by Chris Huckins Google+ Email 


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29 May 2014

Air Pollution Cost California $200M Annually Before Obamacare

Posted in Latest News

Air Pollution Cost California $200M Annually Before Obamacare

There is a burden in the air for insurance companies, the government, and employers who provide health insurance. 

Air pollution cost California over $200 million a year from 2005-2007 for air pollution-related illnesses which could have been avoided if the state met federal air quality standards. 

Coincidentally, $200 million is exactly the amount of money California allotted in 2014-15's budget to advance its Charge Ahead California initiative to place 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the next 10 years. Imagine if the state had double the funds: there may be double the eco-friendly cars.

How badly does California need to get its act together?

In California, 77% of the population lives in areas with a F grade in air pollution. The EPA, which measures ozone and particle pollution by concentration, concluded that in 8 hours, some California regions can range from "unhealthy to hazardous" air quality levels. 

In the years before Obamacare, RAND Corporation studied several areas with high concentrations of air pollution and nearby hospitals to quantify how much treatments cost when patients visited ER for air pollution-related illnesses: cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, asthma, and bronchitis. 

During this time, Medi-Cal which serves low income Californians and is paid for by taxpayers, spent $103,600,000 per year to treat patients suffering from air pollution. Medi-Care, which helps the elderly, paid $27,000,000 annually. Private insurance companies paid $55,000,000 annually.

Not only was money spent where it didn't need to be, but money wasn't spent where it should have been: on roads.

Under the Clear Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can withhold transit and highway funding from cities that don't meet federal air quality standards.

In 2004, the government kept $153 million in federal transportation funding from the city of Atlanta for just that reason. If Los Angeles doesn't get its act together, we may never see the 405 completed. 

Just last year in San Joaquin Valley, the area with the worst air pollution outside of Los Angeles, the feds  fined the district's Air Pollution Control $29 million for failing to meet ozone standards. That bill was paid for by drivers, who spent an additional $12 for car registration. 

Ironic, isn't it? California needs more roads for more cars that create more air pollution, but must replace cars with electric ones to earn the funding to make more roads.

This week served as a reminder that California still struggles to balance transportation with passing air quality grades.

A study released May 29th from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and the Department of Preventive Medicine found air pollution at its worst within a 10-mile radius of Los Angeles International Airport. Some places are 6-8 times more polluted than the LA's average. 

But there's a light at the end of the Sepulveda tunnel.

Several miles from LAX, the city of Irwindale overcame its own airborne pollution problem caused by spicy chili sauce, not smog. 

City officials on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit against the Sriracha Factory, which expelled airborne irritants to the eyes of 1,400 residents. The factory changed its air filters, which it believed would solve the problem when it resumes chili sauce production in August.

Less Sriracha in the air means more kids in the playground and not in the hospital.

Under Obamacare, more businesses can afford to clean up their air pollution too when they save on group health insurance. With nearby businesses cleaning up their act, residents will spend less on air-pollution illnesses and perhaps more on Sriracha.

Similarly, those who save on health insurance can perhaps afford a more fuel-efficient car or fleet of eco-friendly cars for businesses, cleaning up the air even more.

While California has some of the most congested roads in the country, its high number of health insurance enrollments may save California in the long run. 

When more individuals and families get covered by Medi-Cal, Medicare, private, or Covered California plans, more people get access to early treatment for air pollution-related illnesses. This saves the individual or government program from paying for more expensive care in the future when illnesses would get worse.

Money the California government saves on health insurance may help fund the goal to put 1 million electric cars on the road.

In the end, Obamacare will help clean up the air. You read it here first.

28 May 2014

San Fernando Valley Sees Auto Insurance Fraud From Kamikaze Bikers

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San Fernando Valley Sees Auto Insurance Fraud From Kamikaze Bikers

How do you say "Kamikaze" in Spanish? A growing trend of auto insurance fraud in the San Fernando Valley is young Latinos on bicycles crashing into cars and begging for cash, according to Los Angeles Police Detective, Gary Guevara. 

Since May is National Bike Month, Los Angeles Times and LAPD dropped a clue to cautious drivers in California: watch out for bikes and insurance fraud by bike riders.

Do you drive a nice car, dress well, and leave work with a conspicuous "I'm employed" look on your face?  A person matching this profile is assumed to carry car insurance and is often a target of car insurance fraud, elaborated Detective Guevara, an auto fraud expert. 

Auto insurance agents in San Fernando: remove your AAA bumper stickers, or you're next! 

If you believe you're a fraud victim, don't give away your cash. Instead, ask for the "injured" bike rider's information. If he or she is a frequent faker, it's more likely you'll see him or her flee the scene. 

But bicycles aren't the only vehicles to be wary of. Granada Hills movie makers filmed cars conducting 4 common auto insurance fraud tricks to educate the public. Guess they couldn't find any cyclist actors to crash into vehicles. 

Watch: Insurance Fraud Tricks

Brought to you by LAPD's Emergency Vehicle Operations Center

1) Swoop and Squat 

Uses 3 cars: 2 to "swoop" in front of the victim (the one closest to the victim abruptly brakes or "squats") & 1 to hover in the victim's adjacent lane to prevent escape.

2) Curb Drive Down 

Requires one driver to stay parked along a curb at an intersection. As the victim "drives down", the car cuts in front, causing a collision. 

3) Left Lane Fraud 

Entails a witness. As two vehicles use 2 separate lanes that turn in the same direction, the victim turns in the inner lane while the fraud car abruptly turns into the same lane.

4) 4 Vehicles Fraud

Utilizes at least 4 cars, including a lookout vehicle. Two cars with single drivers crash. The 4th vehicle, often an SUV, empties its passengers into the collided vehicles to appear they were full of injured riders. 

 Insurance fraud is often committed by multiple players, upping the medical expense payout by fraudulent insurance claims. With each success, car insurance premiums increase for everyone. 

Make June "Stop Insurance Fraud Month". Ten points to every witness who claims "I saw this on Youtube!". 

02 May 2014

Counting Only 34 States 67% of Obamacare Enrollees Paid So Far

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Counting Only 34 States 67% of Obamacare Enrollees Paid So Far

Turns out only 67% of Obamacare enrollees have paid their first month's premium. 

But before Chicken Little proclaims the Obamacare figures are falling, skip to the report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is only a snapshot of the whole picture book.

The report released this week touted its own transparency - the committee sent a letter to each participating insurance company asking for hard numbers of who enrolled by the April 15th deadline and who paid. 

However, in its attempt of remaining transparent, the report risks being labeled "misleading" for 3 reasons. 

Reason #1 is enrollees who picked a plan in April won't be billed until May, so the report is already incomplete. Ironically, full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) proclaimed the report exists because he was "tired of receiving incomplete pictures of enrollment". 

Problem #2 is the report only covers 34 states that relied on the federal site, to enroll. The report acknowledges this distinction, but not everyone reads the news in context. Some just read the news title, "67% of Obamacare Enrollees Have Paid So Far". Notice there's no subtitle: "But Wait! There's More! Only Counting 34 States". 

The remaining states were excluded from the report because they opted to use their own exchange, like Covered California which announced 87% of enrollees paid their premium.

While providing the public with enrollment figures, the report stoops into editorializing: Reason #3.  

Strangely the report brings up President Obama's announcement on April 17th that 8 million signed up for insurance, labeling it "misleading". Not everyone had paid their first premium, according to the report, so 8 million shouldn't be referred to as signed up.

Kathleen Sebelius, upon resigning from her post as Secretary of Health and Human Services, reminded Americans that they aren't technically enrolled until they pay their bill. 

Well, 8 million who signed up still signed up. Wait next month when their bill is due to determine if they're enrolled or not, according to Sebelius' definition. 

What's misleading is the report behaves like a referee counting only the first 100 runners who finish a marathon while criticizing the sponsor who says 1000 runners are participating. "They're not technically runners until they finish the race." the distorted report might read.

While acknowledging the report is still a snapshot, albeit framing it like Obamacare failed, the committee requested that by May 20th, the administration release an updated count of completed enrollments, which should include the latest premium payments. 

Upon the report's release this week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney disputed the committee's tally, admitting that the Department of Health and Human Services doesn't have its hard numbers yet gut the data is being assembled. 

Surely they won't wait until the next Avengers movie. Data assemble!

22 April 2014

Covered California Director Peter Lee Thanks Edmond Haronian

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Covered California Director Peter Lee Thanks Edmond Haronian

When we heard the good news from a rival health insurance agent in Los Angeles, we thought it was a late April Fool's joke. Turns out Peter Lee, Director of Covered California, actually congratulated us personally in his blog post on Monday. April rules!

In his blog, Peter Lee thanks over 12,000 Covered California Certified Agents for their hard work during Obamacare's first open enrollment season, but specifically gives a shout-out to a handful of names. One is Edmond Haronian of Haronian Insurance in Canoga Park, who signed up nearly 600 Californians for new insurance plans since open enrollment started - a top agent from the looks of it. 

It's worth noting that Lee accidentally mentions Edmond is from Encino. While our office was previously located in Sherman Oaks, adjacent to Encino, we've since moved to Canoga Park.

But no matter where Covered California thinks we are: Woodland Hills, Reseda, Northridge, we're just happy to be recognized. Now President Obama, don't you have something nice to say about a certain insurance agent in Canoga Park?

As one of the top-producing agents for Covered California, our humble request is that Peter Lee speak personally with Edmond Haronian to discuss improvements the exchange can make for the 2014-2015 enrollment period, which is slated to begin November 15, 2014 and end February 15, 2015.  

One suggestion we ask: provide agents with leads. After all, health insurance agents enrolled 39% of applicants for Covered California compared to 9% of Covered CA's hired representatives. 

UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, Edmond Haronian spoke with Peter Lee, who was receptive to ideas that would improve Covered California's relationship with agents. A couple thoughts tossed around were a dedicated line that agents can call rather than wait on hold for 3 hours and a better organized agent portal. 

17 April 2014

Health Insurance Agents Win Second Place For Most Covered California Enrollments

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Health Insurance Agents Win Second Place For Most Covered California Enrollments

The numbers are in. Certified health insurance agents basically kicked ass this year by enrolling the most Covered California customers, second only to customers who enrolled themselves. 

Covered California, the state marketplace originated by Obamacare, opened October 1st, 2013 with the goal of covering 700,000 by the end of its open enrollment period, March 31st, 2014. 

This week, after a deadline extension or two (a cheap way of ensuring targets were reached but a second and third chance for uninsured Californians, nonetheless), Covered California Director, Peter Lee announced over 3 million signed up for insurance, including Medi-Cal applicants.

1.9 million enrolled under Medi-Cal compared to 1.1 million who chose Covered California plans, similar to gains in welfare enrollments vs exchange sign-ups reported last month.  

Not all news is good news. Covered California created 900 jobs, hiring Service Customer Representatives (SCRs) to man (and woman) the phones throughout enrollment period after wait times exceeded 1 hour. Training for new reps takes 3 weeks, so even in February when 250 were added to the Fresno call center, it wasn't until March that they would be ready to enroll. In their efforts to adapt to high volumes, albeit a little too late, SCRs managed to sign up only 9% of applicants. 

9% of enrollments also came from Certified Enrollment Councilors (CEC): ordinary people who simply had to pass a background check and a health insurance test to become official help for Covered California. 

Few help came from PBEs (Plan-Based Enrollers), who worked under certified entities (large organizations which conduct outreach and education). They enrolled less than 2%. 

Agents on the other hand were subject to tests and background checks but enrolled 39% of all newly-insured Californians. It helped that they outnumbered SCRs: over 14,000 agents registered as Covered California certified. Most shoppers who gave up on long wait times or simply trusted experienced insurance agents could find nearby help by a directory of Certified Agents on Covered CA's website. 

The majority or 41% of customers completed health insurance applications and took credit for enrolling by oneself. 

For those who missed out on health insurance, certain life-changing events like a change in income or family size may qualify you for a special enrollment. So don't feel entirely left out. 

Thank you, Covered CA for this beautiful chart. No hard feelings for tying for third place, right?