Psoriasis and Health Insurance

Obtaining health insurance that includes hospitalization, major medical coverage, and prescription benefits is essential for any person with a disabling chronic health condition, such as psoriasis (PsO). People diagnosed with psoriasis will have a lifetime of healthcare needs and there is a considerable cost associated with those needs.

If you live in the US, where the health insurance marketplace is particularly complex, being well informed about your health insurance options will help ensure that you and your family have both the health services and financial protection you deserve.

Understanding health insurance options

While you don’t need to be an expert when it comes to insurance, a basic understanding of some key concepts and terms will come in handy as you consider your health insurance options.

Traditional fee-for-service health insurance plans work by allowing policyholders to obtain and pay for health services of their choice and get reimbursement by their policy provider according to the specific terms of their policy. One element of fee-for-service plans that appeals to consumers is that they allow you to choose your own provider.

Managed care health insurance plans contract with a specific network of health providers (doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc) that provide services to policyholders. People with managed care plans usually pay little or nothing out of pocket for services within the allowed network of providers. The three most common types of managed care plans are health maintenance organizations, preferred provider organizations, and point of services plans.

Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are the most restrictive type of managed care plans. In HMO plans, policyholders are strictly limited to providers and services within a specified network. In HMOs, patients need referrals from their primary care physician (PCP) to see specialists, such as a dermatologist or rheumatologist. On the positive side, premiums tend to be lower for these plans.

Preferred provider organizations (PPOs) provide another lower cost option for obtaining care through a network of providers who have contracted with the health insurance company to offer discounted rates to policyholders. Patients are able to choose any health care provider, including specialists, without a referral. However, if they choose to receive care out-of-network, then they must pay for a larger portion of the costs. This type of plan accounts for most of the job-based group health insurance plans that exist today in the US.

Lastly, some health insurance companies offer a point of service (POS) plan which takes a hybrid approach combining elements of FFS, HMO, and PPO plans. With POS, policyholders can choose who to see each time there is a need for medical care and are not limited to a specific network.

In today’s health insurance market, managed care plans are much more popular and fee-for-service plans are rare. Interestingly, one example of a pure fee-for-service plan is Medicare.

How do I know what I’m eligible for?

In the past, eligibility rules for health insurance plans were typically based on eligibility criteria or rules made by the sponsor of the plan spelling out who qualified for a specific plan. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), eligibility rules have undergone significant changes as reforms have been gradually adopted. In the US, a person can get health insurance either through the government or through a private insurance company. The tables shown below lay out the essentials on insurance eligibility by type of government and private plan.

Eligibility requirements for government insurance programs )—including Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’ benefits, TRICARE, Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB), State Child Health Insurance Programs (S-CHIPs), or insurance programs for employees of state and local governments)—vary by program. Eligibility is determined by whether a person:

  • Qualifies for a government entitlement program, including Medicare or Medicaid
  • Was or is employed by a government agency, including the military
  • Is a family member of someone who works or worked for the government, who was eligible for such an insurance program

Many private health insurance plans include group coverage as a benefit of employment, membership in a union or other organization, individual plans, high-risk health insurance pools, and Medicare supplemental insurance (sometimes referred to as Medigap plans).

Government Insurance Programs

Medicare
  • Source of coverage for most people 65 years or older
  • Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D, there are several options available for organizing and accessing care, including prescriptions, so it is important to get advice about Medicare options if you are eligible
  • People younger than 65 years who are disabled (including those with PsO) may qualify*
Medicaid
  • Medical assistance entitlement program for people and families with low income, with benefits varying from state to state
  • Provides coverage for a variety of long-term care services, including stays in nursing homes
  • ACA reforms may expand eligibility
S-CHIP
  • Coverage for children in families that do not qualify for Medicaid
VA Benefits
  • Comprehensive healthcare to veterans with service-related disabilities
TRICARE
  • Health benefit program for active duty and family, reserves (under certain conditions), retired military and family
  • Offers both fee-for-service and managed care plans
FEHB
  • Choice of health plans for federal, non-military employees and eligible family members
  • Available from date of enrollment without restrictions
  • May continue (under certain conditions) for employee and/or eligible family members beyond retirement and death of employee
State and local government employee plans
  • Health benefit plans for employees and eligible family members

*Must meet Social Security Disability Insurance or SSDI criteria. A 24-month waiting period is required before coverage begins.

Private Health Insurance

Group health plans
  • Offered to employees and often to family members
  • Choice of different plans typically offered
  • ACA offers employers an incentive to provide insurance to employees and penalizes large employers who do not
  • Can be either fully insured or self-insured
Individual and family plans
  • Purchased by individuals to cover themselves and their families
  • With ACA, these types of plans can not be denied to someone on the basis of a pre-existing condition and must be made affordable
Medigap
  • Supplemental insurance that can be purchased to pay costs not covered by Medicare
State high-risk pools
  • Coverage for state residents who are uncoverable due to a pre-existing condition
  • Will be discontinued over time as ACA is phased-in and provides coverage for all patients with pre-existing conditions
COBRA
  • Temporary extension of coverage for people who lose employment-group health coverage through loss of employment, divorce, retirement, death of spouse, disability, or Medicare enrollment of spouse

COBRA refers to the health benefit provisions from the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985.
*It is important to find out which type applies to you and what it means for your coverage. Unlike fully insured plans, self-insured plans are not regulated on a state level and this may affect you if there is a dispute concerning your legal rights as a member of the plan.

PsO and the Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also referred to as the Affordable Care Act [ACA]) became federal law in 2010. Over a period of 10 years as the law is phased in, it will make a series of reforms to the health insurance system and the federal and state laws and regulations that affect that system.

How does the Affordable Care Act affect me if I have PsO?

If you have PsO it is important to get the facts about what the ACA means to you now and what it may mean to you in the future. Two important ways that the legislation directly affects people with PsO are:

  • It ends the annual and lifetime caps for health services that many insurance plans impose.
  • It eliminates the ability of insurance providers to exclude patients due to pre-existing conditions.

To note, individual insurance policy plans which existed before ACA became law are now “grandfathered” plans, meaning that they are exempt from conforming to the new benefit requirements as set forth in the law. If you have a “grandfathered” plan and choose to keep that policy, your insurance plan may still impose certain limits and restrictions and you may not receive the same protections that other plans offer.

The US Department of Health and Human Services provides a website with the latest information on how the ACA may affect you.

The ACA website also offers several useful tools, including the complete text of the ACA, a timeline of when different parts of the law are scheduled to come into effect, highlights of key features of the ACA, information on how the law is being implemented on a state-by-state basis, and a list of resources for finding out more about the ACA and getting your questions answered.