Health Insurance Exchanges: Two Key Issues to Discuss with Patients

November 30, 2013

Spending a few extra minutes sharing key information about health insurance exchanges may benefit you and your practice in the long run.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is encouraging its members to provide their patients with information regarding health insurance exchanges.

The AAFP website advises: "During patient visits, be prepared to discuss the insurance options available through the marketplaces and encourage patients to make coverage decisions that are appropriate for their health care needs."
But not all doctors are ready to get involved.

The majority of physician respondents to a recent Medscape survey said that they should either have a limited role or no role in providing health insurance and health insurance exchange information to patients.

Yet, spending a few minutes sharing some key information about health insurance exchanges with interested patients may benefit you and your practice in the long run.

Here's why: If your patients that are shopping on the health insurance exchanges don't make well-informed purchasing decisions, you may see them less frequently. In fact, you may not see them at all.

Many of the health plans offered in the exchanges appear to have narrower networks - meaning patients will likely have fewer physicians and health systems to choose from within the plans.

In addition, many of the health plans offered in the exchanges have higher deductibles - meaning patients may end up shouldering more of their healthcare costs.

"They are trying to funnel people into narrow networks overall, and simultaneously shift people into higher cost sharing that is higher deductible, higher copay kind of plans," Kip Piper, a healthcare consultant in Washington, D.C., recently told Physicians Practice.

If patients purchase those higher cost sharing plans, it's likely that they will put off or avoid visiting your practice due to cost concerns, said Piper.

In addition, higher patient cost sharing will place more burdens on your collections staff, as they will need to step up patient payment collection efforts

For that reason, you might want to consider talking to your patients about the importance of finding a plan that does not require a lot of out of pocket costs. "Make sure that ... they're not enticed by a low premium to pick a plan that has a high cost sharing that then keeps them out of the doctor's office," said Piper.

The narrower networks offered by many of the plans may also pose problems for your practice.

If you are excluded from a plan or if you have decided to opt-out of a plan, you run the risk of losing your patients to providers who are participating in that plan. For that reason, you might want to share which plans you are participating in with patients.

"I'm afraid of a lot of people in January are going to start making an appointment and then they're going to find out they can't go to their doctor," said Piper.