Alera Relieves $3.1M in Medical Debt for Californians

We received an email from our friends at L.A.’s Dickerson Insurance Services that made us truly understand the power of this industry when it’s determined to do something good.  In a nutshell:

Orion Risk Management, Dickerson Insurance Services (GA), Centennial Group and Armstong, Robitaille, Riegle –all affiliates of Alera Group, Inc. –announced the alleviation of $3.1 million of healthcare debt in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. This gift is part of more than $18 million in healthcare debt being relieved by Alera Group employees for struggling households across the country.  Alera worked directly with the debt-forgiveness nonprofit RIP Medical Debt to identify people with outstanding healthcare-related bills in the markets they serve. RIP is able to purchase medical debts for those most in need in bundled portfolios for a fraction of their face value.

You read that right: thousands of Americans are right now receiving letters of debt forgiveness because of Alera employees. These letters will be delivered throughout the winter targeting those living below 200% of the poverty level. Hallelujah! Please tweet some praise to @AleraGroupUS.

COVID VACCINES

CVS Going Big: Shots In Arms Increasing Daily, Vaccines Available at Retail Eventually

December 28 marked an important date. That’s when CVS Health started administering  COVID-19 vaccines in skilled nursing facilities in California. The company says its now doing so in 49 states and more than half of the nation’s 15,000 skilled nursing facilities are partnering with CVS. The company expects to complete administration of first doses in skilled nursing facilities by January 25.  Most residents and staff of nursing facilities will be fully vaccinated three to four weeks after the first visit, depending on which vaccine they receive. CVS announced it is also now making national and state-level figures available here, with weekday updates at approximately 1 p.m. PT. (Bravo to CVS for the data transparency!) Per an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services, COVID-19 vaccines will eventually be available at all CVS Pharmacy locations throughout the country. Who gets them first and when is still not known. CVS Pharmacy, however, says it has the capacity to administer 20 – 25 million shots per month. Eventually, vaccines in a retail setting will be offered on an appointment-only basis via CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app, and there will be a dedicated 800 number for people without online access. Stay tuned!

DRUGS

DMHC Report Shows Health Plans’ Prescription Drug Costs Increased $1 Billion(!) since 2017

The California Department of Managed Health Care released the Prescription Drug Cost Transparency Report for Measurement Year 2019. The report looks at the impact of the cost of prescription drugs on health plan premiums and compares data over three reporting years: 2017, 2018, and 2019. The report reveals that health plans paid an increase of $1 billion — $1 billion!— on prescription drugs since 2017, including an increase of $600 million in 2019.

The report is seen as part of a larger effort by California Governor Gavin Newsom to rein in the costs of prescriptions drugs. Newsom has proposed leveraging California’s purchasing power to increase generic drug manufacturing as one solution to the prescription drug affordability crisis. The state has already begun to identify potential target medications and develop a strategic plan to promote state-led generic drug purchasing and manufacturing. California is also transitioning all Medi-Cal pharmacy services from managed care to direct state payment in 2021, strengthening California’s ability to negotiate better prices with drug manufacturers.

Other key findings from the recent DMHC report include:

  • Health plans paid more than $9.6 billion for prescription drugs in 2019, an increase of almost $600 million from 2018, and $1 billion from 2017.
  • Prescription drugs accounted for 12.8% of total health plan premiums in 2019, a slight increase from 12.7% in 2018.
  • Health plans’ prescription drug costs increased by 6.3% in 2019, whereas medical expenses increased by 5.2%. Overall, total health plan premiums increased by 5.3% from 2018 to 2019.
  • Manufacturer drug rebates totaled approximately $1.205 billion, up from $1.058 billion in 2018 and $922 million in 2017. This represents about 12.5% of the $9.6 billion spent on prescription drugs in 2019.
  • While specialty drugs accounted for only 1.5% of all prescription drugs dispensed, they accounted for 56.1% of total annual spending on prescription drugs.
  • Generic drugs accounted for 88.5% of all prescribed drugs but only 20.9% of the total annual spending on prescription drugs.

CA LEGISLATION

New Year, New Laws

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara says there are six new insurance laws that went into effect Jan 1. Here’s the info:
  • Senate Bill 872,authored by Senator Bill Dodd, removes barriers for future wildfire survivors to get critical insurance benefits and streamlines wildfire recovery processes for homeowners who suffer wildfire losses. The new law will require an advance payment for no less than four months of Additional Living Expenses (ALE) and no longer require an itemized inventory form for content claims, among other consumer protections. As of July 1, 2021, the law will expand ALE benefits, including for policyholders whose homes are rendered uninhabitable due to wildfire damage to essential infrastructure.
  • Assembly Bill 2756, jointly authored by Assemblymembers Monique Limón and Richard Bloom, provides additional insurance for disaster survivors to rebuild and requires more transparency when a new policy is sold that does not cover losses from wildfire.
  • Assembly Bill 2658, authored by Assemblymember Autumn Burke, protects domestic workers from employer retaliation, including firing, if they refuse to work in hazardous conditions. It also prevents an employer from ordering an employee, including a household domestic service worker, to remain in or enter a mandatory evacuation zone as a result of wildfires or a local public health order, which would include circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Senate Bill 1192, authored by Senator Steven Bradford, creates Department oversight of public safety workers’ benefits associations to ensure these associations provide financially sound insurance benefits and are transparent to their members.
  • Assembly Bill 2049, authored by Assembly Member Ken Cooley, incorporates the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)-approved revisions to the Credit for Reinsurance Model Regulation into California law, thus preventing federal preemption of California’s existing law regarding credit for reinsurance and retaining the state’s accreditation by the NAIC.
  • Senate Bill 1255, jointly authored by Senator Lena Gonzalez and the Senate Insurance Committee, remedies several issues identified by the Department and stakeholders to clarify and clean-up various technical Insurance Code sections. This new law also includes the Equal HIV Insurance Act which, starting January 1, 2023, will prohibit an insurance company from declining an application or enrollment request for coverage under a policy for life insurance or disability income insurance based solely on the applicant’s HIV status.

PET INSURANCE

Odie Pet Insurance Seeks to Expedite its Growth in Hot Pet Insurance Market

Hey, we are Garfield fans so we have to mention this one. Agoura Hills-based Odie Pet Insurance announced big plans for 2021: the nascent company (we assume named after Jon Arbuckle’s dog) is raising an investment round to fund its growth strategy. The company says that over the next 18-24 months funding will be used to enhance Odie’s consumer facing technologies, continue business development and marketing efforts, and acquire top-tier talent. The raise is being led by Bridge Point Capital based in New York City. Odie has already gained traction with enterprise level partners such as large employee benefits providers looking to expand their services within the fast-growing pet sector. Some of Odie’s key platform features include:

  • Affordable Pricing – Their plans on average are 15%-30% less expensive than equivalent products and offerings.
  • Transparent Policies – Addressing a major problem of pet insurance, Odie provides customers with easy-to-understand coverage and transparent policies.
  • Flexible Plan Options – Pet owners can fully customize their plan according to their budget and pet’s specific needs.
  • Vertical Integration – The platform vertically integrates marketing & distribution, underwriting, program management, and its carrier.

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

BenefitsPRO 2021 Call For Speakers Deadline Approaching

Here’s a great chance to showcase your industry expertise in front of more than 1,000 brokers, agents and consultants. BenefitsPRO 2021 is open for speaking submissions for the in-person program scheduled for August 17-19 at The Omni La Costa in San Diego. Key themes and categories include:

  • Biden administration’s impact on health care
  • COVID impact – what changes will fade away? What will remain?
  • Technology trends and innovations
  • Next gen benefits agencies – tips and strategies on practice management
  • The new workforce – mental health, paid leave benefits/regulations, diversity & inclusion

Go here to pitch your presentation. Deadline is Friday, January 15, 2021. Questions? Contact BenefitsPro here. May the force be with you!

MENTAL HEALTH

Sunglasses and the Fight Against Mental Illness

Hats off (and sunglasses on) to Daniel Hack and his San Diego-based company Gr@titude Lenses. The sunglass company features inspirational messages on the stems of the glasses and offers purchasers of the glasses membership to the Gr@titude Community, where they get exclusive access to a Daily Gr@titude Affirmation app and an online community of positive-conscious people who provide encouragement and reminders to slow down and be grateful. Hack launched the company and movement in the wake of his father’s suicide. The aim, says Hack, is to encourage people to look at life through the lens of gratitude.

EVENTS

  • LAAHU’s Zoom Happy Hour is the first Wednesday of the month from 4-5p.m. Members and nonmembers welcome. Register here.
  • NAHU Power Hour, 4th Wednesday of the month from 4-5p.m. Pacific. Members and nonmembers welcome. Register here.
  • ASCEND 2021, Join NextGen Benefits advisers, solution experts & peers, Virtual, Jan. 20-22. Register here.
  • NAIFA-Los Angeles 68th Annual Will G. Farrell Award & Leadership Recognition Event, Virtual, Feb. 18. More info here.
  • CAHU Women’s Leadership Summit, Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas, April 7-9. Email questions to info@cahu.org.