Coventry Health Care just recognized Extend Health for efficiency and customer satisfaction, including zero customer complaints in 2011. Here’s a brief snip from the press release.

“Extend Health Inc., a leading provider of health benefits management services, including the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange, received two first place awards from Bethesda, Maryland-based Coventry Health Care, Inc. (NYSE:CVH) for exceptional customer service performance by a partner in 2011.

  • Zero customer complaints reported to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) by seniors signing up for Coventry private Medicare supplement plans through Extend Health;
  • The lowest 90-day plan cancellation rate — called rapid disenrollment — which, at just 0.5 percent, was far less than the typical rate.”

Click here to read the complete news release.

Visit Extend Health to use the ExtendExchange™ platform – the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

If you’re evaluating a Medicare exchange solution for your retirees, you may be wondering how much time the transition will take so you can figure out when to get started. After five years of experience at Extend Health, we have developed a process and a recommended timeline that works. If you are planning to move your retirees to coincide with the change to the RDS taxable status, this article will help you understand what you need to do to make the transition before the change takes place on January 1, 2013.

The actual start date for the process is determined by the start date for new insurance benefits. Employers can choose any start date they wish. In an ideal world the process would take place over a five to six month period, divided into four phases as follows, with key milestones in place during each phase:

  • Planning: Starts four to five months before enrollment begins (seven to nine months before new coverage start date) and lasts six-eight weeks
  • Retiree Education: Starts 45 days before enrollment begins and lasts six to seven weeks
  • Enrollment: Starts 90 days before start of new coverage. Employers have the option of designating the dates or length of time during which they want enrollment to take place; we recommend allowing four to six weeks.
  • Post Enrollment: The employer’s responsibilities during this phase are minimal. Extend Health takes over all administrative tasks for the newly-enrolled retirees.

Phase One: Planning

Ideally, this phase takes place four or five months before enrollment begins. Once the decision to move forward has been made, there are a number of key elements that need to be put in place before announcing the change, including:

  1. Employer and Extend Health team meet to plan transition
  2. Do data analysis to determine retiree HRA funding amounts
  3. Write and distribute employer announcement of benefits change

Phase Two: Retiree Education

This phase, which starts 45 days prior to enrollment, is focused on making sure retirees understand the changes to their benefits and the process for enrolling new coverage. During this phase:

  1. Getting Started Guide, first Extend Health mailing, delivered to retirees. Includes welcome letter, FAQ, and workbook to assist in creating profile
  2. Retirees create profile either on-line or on the phone with a benefit advisor
  3. Retirees schedule enrollment appointments
  4. Retiree on-site meetings take place

Phase Three: Enrollment

The start date of the enrollment phase is calculated by looking at the start date for new coverage and counting back 90 days. The employer can choose any start date it likes. For example, if an employer wants new coverage to start on June 1, then enrollment should begin on March 1. This allows time for insurance carriers to process the new applications and mail insurance cards to retirees in time for the start of coverage. During this phase:

  1. Retirees receive the Extend Health Enrollment Guide, including Medicare basics plan education, what to expect on the enrollment call, and appointment confirmation.
  2. Enrollment calls take place.
  3. Extend Health delivers reminder post cards and (if necessary) certified mail to those retirees who do not respond in a timely manner.

Phase Four: Post-Enrollment

The employer’s role is minimal during the post-enrollment phase. Retirees often have questions during this phase but Extend Health has a team of benefit advisors and customer service representatives who will help them with carrier or HRA issues, or any future changes to their medical and prescription drug requirements. During this phase:

  1. Extend Health delivers plan selection confirmation letter
  2. Insurance carriers send out welcome guides and new insurance cards
  3. Extend Health delivers a welcome letter and the HRA packet

Example timeline

If an employer wants new retiree benefits to start on September 1st, the timeline for a smooth transition would look something like this:

  • Phase 1 planning begins between February 15 and February 28
  • Phase 2 retiree education begins April 15
  • Phase 3 enrollment begins June 1
  • Phase 4 post-enrollment begins with the start of new coverage on September 1

Visit Extend Health to use the ExtendExchange™ platform – the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

The Urban Institute released a report this month titled, Why Employers Will Continue to Provide Health Insurance: The Impact of the Affordable Care Act. The authors of the report utilized microsimulation models to analyze ways employers might react to health care reform. Based on the results of these complex simulations they predict that employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) will remain the preferred and primary source of coverage. The report states that ESI coverage won’t be significantly different under the ACA, and points out that ESI actually grew in Massachusetts after it enacted health care reform similar to the ACA.

For more information the report and summary are available in PDF format.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

Employer group insurance premiums for family coverage grew 9% this year (triple the rate from 2010) and 8% for single coverage, according the 13th annual Employer Health Benefits survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite the increases, employers held the percentages workers paid toward premiums to about the same as they paid in 2010 (18% for single coverage and 28% for family coverage).

So what caused the sharp increases in the cost of health premiums this year? Since many have voiced concerns about the impact health care reform would have on costs, fingers will naturally point there first, but the study points out that it was not the main contributor. The research shows that provisions of the new health care law that were in effect only had about a 1.5 to 2 percent impact on the 9% increase. According KHN, “Many factors drive premium growth, the main one being actual spending on medical care, including jumps in prices charged by hospitals and doctors and growing use of expensive new drugs and technologies.”

Learn more about the results of this study in this article on Kaiser Health News. Download a summary or the full report.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

New piece by Emily Chasen in the Wall Street Journal CFO journal today features Bryce Williams discussing the future of private exchanges as a mechanism for providing health care benefits to active employees. You must be a subscriber to see the whole story, but here’s a snip:

…a corporate exchange could be a middle ground between keeping a group plan and leaving employees to use the state exchanges. Regulations that would affect corporate exchanges are still being written, so most companies will probably want to wait for the new laws to take effect in 2014 before deciding whether to use them.

According to Bryce Williams, CEO of health-care exchange operator Extend Health, such corporate exchanges could offer companies an alternative to buying group plans from a health insurer.

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

We thought some of you would be interested to learn about a webinar we’re hosting next month. You’ll find the details below. See you there!

Learn how Michele Levine, Director of Global Benefits, Avon Products, Inc., met her organization’s goal of reducing administrative burden and costs while providing retirees with health care benefits of equal or better value by leveraging a Medicare insurance exchange.

During this webcast you will learn:

  1. How Avon was able to provide its retirees with more choice and better value for their health care dollars
  2. How Avon reduced OPEB liabilities, simplified administration, and made health care benefits for retirees sustainable
  3. Details of Avon’s decision making process, communication protocol and successful results

Webinar Details:
September 15th, 2011
10:00 am PST/1:00 pm EST
Register today!

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

McKinsey fires back

June 20, 2011

If you’ve been following the controversy around the recent McKinsey & Company Quarterly, you’ll want to read this. McKinsey, in a break from its traditional policy, has released survey questions and results from its recent study of employer-sponsored insurance.

McKinsey has been pushed to this unusual step by a groundswell of Democratic unrest about the survey’s methodology. McKinsey’s response explains that “The survey was not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Rather, it captured the attitudes of employers and provided an understanding of the factors that could influence decision making related to employee health benefits.”

Visit Extend Health — the nation’s largest private Medicare exchange.

Back in May 2010, HHS announced a $5 billion program to help employers fund health care for their early retirees – people who are not yet eligible for Medicare. The fund was much talked about in the news, and pundits predicted it would all be gone within two years if not before. That meant it wouldn’t last until 2014, when early retirees can get guaranteed issue insurance on state health benefit exchanges.

Well, it looks like those predictions may have been a little pessimistic. To date, according to U.S. News & World Report, only $535 million of that $5 billion has been paid out. State and local governments and non-profits make up the majority of employers who’ve applied for and been granted funds.

At this rate the money will last for ten years. (If you’re interested in participating, go here for details.) So what about it, employers? Why has so little of this fund been used?

This post on Steve Ungar’s Forbes blog poses an interesting question: are more small businesses starting to offer health insurance as a result of the Affordable care act? No statistics yet, but some anecdotal evidence from carriers suggests that it’s possible the tax breaks in the bill for small businesses who offer insurance are working as intended.

 In “Retiree Benefits Are Cheating Our Children,” his latest column for Newsweek Magazine, Robert J. Samuelson urges state and local governments to reduce or eliminate health care benefits for retirees. Extend Health feels that Mr. Samuelson’s suggestion is unfair to the teachers, firefighters, police, and yes, even the administrative personnel who took  jobs in the public sector in good faith that a lifetime of service for the public good would not put their or their families’ health and well being at risk when they retired.

We suggest that there’s a better way. State and local governments facing budget-busting health care liabilities can use a Medicare exchange now and get better buying power for their Medicare-eligible retirees with actuarial certainty of future spending. In 2014, early retirees can use the new state-run exchanges to buy individual policies at competitive prices, and their employers can manage long-term financial obligations by limiting their contribution – without breaking commitments made in good faith to people who chose a life of service. It’s a win-win solution that is working today – so that neither retirees nor their children and grandchildren are cheated.