By Hannah Holzer
The Sacramento Bee, August 15, 2018
Changes at California’s pension giant will force more than 14,000 CalPERS members and their dependents in the Sacramento region and Bay Area to find a new health plan over the coming year.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System recently negotiated its lowest premium increases in the past 21 years, which will mean lowered health premiums for 800,000 members in 2019.
As a result of the changes, CalPERS will part ways with two major providers — Health Net and Blue Shield — in some areas.
“The medical groups and hospitals members will have access to could change depending on their choice of health plan,” (CalPERS spokeswoman Stephanie) Buck said. “Members can call the doctor’s office and ask if they are affiliated with the health plan and the hospital they prefer to use. They may also contact the health plans directly.”
“The primary differences between most of the HMO (health maintenance organization) plans offered through CalPERS is a plan’s network of providers.”
“Blue Shield was not the only plan that struggled with the cost of care reflecting the price within the Bay Area region,” Buck said. “UnitedHealthcare also exited the region for contracting agencies and schools, and some other plans in the region had premium increases.” Contracting agencies are the employers that go through CalPERS for their health plans.
“We want to keep our insurance and our doctors. …We have not received any explanations of any reasons for this harsh decision which endangers our health,” said David Lerman, who currently has insurance coverage with Blue Shield through CalPERS.
“CalPERS health plans contract with a network of providers, and each year CalPERS and its contracted health plans re-evaluate these networks,” Buck said. “Depending on a variety of factors, not least of which is cost, providers ask that their coverage areas change for certain plans.”
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Think back twenty years ago and try to remember what health insurance coverage you had then. Unless you are over 85 and on Medicare the chances are very great that you do not have the same coverage now. For many reasons the market for private health plans, whether employer-sponsored or individual, continually changes.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), as the second largest system in the nation (next to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program), has one of the most stable health care coverage programs in the U.S., but not even CalPERS can guarantee that you can keep your same coverage from one year to the next. Since most plans today use provider networks, and the composition of the networks varies from one plan to the next, that means that you may have to change your physicians and other health care professionals, and maybe even your hospitals, whenever your insurance changes.
(It should be mentioned that California has a “continuity of care” provision in which, in certain specific situations, a patient may continue with the same doctor or hospital for a limited period of time, making the transition less disruptive.)
Median employment tenure is now about four years (BLS), so, for that reason alone, change in insurance coverage is frequent. Besides changing jobs, other reasons for changing or losing coverage can include your employer changing plans offered, loss of employment, inability to afford coverage, retirement, income above the threshold for public coverage through Medicaid, loss of eligibility for COBRA, and the like.
The point is that since coverage is not stable, insurer designated networks are not stable either, and thus choice of physicians and other providers may be sacrificed merely because we insist on perpetuating our highly fragmented system of financing health care.
If we had a single health program that included everyone permanently, such as an improved version of our traditional Medicare program (without the private Medicare Advantage plans and their networks) then each of us would have our choice of physicians and hospitals – for life.
It seems foolish that we give up lifetime freedom of choice of our physicians and hospitals just to keep the insurance that we have only temporarily (changing an average of every four years) when virtually all of us look forward to going on Medicare permanently at age 65. Why should only our seniors and those with long term disabilities and chronic renal disease be treated so well? Why not all of us?
Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.