- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana says next month it will stop allowing community groups to use money from a federal program for patients with HIV and AIDS to enroll those patients in insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Blue Cross spokesman John Maginnis tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1aRU7NR) that beginning March 1 the company will end third-party premium payments and only accept individual members’ premium payments from the policyholder or an immediate family member/blood relative or legal guardian of the policyholder.

That stance goes against the most recent instructions from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS says its rules don’t prevent use of “Ryan White Program” funds to pay for health care plans, a point that it made clear last week in encouraging insurers to accept those payments.

“Given the importance of access to care for people with HIV/AIDS, CMS is considering amending those rules to require issuers to accept these payments,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

Blue Cross says CMS’ most recent directive is quite different than instructions issued in November, which “strongly advised” insurers against accepting any third-party payments.

Maginnis said the insurer is reviewing and considering the new information to decide whether it is helpful in addressing the company’s concerns about taking third-party payments.

CMS said the November third-party instructions were an effort to stop hospitals, other providers and commercial entities from paying premiums for individuals. A few hospitals had attempted to enroll some of their most costly patients, the chronic users of the emergency room, through the online federal insurance marketplace.

At issue is the use of “Ryan White Program” funds, the single-largest federal program specifically for people with HIV. In the 2012 fiscal year, Louisiana received $50.7 million in Ryan White funds.

Under the program, states, cities and nonprofits receive grants to help poor people with HIV buy health insurance, and pay for prescriptions and treatments they could not otherwise afford.

In 2011, Ryan White programs served an estimated 13,458 clients in Louisiana, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Roughly 1,100 of those people had private insurance.

Noel Twilbeck, chief executive officer of New Orleans AIDS Task Force, said it’s difficult to say how many people the Blue Cross decision will affect.

“There are 19,000 people in Louisiana living with HIV,” Twilbeck said. “The need is great.”

NO/AIDS has helped more than 200 people apply for coverage from Blue Cross through the online federal insurance marketplace, Twilbeck said. Now the nonprofit has to get those people coverage through different insurance providers, he said.

Meanwhile, Lambda Legal of New Orleans has filed an administrative complaint against Blue Cross with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. The New Orleans AIDS Task Force has joined in the complaint.

Blue Cross’ decision could prevent thousands of low-income residents in Louisiana from getting the life-saving care they need, said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director at Lambda Legal.

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