Starting next year, the federal government will require health insurers to give millions of Americans enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans or in policies sold in the federally run health exchange up-to-date details about which doctors are in their plans and taking new patients.
Medicare Advantage plans and most exchange plans restrict coverage to a network of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers that can change during the year. Networks can also vary among plans offered by the same insurer. So it’s not always easy to figure out who’s in and who’s out, and many consumers have complained that their health coverage doesn’t amount to much if they can’t find doctors who accept their insurance.
Under a rule published last month by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Medicare Advantage plans must contact doctors and other providers every three months and update their online directories in “real time.” Online directories for policies sold through healthcare.gov, the health law exchange run by the federal government in 37 states, must be updated monthly, CMS announced in a separate rule.
Inaccuracies in the Medicare Advantage directories may trigger penalties of up to $25,000 a day per beneficiary or bans on new enrollment and marketing. CMS will also use the directories to help determine whether insurers have enough doctors to meet beneficiaries’ needs.
The federal exchange plans could face penalties of up to $100 per day per affected beneficiary for problems in their directories.
“Studies have shown massive error rates in these directories, including states in the federal exchanges,” said Lynn Quincy, associate director for health policy at Consumers Union. “If consumers select a health plan because they believe their hospital or physician is a participating provider and it later turns out that’s an error, right now they rarely have a remedy–they are stuck with that plan for the year.” Read more