Small Business Health Insurance – The Best Policy Is A Great Agent

I have been a health insurance broker for over a decade and every day I read more and more “horror” stories that are posted on the Internet regarding health insurance companies not paying claims, refusing to cover specific illnesses and physicians not getting reimbursed for medical services. Unfortunately, insurance companies are driven by profits, not people (albeit they need people to make profits). If the insurance company can find a legal reason not to pay a claim, chances are they will find it, and you the consumer will suffer. However, what most people fail to realize is that there are very few “loopholes” in an insurance policy that give the insurance company an unfair advantage over the consumer. In fact, insurance companies go to great lengths to detail the limitations of their coverage by giving the policy holders 10-days (a 10-day free look period) to review their policy. Unfortunately, most people put their insurance cards in their wallet and place their policy in a drawer or filing cabinet during their 10-day free look and it usually isn’t until they receive a “denial” letter from the insurance company that they take their policy out to really read through it.The majority of people, who buy their own health insurance, rely heavily on the insurance agent selling the policy to explain the plan’s coverage and benefits. This being the case, many individuals who purchase their own health insurance plan can tell you very little about their plan, other than, what they pay in premiums and how much they have to pay to satisfy their deductible.For many consumers, purchasing a health insurance policy on their own can be an enormous undertaking. Purchasing a health insurance policy is not like buying a car, in that, the buyer knows that the engine and transmission are standard, and that power windows are optional. A health insurance plan is much more ambiguous, and it is often very difficult for the consumer to determine what type of coverage is standard and what other benefits are optional. In my opinion, this is the primary reason that most policy holders don’t realize that they do not have coverage for a specific medical treatment until they receive a large bill from the hospital stating that “benefits were denied.”Sure, we all complain about insurance companies, but we do know that they serve a “necessary evil.” And, even though purchasing health insurance may be a frustrating, daunting and time consuming task, there are certain things that you can do as a consumer to ensure that you are purchasing the type of health insurance coverage you really need at a fair price.Dealing with small business owners and the self-employed market, I have come to the realization that it is extremely difficult for people to distinguish between the type of health insurance coverage that they “want” and the benefits they really “need.” Recently, I have read various comments on different Blogs advocating health plans that offer 100% coverage (no deductible and no-coinsurance) and, although I agree that those types of plans have a great “curb appeal,” I can tell you from personal experience that these plans are not for everyone. Do 100% health plans offer the policy holder greater peace of mind? Probably. But is a 100% health insurance plan something that most consumers really need? Probably not! In my professional opinion, when you purchase a health insurance plan, you must achieve a balance between four important variables; wants, needs, risk and price. Just like you would do if you were purchasing options for a new car, you have to weigh all these variables before you spend your money. If you are healthy, take no medications and rarely go to the doctor, do you really need a 100% plan with a $5 co-payment for prescription drugs if it costs you $300 dollars more a month?Is it worth $200 more a month to have a $250 deductible and a $20 brand name/$10 generic Rx co-pay versus an 80/20 plan with a $2,500 deductible that also offers a $20 brand name/$10generic co-pay after you pay a once a year $100 Rx deductible? Wouldn’t the 80/20 plan still offer you adequate coverage? Don’t you think it would be better to put that extra $200 ($2,400 per year) in your bank account, just in case you may have to pay your $2,500 deductible or buy a $12 Amoxicillin prescription? Isn’t it wiser to keep your hard-earned money rather than pay higher premiums to an insurance company?Yes, there are many ways you can keep more of the money that you would normally give to an insurance company in the form of higher monthly premiums. For example, the federal government encourages consumers to purchase H.S.A. (Health Savings Account) qualified H.D.H.P.’s (High Deductible Health Plans) so they have more control over how their health care dollars are spent. Consumers who purchase an HSA Qualified H.D.H.P. can put extra money aside each year in an interest bearing account so they can use that money to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even procedures that are not normally covered by insurance companies, like Lasik eye surgery, orthodontics, and alternative medicines become 100% tax deductible. If there are no claims that year the money that was deposited into the tax deferred H.S.A can be rolled over to the next year earning an even higher rate of interest. If there are no significant claims for several years (as is often the case) the insured ends up building a sizeable account that enjoys similar tax benefits as a traditional I.R.A. Most H.S.A. administrators now offer thousands of no load mutual funds to transfer your H.S.A. funds into so you can potentially earn an even higher rate of interest.In my experience, I believe that individuals who purchase their health plan based on wants rather than needs feel the most defrauded or “ripped-off” by their insurance company and/or insurance agent. In fact, I hear almost identical comments from almost every business owner that I speak to. Comments, such as, “I have to run my business, I don’t have time to be sick! “I think I have gone to the doctor 2 times in the last 5 years” and “My insurance company keeps raising my rates and I don’t even use my insurance!” As a business owner myself, I can understand their frustration. So, is there a simple formula that everyone can follow to make health insurance buying easier? Yes! Become an INFORMED consumer.Every time I contact a prospective client or call one of my client referrals, I ask a handful of specific questions that directly relate to the policy that particular individual currently has in their filing cabinet or dresser drawer. You know the policy that they bought to protect them from having to file bankruptcy due to medical debt. That policy they purchased to cover that $500,000 life-saving organ transplant or those 40 chemotherapy treatments that they may have to undergo if they are diagnosed with cancer.So what do you think happens almost 100% of the time when I ask these individuals “BASIC” questions about their health insurance policy? They do not know the answers! The following is a list of 10 questions that I frequently ask a prospective health insurance client. Let’s see how many YOU can answer without looking at your policy.1. What Insurance Company are you insured with and what is the name of your health insurance plan? (e.g. Blue Cross Blue Shield-”Basic Blue”)2. What is your calendar year deductible and would you have to pay a separate deductible for each family member if everyone in your family became ill at the same time? (e.g. The majority of health plans have a per person yearly deductible, for example, $250, $500, $1,000, or $2,500. However, some plans will only require you to pay a 2 person maximum deductible each year, even if everyone in your family needed extensive medical care.)3. What is your coinsurance percentage and what dollar amount (stop loss) it is based on? (e.g. A good plan with 80/20 coverage means you pay 20% of some dollar amount. This dollar amount is also known as a stop loss and can vary based on the type of policy you purchase. Stop losses can be as little as $5,000 or $10,000 or as much as $20,000 or there are some policies on the market that have NO stop loss dollar amount.)4. What is your maximum out of pocket expense per year? (e.g. All deductibles plus all coinsurance percentages plus all applicable access fees or other fees)5. What is the Lifetime maximum benefit the insurance company will pay if you become seriously ill and does your plan have any “per illness” maximums or caps? (e.g. Some plans may have a $5 million lifetime maximum, but may have a maximum benefit cap of $100,000 per illness. This means that you would have to develop many separate and unrelated life-threatening illnesses costing $100,000 or less to qualify for $5 million of lifetime coverage.)6. Is your plan a schedule plan, in that it only pays a certain amount for a specific list of procedures? (e.g., Mega Life & Health & Midwest National Life, endorsed by the National Association of the Self-Employed, N.A.S.E. is known for endorsing schedule plans) 7. Does your plan have doctor co-pays and are you limited to a certain number of doctor co-pay visits per year? (e.g. Many plans have a limit of how many times you go to the doctor per year for a co-pay and, quite often the limit is 2-4 visits.)8. Does your plan offer prescription drug coverage and if it does, do you pay a co-pay for your prescriptions or do you have to meet a separate drug deductible before you receive any benefits and/or do you just have a discount prescription card only? (e.g. Some plans offer you prescription benefits right away, other plans require that you pay a separate drug deductible before you can receive prescription medication for a co-pay. Today, many plans offer no co-pay options and only provide you with a discount prescription card that gives you a 10-20% discount on all prescription medications).9. Does your plan have any reduction in benefits for organ transplants and if so, what is the maximum your plan will pay if you need an organ transplant? (e.g. Some plans only pay a $100,000 maximum benefit for organ transplants for a procedure that actually costs $350-$500K and this $100,000 maximum may also include reimbursement for expensive anti-rejection medications that must be taken after a transplant. If this is the case, you will often have to pay for all anti-rejection medications out of pocket).10. Do you have to pay a separate deductible or “access fee” for each hospital admission or for each emergency room visit? (e.g. Some plans, like the Assurant Health’s “CoreMed” plan have a separate $750 hospital admission fee that you pay for the first 3 days you are in the hospital. This fee is in addition to your plan deductible. Also, many plans have benefit “caps” or “access fees” for out-patient services, such as, physical therapy, speech therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. Benefit “caps” could be as little as $500 for each out-patient treatment, leaving you a bill for the remaining balance. Access fees are additional fees that you pay per treatment. For example, for each outpatient chemotherapy treatment, you may be required to pay a $250 “access fee” per treatment. So for 40 chemotherapy treatments, you would have to pay 40 x $250 = $10,000. Again, these fees would be charged in addition to your plan deductible).Now that you’ve read through the list of questions that I ask a prospective health insurance client, ask yourself how many questions you were able to answer. If you couldn’t answer all ten questions don’t be discouraged. That doesn’t mean that you are not a smart consumer. It may just mean that you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent. So how could you tell if you dealt with a “bad” insurance agent? Because a “great” insurance agent would have taken the time to help you really understand your insurance benefits. A “great” agent spends time asking YOU questions so s/he can understand your insurance needs. A “great” agent recommends health plans based on all four variables; wants, needs, risk and price. A “great” agent gives you enough information to weigh all of your options so you can make an informed purchasing decision. And lastly, a “great” agent looks out for YOUR best interest and NOT the best interest of the insurance company.So how do you know if you have a “great” agent? Easy, if you were able to answer all 10 questions without looking at your health insurance policy, you have a “great” agent. If you were able to answer the majority of questions, you may have a “good” agent. However, if you were only able to answer a few questions, chances are you have a “bad” agent. Insurance agents are no different than any other professional. There are some insurance agents that really care about the clients they work with, and there are other agents that avoid answering questions and duck client phone calls when a message is left about unpaid claims or skyrocketing health insurance rates.Remember, your health insurance purchase is just as important as purchasing a house or a car, if not more important. So don’t be afraid to ask your insurance agent a lot of questions to make sure that you understand what your health plan does and does not cover. If you don’t feel comfortable with the type of coverage that your agent suggests or if you think the price is too high, ask your agent if s/he can select a comparable plan so you can make a side by side comparison before you purchase. And, most importantly, read all of the “fine print” in your health plan brochure and when you receive your policy, take the time to read through your policy during your 10-day free look period.If you can’t understand something, or aren’t quite sure what the asterisk (*) next to the benefit description really means in terms of your coverage, call your agent or contact the insurance company to ask for further clarification.Furthermore, take the time to perform your own due diligence. For example, if you research MEGA Life and Health or the Midwest National Life insurance company, endorsed by the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE), you will find that there have been 14 class action lawsuits brought against these companies since 1995. So ask yourself, “Is this a company that I would trust to pay my health insurance claims?Additionally, find out if your agent is a “captive” agent or an insurance “broker.” “Captive” agents can only offer ONE insurance company’s products.” Independent” agents or insurance “brokers” can offer you a variety of different insurance plans from many different insurance companies. A “captive” agent may recommend a health plan that doesn’t exactly meet your needs because that is the only plan s/he can sell. An “independent” agent or insurance “broker” can usually offer you a variety of different insurance products from many quality carriers and can often customize a plan to meet your specific insurance needs and budget.Over the years, I have developed strong, trusting relationships with my clients because of my insurance expertise and the level of personal service that I provide. This is one of the primary reasons that I do not recommend buying health insurance on the Internet. In my opinion, there are too many variables that Internet insurance buyers do not often take into consideration. I am a firm believer that a health insurance purchase requires the level of expertise and personal attention that only an insurance professional can provide. And, since it does not cost a penny more to purchase your health insurance through an agent or broker, my advice would be to use eBay and Amazon for your less important purchases and to use a knowledgeable, ethical and reputable independent agent or broker for one of the most important purchases you will ever make….your health insurance policy.Lastly, if you have any concerns about an insurance company, contact your state’s Department of Insurance BEFORE you buy your policy. Your state’s Department of Insurance can tell you if the insurance company is registered in your state and can also tell you if there have been any complaints against that company that have been filed by policy holders. If you suspect that your agent is trying to sell you a fraudulent insurance policy, (e.g. you have to become a member of a union to qualify for coverage) or isn’t being honest with you, your state’s Department of Insurance can also check to see if your agent is licensed and whether or not there has ever been any disciplinary action previously taken against that agent.In closing, I hope I have given you enough information so you can become an INFORMED insurance consumer. However, I remain convinced that the following words of wisdom still go along way: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!” and “If you only buy on price, you get what you pay for!”©2007 Small Business Insurance Services, Inc. http://www.smallbusinessinsuranceservices.com

You Have Been Declined for Health Insurance in California, Now What?

If you are reading this then you probably have been declined for health insurance in the recent past. When you get declined for health insurance it probably has something to do with your medical history. Since California is one of the underwritten states health care companies have the right to declined people for health insurance. Who health insurance company might decline and who it might not all depends on risk assessment using actuarial tables. Anytime when you fill out individual application for health coverage and answer yes on one of the medical questions your application might be manually reviews by one of the underwriters. It is a person who is responsible to reviewing application using actuarial tables. Actuarial tables are statistics done by the insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, researchers that predict the cost of insuring some one with a specific medical history.

Some states like New York, New Jersey and Washington require insurance companies to insure everyone. Those three states do not have medical underwriting and everyone is automatically approved for health coverage. In order to insure everyone with medical history insurance companies increase rates to the point where it becomes un-affordable to most people. What keeps the average monthly premiums low is low utilization of health care. If there are more people with high medical insurance utilization with a specific health insurance company they have to raise the rates for everyone in order to keep up with paying medical claims. That also drives people who do not use health insurance that often to drop health insurance all together and yet driving rates even higher. This leaves no choice for insurance carriers but to drive rates even higher. New York, New Jersey and Washington have highest premiums for medical coverage and a lot of families find health care out of reach.

In California if you have been declined for health coverage you have options. If you out of job or currently on low income you can qualify for Medical and if you have kids they can qualify for a program called Healthy Families. Most states including California have high risk pools that are designed for people who have been declined for individual health insurance. In California this program is called MRMIP. Just the quick search on the Internet will guide to a government website. MRMIP is a program that is managed by the state and your big name medical insurance providers participate in it. Chances are you will be able to keep the same health insurance company if you are already use to them. MRMIP program has limits and it might have a waiting period.

One of the best options might be when it comes to getting the most coverage for your money is through a group plan. In the state of California all group plans by law are required to be a guaranteed issue. That means that there is no medical underwriting. This options requires more work from you. Insurance companies are not just going to let you set up a group plan if you have been declined for individual health insurance. Since insurance companies are required to insurance everyone who is part of the group state requires insurance companies to have rules when it comes to setting up a group plan. Some of the basic requirements change from the insurance company to the insurance company.

The best way to find out is talk to insurance broker. The basics that insurance companies are going to be looking for are that you have to have a reason for starting a group plan other then getting medical insurance. It is illegal to start a group plan just to get health insurance. That means that you have to have a business and that could be anything. To have a group plan you obviously have to have more then just yourself It takes at least two people to start a group plan. All the people that are going to be on the group plan are either have to be the owners of the business or have to be on the payroll. Some insurance companies require either a DE-6 form or six weeks of payroll records. If every one if the owner then you will be required to provide proof of the ownership listing everyone that is going to be on a group plan as the owner. This might not be simple but is is certainly doable and it is definitely worth it if you do not have any coverage and cannot get it on your own.

It is always easier to just blame the insurance company that they have declined you for health coverage. If you have been declined and are looking for health insurance you just have to be more proactive in getting your coverage. Once you work with a broker on getting on the requirements on setting up a group plan then it is forever yours and no one can take that coverage away from you unless you stop paying for it.

Educational Leaders Must Strive To Increase Resources Available For Their Schools

Contemporary educational leaders function in complex local contexts. They must cope not only with daily challenges within schools but also with problems originating beyond schools, like staffing shortages, problematic school boards, and budgetary constraints. There are some emerging patterns and features of these complex contexts that educational leaders should recognize. Educational leaders face a political terrain marked by contests at all levels over resources and over the direction of public education.

The vitality of the national economy has been linked to the educational system, shifting political focus on public education from issues of equity to issues of student achievement. States have increasingly centralized educational policymaking in order to augment governmental influence on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. With the rise of global economic and educational comparisons, most states have emphasized standards, accountability, and improvement on standardized assessments. Paradoxically, some educational reforms have decentralized public education by increasing site-based fiscal management.

School leaders in this new environment must both respond to state demands and also assume more budget-management authority within their buildings. Meanwhile, other decentralizing measures have given more educational authority to parents by promoting nontraditional publicly funded methods of educational delivery, such as charter schools and vouchers. Political pressures such as these have significantly changed the daily activities of local educational leaders, particularly by involving them intensively in implementing standards and assessments. Leaders at all levels must be aware of current trends in national and state educational policy and must decide when and how they should respond to reforms.

The many connections between education and economics have posed new challenges for educational leaders. As both an economic user and provider, education takes financial resources from the local community at the same time as it provides human resources in the form of students prepared for productive careers. Just as the quality of a school district depends on the district’s wealth, that wealth depends on the quality of the public schools. There is a direct relationship between educational investment and individual earnings. Specifically, it has been found that education at the elementary level provides the greatest rate of return in terms of the ratio of individual earnings to cost of education. This finding argues for greater investment in early education. Understanding these connections, educational leaders must determine which educational services will ensure a positive return on investment for both taxpayers and graduates. Where local economies do not support knowledge-based work, educational investment may indeed generate a negative return. Leaders must endeavor to support education for knowledge-based jobs while encouraging communities to be attractive to industries offering such work. Educational leaders must be aware of the nature of their local economies and of changes in local, national, and global markets. To link schools effectively to local economies, leaders should develop strong relationships with community resource providers, establish partnerships with businesses and universities, and actively participate in policymaking that affects education, remembering the complex interdependence between education and public wealth.

Two important shifts in the nation’s financial terrain in the past 19 years have worked to move the accountability of school leaders from school boards to state governments. First, the growth in state and federal funding for public education constrains leaders to meet governmental conditions for both spending and accountability. Second, state aid has been increasingly linked to equalizing the “adequacy” of spending across districts, which has influenced leaders to use funds for producing better outcomes and for educating students with greater needs, including low-income and disabled children. Complicating these shifts are the widely varying financial situations among jurisdictions. These financial differences have made significant disparities in spending between districts in urban areas and districts in rural areas common. In this dynamic financial context, educational leaders must strive to increase resources available for their schools, accommodate state accountability systems, and seek community support, even as they strive to increase effective use of resources by reducing class size, prepare low-achieving children in preschool programs, and invest in teachers’ professional growth.

Recently, two important accountability issues have received considerable attention. The first has to do with market accountability. Since markets hold service providers accountable, if the market for education choices like charter schools and vouchers grows, leaders may be pressured to spend more time marketing their schools. The second issue has to do with political accountability. State accountability measures force leaders to meet state standards or face public scrutiny and possible penalties. The type of pressure varies among states according to the content, cognitive challenges, and rewards and punishments included in accountability measures. School leaders can respond to accountability pressures originating in state policies by emphasizing test scores, or, preferably, by focusing on generally improving effectiveness teaching and learning. The external measures resulting from political accountability trends can focus a school staff’s efforts, but leaders must mobilize resources to improve instruction for all students while meeting state requirements. And they must meet those demands even as the measures, incentives, and definitions of appropriate learning undergo substantial change.

Public education is expanding in terms of both student numbers and diversity. An increasingly contentious political environment has accompanied the growth in diversity. Immigration is also shaping the demographic picture. For example, many immigrant children need English-language training, and providing that training can strain school systems. Economic changes are also affecting schools, as the number of children who are living in poverty has grown and poverty has become more concentrated in the nation’s cities.

The shift to a knowledge-based economy and demographic changes accompanying the shift challenge the schools that are attempting to serve area economies. Given such demographic challenges, school leaders must create or expand specialized programs and build capacity to serve students with diverse backgrounds and needs. Leaders must also increase supplemental programs for children in poverty and garner public support for such measures from an aging population. Educational leaders must cope with two chief issues in this area: First, they must overcome labor shortages; second, they must maintain a qualified and diverse professional staff. Shortages of qualified teachers and principals will probably grow in the next decade. Rising needs in specialty areas like special, bilingual, and science education exacerbate shortages. Causes of projected shortages include population growth, retirements, career changes,and local turnover. Turnover generally translates into a reduction of instructional quality resulting from loss of experienced staff, especially in cities, where qualified teachers seek better compensation and working conditions elsewhere. In order to address shortages, some jurisdictions have intensified recruiting and retention efforts, offering teachers emergency certification and incentives while recruiting administrators from within teacher ranks and eliminating licensure hurdles. In these efforts, leaders should bear in mind that new staff must be highly qualified. It is critical to avoid creating bifurcated staffs where some are highly qualified while others never acquire appropriate credentials. Leaders must also increase the racial and ethnic diversity of qualified teachers and administrators. An overwhelmingly White teacher and principal corps serves a student population that is about 31% minority (much greater in some areas). More staff diversity could lead to greater understanding of different ways of thinking and acting among both staff and students. This survey of the current context of educational leadership reveals three dominant features. First, the national shift toward work that requires students to have more education has generated demands for greater educational productivity. Second, this shift has caused states to play a much larger role in the funding and regulation of public education. Third, states’ regulatory role has expanded to include accountability measures to ensure instructional compliance and competence. Educational leaders must take heed of these features if they hope to successfully navigate the current educational terrain.