Keeping Up with the Copay: Health Plan Changes Always Happen

October 14, 2013
Melissa Young, MD

Changes to health insurance plans are hard to keep up with - for patients and even for physicians.

I’ll be the first to admit: I don’t know all the details of my own medical insurance plan. And I’m the one who chose it! I reviewed the benefits at the time. I looked at what the copays would be for office visits and meds, and I looked at what the out-of-network benefits would be. Thankfully, I have not really needed to use it much, so I have forgotten much of the details.

Many of my patients are no better. I doesn’t help that their employers change their plans from year to year. And even if they keep the same plan, the insurance companies change their formularies and their benefits all the time. It often comes as a complete surprise to patients.

For example, I have one patient for whom I prescribed a medication earlier this year. The cost to her at the time was minimal; her prescription plan paid for most of it. She is due for it again now, but now she has this big deductible and it is going to cost her hundreds of dollars. I also have a patient whose ultrasounds I used to do in the office …until her plan decided they didn’t cover it if it was done here, so now she has to get it done in radiology. Of course, neither of us knew that before the last ultrasound I did here. Drugs that didn’t need prior authorization six months ago need it now.

I am certain patients are informed one way or the other about changes in their copay (although many of them seem surprised when my staff asks them for $40 instead of $25 like they paid last time), and maybe they get notice about other changes, but I would not be surprised if they give any mail they get from their insurance company a quick glance and then toss it. I can’t say I blame them. We all get so much mail that looks like junk; it can be hard to figure out which ones are really important. And since things change from month to month, who can keep track of it all?