Exchange Board approves Essential Health Benefits standard – false choice between benefits and cost
Yesterday the CT Health Insurance Exchange Board approved CT’s version of the Essential Health Benefit (EHB) package under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As of January 1, 2014 individual and small group plans will have to cover at least the EHB services. The ACA required that the EHB include at least ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse care, prescriptions, rehab and habilitation services, lab services, preventive and wellness care including chronic disease management, and pediatric care including vision and dental care. States have several plan EHB options including large commercial plans, federal and state employee plans. After long, contentious deliberations, two exchange committees of experts and stakeholders agreed on a moderate, compromise choice based on ConnectiCare’s HMO plan that includes all state mandates. The committees recommended that compromise to the Exchange Board. While the Board eventually approved the committees’ recommendation, there was a great deal of discussion about reducing the “richness” of the plan in the interest of “affordability”. Board members noted that the recommended plan is “richer” than what is offered now in CT. They failed to note that one of the main points of reform was to improve the “value” of health insurance so it truly covers what people need. If what is available now was sufficient, we wouldn’t have needed reform. The Board wants the legislature to “revisit” legislatively mandated benefits next year, eliciting groans from lobbyist and advocate observers in the room. Unfortunately there was no meaningful discussion about the potential for ongoing payment and delivery innovations successful in many other states, to provide flexibility that improve quality, access, patient satisfaction while controlling costs. The Board includes no independent consumer advocates and several insurance industry representatives. Consequently the Board is locked in the narrow false choice between mandated benefits and affordable premiums. That very old, very simplistic dialogue only spirals downward into worse care and upward into skyrocketing costs. The Board is missing a massive opportunity to learn from innovators and truly reform CT’s health care landscape.