Friday, 30 January 2015

Insurance Choices Dwindle In Rural California As Blue Shield Pulls Back


By Pauline Bartolone, Capital Public Radio

Fri, Jan 30 2015

After the insurance exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act first went live in late 2013, Lori Lomas started combing the website of Covered California on a hunt for good deals for her clients. Lomas is an agent at Feather Financial, in the Sierra Nevada mountain town of Quincy, Calif.; she’s been selling health policies in rural communities for more than 20 years.

But in 2013, she noticed a troubling change that surprised her: For many clients, insurance options decreased.

“I just started running quotes for people,” Lomas says, “and began realizing that in [some] zip codes, the only thing that shows up is Anthem.”

In addition to Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California used to sell policies to individuals in every county in the state, according to the Department of Managed Health Care, one of California’s two teams of health insurance regulators. But by 2014’s open enrollment period, Blue Shield had pulled out of 250 zip codes throughout the state, including four entire counties: Alpine, Monterey, Sutter, and Yuba.

The gaps are particularly felt in the top third of the state, where thousands of residents now have only one choice of insurer if they want to buy a health plan on the exchange.

That’s in contrast, Lomas says, to other spots, like the San Francisco Bay Area, where she’s also been helping clients find policies on the state exchange. “I’d do it for them,” she says, “and, wow, there are six insurance companies or seven insurance companies. I think that was when I first realized how, truly, we were getting the shaft up here.”

Blue Shield of California declined an interview with NPR. But in a written statement, the company reported that it’s not selling in certain areas of California because it could not find enough health providers willing to accept a level of payment that would keep premiums low. According to the statement, the company also is not selling in areas where there is no contracted hospital within 15 miles.

source : Insurance Choices Dwindle In Rural California As Blue Shield Pulls Back

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