Health insurers are now openly admitting that with Obamacare’s reforms, patient choice can no longer be a priority for Americans.
“We have to break people away from the choice habit that everyone has,” Marcus Merz, CEO of Minnesota insurer PreferredOne, told The New York Times Tuesday. “We’re all trying to break away from this fixation on open access and broad networks.”
With boatloads of mandatory services provided each and every customer whether they’re wanted or not, health insurers’ costs are going up. If insurance companies are going to keep prices at a manageable level, narrow networks are one of their only options. So far under the health care law, networks are narrowing while premiums are going up.
While insurance companies are trying to acclimate their customers to narrow networks, the limited choices were clearly not part of the promise President Barack Obama made when selling his health care law.
“It you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period,” Obama promised in 2009 in front of the American Medical Association. “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away.”
Both of those promises have turned out to be false. Keeping your health care plan went out the window long ago — and now health insurance companies are defending their narrowed networks, which exclude many doctors and providers that customers prefer.
Narrow networks have essentially made one selling point of the law obsolete. Obamacare supporters constantly warned that health insurance is necessary for everyone because people may get cancer unexpectedly and not be able to get coverage afterward.
But cancer centers, with their top-of-the-line physicians and expensive procedures, have been a primary casualty of narrow networks. According to an Associated Press analysis, just four of the 19 top comprehensive cancer centers are covered by all Obamacare exchange plans in their states. (RELATED: Report: Obamacare exchanges not covering best hospitals for cancer care)
Instead, as health insurers would say, patients will have to accept that they likely won’t be able to choose the best doctor and hospital to treat their cancer any longer.
Even if narrow networks are accepted as the new normal, choosing your narrowed health plan around a certain physician or hospital may still prove impossible.
California attempted to put a provider directory on its exchange website, but was forced to pull it several months in, admitting that it was filled with errors. But even if customers can figure out what their plan covers when they purchase it, networks can change.
The Georgetown University Center for Health Insurance Reform highlighted the problem of changing networks Monday, warning that networks are still in flux outside of Obamacare’s open enrollment period.
Even if a customer buys a certain health plan just because it covers his preferred doctor and hospital, they may be left without access to their choice. In one man’s case, according to health policy expert JoAnn Volk, it wasn’t until after open enrollment had closed that the Georgia resident found out that not only had his doctor withdrawn from the network, but “the community hospital that acquired all the medical practices in the county withdrew from the network.”
Volk offered several claims customers may attempt to negotiate with their company, but health insurers’ answer is clear: cost-focused patients shouldn’t expect a wide array of choices for their health care, according to Dr. Sam Ho, United Healthcare’s chief medical officer.
“It’s a new era,” Ho told The New York Times.
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