Cross-border Health Care and the ACA

From the ‘before you go to the WCRI conference’ department is an article about a subject not on the agenda in Boston this week, and since I convinced the WCRI that crossing the Hudson river is not medical travel, nonetheless, people are leaving the country and one US state for medical care, and not just for work-related issues.

Jim Arriola, COO of MediExcel Health in California, and Caitlin Gadel, an attorney at Seaton, Peters & Revnew, wrote an article this month in California Broker magazine (pg. 20-22), outlining how cross-border health plans in California are complying with many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

You may recall that I wrote about cross-border health care, especially for workers’ comp, in my article, “Cross-border Workers’ Compensation a Reality in California“, as well as these two articles, “NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View” and “NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View: Update“.

According to the article, almost twenty years ago, the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), began regulating a consumer driven phenomena for receiving employer-sponsored health coverage south of the border.

As stated in the article, on a daily basis, up to 40,000 workers cross the border from Mexico to work in California. These workers and their families live in Mexico, and prefer to get their medical care in Mexico.

Changes to the Knox-Keen HMO Act allowed US and Mexican health plans to establish cross-border coverage. Much of this is occurring in the San Diego and Imperial county area, as discussed in “Cross-border Workers’ Compensation a Reality in California” with the Mexican HMO, SIMNSA, as well as others such as Blue Shield of CA, Health Net, Cigna, Aetna, and MediExcel Health Plan.

Depending upon the benefits of the plan, some cross-border coverage plans have premiums that are 40% to 50% lower than those in California.

There are an estimated 60,000 enrollees in various health coverage plans in California, and some experts predict the total number will increase to over 100,000 as more employers offer coverage as a result of the ACA rules and regulations, according to Gadel and Arriola.

Gadel and Arriola report that many ACA provisions (as well as the thousands of pages of regulations), apply to cross-border coverage, especially if the coverage is not a qualified expatriate plan.

Gadel and Arriola advanced the idea that some brokers may be concerned whether a cross-border plan satisfies the ACA definition of a minimu-essential coverage (MEC) when the provider network is in Mexico.

They also said that legal experts have noted that under federal regulations, employer-sponsored plans approved by state regulators are MEC plans.

In order to receive approval from the DMHC, such plans must submit evidence of their compliance with ACA regulations.

Brokers, it is suggested by the authors should not offer cross-border plans exclusively because of the differences between cross-border plans and expatriate plans.

However, the authors note, because of the complexity of the ACA’s conflicting interpretations, some cross-border plans may have been erroneously classified themselves as group expatriate coverage.

The reality, they say, is that the vast majority of cross-border plans and their enrollees do not meet the federal criteria for expatriate classification.

My last post, “Borderless Healthcare: A Model for the Future of Medical Care in Workers’ Comp” was based upon a presentation given last Thursday about medical tourism to Mexico. So if there are health care plans in California providing cross-border health care into Mexico, and there is also cross-border workers’ comp occurring between California and Mexico, and in both of these cases, the mode of transporatation is generally automotive, and the presentation by Manatt, Phelps & Phillips requires airfare to Mexico, why is it that workers’ comp cannot do the same?

I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to hear why this industry refuses to join the 21st century, why it points to laws and statutes nearly a hundred years old that restrict injured workers to their own states or to the US for medical care requiring expensive orthopedic surgery, when there are less expensive and better alternatives a short flight away?

A fellow blogger wrote today about this industry’s failure to fully embrace technology, and the answer to his questions, and to mine were right there…if this industry were to change, the status quo would be undone and many companies would be forced to go out of business and their profits with them.

Our workers’ comp “system” mirrors the general health care system in many ways, as per this quote from Uncle Walter:

“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.”

Walter Cronkite

It is a profit-making endevour that preys upon the sick and injured and lines the pockets of lawyers and vendors. That is why no one in this industry is listening to us…greed.

 

 

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