NY Managed Care Act

New York’s Managed Care Reform Act, enacted in 1997, is the most far-reaching legislation to regulate health plans in the country. The law established utilization review standards for all managed care plans, standardized grievance and appeals procedures, and requirements for providing all enrollees and potential enrollees with detailed descriptions of a managed care plan’s benefits and coverage.

Information You Should Know

Every health plan must disclose specific information to consumers—members of a health plan and those people considering joining a plan.

This consumer information will be provided in the plan’s member handbook, subscriber contract and member newsletters. Other information must also be provided at the request of a consumer. A partial list of the information that must be provided to all health plan members or those people thinking of joining a plan includes descriptions of:

  • Plan benefits and coverage—the services the health plan will pay for and any limitations, such as dollar amounts, number of visits allowed, or any other limits.
  • How the plan defines “medical necessity.”
  • Prior authorization requirements. The plan will probably have provisions relating to when you must get approval for some services before receiving those services.
  • How the health plan pays health care providers for the services given to patients that are members of the plan.
  • Member’s financial responsibilities—or what your costs are—including co-payments or deductibles, payments for charges that are above what the plan considers “usual and customary” and paying for services not covered by the plan or services received from a provider outside the plan’s network.
  • Grievance procedures and appeals rights, including the plan’s toll-free number, the process for filing a complaint and how long it will take to receive an answer. (See the section on “grievances and appeals” for more details.)
  • Procedures to select and change your primary care physician (PCP).
  • List of providers in network, listed by specialty.
  • Coverage for emergency services (see the section on Specialty and Emergency Care Needs for more information).

Upon request, a plan must provide members or those people thinking of joining a plan with the following (partial list):

  • Information on consumer complaints.
  • Confidentiality procedures.
  • The ability to inspect the health plan’s prescription drug formulary.
  • Description of procedures used to evaluate requests for experimental and investigational treatments.
  • Hospital affiliations of individual physicians.
  • Specific written treatment protocols for a particular disease or condition.

Questions about Coverage and Care

All HMOs have member services departments that are designed to assist the plan’s members with a variety of questions about the plan. Questions can be simple—such as what is a member’s co-payment or benefit coverage—or more complex issues including concerns about a selected doctor and how to change providers, the coordination of benefits if both a husband and wife have health coverage through their employers, or the process for appealing a decision made by the doctor or the health plan.

The member services department should be the first place to turn with questions, concerns or problems. The phone number is in your member handbook or on your identification card. Many issues can be easily and quickly resolved. If you are not satisfied with the resolution, you may also file a formal complaint with the plan.

Issues that cannot be resolved by the member services department generally fall into two categories: grievances or utilization review (UR) appeals.

Grievances have to do with non-medical, contractual issues. Utilization review appeals are when a consumer requests that a health plan reconsider its decision to refuse coverage of a medical service based on medical necessity.

While the health plan member services departments may resolve many issues, if you are not satisfied with the resolution, or if you think the issue is not being resolved quickly enough, you may also file a formal “grievance with the plan.”

Every plan must have a grievance and appeals procedure to handle non-medical issues. This includes complaints related to billing problems, benefit coverage issues and issues regarding dissatisfaction with providers or quality of care provided. Some grievances can be filed over the phone, while others must be filed in writing. The health plan will tell you how to file a grievance and what your rights are in the grievance process.

Patients may also have questions relating to the denial of a specific medical treatment, even though the type of treatment may be covered (for example, a plan’s benefits may provide for treatment of cancer, but not stage-one clinical trials). These types of questions are considered utilization review decisions. Your rights concerning decisions on medical issues are covered in more detail in the “utilization review standards” and the Independent External Appeal sections.

For non-medical, contractual issues, every plan’s grievance procedure must include:

  • A multi-lingual, accessible toll-free phone line, available at least 40 hours a week. Answering machines may be used during off hours, but your call must be returned within one business day.
  • A standard process for filing grievances and appeals and, in certain circumstances, filing verbal grievances.
  • Notice of a member’s right to have a representative in the grievance process.
  • A process for providing members with a written description of the procedures required to file an appeal when a plan denies a request for service.
  • The time-frames for responding to members, including notice of the plan’s receipt of the grievance and grievance determinations.
  • Standard time-frames for making a decision on a grievance can be as long as 45 days. But if there is a significant risk to your health, the plan must act within 48 hours.
  • The methods for designating qualified reviewers for each grievance, including at least one health care professional for matters of a clinical nature.
  • In addition to having processes for filing a grievance, all plans must have a method for making a decision on any and all grievances received.

The following criteria apply to the appeals of grievance determinations:

  • Members are provided 60 business days to appeal a grievance decision.
  • Clinical determinations must be made by qualified health care professionals not involved with the original decision.
  • Non-clinical matters require qualified personnel at a higher level than those who made the initial determination.
  • There must be a formal notice of appeals determinations detailing reasons for the determination and the clinical rationale.
Utilization Review (UR) is a process by which a health plan assesses the medical necessity or appropriateness of health care treatments. These reviews can take place prior to the proposed treatment, during treatment or after the treatment. All plans performing UR are required to:

  • Provide notice of an adverse determination (denial of treatment) in writing, including reasons for the determination and instruction on how to appeal.
  • Allow the member, or in some cases his/her physician, to appeal a decision involving denied treatment.
  • Provide toll-free access to reviewers 40 hours/week. Answering machines may be used during off hours, but your call must be returned within one business day. If you are in the hospital, the plan must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to consider a request for an extension of your stay.
  • Establish UR time-frames, a member notification system, procedures to appeal determinations and an appeal process.
  • Establish an expedited appeal process for members in an ongoing course of treatment and for cases in which the treating physician believes an immediate appeal is warranted.
  • Ensure that personnel conducting UR are duly licensed and trained.
  • Ensure that a physician or health care professional other than the person who rendered the original decision will review all appeals.
  • Provide members with a minimum of 45 days to file an appeal of an adverse determination.
  • Make appeal decisions within 60 days and provide written notice of the decision within two business days, giving reasons and the clinical rationale for the determination.
  • Ensure that expedited appeals can be further appealed through the regular appeal process.
  • Provide expedited appeal determinations within 48 hours of the receipt of appropriate documents related to the case.

Greater detail on all of these requirements is provided in every member’s contract and handbook.

Specialty and Emergency Care Needs

The Managed Care Act includes some special provisions for people with specialized health care needs.

To meet these needs, health plans must have procedures through which:

  • A member who needs ongoing care from a specialist may obtain a standing referral to the specialist.
  • A member suffering from a life-threatening or disabling and degenerative disease or condition may receive permission to use a specialist as his/her coordinator of care and/or receive permission for a referral to a specialty care center.
  • A member can, in specific situations, access a provider not in the network. In cases where a plan doesn’t have a provider with the training and/or experience to treat a particular condition, you have the right to be referred to an appropriate provider outside the plan’s network.
All health plans cover emergency care. The big question for many consumers, however, is how the term “emergency” is defined.

To help answer that question, health plans generally instruct members to contact their primary care provider or the plan’s 24-hour-phone line for urgent health care problems. However, you do not need to call if symptoms start suddenly and are so severe or painful that an ordinary person with an average knowledge of medicine and health could believe that not getting immediate medical care would cause serious health problems or damage to a person’s body. This is known as the “prudent lay person” definition for emergency care. For example, if you experience severe chest pains and go to the emergency room believing you are having a heart attack, your health plan will cover that emergency visit even if it turns out you only had serious indigestion. For mental health problems, the “prudent lay person” standard applies if you or someone else believes you would harm yourself or someone else.

Independent External Appeal

As of July 1, 1999, health care consumers have even greater protection under New York State law. The state’s external appeal law gives consumers the right to have an external appeal agent (an independent panel of medical experts) review certain health plan decisions about health care services to determine that they are medically necessary. New York’s external appeal law allows health care consumers to seek this impartial review in any case where a health plan denies coverage for care it determines is not medically necessary or when a health plan denies a treatment or service because it is experimental or investigational in nature. In such cases, the consumer can file an application with the state Department of Insurance requesting that an external appeal agent review the case.
By their very definition, experimental treatments have not yet been established as standard care. HMOs and other health plans often participate in clinical trials designed to test the effectiveness of experimental and investigational procedures. However, most health plans have strict criteria relating to coverage of these procedures.

It is important to remember that “newest” doesn’t always mean most appropriate. To help make those determinations, a patient (or someone acting on behalf of the patient) has the right to seek an external appeal of a plan’s denial of coverage on the basis that the plan considers the treatment experimental or investigational.

The external appeal law seeks to build consumer confidence about managed care by ensuring consumers have access to an independent review process to determine if a particular health care service is medically necessary and appropriate.

Member Responsibilities

There is much discussion focused on the rights that consumers have as members of managed care health plans.

However, consumers also have certain responsibilities. Knowing and accepting your role as a health plan member will help ensure the system works for you.

  • To become informed about the benefits provided by your plan and procedures for receiving health care services.
  • To provide, to the extent possible, information that your doctor and the plan’s professional staff need to know to care for you.
  • To work with your doctor(s) in the coordination of your care and follow the treatment plans of all health professionals involved in your care.
  • To keep your plan informed of any changes in your personal status, including name changes, changes in who is covered (a change in marital status or number of dependents) or change of address.