Health Insurance Update Wallace Rice Benefits Blog


large number of Americans are uninsured

With the anticipation of the upcoming final implementation of the Affordable Care Act, communities nationwide are analyzing the numbers of Americans likely to enter the medical insurance market in January 2014.  New studies suggest that nearly half of working adults were uninsured for at least a portion of 2012, according to the Commonwealth Fund and reported by Medpage Today.

Although many of those individuals may not work for employers who will be required to offer coverage, they will be eligible for individual plans.  These plans can be cost prohibitive, but the study finds that almost 90% of the uninsured will qualify for a subsidy in order to purchase their new mandatory coverage.

Though the market is changing drastically in 2014, health insurance agents will continue to be a resource for choosing an appropriate plan for individuals, families, and businesses.  New plan designs and requirements are expected to be announced in early October.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


fewer deaths with expanded Medicaid, per study

According to a study released in July, states that expanded their medicaid coverage saw a distinct drop in the overall death rate for people age 20 to 64.  The Harvard University study, as reported in Businessweek, analyzed death rates in three states – New York, Arizona, and Maine – that broadened their Medicaid coverage in 2001 and 2002.  Death rates decreased for non-elderly adults by 6.1%.

Medicaid is a state program that helps children and adults up to age 65 with medical insurance coverage, based on income levels to qualify.  It has various names in each state - here in Washington, our state Medicaid program is called DSHS.  The Affordable Care Act will extend Medicaid benefits in an effort to help lower-income families and individuals abide by the mandatory coverage portion of the law.  Some states with struggling economies are opting out – the federal government will only contribute to the increased benefits until 2017 – but most states will see the benefits increased in January 2014.

Health insurance agents will continue to play a vital role moving forward, even if it means advising clients that they may be able to qualify for expanded government programs.  Contact Rice Insurance for more information about how the Affordable Care Act will affect you, your family, or your business.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


what about disability insurance?

Although there are regulations requiring auto, home owners, and (starting in 2014) medical insurance, disability insurance is often overlooked.  According to government studies, “a 20-year-old worker has a 30 percent chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age,” per today’s Associated Press, as published in the Washington Post.

Disability insurance is designed for either short-term or long-term, depending on the policy purchased.  Basically, it pays the insured a portion of their original income if a disability (caused by accident or illness) causes an inability to work.

Disability insurance comes in a few forms:

  • Workers with long term disabilities often qualify for assistance from Social Security, but the evaluation process is intensive and takes upwards of 24 months. 
  • Employers, both small and large, often include disability insurance as part of their benefits packages.
  • Individual policies are also available, and are most often purchased by self-employed individuals in higher income brackets – attorneys, physicians, etc.

As insurance agents, we encourage both individuals and businesses of all sizes to request a free quote for disability insurance.  Group plans are usually much more affordable than people think, even if businesses only have two or three employees.

With so much in the news about other types of coverage, disability is one policy type that deserves a second look.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


81% of employers expect to maintain group coverage moving forward

As we approach January of 2014, there are many unknowns about the effect that Healthcare Reform will have on individuals and businesses.  However, a new survey by the consulting firm Deloitte predicts that nearly 10% of employers anticipate dropping their group medical insurance over the next three years.

Although that number sounds daunting, keep in mind that the same survey also finds that 81% of employers expect to maintain their coverage.  That's a huge majority.  The information was reported in the Bellingham Herald.

As the healthcare exchanges are introduced, employers might start looking at alternative options for their employees.  If their employees qualify for a subsidy, that will be taken into consideration.  We will continue to counsel our clients on the pros and cons of Health Reimbursement Arrangements for groups who aren't interested in a group plan but want to reward their employees with some sort of a benefits package. 

There are lots of unknowns, but licensed agents will continue to be a resource moving forward.  Never hesitate to reach out to a health insurance agent at Rice Insurance for more information about the upcoming changes.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


price drop anticipated on some popular brand name prescriptions

One of the most expensive aspects of many people’s healthcare is their prescription costs. As copays have climbed in recent years, individuals with high prescription usage have felt more of the burden of high costs for brand name medications.

Just like other products, new medications are produced under patent when they are first introduced. That means that it is illegal for another pharmaceutical company to reproduce the medication in a chemically identical form. If that particular prescription is what works for a patient, they are often stuck with paying a higher cost-share in order to get the brand name.

Over the course of the next 14 months, however, the patents on a large number of brand name drugs are expiring, which typically results in immediate generic equivalents on the market. With copays for generic medications the most affordable, the increased competition will most likely result in some outstanding cost-savings for consumers. The two top-selling drugs in the world today, Lipitor and Plavix, will both have expired patents soon, according to the Associated Press.

Generic equivalent meds work just as well as the brand names for most patients, and some insurers will require that a generic is administered when it’s available. Because this is constantly changing, be sure to communicate with both your pharmacist and your physician on the right medication for your situation.

Insurance agents and brokers can also help you to research your medications to see how they fall within your plan. Although generics are almost universally covered by plans that carry prescription coverage, different carriers do sometimes classify brand name medications at different levels – what is paid for in full after a $25 copay on one plan might be only covered at 50% on another. Call us today to ensure that you’re on the best plan for your individual or business needs.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


overweight people don’t think they’re overweight, study shows

Not only is the obesity epidemic effecting physical aspects of our health, it is impacting our mental perceptions of health as well. With nearly two-thirds of the adult population considered overweight or obese and one-third of children, it is no surprise that the United States is seeing an increase in diabetes and other chronic weight related illnesses.

What may come as a surprise, however, is the idea that Americans have lost our perception of what is considered heavy. As the numbers of overweight people have increased, many are starting to consider these extra pounds normal and are not feeling the need to put in the effort to lose the weight.

According to CNN, a study done by Columbia University surveyed overweight moms and children and had some unfortunate results: 82% of the overweight women and 86% of overweight kids underestimated their own weight, compared to the 13% and 15% respectively who were of a normal weight. Additionally, nearly half the mothers who had an overweight child thought their child was a normal weight. The children were given cards with many different body shapes on them and when asked to pick a healthy shape for their mothers, they usually picked a shape that was not in a healthy range.

Although this study was too small to represent the whole United States, it did provide evidence that perceptions of a healthy weight have been skewed. With this problem on the rise, healthcare professionals are seeking ways to help people help themselves and reduce this epidemic through outlets like exercise, diet and preventative care.

As part of the new Healthcare Reform laws, preventive care is now covered in full as plans renew throughout the year. Part of preventive care is obesity screenings and advisement for both children and adults. Insurance agents can review your plan options and determine how such screenings will be covered on your current policy or perhaps recommend alternatives. Things are constantly changing in this market, so it’s always a good time to evaluate.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


rate increase delays in California

California based insurer Blue Shield announced recently that it would delay their rate hike scheduled for March 1, 2011 for an additional 60 days. This announcement marked Blue Shield joining a few other insurers in delaying their rate hikes at the request of the insurance commissioner, according to the Huffington Post. If Blue Shield’s increase had been put in motion, this would have marked their third increase since October 1, 2010. These three increases would have boosted the customer premiums at an average of about 30%, with some having the potential to see a 59% increase if all three hikes had been put in place.

Premium increases cannot be fully rejected, but the Insurance Commissioner can request a delay in order to analyze these increases to be sure they fall within federal and state laws. Blue Shield chairman and CEO Bruce Bodaken stated that the rate increase was necessary to help meet the new medical loss ratio standard, which is the proportion of policy premiums to be spent on medical care versus administrative costs.

We had a similar situation here in Washington just this past month. Regence Blue Shield had their annual rerate on October 1, 2010, and was denied the additional rerate request to take place January 1, 2011 by the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. Curious about what your future with these premium increases may hold? Health insurance agents are always here to help determine how these changes may affect you, your premiums, and your family’s coverage levels.

Rice Insurance, LLC | 1400 Broadway | Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: 360.734.1161 | Fax: 360.734.1173


Wallace Rice Benefits, LLC achieves A+ rating with Better Business Bureau Accreditation

Today, Wallace Rice Benefits, LLC announces its commitment to marketplace ethics by earning a/an A+ rating with Better Business Bureau. As a BBB Accredited Business, Wallace Rice Benefits LLC has met BBB's Code of Business Practices and has agreed to maintain honest and reliable business practices.

"Better Business Bureau sets and upholds the highest standards of ethics in business," said Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of BBB serving Alaska, Oregon, and Western Washington. "BBB rates both BBB Accredited and non accredited businesses on a letter grade rating scale of "A - F" to help consumers make educated decisions before they do business."

Rice Insurance, LLC  |  1400 Broadway  |  Bellingham, WA 98225  

Phone: 360.734.1161  |  Fax: 360.734.1173

Tagged as: , No Comments

AWB announces rate decreases for small groups

In this tumultuous time of healthcare reform and some substantial rate increases, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  A recent announcement, though, should brighten the spirits of small business owners looking to insure their employees.  Not only do many small businesses qualify for the new tax credit, but the Association of Washington Business (AWB) has announced that their rates for December 1 are 4% lower than those released for November 1, 2010. 

Rate decreases in this marketplace are unusual, but AWB has managed over the years to moderate their rate changes.  As an association plan, they determine a small group’s rates not just by age and location, but also by gender and health history.  Groups of 2-14 enrollees are considered age-rated groups, and they are the ones seeing the most cost-savings.

Group coverage is a tricky thing, designed to offer substantial benefits to employees but often costing the employer more than they’d anticipated.  Agents are available to help employers muddle through the plan options, including considering association plan options like the AWB.

Rice Insurance, LLC  |  1400 Broadway  |  Bellingham, WA 98225  

Phone: 360.734.1161  |  Fax: 360.734.1173


small business tax credit for health insurance premiums

Beginning with the 2010 tax year, small businesses may be able to receive a tax credit if they offer group health insurance coverage to their employees.  In order to be a qualified employer, the group must meet certain criteria:

  • The employer must have fewer than the equivalent of 25 fulltime employees
  • The average annual wages of the employees must be less than $50,000 per fulltime employee
  • The employer must pay the premiums under a "qualifying arrangement"

If all of the qualifications are met, an employer group could receive a tax credit of up to 35% of the paid premiums when filing their annual taxes for 2010.   Similar credits are also available for tax-exempt organizations. 

Although we encourge small business owners and administrators to contact their tax professional to see how these changes might effect them, additional information is also available on the IRS website.  And never hesitate to call your agent with questions or concerns, or to see if a group plan might be a good fit for your small business.

Rice Insurance, LLC  |  1400 Broadway  |  Bellingham, WA 98225  

Phone: 360.734.1161  |  Fax: 360.734.1173