Let’s be honest. This year — and the last couple months in particular — has not been kind to health care in America. That’s mainly exacerbated by the issues revolving around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: the botched HealthCare.gov site, the delays, the apologies, the low enrollment numbers, the high prices, and President Obama’s recent “nevermind” fix on the cancellation policies.
But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m trying (keyword being trying) to think about some good news revolving around the health care world. So, here are five things to be thankful for.
1. Broker importance. Sure, it might have come a little later than we wanted, but the administration has been touting broker and agent importance lately. Federal exchange officials have been talking about how to recruit more brokers and agents to the site so they can help consumers enroll in health plans. Documents earlier this month said they were “trying to bring in 60,000 more.”
And as we just reported on our site, during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing Wednesday, supporters and opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act came together to agree that small business owners shopping for health plans need help from brokers and agents. Gary Cohen, the director of the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, said CCIIO has tried to work closely with agents and brokers, with the understanding that most small businesses buy coverage through them.
“We need to work really hard to make sure we’re working with the agent-broker community,” Cohen said.
Though the realization might be a little late, but the truth is, brokers are severely needed now more than ever. There’s so much turmoil and confusion over benefits plans, and brokers are the ones who have the expertise to sort it out for consumers and clients. Those brokers who rise above all this drama — and don’t give up — will do well for themselves.
2. FSA news. The big change to flexible spending accounts last month — allowing participants to carry over up to $500 of their unused balances remaining at the end of a plan year — was welcome news for pretty much everybody.
Employers, benefits consultants and other FSA administrators have been arguing for the change to its long subjected use-it-or-lose-it rule for years — and it finally paid off. People like Bob Natt, executive chairman of Alegeus Technologies, a health and benefits payments firm, pointed out that the change eliminated the most significant barrier to FSA participation — namely consumers’ fear of losing their money. No controversy, just a rule that will have far-reaching effects: An estimated 14 million families participate in FSAs.
3. Medicaid expansion. It hasn’t gotten a lot of press, but Medicaid is emerging as an early PPACA success story. Mid-month numbers from Avalere Health showed Medicaid signed up 444,000 people in 10 states in the six weeks since open enrollment began. Twenty-five states are expanding their Medicaid programs, but data for all of them wasn’t available.
4. The importance of local government. The state-run exchanges have fared much better than the federal exchange. Enrollment numbers are higher, and the sites — for the most part — are working much better. It’s a shame so many Republican-led states fought Obamacare so adamantly, defaulting to the federal government on running their exchange — contrarian to their own conservative beliefs against big government.
Basically, the state-run exchanges seem like a real lost opportunity—and yes that’s bad news. But — as Denis Storey recently wrote — in good news, the law has proved that things simply run better at a local (or in this case, state) level.
5. People are talking about health care — and insurance. Yes, this idea is rather simple. But PPACA — good or bad — has finally made health care and insurance at the forefronts of a lot of minds. No surprise it hasn’t been a sexy subject before, but now people are talking about it. It’s finally being slowly understood that having health coverage is actually really important — even if people don’t like the way it’s being done.
(And hey, added bonus: It makes my job a lot more interesting.)