June 14, 2016

Protect Consumers When Health Plans Fail

Illinois - Land of Now What?The liquidation of Land of Lincoln Health is just the first of mounting hurdles for Illinois consumers and small-business owners shopping for health insurance coverage in the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Not only do Illinois consumers wait longer than others across the country to see annual rate increases, but they also have fewer resources to help navigate the marketplace. The state’s budget morass means the two state agencies charged with protecting consumer interests and helping consumers connect with coverage options—the Department of Insurance and Get Covered Illinois—are underfunded and ill-prepared to serve the public.

Who will protect consumers’ interests in the demise of Land of Lincoln? We keep hearing that the state’s insurance department doesn’t have the staff to provide information on rate increases to the public until Aug. 1 (even though the department received them from insurers in April). If regulators can’t meet the requirements of the ACA in a timely manner, how will they manage the liquidation details for Land of Lincoln? Can consumers count on them to answer critical questions about their now-defunct Land of Lincoln plans?

Questions like: Should I keep paying my premiums to Land of Lincoln? (Yes, you should if you want to be eligible for the special enrollment period plan holders will be offered.) Will I be able to find another plan with my providers in the network at the same price point? What happens if I already met my deductible with Land of Lincoln? Will that carry over to the new plan? And, who will help me find a new plan? Because Get Covered grant funding to help consumers is gone, and insurance carriers reduced or eliminated broker commission for working with clients, Illinois consumers are left with fewer resources when faced with complex health insurance decisions.

We should all be watching how the Department of Insurance addresses the needs of Land of Lincoln policyholders. When Blue Cross & Blue Shield narrowed its networks offered in the marketplace, thousands migrated to Land of Lincoln because of its broader networks with academic medical centers like the University of Chicago. The loss of Land of Lincoln leaves consumers and small-business owners worrying about continuity of care—for themselves and their employees.

This development ensures one thing for the upcoming open enrollment season: Illinois consumers and small businesses will have even less choice, and fewer affordable options that cover a broader network of health care providers.

How the Department of Insurance responds to this crisis is important for all Illinois consumers. We only hope the Rauner administration redirects resources to make sure the Department of Insurance can do its job and do it well.

By Barbara Otto and Michelle Thornton
Opinion in Crain’s Chicago Business


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