ACA open enrollment – The Basics


Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act started on November 1, 2015. The first and most important deadline is December 15, 2015. You must enroll or make changes by this date in order for a new policy to take effect by January 1st. Before making a decision, here’s what you need to know about this coming year’s open enrollment:

  • Enrollment for the ACA Marketplace for 2016 runs from November 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016.
  • Consumers can enroll inside or outside of the Marketplace.
  • This ACA open enrollment period applies to new enrollees or those wishing to make changes in last year’s plans or coverage options.
  • Open enrollment is the only time a consumer can enroll in a medical plan (which counts as minimum essential coverage or MEC), switch plans, or apply for assistance with costs, or subsidies.
  • Log onto to access programs by state.
  • If you have Medicare you cannot purchase a new individual policy.

When does coverage start?

A person enrollingMoney and time paid picture dreamstime_m_38644784 November 1, 2015 to December 15, 2015 will see a start in coverage as soon as January 1, 2016.

A person waiting until January 15, 2016 to enroll or change plans will start new coverage on February 1, 2016.

Anyone who enrolls or change plans between January 16, 2016 and January 31, 2016 will have new coverage taking effect on March 1, 2016.

The open enrollment period of the ACA Marketplace will end on January 31, 2016.

If you don’t enroll in a plan the ACA considered minimum essential coverage (MEC) by January 31, 2016, you will not be able to enroll in a health insurance plan for the entire year unless you qualify for a special enrollment period.

A few tips for navigating the ACA marketplace

#1 Subsidies to help with premium costs can only be obtained through the health insurance marketplace.

#2 The law requires individuals to obtain minimum essential coverage, and must carry that coverage through the year to avoid paying a per month fee when not insured. The only way to avoid this fee is to gain an exemption. Any plans offered by the marketplace are considered minimum essential coverage.

#3 If you missed the initial enrollment period, you are unable to sign up again until the next open enrollment, except in the case where you can qualify for a special enrollment. For example, a person who was unable to qualify for Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid may be able to qualify for a special enrollment. Losing employer based insurance or COBRA are also considered qualifying events.

#4 Medicaid and CHIP does not have a limited enrollment period. Consumers can apply at any time.

What’s considered minimum essential coverage?

The ACA considers minimum essential coverage a type of health plan (includes individual policies) bought within the health insurance marketplace, other sources, received from a job, or from Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE (military), and others. The ACA does not consider the following as minimum essential coverage in order to avoid fine:

  •  Vision and dental care only
  • Worker’s compensation
  • Medical service discount plans
  • Specific disease or specific condition coverage only

What about penalty fees?

Entering its third year, Affordable Care Act coverage costs continue to increase. National average premium costs are expected to rise by approximately 7.5% that use the marketplace. Premiums for large insurers are expected to rise 25% to 43% in other states, including Tennessee, Oregon, South Dakota, and Maryland. High deductibles have also soured enthusiasm for many, with deductibles averaging $3,000. However, a Bronze plan comes with a deductible of $5,731 while Silver plans average $3,117. As deductibles decrease, premiums increase. Before coverage even begins these high deductibles cause financial strain that leads to hard decisions and choices for many.

The penalty fee for not having health insurance coverage in 2016 will be charged for every month you are not covered. Fees are calculated in two ways: either as a percentage of household income – 2.5% of household income or the total yearly premium that an average bronze plan would cost. Or a per person fee ($695 per adult and $347.50 for children under 18 years of age) with a maximum fee of $2,085. You’ll pay whichever is higher.
The IRS will hold back penalty fee amounts from future tax refunds, but consumers will not face criminal penalties, levies, or liens against them if the fee is not paid.

Transitioning Challenges Face many with Implementation of ICD-10

ICD 10 coding procedures were effectively initiated on October 1, 2015. For many, it’s about time that the United States medical system joined the rest of the world when it comes to coding practices. With its release, coding professionals can breathe a sigh of relief that the wait is over, but vast differences found between the two versions are causing confusion, frustration, and anxiety for many in healthcare.

During this transition, experts are expecting a greater number of denied claims to be bounced back to health care providers. What does that mean for you? Longer reimbursement time. More red tape. More phone calls and letters. More frustration.

Claims assistance professionals can reduce the number of denials of new claims filed after October 1, 2015 by organizing health insurance paperwork, reviewing claims for accurate coding, and directly deal with insurance companies and medical providers to ensure proper payment.

Why the change? Because after 30 years, medical treatments, knowledge, and technologies have advanced. The new coding procedures will enable doctors and hospitals to share more detailed information that ensures quality of care and plays a huge role in reimbursements for physicians and hospitals.

Over 100,000 new codes in ICD-10 provide challenges not only for billers and coders, but for doctors as well.

Bills with service dates after the October 1 implementation date must have ICD-10 codes or will be rejected or denied. Valid diagnostic codes will also be required in order to gain approval for many medical procedures and costly tests.

Brief history of ICD-10

A number of entities developed what was to become the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) starting in 1950, including the U.S. Public Health Service, the Veterans Administration, and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. In 1966, the 8th version was published as the International Classification of Diseases, Adapted. Throughout the 1970s, other versions were published.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been involved in creation of development of ICD publications since 1946 and helped develop the International Classification of Procedures in Medicine (ICPM) which was published in 1978. WHO was also involved with experimenting with alternative model structures for ICD-10.

The World Health Organization adopted ICD-10 in 1994. Since the mid-1990s and heading into the new millennium, a number of issues delayed the transition to ICD-10 in the US.

According to data gathered by the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange, delays have also affected readiness to implement the transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10. In March 2015, data was gathered among a small group of health care providers, health plans, and vendors. Less than one fourth of the physicians queried determined that they would be ready to implement ICD-10 by the October 1 compliance date. Approximately twenty-five percent claimed that they would be ready.

Ready or not, claims must be correct in regard to coding and accurate processing measures– if not, those claims will be delayed or denied.

Major differences between ICD-9 and ICD-10

Specificity is the name of the game with the new ICD 10 release. First, the basic and major differences between ICD-9 and ICD can include:

icd9 and ICD 10

In addition, codes for inpatient hospital procedures climbs from 4,000 to 87,000.

For example: a femur fracture using ICD-9 and ICD 10:

ICD-9 (Code 821.11) Open fracture of shaft a femur
(Number of codes for femur fracture? 16)

ICD-10 (S72.351C) Displaced, comminuted fracture of shaft of right femur, initial encounter for open fracture type IIIA, IIIB, or IIIC
(Number of codes for femur fracture? 1,530)

ICD-10 coding define injuries based not on type of injury, but anatomical site. In addition, E and V codes are incorporated into ICD-10, and new code definitions bring the codes into the modern era. Certain disease processes have also been reclassified to new sections or chapters that reflect up-to-date medical knowledge.

Help and solutions for the challenging transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 are available through the Alliance of Claim Assistance Professionals (ACAP). Whether you’re a patient or a provider, call on the experts to help with your medical claim issues.

Mental Health Parity Still a Distant Wish for Most

Mental health parity remains a constant battle for young and middle aged populations of Americans seeking mental health services for drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, rape counseling, and posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD). The challenges that such individuals face often go against insurance “standards” when it comes to provision of care. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health and issues, the watchwords of most insurance companies still utilize the acute care standard – “if not suicidal, have to discharge”.

The Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Parity Act signed into law in 2008. The act sought to ensure that insurance companies treated mental health issues and substance abuse disorders on the same level as physical illnesses when a person’s insurance policy offers coverage for both. Since then the Affordable Care Act the mental health parity was extended to provide equal benefits with medical coverage, even for individual health insurance coverage.

Unfortunately, actual changes are not taking hold. Mental and substance abuse problems are still considered only on an acute care basis. Regrettably, such issues are often chronic in nature and necessitate long term management.

An alarming number of individuals between the ages of 20 and 30 are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain care coverage for mental health issues and related behaviors. County health services have begun to develop “transition programs” but in some areas, a four plus month wait or longer is typical. Individuals, including those dealing with PTSD, substance abuse, and eating disorders, are either being denied access to such care facilities or are being discharged from their treatment programs early. When an individual’s treatment courses are cut short, they often return home with ineffective coping skills that lead to relapses and in some cases, death.

60 Minutes recently ran a story related to denial of mental health coverage by insurance companies despite doctor’s prescribed orders for treatments of mental health and addictive behavioral issues. In fact, the exposé noted that many insurance adjusters “aggressively” review not only chronic cases, but long-term mental health care needs. Most health insurance companies often deny coverage for full treatment care plans, cutting off benefits at the halfway point.

In an attempt to enhance mental health treatment opportunities, the Affordable Care Act has shown significant improvements for those seeking care in physician and therapist office settings. Unlimited visits are a definite improvement for those with manageable mental health problems. Unfortunately, for those needing intensive outpatient or inpatient services, the quality of care and the number of in-network providers are limited.

Most reputable mental health treatment centers are out-of-network, placing a significant financial burden on patients and their families. Many of these patients are young adults still in college or high school, which creates a volatile situation within the family dynamic. Young adults often blame parents for their substance abuse; divorce, neglect, emotional distance are just a few reasons. Yet most parents paying for their children’s treatment don’t share this blame.

In today’s healthcare economy, insurance companies are the ones who determine duration of treatment, which makes it extremely difficult not only for patients to receive the care they need, but for patients and family members to struggle through the requirements and demands of filing claims, billing and reimbursement for such services.

Real solutions are only possible with genuine consideration from insurance companies. The Alliance of Claim Assistance Professionals (ACAP) strongly urges our readers to file appeals on all levels, as ACAP experience tells us that meaningful review takes place at the Departments of Insurance levels. Significant change will only come by filing mental health denial appeals to state insurance departments.

The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act is Enabling Everyone to Have Medical Insurance
The Affordable Care Act has given many Americans the opportunity to finally be able to afford and obtain health insurance. Through the Affordable Care Act, Americans can now find affordable medical insurance that covers their healthcare needs.

Also known as Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act is based on a lengthy piece of legislation which assigns power to government programs, on an ongoing basis, to continuously improve and reform health care. Reforms impact funding and spending, taxes, insurance company rules, protections, benefits, rights and more.

Most preventive care services are offered without deductibles. For lower income people, subsidies are available through the Health Insurance Exchanges. Through the Medicaid extension provided by many states more people can apply for state funded medical care.

Providing Access for Uninsured Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions
Before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, many Americans were unable to obtain health insurance due to pre-existing conditions they may have had. These Americans only had hope of obtaining insurance if they could find a full time job that offered health benefits, or if they purchased a very expensive policy which offered coverage for a high risk pool, organized by many states. If they lost said job, then their insurance policies would lapse and they would be uninsured. The Affordable Care Act has made it possible for people with pre-existing conditions to finally obtain their own private health insurance. Through this Act, insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away any customers.

Extending Coverage for Young Adults
With the ACA, young adults have the ability to stay on their parents’ insurance policy until they are 26 years old. This coverage is available without contingencies based on being a student, living with the parent, being financially dependent or being married. This allows young adults to go to college and get married, without the burden of health insurance over their heads. The majority of young adults can also graduate from college and find a job with benefits before they are taken off of their parents’ insurance policy.

Expanding Coverage for Early Retirees
Often, Americans wish to retire before they become eligible for Medicare. Before the Affordable Care Act, these Americans had to either wait to retire until they became eligible for Medicare, or they had to buy private, expensive insurance plans to cover them for a few years. Now, the Affordable Car Act has created a $5 billion program to provide these seniors with financial help and coverage to cover them between their retirement date and the date they become Medicare eligible.

Offering Free Preventative Care
All of the new insurance plans created by the Affordable Care Act must now cover certain preventative services. Preventative services such as, physicals, mammograms, colonoscopies, and many others are free so that patients can stay healthy as they grow older and enjoy their retirement.

The Affordable Care Act has significantly improved the healthcare market in America. It has allowed numerous people to obtain health insurance for an affordable price, and has helped reduce healthcare costs throughout the country. Through the Affordable Care Act, many people have benefited and will continue to benefit from healthcare services for many years.

The Specific Question

During medical emergency or urgent situations all we really want is proper medical and timely care. We assume that the hospital and doctors will do the right thing. That is to take our insurance and don’t overcharge us. Fortunately, it does happen that way most of the times. Then there are some times when we assume taking our insurance means they are participating in our insurance network. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. Taking our insurance simply means that the hospital or doctor will bill our insurance. If they get any payment it will be deducted from their total bill and send us the balance due.

If you are unsure the specific question to ask is exactly this: Are you a participating provider in my insurance network? To your surprise the answer to this question may be this “ I don’t participate in any insurance network.” So the next reasonable question will be: how much do you charge for this service? I am willing to bet that most doctors, and even hospitals will not give you an answer. They simply don’t know.

You want to ask: how can that be?
The answer is rather simple. In the case of a hospital the clinicians simply use an internal billing code, that is often not a code for the actual procedure; it is simply a computer system code that transfers into insurance procedure code a few days later in the computer software.
In the case of doctors, the billing company or office does the billing. The doctor may even know the actual codes and charges, but in most cases they will not disclose that information to the patient.
At this point the best one can do is getting a promise from the doctor that his or her changes are reasonable to our services.

Of course planned visits, such as office consultation, radiology services, or surgery can be financially pre arranged. It does take some work, and often putting a pressure on each party. A person need to get a CPT (procedure code), and diagnosis code from the doctor’s office. Then provide that to the insurance company and request the allowed payment amount from the insurance. Some will give it just for asking, while others have to be pressured to do so.

Insurance Payments to You

Why do medical insurance companies send you, the patient, the payments that should be going to the doctor? What are you supposed to do with these checks? is there a specific procedure that you are supposed to be following, that nobody every told you?

Here is what usually happens. You locate a doctor that you trust, and you have been going to them for awhile, and suddenly you start receiving insurance checks in the mail. You have no idea what is going on. Who do these checks belong to? Usually your insurance company will issue checks to you the patient, when the doctor is out of network, or doesn’t participate with your insurance plan. And, did you know that if there are several doctors in the group, that some can be participating and others can decide not to participate? So if you saw a doctor in that group who does not participate with your insurance, then you will receive the insurance check. So what are you supposed to do with this check?

I recommend that you cash the check. DO NOT HOLD ONTO IT! Make a copy of the check and then deposit it into your checking account.  Keep the copy of the check with your insurance explanation of benefit that came with the check. When you receive a bill from your doctor, send a personal check along with copies of the explanations of benefits and the copy of the check and send the exact dollar amount of that insurance check to the provider.  I do not recommend sending the check to the provider until they send you a statement so that your payments will be applied correctly to your account.

Do not make your doctor chase you down for that money as it was never yours to begin with. And do not pay the doctor less than the insurance paid you. You should NOT be making money off of your medical appointments.

Now suppose you receive a very large check, for thousands of dollars? Make copies of the entire document, including the check and then bring everything to your doctor’s office. Go to the billing department and endorse that check over to the practice. Have them give you a receipt for the check and keep that receipt stapled to your copies of the EOB and check. The sooner you bring your doctor the insurance checks, the happier they will be with you.