Insuring Your Health

When A Medicare Drug Plan Formulary Changes, You Can Appeal For An Exception

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As the ground continues to shift on health care coverage, I answer readers’ queries this week about changes to Medicare drug lists and insurance plans that don’t meet health law standards.

Q: I picked a Medicare Part D drug plan that covered all the drugs I take. But as soon as I got my first Novolin R prescription filled, they notified me that they don’t cover it anymore. Can they just switch it like that?

Medicare drug plans can change their list of covered drugs, called formularies. If they’re doing so at the start of the new calendar year, as appears to have happened in your case, the plan may notify you of the change when you fill the prescription for the first time in the new year.  At that time, the plan would typically give you a 30-day “transition” refill so you can switch to another drug that’s on the formulary, according to Juliette Cubanski, associate director of the Program On Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

If you and your doctor think it’s important that you have Novolin R and not another insulin drug that is similar, you can ask your plan to make an exception to allow you to continue to take the medication.

To go that route, you would need to get your doctor to “make the case for why that formulary drug is not the right drug” for you, said Casey Schwarz, senior counsel for education and federal policy at the Medicare Rights Center, an advocacy group.

Q: I lost my job last year and my employer coverage ended in January. I bought a new plan through the marketplace that went into effect last month. I just received policy information, and it states that because the plan does not cover major medical services, I may have to pay additional taxes to the government. I was told that the plan didn’t cover major medical but wasn’t told about any taxes. Will I be fined next year?

It sounds like you bought a plan that doesn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requirements, and if that’s the case you may indeed have to pay a penalty for not having comprehensive coverage when you file your taxes next year.

The tax law repealed the individual penalty for not having health insurance, but that provision doesn’t take effect until 2019. So, for 2018, you may be charged the greater of $695 or 2.5 percent of your household income.

The federal- and state-run marketplaces established by the ACA sell only comprehensive plans that cover 10 essential health benefits, including “major medical” services like hospitalization and prescription drugs.

But some insurance broker websites call themselves marketplaces too, said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. These companies may sell other insurance products like short-term or accident coverage alongside comprehensive plans that comply with the law.

Ever since the health law was passed, “There have been opportunistic companies trying to take advantage of consumer confusion to make money,” Corlette said.

If you aren’t happy with your plan, you may still be able to switch. Losing your employer coverage qualifies you for a 60-day special enrollment period to pick a new plan. Since it appears you’re still in that window, you may be able to choose a comprehensive plan.

To ensure you’re using your state’s official marketplace, go to healthcare.gov and click on “see if I can change.” That will take you to your state marketplace, even if you live in one of the dozen or so states that run their own exchanges.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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