It's November and Everybody's Busy (Too Busy to Talk)

People are working overtime in Cleveland, at the North Pole, and even in Washington DC.

The days before Thanksgiving are a time of unrelenting activity.  Some people are finalizing the big meal for Thursday.  Others are preparing for the December holidays.  In fact, I’ve been told that there are even elves working overtime somewhere near the North Pole.  Thanks to climate change they are wearing Hawaiian shirts, but they are still working hard. 

Speaking of working hard, the folks at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been very busy this week.  On Tuesday, November 20, 2012, our busy elves at HHS released a new set of rules and regulations designed to flesh out the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). 

Tuesday’s new rules and regs cover a host of areas from defining the benefits to creating the framework for future premiums and options.  You can find the public relations version of all of this at healthcare.gov.   Don’t worry about going to the government’s website.  This will all be coming to you – on TV, on billboards, and door-to-door solicitation, if necessary – thanks to a special campaign. 

The new rules reaffirm the definition of the Essential Health Benefits (EHB).  The PPACA demands that all policies offered for individuals and small groups provide coverage for a “core package of items and services known as Essential Health Benefits.  EHB must include items and services within at least the following 10 categories”: 

  1. Ambulatory patient services
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Maternity and newborn care
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  6. Prescription Drugs
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  8. Laboratory services
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care 

Most of this looks pretty reasonable.  Though you may wonder how much that maternity benefit will add to the cost of a woman’s policy.  And if that woman can’t have children, how much is she wasting? 

Employer sponsored group health policies have included maternity “covered as any other illness” for years.  We know how to evaluate the risk and how much each policyholder needs to pay.  That is, after all, the concept of insurance – evaluate risk and share the cost.  What happens when the risk is open-ended?  How do we share an unknown cost? 

#7, above, is coverage for rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.  We are all familiar with rehabilitative care such as physical therapy which is designed to restore the patient to his/her former state of health and previous level of skills.  The current fight over rehabilitative care is about the number of treatments.  Today’s policies cover 15, 20, or maybe 25 visits to the physical therapist.  We don’t know if future policies will be allowed to have such limitations.  But rehabilitative coverage is much easier to assess than habilitative. 

Habilitative therapies create skills.  Teaching an autistic child to interact with his/her peer group is a wonderful thing.  In fact, improving social skills and communication is life-changing for the children and adults touched by autism and certain forms of mental illnesses.  Those suffering from other illnesses or conditions, such as cerebral palsy, have had their lives improved through habilitative care.  Much of this has been open-ended, where patients weren’t actually cured, just made better.  So as long as someone was willing to pay for services, another appointment was warranted. 

Both the government, through Medicare and Medicaid, and the insurance industry have fought habilitative care for decades.  The insurance industry lives by black and white.  Habilitative therapies exist in a grey area.  The industry has avoided paying for much of these services by labeling them experimental or educational.  That may end soon. 

Do you care? Is this good?  As always, the answer is Yes and No. 

Please don’t get distracted by the pictures of your neighbor’s autistic child.  This has very little to do with her.  It is important to remember that the healthcare debate has very little to do with health.  With the possible exception of someone personally touched by a particular condition, this is, and always has been, a discussion of how we compensate doctors and hospitals.  Who gets paid from the deep pockets and who doesn’t. 

The insurance industry is still trying to retain the right to offer a stripped down contract that will exclude some of the open-ended coverages.  It is far easier to price a policy that has fewer gray areas.  A policy that doesn’t cover habilitative services; a policy that doesn’t pay for infertility treatments; a policy that included some limitations for rehab, would be significantly less than the federally mandated coverage.  My guess is that we won’t have that option for long, if ever. 

Seeing how much these other benefits add to the cost of coverage would force us to finally have a national discussion about our priorities.  What are we willing to pay for?  It still appears that no one in Washington, Democrat or Republican, wants to have that discussion. 

And who can blame them?  It’s November and everybody’s busy.  Way too busy to talk.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

James Thomas November 29, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Mellissa Hebert, I'm dissapointed in you. You co-opted a legitimate journalistic debate with censorship. I have James Baker's comment saved to my email. I will repost it in this forum until it sticks.
James Thomas November 29, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I guess if I mention Obama in Pee-Pee that will get deleted too.
James Murphy November 30, 2012 at 12:55 AM
you are correct we are all way to busy setting up our cayman bank accounts before years end http://www.caymanactivityguide.com/Banking.htm It is my goal in 2013 to to make sure the people who stand around with their hands out saying gimme stay empty handed
Jake Crouse December 07, 2012 at 07:43 PM
SEASON: Christmas. TIME: 10:30 in the morning. PLACE: Post Office at Severence. The counter that sells stamps and & holiday envelopes in closed. The regular counter for mailing packages is manned by one person. One. The line is long and winding past the counter. THE COMMENT: "And they wonder why people go on shooting sprees in post offices. " Merry Christmas, postal people.
Dave Cunix December 07, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Post Office vs. Health Care? Please see Nebraska posted December 2009 http://bcandb.com/cunix/?p=31


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