Changing provider networks when enrollment periods are closed

InHealth customers mad about late notice dropping OhioHealth

By Ben Sutherly
The Columbus Dispatch, February 10, 2016

Some central Ohio consumers say a Westerville-based health insurer intended to keep quiet about its plan to drop OhioHealth hospitals and doctors from its provider network until it was too late for many of its enrollees to change their health plan.

In those complaints, the consumers, who mostly live in Franklin or Delaware counties, expressed frustration over InHealth Mutual’s last-minute notice to consumers about its plan to drop most OhioHealth providers as of March 1.

Many consumers said they were not notified of InHealth’s plan to narrow its provider network until last week, though some received robocalls on Jan. 30, the day before the deadline to sign up for health insurance through the federally run health-insurance marketplace.

During the first half of January, InHealth’s leaders decided to drop OhioHealth from the provider network. An official with the Ohio Department of Insurance said that InHealth contacted the department late on Jan. 15, triggering a required 15-day review period during which department officials review documents to ensure that insurance companies clearly explain provider-network changes to consumers.

However, an official with the Ohio Department of Insurance said nothing stops insurers from starting the notification process during the 15-day review period.

Ohioans who buy coverage through typically cannot sign up for a different plan after the open-enrollment period ends. There are some exceptions that allow for a special enrollment period; among them, the loss of a job, a move or the birth of a child. But an eleventh-hour change in an insurance company’s provider network isn’t one of them.

The federal government will not create a special enrollment period for people affected by InHealth’s decision, said Andy Slavitt, acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in a conference call last week.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

One of the more important considerations in selecting plans offered through the insurance exchanges is whether or not an individual’s physicians and hospitals are included in the provider networks selected by the insurer. Although this is supposed to place more control into the hands of the health care consumer, in fact, the insurer is free to change the provider network at any time, yet the patient is prohibited from changing insurers outside of the open enrollment period. Patients lose their providers and can’t do anything about it until open enrollment for the next year.

The Affordable Care Act does allow special enrollment periods for unavoidable circumstances wherein a person loses their coverage, but CMS is reducing these special enrollments to prevent patients from supposedly gaming the system. Apparently it is acceptable for insurers to game the system through bait and switch of their provider networks, but Andy Slavitt, the acting CMS administrator, stated that he will not open up enrollment for these victims of bait and switch.

Really, is cracking down on special enrollment periods to the detriment of the patient the type of incremental change we can expect going forward? Great for the insurers, terrible for the patients.

What is wrong here? It is that the model of health care financing that has been foisted on us is one that is designed to take good care of the insurers while treating patients as a necessary nuisance since insurers otherwise would not have a business without them.

Yesterday the citizens of New Hampshire had something to say about a government that takes good care of the wealthy but makes middle- and low-income individuals second class citizens. We have a crying need for a single payer national health program, so it has to be up to us to select politicians who will bring it to us. Most of those currently in office are not going to do it.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) is a nonpartisan educational organization. It neither supports nor opposes any candidates for public office.