeks to perform testing, far shorter than the industry standard of months. Each contractor maintained that they fulfilled their part of the project and disavowed responsibility for the final product, and none could provide a definitive date for the glitches to be resolved.

Experts in the tech world, meanwhile, have suggested that the issues with Healthcare.gov could be a technical “black swan” event, or a project that faces out-of-control costs and extreme consequences that could spell failure – in this case, a failure for the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has publicly decried the situation, claiming “Nobody’s madder than me.”

Testimony will continue throughout the week and possibly into next week, but the administration has already appointed a contractor to repair the site as quickly as possible.

PRN Funding’s factoring programs for healthcare vendors provide necessary cash flow to invest in offering quality healthcare goods and services to healthcare providers nationwide. Contact us to find out how healthcare factoring can save your company from creating its own “black swan”.

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Obamacare vs. Employer Insurance: Which is Better?

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Ever since Obamacare was introduced, employees have been debating whether or not their employers’ insurance plan is the best option for obtaining affordable healthcare coverage. Although employees may have the ability to comparison-shop for better coverage plans among the new online exchanges, there are still plenty of nuances involved in the selection process. As a result, trying to sift through all the available options and picking the best plan to suit your particular situation can be a tedious task.

Although the new healthcare exchanges under Obamacare will be accessible to everyone, the marketplace will operate through two different sites, depending upon where you live. In 34 states, the exchanges will be available on HealthCare.gov, a federally-run website. However, 16 states, including the District of Columbia, will operate their own independent exchanges. Regardless, even if your employer already provides health coverage, there are no rules saying you can’t purchase coverage on your state’s exchange.

If employees decide to abandon their employers’ plan and enroll in coverage through the new marketplace, they may not be eligible to receive some of the benefits provided to the uninsured. The only instance where employees could be deemed eligible for receiving government subsidies is when their employer’s coverage is determined unaffordable or inadequate under the new healthcare law. Because these subsidies help people pay for their insurance, they are one of the most attractive incentives available with the new state exchanges.Keep in mind, employees earning over $40,ooo annually, won’t likely qualify for subsidies.

Opinions differ when it comes to choosing the best coverage plan for employees. According to E. Denise Smith, a professor of health care management at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., there really would be no advantages to abandoning healthcare plans provided by employers. She also mentioned that employers would not be required to offer payment assistance if their employees opted for an exchange plan.

A senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt, expressed a similar point of view. He believes that employees may not be able to find better coverage than their work-based plan among the new marketplaces. Additionally, he advises employees to thoroughly evaluate their current employer-based plans, and consider factors such as whether or not dental and vision care are covered. Obamacare plans are not required to cover dental and vision.

In regards to employee eligibility for Obamacare, many of the requirements imposed on employers had been postponed until 2015. However, companies were still expected to offer notice to their employees no later than Oct. 1, letting workers know whether or not their current coverage would be viewed as affordable under the new law. Despite this expectation, the U.S. labor Department said that employers would not be charged with penalties for failure to notify their employees. Regardless, the delayed employer mandates will require businesses with a workforce of at least 50 full-time employees to provide health coverage to their workers, as well as their dependent children, in 2015. However, employers will not be obligated to offer insurance to workers’ spouses.

September Layoffs Largely Concentrated in Healthcare

Friday, October 25th, 2013

The once recession-proof healthcare industry took a large hit in September, reporting more layoffs than any other industry for the month.

Hospital layoffs

Healthcare providers let go more than 8,000 employees, including administrative staff as well as doctors and nurses, in an ongoing effort to reduce costs. Some notable reductions are Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s 1,000-employee cut and Cleveland Clinic’s 3,000-employee buyout plan. Reductions are projected to continue into next year, cutting into the past year’s gains in private hospital employment.

The layoffs are a response to a variety of funding cuts and changing hospital conditions, including new reductions established by the Affordable Care Act. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in particular have fallen sharply due to sequestration and additional penalties associated with the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, which cuts reimbursement to hospitals with excessive readmissions for applicable conditions. Other factors include:

  • Research funding from the National Institutes of Health was cut five percent due to sequestration;
  • Increasing numbers of patients are aging into Medicare, which reimburses at lower rates than private insurance;
  • Despite the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, 26 states have chosen not to expand the program and accept greater funding (Vanderbilt cites this as a primary cause of their cuts);
  • Private insurance policies are paying out lower amounts, passing costs on to patients with higher deductibles and co-insurance;
  • Inpatient stays have shortened since the recession began, decreasing in length by four percent from 2007-2011.

Healthcare consultants, however, point out that hospital layoffs are a shortsighted solution that many facilities will have to reverse as more patients take advantage of their access to affordable healthcare and seek treatment they may have otherwise eschewed.

There are alternative solutions for facilities looking to shore up their cash flow. Medical receivables factoring gives hospitals immediate access to cash that they can use to meet their expenses without cutting employees they will likely need to call back in the next few months. PRN Funding has more than a decade of experience in the healthcare industry and can help meet the unique needs of providers. Apply today to learn more and get the cash ball rolling.

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Up-Front Deductible Payments on the Rise

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Need to see the doctor? Be prepared to pay at the door.

Up-front deductible payments

The Affordable Care Act has prompted a shift toward low-premium, higher-deductible health plans, both employer-provided and available on the exchange. In order to collect as much of the out-of-payment cost as possible, many health providers have responded by requiring up-front payment from patients before receiving nonemergency treatment. Insured patients at these facilities must pay their co-pay, co-insurance, and deductible up front, and uninsured patients are responsible for the full (estimated) cost of treatment.

Administrators at facilities currently using this practice argue that it is the most effective way to receive payment, particularly when so much of the burden is shifting to the patient. A great deal of costs for medical treatment become bad debt – in 2011 alone, hospitals provided $41 billion in care that was never paid for. Hospitals attribute this to patients’ reluctance to make their health spending a priority, and to a lack of awareness of financial assistance programs that can eliminate the strain of a single large payment.

The up-front model is an extension of one already in practice in most doctors’ offices around the country, where co-pays and co-insurance are collected at the check-in for an appointment. By implementing the practice in hospitals, administrators state that they can connect patients to financial assistance sooner and increase the likelihood of full payment.

Opponents of the idea, however, point out that up-front payments may create a barrier to receiving health care. As deductibles continue to rise, patients will be increasingly unable to cover the cost of their care and may elect not to seek treatment – in effect, creating a situation directly opposite the intended outcome of the Affordable Care Act.

PRN Funding offers healthcare factoring and medical receivables factoring services to vendors and facilities struggling to bridge the cash flow gap. Before shifting to the up-front model, contact us to see how we can help you meet your cash flow needs and continue to provide quality care to your patients.

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Healthcare Providers Can Improve Patient Engagement

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Due to changing rules regarding patient readmission and health technology under the Affordable Care Act, many healthcare providers are exploring their options for improving the quality of patient engagement at all levels of the health care experience. What they’ve found is that attitude is as important as innovation to achieving truly effective engagement.

Technology is rapidly becoming a key component of healthcare management. In addition to portable medical devices that reduce the amount of time patients spend in healthcare facilities, electronic health records and patient portals are streamlining a wealth of information that providers use to diagnose, treat, and follow up on patient concerns.

Improving Patient Engagement

When used properly these latter developments are critical to promoting patient engagement. Patients who are able to not only access their health records but also contribute to them in a digital dialogue gain the ability to notice trends of behavior and symptoms that they can then share with their healthcare provider. Likewise, the provider has a channel through which s/he can reach out to the patient for ongoing care – quite the reverse of the current state of healthcare, the only industry in which the provider waits for the customer (patient) to reach out for service.

Despite the potential benefits, most health facilities continue to balk at the cost of running such a system when they cannot envision the benefits. Instead they settle for a basic patient portal that allows the patient to book appointments and pay bills but does not offer access to medical history or direct communication with the provider. Part of the reluctance stems from a failure to adopt new strategies at all levels of the organization.

Healthcare providers should look more closely at their engagement strategies, however. Improved patient engagement can result in higher rates of post-discharge compliance, which will then reduce the cost of readmissions for the same health concern. In addition, giving patients the necessary tools to participate in their own care is an overwhelming show of empathy for the difficulty of the care process. Patients will have the ability to manage ongoing conditions without constantly needing to travel to the hospital for treatment.

The technology in question is already in various stages of development, but healthcare providers looking to use it in their own organizations must address patient engagement in every area. Boards of directors must actively invest resources into adopting new technologies and solicit feedback from every stakeholder – staff, patients, and outside caregivers – to assimilate all perspectives into a comprehensive engagement strategy. Finally, support must continue beyond the initial implementation and include assistance to patients and regular reporting of results.

Improving patient engagement can lead to exponential leaps in positive patient results, and is a worthwhile goal for healthcare providers. Medical receivable factoring can alleviate the cost concern by providing your facility with the cash flow you need to create and execute a viable engagement plan. Learn more about PRN Funding’s healthcare factoring program and get started today.

Employee Healthcare Premiums Expected to Rise in 2014

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Starting next year, employees may encounter a significant increase in healthcare premiums. Companies currently offering health insurance to workers are expected to add nearly $5,000 in premiums, deductibles, and co-payments to current health coverage costs.

Aon Hewitt also revealed a projected increase in average health care costs by 6.7 percent in 2014, amounting to $11,176 per employee. Despite the single-digit increase, health cost rates for employees continue to increase by double-digit percentages. Premium payments are also on the rise: employees are projected to pay 22.4 percent of this total, or $2,499. Overall, worker premiums are jumping nearly ten percent from this year’s rate of $2,303.

In addition to the increase in premium payments, employees can expect a rise in out-of-pocket costs including co-payments and deductibles. These costs will increase from this year’s rate of $2,239 to $2,470 in 2014, a projected increase of more than ten percent. As a result, many workers will get a glimpse of rising healthcare costs for the coming year whether they opt to renew current plans or choose new benefits during fall open enrollment.

Obamacare Initiative Targets 500,000 Signups in First Month

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Enrollment projections for the online marketplaces were high before countless computer glitches came into play. With the rollout of new ACA provisions, the Obama administration estimated that in October alone almost 500,000 people would sign up to participate in the new health insurance marketplace.

An internal memo issued on September 5 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listed monthly enrollment goals for Obamacare for each state, including Washington, D.C., up until March 31. Within the memo was an estimate provided by officials, stating that 494,620 people would enroll in the new healthcare initiative by the end of October.

These new health insurance markets, also known as exchanges in some states, were created to serve as accessible outlets to affordable coverage for the nearly 50 million uninsured people across the country. Four tiers of private, subsidized plans are available for middle-class individuals, while low-income consumers may be eligible for an expanded version of Medicaid that is available in states that have agreed to extend the program.

While the White House viewed the official launch of the new healthcare marketplace as a pressing priority, the October 1 rollout was quickly complicated with countless computer glitches. Consequently, several potential customers were unable to enroll for coverage. Although insurers have reported that signups have slowly been rolling through, the Obama administration still will not reveal enrollment numbers.

Aside from these glitches, other factors that may created enrollment issues were underlying problems that were bypassed in initial testing. As several users flocked online to sign up for the new coverage plans, software flaws and design mishaps that had been ignored earlier soon derailed the enrollment process. Regardless, the administration continues to work toward finding a solution to eliminating ongoing enrollment issues.

An Abbreviated Guide to the Healthcare Exchanges

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The online health care marketplaces have been up and (mostly) running for nearly a month, but a lack of information in many states is leaving consumers confused about their responsibilities and the coverage available to them. Below is some basic information to help you navigate the health care exchanges, and links to more information.

Do I have to use the exchange?

Consumers who do not receive health coverage through their employer or their spouse’s employer may be required to purchase insurance on the marketplace. In addition, if employer coverage does not meet the ACA’s requirements or costs more than 9.5 percent of the consumer’s income then the consumer may purchase more affordable insurance on the exchange.

There are exemptions. You are not required to purchase insurance if you:

· Would qualify for Medicaid under the expanded income limits, whether or not your state expanded coverage;

· Are not required to file a tax return;

· Receive insurance through your employer, your spouse’s employer, or other government-provided coverage (including VA benefits)

If you are a sole proprietor with no employees, you are considered an individual and are required to purchase insurance on the exchange unless you meet one of the exemption criteria. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you can purchase coverage for your company on the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) Marketplace and may qualify for tax incentives to do so.

What coverage can I purchase?

Open enrollment continues through March 2014, and plans will take effect beginning January 1, 2014. The health plans available on the marketplaces fall into one of five categories:

· Catastrophic – only available to consumers under 30 who are looking for low-cost disaster coverage

· Bronze – the lowest level of comprehensive coverage available; plans will pay up to 60 percent of costs

· Silver – “standard” coverage, with plans paying up to 70 percent of costs

· Gold – higher-level coverage, paying up to 80 percent of costs

· Platinum – the best coverage available, paying up to 90 percent of costs

As you move up through the plan levels, premiums increase but deductibles and out-of-pocket costs decrease. In addition, higher-level plans feature wider provider networks and better pharmaceutical coverage. Every plan level offers minimum essential coverage as required by the ACA.

Plans on the marketplace are required to cover at least the ten defined essential health benefits.

How do I know what’s covered?

Each exchange is required to provide a summary of included benefits, coverage, and applicable co-pays for services and medications at the generic, brand name, and specialty levels. The plans must also provide a list of in-network providers, as some providers may not accept all plans available on the marketplace.

What if I can’t afford coverage?

There are tax credits and subsidies available to a portion of the population to make health care affordable. For other low-income individuals and families, expanded Medicaid coverage will provide a free healthcare option. Consumers who are not already insured or exempt will fall into one of four categories:

· Consumers who are eligible for Medicaid benefits, whether or not the program has been expanded in your state. If it has, you will be able to enroll; if it has not, as mentioned above, you are exempt from the individual mandate.

· Consumers who are ineligible for Medicaid but earn below 100 percent of the poverty level. Unfortunately, these consumers are ineligible for the tax credit and must purchase health care at the full cost.

· Consumers who are eligible for tax credits to reduce premiums, earning between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty level. These consumers should be aware when shopping for insurance that tax credits are calculated based on the second least expensive silver plan available.

About half of the consumers who fall into this category will also be eligible for cost-sharing reductions to help with deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. The maximum threshold for these benefits is 250 percent of the poverty level.

· Consumers who earn above 400 of the poverty level will be required to purchase insurance without assistance.

Find out if you qualify for a subsidy using Kaiser’s interactive calculator.

How does a subsidy work?

Refundable tax credits will be immediately available to eligible consumers, who can use some or all of the money to pay for premiums.

If you are self-employed or have fluctuating income, it may be wise to reserve part of your tax credit in the beginning or to overestimate your income to compensate. If you earn more than you estimated you may be required to pay back some or all of the tax credit at filing time, though you may qualify for a higher subsidy if you earn less than you projected. This is also a great reason to report changes in employment, income, or family size to the health exchange as soon as they occur.

Where do I begin?

To explore your state’s marketplace and enroll in healthcare coverage, visit www.healthcare.gov – this is the federal portal and the safest way to avoid scammers.

If poor cash flow will make it difficult for you to purchase health care, PRN Funding’s healthcare factoring programs can give you immediate access to the cash you need. Get started today to beat enrollment deadlines and secure peace of mind.

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Workers Can Benefit From Workplace Wellness Programs

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Workplace wellness has become a popular initiative for many corporations. Much like FirstEnergy Corp., based in Ohio, many companies share the belief that adopting an effective wellness program would make sense to help promote the overall well-being of employees.

However, creating the ideal program that encourages employees to make significant strides in improving their overall health can be a difficult process. Don Powell, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, said that finding the proper wellness program for a corporation could soon become even more difficult, due to the advent of federal health care reforms.

Nevertheless, in 2011, FirstEnergy Corp. introduced its approach aimed toward enhancing the well-being of its employees, promoting productivity and boosting morale, and reducing overall costs. Instead of creating a disciplinary agenda focusing on shaming employees for their unhealthy eating habits, the company chose to offer comprehensive rewards to those who strive to improve their health.

As a result, employees who take the initiative to improve their overall well-being can earn $20 each month. In order to receive this incentive, workers must schedule regular doctor’s visits, undergo biometric screenings, and even consult with a health coach or participate in a wellness workshop. Additionally, for those employees who remain smoke-free and achieve other significant health milestones, ranging from maintaining healthy triglycerides to keeping cholesterol and blood pressure at recommended levels, even more money can be acquired, reaching up to $480 each year.

FirstEnergy Corp. is certainly not alone in its efforts to promote a healthier workplace. In a 2013 survey conducted by Aon Hewitt, 84 percent of employers reported that they also offer incentives to employees who engage in workplace wellness programs. Although 16 percent of those employers said they provide both rewards and penalties in their initiatives, 58 percent admitted that they plan to place penalties on employees who fail to participate in these programs within the next three to five years.

Consequently, research has alluded to the fact that not every workplace wellness program is successful in achieving its goals. Nevertheless, the way each program is designed can be crucial to the overall effectiveness of each initiative. Many experts share the belief that in order to craft an effective program, the plan must be created to cater to the specific needs and goals of the company.