Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog

What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Illinois Dodges Disaster on Supreme Court's Obamacare Ruling

The following originally appeared on Crain's Chicago Business.

Illinois just dodged a bullet with the outcome of King v. Burwell. If the Supreme Court had ruled against subsidies being challenged in the case, working people and families in the state collectively would have lost more than $49 million a month to help purchase health insurance.

In its decision, the court affirmed the legality of the provision of premium tax credits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in all states, whether they established their own health insurance marketplace or used the federal marketplace. On average, working poor and middle-class Illinoisans are getting $211 monthly to help pay their health insurance premiums. A different decision would have meant a 169 percent increase in out-of-pocket expense on the average premium.

Recent data by the Kaiser Family Foundation show nearly 73 percent of the remaining uninsured in Illinois eligible for Get Covered Illinois, the state's health insurance marketplace—roughly 597,473 people—live and work in metropolitan Chicago. In the Chicago area, more than 100,000 of the remaining uninsured reside in areas where English is not the predominant spoken language. While concise data are not available of how many of the uninsured are working, American Community Survey data indicate that as many as 62 percent of the uninsured in Illinois are working at least part time and more than likely work for small businesses.

The most recent year for which U.S. Census data on businesses are available, 2012, show 314,199 business establishments in Illinois. However, 94 percent of these companies employ fewer than 50 employees and thus are not required to provide health insurance via the ACA. Cook County alone accounts for 41 percent of the state's total small businesses.


Now that the King v. Burwell decision has put the legality of subsidies to rest, Illinois needs to get busy enrolling the remaining 597,473 uninsured individuals eligible for a path to coverage in the Get Covered Illinois marketplace. Of these uninsured, 283,629 are eligible for a tax credit or subsidy.

It's a matter of economic security for our residents and for Illinois' economic environment. The math tells us that the business community—especially small businesses—needs to be at the heart of efforts to enroll the remaining uninsured. Crain's and Health & Disability Advocates surveyed small businesses last fall and learned that Chicago-area companies still face increasing health care costs; are confused by the requirements of the ACA; and are unlikely to enroll themselves and their employees online. In fact, more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they shop for health insurance for themselves and their employees using health insurance brokers and agents.

Now that federal funding for ACA assisters and navigators is ending, a public-private partnership for enrollment in Get Covered Illinois is critical. We need to double down on engaging health insurance brokers and agents. While the state did an amazing job in enrolling 633,757 adults in Medicaid as part of ACA, Illinois ranked well behind others in marketplace enrollment, coming in 20th out of 37 states that operate marketplaces using HealthCare.gov.

Get Covered Illinois is key to helping Illinois businesses thrive, enabling them to better attract and retain talent. The marketplace also encourages entrepreneurship by ending the reliance of individuals on larger employer-sponsored coverage.

A strong ACA marketplace is a win-win for the business community and the state. We urge Springfield, City Hall and county governments to make enrollment of the remaining uninsured a top priority and engage the business community, health insurance brokers and agents in the process.

Barbara Otto                                          
Health & Disability Advocates           

Erica Salem
Director of Strategic Health Initiatives
Health & Disability Advocates

What Really Happens After Enrolling in Medicaid Managed Care?

Health & Disability Advocates (HDA) is monitoring the rollout of the Medicare-Medicaid Alignment Initiative (MMAI) and has heard from frustrated case managers working with consumers who are confused about the enrollment process and their rights. In response, HDA developed an enrollment timeline that explains what new enrollees can expect from Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) and plan representatives upon enrollment. To produce the timeline, HDA researched the MMAI demonstration contract developed by the State of Illinois and approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)  HDA also solicited input from health plans on whether their on-the-ground practices were accurately reflected in the timeline.

The finished product outlines important points for case managers and their clients to consider.

One Day Changes Everything

Consumers who are enrolled in a managed care plan after the 12th day of the month will not see their coverage start until the month after next. This is relevant for consumers choosing a specific managed care plan in order to see a particular provider or specialist in that plan’s network. Submitting paperwork after the cut-off date means consumers would have to wait longer than expected for necessary treatment. Helping consumers submit required documents in a timely manner can guarantee they are connected to the medical treatment they need, which promotes continuity of care.

Stratification Sets Up Future Contact Standards

Once enrolled in a plan, all enrollees can expect to complete a Health Risk Screening within 60 days. The screen collects information on the enrollee’s physical and mental health conditions and identifies their current medical providers. This is what IlliniCare’s Health Screen looks like. Health plans use the screen to establish intensity of services and frequency of contact with Care Coordinators by stratifying the enrollee as low, moderate or high risk.

Enrollees stratified as low risk will receive annual follow-ups from their Care Coordinators while those stratified as moderate or high risk will have quarterly follow-ups. Moderate and high risk enrollees will also complete a Health Risk Assessment and create an Individualized Care Plan within 90 days. These enrollees will help form their own Interdisciplinary Care Team of healthcare providers that meets quarterly to review the Individualized Care Plan.

The Care Coordinators’ Role

Care Coordinators focus on enrollees’ healthcare needs by connecting them to necessary tests, doctors and treatment. They also facilitate information sharing among providers by leading the Interdisciplinary Care Team. Addressing enrollees’ medical needs is their priority. Care Coordinators direct less attention to linking enrollees to social supports, like housing and public benefits.

It’s also important for case managers to know that Care Coordinators must manage a substantial caseload of up to 600 enrollees. Caseloads include a blend of low, moderate and high risk enrollees, with each risk level weighted differently.

Understanding what a care coordinator can—and cannot—be expected to do is advantageous to case managers. When roles are clearly recognized, case managers know how care coordinators can be used as a resource. And in what instances an alternative referral would be more appropriate. This establishes a stronger professional relationship between case managers and care coordinators, which ultimately benefits the enrollee.

Case managers and Care Coordinators are on the front lines of healthcare reform and fostering solid working relationships between these two players will be a critical component of the success or failure of these efforts. Knowing what case managers and their clients can expect from managed care plans can lay the foundation for a strong relationship that supports the health of individuals while also furthering the goals of healthcare reform.

Bryce Marable MSW
Health Policy Analyst
Health & Disability Advocates

Thursday, June 18, 2015

People With Disabilities Who Opt Out of ‘Voluntary’ Wellness Programs Will Pay the Price, and the EEOC’s Okay With That.

The following originally appeared on the American Civil Liberties Union's Speak Freely Blog.

Voluntary wellness programs at work can provide benefits to employees, but employers are increasingly adopting “voluntary” wellness programs that unfairly burden workers with disabilities the most of all. Worse, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to think that’s okay, undermining core antidiscrimination protections it used to defend.

Here’s why.

Imagine a woman living with rheumatoid arthritis and severe depression who, under doctor’s care, has finally returned to work. Her medications — a corticosteroid and an antidepressant — have triggered weight gain. Now imagine this woman facing her employer’s “wellness activities:” She is instructed to fill out a detailed questionnaire about her medical conditions; she is weighed and pronounced overweight; she is told to lose weight. Oh, and the program is voluntary — but if she doesn’t comply, she will have to pay hundreds of dollars more in annual health care premiums. 

This imaginary example is all too real: Persons with disabilities risk discrimination and stigma if their employers gain access to their private medical information. And disabled workers are far more likely to have a condition targeted by wellness programs, such as high blood pressure, high blood glucose, or being overweight. 

Historically, the Americans with Disabilities Act has provided employees with disabilities some protections against overly intrusive and punitive wellness programs. The EEOC has maintained, sensibly, that voluntary medical examinations and inquiries cannot impose penalties on employees who decline to participate. 

Until now.

The EEOC has recently proposed new regulations and guidance language on wellness programs that would allow employers to implement wellness programs that add up to 30 percent of the cost of the employee’s health insurance to an employee’s health care bill. Based on the average annual premium, this translates to an extra cost for disabled employees of about $1,800 per year, either because they don’t want to answer questions that could expose their disability to their employer or because they cannot meet the health goal

The EEOC describes these programs as “voluntary,” but workers with disabilities are the least likely to be able to afford additional health care premiums. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income for people with disabilities is less than half of household income for people without disabilities: $25,974 compared to $61,103. At the same time, there is little evidence that these programs are effective. 

If the EEOC is going to allow employers to charge workers hundreds more each year, it needs to be sure important privacy and disability protections are in place.

Three safeguards matter the most. First, the EEOC needs to provide guidance language that workers with disabilities have the right to request a reasonable accommodation waiver from a wellness program, so that their medical status can be taken into account in their ability to comply. The guidelines should also protect disabled workers’ privacy, so that their decision to join or not join the wellness program doesn’t broadcast the details of — or even the existence of — their medical condition to their employer. Finally, disabled workers should rest assured that the guidelines protect them from disability-based discrimination in the workplace, such as harassment of employees who cannot comply with “normal” health standards. 

Comments on the proposed regulations are due this Friday, June 19, 2015. Tell the EEOC not to permit employers to subject their disabled workers to a Hobson’s choice: Submit to the prescribed wellness activities, or pay hundreds more each year. The EEOC should instead insure that workers with disabilities can opt out of these programs without penalty. 

Claudia Center
Senior Staff Attorney