Compliance Recap - 2018 Year in Review

Compliance Recap – 2018 Year in Review

During 2018, federal agencies and courts provided employers with a significant amount of new guidance, regulation, and FAQs relating to employer benefit plans. This month-by-month guide provides a timeline of these documents, highlighting the major changes and updates in 2018.

To access the complete monthly Compliance Recaps, please click below:

January 2018 Compliance Recap

February 2018 Compliance Recap

March 2018 Compliance Recap

April 2018 Compliance Recap

May 2018 Compliance Recap

June 2018 Compliance Recap

July 2018 Compliance Recap

August 2018 Compliance Recap

September 2018 Compliance Recap

October 2018 Compliance Recap

November 2018 Compliance Recap

December 2018 Compliance Recap

January 2018

January was a busy month in the employee benefits world. On January 24, 2018, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alex Azar as the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

HHS released the 2018 federal poverty guidelines. The DOL issued updated civil monetary penalties for 2018 and announced the applicability date for final regulations regarding disability claims procedures.

Congress and the President delayed the Cadillac tax’s effective date, delayed the health insurance tax (HIT), and reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

HHS Releases 2018 Federal Poverty Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 2018 federal poverty guidelines (FPL). For a family/household of one in the contiguous United States, the FPL is $12,140. In Alaska, the FPL is $15,180, and in Hawaii, the FPL is $13,960.

For 2018, applicable large employers that wish to use the FPL affordability safe harbor under the employer shared responsibility / play-or-pay rules should ensure that their lowest employee-only premium is equal to or less than $96.72 a month, which is 9.56% of the 2018 FPL.

Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment for 2018

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published its civil monetary penalties for 2018. Under federal law, the DOL is required to annually adjust its regulations’ civil monetary penalties for inflation no later than January 15 of each year. The adjusted penalty amounts are effective for violations occurring after November 2, 2015, that have penalties assessed after January 2, 2018.

Below are some examples of the increases.

Description 2017 Penalty Amount 2018 Penalty Amount
Failure to file Form 5500 $2,097 per day $2,140 per day
Failure to provide the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) $1,105 $1,128
Failure to provide documents requested by the DOL $149 per day, not to exceed $1,496 per request $152 per day, not to exceed $1,527 per request
Failure to inform employees of children’s health insurance program (CHIP) coverage opportunities; each employee is a separate violation $112 per day $114 per day

DOL Issues Final Disability Claims Procedures Regulations’ Applicability Date

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that April 1, 2018, will be the applicability date for its rule that amends the claims procedure requirements of ERISA-covered employee benefit plans that provide disability benefits. The DOL’s Fact Sheet contains a summary of the regulation’s requirements.

Congress Delays Cadillac Tax Effective Date, Delays HIT Tax, and Reauthorizes CHIP

Congress and the President passed H.R. 195, a short-term spending bill. The bill delays the effective date of the excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored health coverage (“Cadillac tax”) to 2022. The bill delays the health insurance tax (HIT) that applies to insurers. The HIT was in effect in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and will be in effect for 2018. Now the HIT will be delayed from 2019 to 2020; essentially, the bill implemented a one-year moratorium for the HIT for 2019. The bill also reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years.

February 2018

Coming off a busy January, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Questions and Answers about Information Reporting by Employers on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C, its Questions and Answers on Information Reporting by Health Coverage Providers, and its Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act.

The IRS released its adjusted penalty amounts under the employer shared responsibility provisions for the 2018 calendar year.

IRS Updates Its Employer Information Reporting Q&As

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its “Questions and Answers about Information Reporting by Employers on Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C.” The IRS made one substantive change to the Q&As. At Q&A #5, the IRS provided the 2018 due dates for furnishing forms to employees and filing forms with the IRS.

For reporting in 2018 (for offers of coverage and coverage in 2017), an applicable large employer must furnish Form 1095-C to each full-time employee on or before March 2, 2018. This due date reflects a 30-day extension from the general due date (that is, January 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the information relates); the extension was provided by the IRS in Notice 2018-06 on December 22, 2017. The extension applies automatically and does not require the submission of any request or other documentation to the IRS.

Although the IRS extended the due date for furnishing Form 1095-C for 2017, the due date for filing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS was not extended.

IRS Updates Its Q&As on Information Reporting by Health Coverage Providers

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Questions and Answers on Information Reporting by Health Coverage Providers (Section 6055) by adding questions 30 through 35. Among other items, the IRS discussed short-term relief available from penalties for incomplete or incorrect returns filed with the IRS or furnished to individuals. For reporting in 2016, 2017, and 2018, the IRS will not impose penalties on employers that can show that they have made good faith efforts to comply with the information reporting requirements.

IRS Announces the Play-or-Pay Adjusted Penalty Amounts

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act to reflect adjusted penalty amounts for failures to offer coverage in the 2018 calendar year. For Penalty A (or the “no offer” penalty), the adjusted penalty amount per full-time employee is $2,320. For Penalty B (or the “inadequate coverage” penalty), the adjusted penalty amount per full-time employee is $3,480.

March 2018

March was a quiet month in the employee benefits world. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its model Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program notice (CHIP notice).

The IRS issued its updated Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, issued transition relief regarding HSA eligibility of individuals with health insurance that provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives without a deductible, and issued its updated Guide on Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans.

DOL Updates Employer CHIP Notice

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its model Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program notice (CHIP notice).

Employers that provide health insurance coverage in states with premium assistance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) must provide their employees with the CHIP notice before the start of each plan year. The CHIP notice provides information to employees on how to apply for premium assistance, including how to contact their state Medicaid or CHIP office. The DOL usually updates its model CHIP notice biannually.

IRS Issues Updated Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued its 2018 Publication 15-B which contains information for employers on the employment tax treatment of fringe benefits. The guide is updated to reflect, among other items:

  • The suspension of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements from an employee’s income for any tax year beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.
  • The suspension of the exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursements from an employee’s income for tax years beginning after December 1, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. However, the exclusion remains available for a U.S. Armed Forces member on active duty who moves because of a permanent change of station.
  • Limits on the deduction by employers for certain fringe benefits, such as meals and transportation commuting benefits.
  • The definition of items that aren’t tangible personal property for purposes of employee achievement awards.

The guide lists fringe benefits’ tax treatment in its Table 2-1 “Special Rules for Various Types of Fringe Benefits.”

IRS Issues Transition Relief Notice for Plans with Male Sterilization or Contraceptive Benefit

Recently, some states adopted laws that require certain health insurance policies to provide benefits for male sterilization and male contraceptives without cost-sharing.

However, under health saving account (HSA) eligibility requirements, a high deductible health plan (HDHP) generally may not provide benefits for any year until the minimum deductible for that year is satisfied. Although an HDHP may provide preventive care without a deductible or with a deductible that is below the minimum annual amount required by HSA eligibility requirements, male sterilization and male contraceptives are not considered preventive care under the Social Security Act or any Treasury Department guidance.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Notice 2018-12 (Notice) to clarify that if a health plan provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives before satisfying the minimum deductible for an HDHP, then the plan is not an HDHP, regardless of whether state law requires coverage of such benefits. Further, an individual who is not covered by an HDHP with respect to a month is not an HSA-eligible individual and may not deduct contributions to an HSA for that month. Similarly, HSA contributions made by an employer on behalf of the individual are not excludible from income and wages.

To allow states time to change their laws so their residents will be able to purchase health insurance coverage that qualifies as an HDHP, the Notice provides transition relief for periods before 2020 to individuals who are, have been, or become participants in or beneficiaries of a health insurance policy that provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives without a deductible or with a deductible below the minimum deductible for an HDHP.

During the transition relief period, an individual with this type of health insurance policy will not be treated as HSA-ineligible, merely because the policy fails to qualify as an HDHP.

IRS Issues Updated Guide on Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Publication 969 for taxpayers to use in preparing their 2017 returns. The publication explains health savings accounts (HSAs), medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs and Medicare Advantage MSAs), health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

April 2018

April was a busy month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) modified the 2018 health savings account (HSA) family contribution limit back to $6,900. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury released proposed frequently asked questions regarding mental health parity.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2019 parameters for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, a 2019 Benefit and Payment Parameters final rule, and a transitional policy extension for non-grandfathered coverage in the small group and individual health insurance markets.

The IRS released frequently asked questions on the employer credit for paid family medical leave.

IRS Changes 2018 HSA Family Contribution Limit

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released Revenue Procedure 2018-27 to modify the 2018 health savings account (HSA) family contribution limit back to $6,900. This is the second, and likely final, change in limit during 2018.

As background, in May 2017, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2017-37 that set the 2018 HSA family contribution limit at $6,900.

However, in March 2018, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2018-10 that adjusted the annual inflation factor for some tax-related formulas from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to a new factor called a “chained CPI.” As a result, the 2018 HSA family contribution limit was lowered to $6,850 from $6,900, retroactively effective to January 1, 2018.

Stakeholders informed the IRS that the lower HSA contribution limit would impose many unanticipated administrative and financial burdens. In response and in the best interest of sound and efficient tax administration, the IRS will allow taxpayers to treat the originally published $6,900 limit as the 2018 HSA family contribution limit.

Excess Contribution Tax Treatment if Employee Received Distribution Based on Earlier Limit
Employee received distribution of excess contribution with earnings? Employee repays distribution by the individual’s tax return filing date? Excess contribution is includible in the employee’s gross income and subject to the 20% excess contributions excise tax?
Yes Yes No
Yes No Generally, no.

Yes, if the HSA distribution is attributable to employer contributions and not included in the employee’s wages because the employer treats $6,900 as the limit, unless the employee uses the distribution for qualified medical expenses.

DOL, HHS, and Treasury Release Proposed FAQs on Mental Health Parity

The U.S. Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) released proposed FAQs About Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Implementation and the 21st Century Cures Act Part XX.

The Departments respond to FAQs as part of implementing the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA).

Generally, the MHPAEA requires that the financial requirements (for example, coinsurance and copays) and treatment limitations (for example, visit limits) imposed on mental health or substance abuse disorder (MH/SUD) benefits cannot be more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in a class.

Similarly, a group health plan or issuer cannot impose a nonquantitative treatment limitation (NQTL) on MH/SUD benefits that is more stringent than a comparable limitation that is applied to medical/surgical benefits.

The MHPAEA regulations include express disclosure requirements. For example, if a participant requests the criteria for medical necessity determinations regarding MH/SUD benefits, then the plan administrator must make the information available to the participant.

To assist plan sponsors with disclosure requests, DOL released a revised draft Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Disclosure Request that plan sponsors may provide to individuals who request information from an employer-sponsored health plan regarding treatment limitations.

To assist plan sponsors in determining whether a group health plan complies with MHPAEA, the DOL released its Self-Compliance Tool for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. 

CMS Releases 2019 Parameters for Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Benefit

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the following parameters for the defined standard Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit for 2019:

Deductible $ 415
Initial coverage limit $ 3,820
Out-of-pocket threshold $ 5,100
Total covered Part D spending at the out-of-pocket threshold (for beneficiaries who are ineligible for the coverage gap discount program) $ 8,139.54
Minimum cost-sharing in catastrophic coverage portion of the benefit $ 3.40 for generic/preferred multi-source drugs

$ 8.50 for all other drugs

Generally, group health plan sponsors must disclose to Part D eligibility individuals whether the prescription drug coverage offered by the employer is creditable. Coverage is creditable if it, on average, pays out at least as much as coverage available through the defined standard Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

CMS Issues 2019 Benefit and Payment Parameters Final Rule

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published its 2019 Benefit and Payment Parameters final rule. The rule primarily affects the individual health insurance market inside and outside of the Exchange, the small group health insurance market, issuers, and the states.

Within the rule, three items most directly affect employers and their group health plans:

  • Maximum annual out-of-pocket limit on cost sharing for 2019
  • New methods for changing state EHB-benchmark plans
  • New requirements for employers and issuers participating in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace

Read more about the final rule.

CMS Issues Transitional Policy Extension

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a bulletin extending its transitional policy.

As background, in November 2013, CMS announced a transitional policy for non-grandfathered coverage in the small group and individual health insurance markets. Under its policy, health insurance issuers may choose to continue certain coverage that would otherwise be cancelled because of noncompliance with Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Public Health Service Act (PHS Act). Further, affected small businesses and individuals may choose to re-enroll in such coverage.

Under its policy, non-grandfathered health insurance coverage in the small group and individual health insurance markets will not be considered to be out of compliance with the following ACA and PHS Act market reforms if certain criteria are met:

  • Fair health insurance premiums
  • Guaranteed availability of coverage
  • Guaranteed renewability of coverage
  • Prohibition of pre-existing condition exclusions or other discrimination based on health status, with respect to adults, except with respect to group coverage
  • Prohibition of discrimination against individual participants and beneficiaries based on health status, except with respect to group coverage
  • Non-discrimination in health care
  • Coverage for individuals participating in approved clinical trials
  • Single risk pool requirement

Under CMS’ transitional policy, states may permit issuers that have renewed policies under the transitional policy continually since 2014 to renew such coverage for a policy year starting on or before October 1, 2019. However, any policies renewed under this transitional policy must not extend past December 31, 2019.

IRS Releases FAQ on Employer Credit for Paid Family Medical Leave

The IRS released an FAQ that primarily reiterates the Tax Cuts an Jobs Act’s provisions that provide a new federal credit for employers that provide paid family and medical leave to their employees.

The IRS explains that an employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Also, any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used in determining this credit.

The IRS adds this definition of “paid family and medical leave” that, for purposes of the credit, includes time off for:

  • Birth of an employee’s child and to care for the child.
  • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her position
  • Any qualifying exigency due to an employee’s spouse, child, or parent being on covered active duty (or having been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty) in the Armed Forces.
  • To care for a service member who is the employee’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin

The FAQ also explains that, in the future, the IRS intends to address:

  • When the written policy must be in place
  • How paid “family and medical leave” relates to an employer’s other paid leave
  • How to determine whether an employee has been employed for “one year or more”
  • The impact of state and local leave requirements
  • Whether members of a controlled group of corporations and businesses under common control are treated as a single taxpayer in determining the credit

Read more about the federal tax credit for employer-provided paid family and medical leave.

May 2018

May was a relatively busy month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the indexed threshold that employers will use in 2019 to determine coverage affordability. The IRS also issued inflation-adjusted amounts that will apply to health savings accounts for 2019.

The IRS released guidance on its play-or-pay penalty response acknowledgment letters. The IRS also released a tax reform tip, frequently asked questions about the family and medical leave credit, and a fact sheet on determining whether an employer is a large employer.

IRS Releases ACA Indexed Affordability Threshold for 2019

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Revenue Procedure 2018-34 that makes an indexing adjustment to the required contribution percentage that is used to determine whether employer-sponsored health coverage is affordable. For 2019, the percentage will be 9.86 percent.

This means that if an employer is using the federal poverty level (FPL) affordability safe harbor, then the maximum monthly self-only contribution will be $99.75. [9.86% of $12,140 (the 2018 contiguous U.S. FPL for one person), divided by 12, equals $99.75.]

IRS Releases 2019 Limits on Health Savings Accounts

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Revenue Procedure 2018-30 that provides the 2019 inflation-adjusted amounts for health savings accounts (HSAs).

For 2019, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,500. For 2019, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $7,000.

For 2019, a “high deductible health plan” is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,750 for self-only coverage or $13,500 for family coverage.

IRS Releases Guidance on its Play-or-Pay Penalty Response Acknowledgment Letters

In late 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) started mailing Letter 226J to inform large employers of their potential liability for an employer shared responsibility payment (ESRP) for the 2015 calendar year. The IRS’ determination of an employer’s liability and potential payment is based on information reported to the IRS on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C and information about the employer’s full-time employees that were allowed the premium tax credit.

The letter contains Form 14764 (ESRP Response) which is the form that the employer must use to file its response by the deadline listed in the letter. The employer uses Form 14764 to indicate that it agrees or disagrees with the IRS’ letter. If an employer disagrees with the proposed liability, then it must provide a full explanation of its disagreement using Form 14765.

The IRS will acknowledge the employer’s response with a Letter 227 that describes the further actions that an employer can take. The IRS’ recently released Understanding Your Letter 227 describes the versions of Letter 227 that an employer may receive:

  • Letter 227-J acknowledges receipt of the signed agreement Form 14764, ESRP Response, and that the penalty will be assessed. After the IRS issues this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-K acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the penalty has been reduced to zero. After the IRS issues this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-L acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the penalty has been revised. The letter includes an updated Form 14765 and revised calculation table. The employer can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-M acknowledges receipt of information provided and shows that the penalty did not change. The letter provides an updated Form 14765 and revised calculation table. The employer can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-N acknowledges the decision reached in appeals and shows the penalty based on the appeals review. After the IRS issues this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.

If, after receiving Letter 227, the employer agrees with the proposed penalty, then the employer would follow the instructions to sign the response form and return it with full payment in the envelope provided.

If, after receiving Letter 227, the employer disagrees with the proposed or revised shared employer responsibility payment, the employer must provide an explanation of why it disagrees or indicate changes needed, or both, on Form 14765. Then the employer must return all documents as instructed in the letter by the response date. The employer may also request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals within the response date listed within Letter 227, which will be generally 30 days from the date of the letter.

If the employer does not respond to either Letter 226J or Letter 227, the IRS will assess the amount of the proposed employer shared responsibility payment and issue a notice and demand for payment.

Read more about the play-or-pay penalty assessment letters.

IRS Releases Tax Reform Tax Tip and FAQs Regarding Family and Medical Leave Credit

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Tax Reform Tax Tip 2018-69: How the Employer Credit for Family and Medical Leave Benefits Employers and its updated Section 45S Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave FAQs that primarily reiterates the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s provisions that provide a new federal credit for employers that provide paid family and medical leave to their employees.

In its Tax Tip, the IRS explains that an employer must reduce its deduction for wages or salaries paid or incurred by the amount determined as a credit. Also, any wages taken into account in determining any other general business credit may not be used in determining this credit.

In its FAQs, the IRS indicates that, in the future, it will address when the written policy must be in place, how paid family and medical leave relates to an employer’s other paid leave, how to determine whether an employee has been employed for one year or more, the impact of state and local leave requirements, and whether members of a controlled group of corporations and businesses under common control are treated as a single taxpayer in determining the credit.

Read more about the federal tax credit for employer-provided paid family and medical leave.

IRS Releases Fact Sheet on Determining Whether an Employer is a Large Employer

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Publication 5208 – Affordable Care Act: Determining if you are an applicable large employer that provides a three-step process for employers to determine whether they are an applicable large employer for purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions.

Although this one-page fact sheet doesn’t provide new information about counting employees, it may be a helpful guide for those employers who have fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees and who are growing their staff numbers.

June 2018

June was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world. The U.S. Department of Labor issued final regulations regarding association health plans. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a form that certain plan sponsors will use for reporting limited wraparound coverage.

DOL Issues Final Regulations Regarding Association Health Plans

On June 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published Frequently Asked Questions About Association Health Plans (AHPs) and issued a final rule that broadens the definition of “employer” and the provisions under which an employer group or association may be treated as an “employer” sponsor of a single multiple-employer employee welfare benefit plan and group health plan under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

The final rule is intended to facilitate adoption and administration of AHPs and expand health coverage access to employees of small employers and certain self-employed individuals.

The final rule will be effective on August 20, 2018. The final rule will apply to fully-insured AHPs on September 1, 2018, to existing self-insured AHPs on January 1, 2019, and to new self-insured AHPs formed under this final rule on April 1, 2019.

Read more about the final rule.

CMS Releases Form for Reporting Wraparound Excepted Benefits

Under a 2015 final rule by the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Labor, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, certain employers may offer limited wraparound coverage under one of two narrow pilot programs.

These wraparound benefits are considered an excepted benefit and are generally exempt from certain requirements of federal laws, including ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, and parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Under the final rule, plan sponsors who offer limited wraparound coverage have reporting requirements. In December 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice for comments on a proposed reporting form.

On June 25, 2018, the CMS published its Reporting Form for Plan Sponsors Offering Limited Wraparound Coverage. A plan sponsor of limited wraparound coverage must file the form once, within 60 days of the form’s publication (by August 24, 2018), or 60 days after the first day of the first plan year that limited wraparound coverage is first offered.

Read more about limited wraparound coverage.

July 2018

July was a quiet month in the employee benefits world. The IRS released an information letter on the employer shared responsibility provisions.

IRS Releases Information Letter on Employer Shared Responsibility

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Information Letter 2018-0013 to reiterate how the employer shared responsibility provisions would apply to an applicable large employer. Specifically, the IRS explained how the Service Contract Act (SCA) interacts with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As background, the SCA requires workers who are employed on certain federal contracts to be paid prevailing wages and fringe benefits. An employer generally can satisfy its fringe benefit obligation by providing the cash equivalent of benefits or a combination of cash and benefits. Alternatively, an employer may permit employees to choose among various benefits, or various benefits and cash. An employer may choose to provide fringe benefits under the SCA by offering an employee the option to enroll in health coverage provided by the employer (including an option to decline that coverage). If the employee declines the coverage, that employer would then generally be required by the SCA to provide the employee with cash or other benefits of an equivalent value.

This Information Letter refers to IRS Notice 2015-87 which describes how the ACA and the SCA may be coordinated for plan years beginning before January 1, 2017, and until further guidance is issued and applicable. Notice 2015-87 clarifies that, for employees under the SCA, the choice of a cash-out payment will generally not require an employer to pay a greater share of the cost of the health coverage for the coverage to be considered affordable.

August 2018

August was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule that amends the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance. HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule. To provide guidance on association health plans, the DOL posted a fact sheet and the IRS posted a new Q&A for employers.

IRS, HHS, and DOL Issue Final Rule on Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance

On August 3, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (collectively, the Departments) published a final rule that amends the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance. HHS also released a fact sheet on the final rule.

According to the Departments, the final rule will provide consumers with more affordable options for health coverage because they may buy short-term, limited-duration insurance policies that are less than 12 months in length and may be renewed for up to 36 months.

The final rule will apply to insurance policies sold on or after October 2, 2018.

Read more about the final rule.

DOL and IRS Release Additional Information on Association Health Plans

On August 20, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) posted the Association Health Plans ERISA Compliance Assistance fact sheet.

On August 20, 2018, the IRS added a new Q&A 18 to its Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act. Q&A 18 confirms that:

  • An employer that is not an applicable large employer (ALE) under the employer shared responsibility provisions does not become an ALE due to participation in an AHP.
  • An employer that is an ALE under the employer shared responsibility provisions continues to be an ALE subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions regardless of its participation in an AHP.
  • The only circumstance when multiple employers are treated as a single employer for determining whether the employer is an ALE is if the employers have a certain level of common or related ownership.

Read more about the association health plan final rule.

September 2018

September was another relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world. The IRS issued guidance on the employer credit for paid family and medical leave.

IRS Issues Guidance on Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2018-71 (Notice) that provides Q&A guidance on the Internal Revenue Code Section 45S employer credit for paid family and medical leave (FML). The IRS clarified several items in its guidance, including:

  • An employer does not need to be subject to Title I of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to be eligible for the employer credit for FML
  • A description of what the employer’s written policy must contain, including sample “non-interference” language
  • Under Section 45S, paid leave is considered FML only if the leave is specifically designated for one or more FMLA purposes, may not be used for any other reason, and is not paid by a state or local government or required by state or local law
  • An employee does not need to work a minimum number of hours per year to be a qualifying employee
  • Each member of a controlled group generally makes a separate election of whether to claim the credit
  • An employer must file IRS Form 8994, Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave, and IRS Form 3800, General Business Credit, with its tax return to claim the credit

Read more about the IRS’ Q&A guidance.

October 2018

October was a busy month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released final forms and instructions for 2018 ACA reporting. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released inflation-adjusted civil monetary penalty amounts.

Congress and the President enacted a law to prohibit pharmacy gag clauses. The IRS provided tax relief to victims of Hurricane Michael in Florida. The DOL released FAQs for plan participants affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

IRS Releases Final Forms and Instructions for 2018 ACA Reporting

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released instructions for both the Forms 1094-B and 1095-B and the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C and Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C. There are no substantive changes in the forms or instructions between 2017 and 2018, beyond the further removal of now-expired forms of transition relief. There is a minor formatting change to Forms 1095-B and 1095-C for 2018. There are dividers for the entry of an individual’s first name, middle name, and last name.

Reporting will be due early in 2019, based on coverage in 2018. For calendar year 2018, Forms 1094-C, 1095-C, 1094-B, and 1095-B must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019, if filing electronically. Statements to employees must be furnished by January 31, 2019.

All reporting will be for the 2018 calendar year, even for non-calendar year plans.

Read more about the final forms and instructions.

HHS Releases Inflation-Adjusted Federal Civil Penalty Amounts

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its Annual Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment. Here are some of the adjustments:

  • Medicare Secondary Payer:
    • For failure to provide information identifying situations where the group health plan is primary, the maximum penalty increases from $1,157 to $1,181 per failure.
    • For an employer who offers incentives to a Medicare-eligible individual to not enroll in employer-sponsored group health that would otherwise be primary, the maximum penalty increases from $9,054 to $9,239.
    • For willful or repeated failure to provide requested information regarding group health plan coverage, the maximum penalty increases from $1,474 to $1,504.
  • Summary of Benefits and Coverage: For failure to provide, the maximum penalty increases from $1,105 to $1,128 per failure.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA):
Tier Penalty
1. Did Not Know:

Covered entity or business associate did not know (and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known) that it violated the provision of the Administrative Simplification regulations.

$114 to $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
2. Reasonable Cause:

The violation was due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.

$1,141 to $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
3. Willful Neglect – Corrected:

The violation was due to willful neglect, but the violation is corrected during the 30-day period beginning on the first date the liable person knew (or by exercising reasonable diligence would have known) of the failure to comply.

$11,410 to $57,051 for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.
4. Willful Neglect – Not Corrected:

The violation was due to willful neglect and the violation is not corrected as described in Tier 3.

$57,051 minimum for each violation, up to a maximum of $1,711,533 for identical provisions during a calendar year.

 

The adjustments are effective for penalties assessed on or after October 11, 2018, for violations occurring after November 2, 2015.

Congress and the President Enact Law Prohibiting Pharmacy Gag Clauses

Congress and the President enacted the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act (Act) that prohibits any restriction on a pharmacy’s ability to inform customers about certain prescription drug costs.

The Act prohibits a group health plan (or a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage, or a pharmacy benefits management service working with a health plan or health insurance issuer) from taking the following actions against a pharmacy that dispenses a prescription drug to an enrollee in the plan or coverage:

  • restricting, directly or indirectly, the pharmacy from informing an enrollee of any difference between the enrollee’s out-of-pocket prescription drug cost under the plan or coverage and the amount that the enrollee would pay for the prescription drug without using any health plan or insurance coverage, or
  • penalizing the pharmacy for informing an enrollee of any difference between the enrollee’s out-of-pocket prescription drug cost under the plan or coverage and the amount that the enrollee would pay for the prescription drug without using any health plan or insurance coverage.

Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Michael in Florida

Victims of Hurricane Michael that took place beginning on October 7, 2018, in Florida may qualify for tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The President declared that a major disaster exists in Florida. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s major declaration permits the IRS to postpone deadlines for taxpayers who have a business in certain counties within the disaster area.

The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.

In the prior month, the IRS extended deadlines for victims of Hurricane Florence in certain counties of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

DOL Releases FAQs for Plan Participants Affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following Hurricanes Florence and Michael to answer health benefit and retirement benefit questions. The FAQs cover topics including:

  • Whether an employee will still be covered by an employer-sponsored group health plan if the worksite closed
  • Potential options such as special enrollment rights, COBRA continuation coverage, individual health coverage, and health coverage through a government program in the event that an employee loses health coverage

November 2018

November was a busy month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) extended the due date for employers to furnish Forms 1095-C or 1095-B to individuals, extended “good faith compliance efforts” relief for 2018, and issued specifications for employer-provided substitute ACA forms. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released two final rules on contraceptive coverage exemptions.

The IRS released indexed Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fees and inflation-adjusted limits for various benefits. The DOL, IRS, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released advance informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report and instructions.

For survivors of the 2018 California wildfires, the IRS provided tax relief and the DOL released employee benefit guidance. The IRS provided guidance to employers who adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. The Treasury released its Priority Guidance Plan that lists projects that will be the focus of the Treasury and IRS for the period from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019.

IRS Extends Due Date to Furnish ACA Forms to Participants and Provides Good Faith Penalty Relief

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2018-94 to extend the due date to furnish 2018 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals. The due date moves from January 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.

The IRS also extends “good faith compliance efforts” relief for 2018. As in prior years, this relief is applied only to incorrect or incomplete information reported in good faith on a statement or return. The relief does not apply to a failure to timely furnish a statement or file a return.

Read more about the notice.

IRS Issues Specifications for Employer-Provided Substitute ACA Forms

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Publication 5223 General Rules and Specifications for Affordable Care Act Substitute Forms 1095-A, 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C that describes how employers may prepare substitute forms to furnish ACA reporting information to individuals and the IRS.

Treasury, DOL, and HHS Release Two Final Rules on Contraceptive Coverage Exemptions

The Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (collectively, Departments) released two final rules on contraceptive coverage exemptions. These rules finalize the Departments’ interim final rules that were published on October 13, 2017. HHS also issued a press release and fact sheet on these final rules.

The first final rule provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities (including certain employers) and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.

The second final rule provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held moral convictions.

The final rules will be effective on January 14, 2019.

Read more about the final rules.

IRS Releases Indexed PCORI Fee

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a fee on insurers of certain fully insured plans and plan sponsors of certain self-funded plans to help fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The PCORI fee is due by July 31 of the year following the calendar year in which the plan or policy year ends.

The Internal Revenue Service issued Notice 2018-85 to announce the PCORI fee of $2.45 for policy years and plan years that end on or after October 1, 2018, and before October 1, 2019.

Plan/Policy Year Last Year Fee Is Due ($2.45, indexed/person)   Plan/Policy Year Last Year Fee Is Due ($2.45, indexed/person)
Nov. 1, 2017 – Oct. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019 May 1, 2018 – April 30, 2019 July 31, 2020
Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018 July 31, 2019 June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019 July 31, 2020
Jan. 1, 2018 – Dec. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019 July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019 July 31, 2020
Feb. 1, 2018 – Jan. 31, 2019 July 31, 2020 Aug. 1, 2018 – July 31, 2019 July 31, 2020
March 1, 2018 – Feb. 28, 2019 July 31, 2020 Sept. 1, 2018 – Aug. 31, 2019 July 31, 2020
April 1, 2018 – March 31, 2019 July 31, 2020 Oct. 1, 2018 – Sept. 30, 2019 July 31, 2020

Read more about the PCORI fee.

IRS Releases 2019 Inflation-Adjusted Limits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its inflation-adjusted limits for various benefits. For example, the maximum contribution limit to health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) will be $2,700 in 2019. Also, the maximum reimbursement limit in 2019 for Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements will be $5,150 for single coverage and $10,450 for family coverage.

Read more about the 2019 limits.

Advance Informational Copies of 2018 Form 5500 Annual Return/Report

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released advance informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report and related instructions.

Here are some of the changes that the instructions highlight:

  • Principal Business Activity Codes.Principal Business Activity Codes have been updated to reflect updates to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). For Line 2d, a plan administrator would enter the six-digit Principal Business Activity Code that best describes the nature of the plan sponsor’s business from the list of codes on pages 78-80 of the Form 5500 Instructions.
  • Administrative Penalties. The instructions have been updated to reflect that the new maximum penalty for a plan administrator who fails or refuses to file a complete or accurate Form 5500 report has been increased to up to $2,140 a day for penalties assessed after January 2, 2018, whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015.

Because the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015 requires the penalty amount to be adjusted annually after the Form 5500 and its schedules, attachments, and instructions are published for filing, be sure to check for any possible required inflation adjustments of the maximum penalty amount that are published in the Federal Register after the instructions have been posted.

  • Form 5500-Participant Count.The instructions for Lines 5 and 6 have been enhanced to make clearer that welfare plans complete only Line 5 and elements 6a(1), 6a(2), 6b, 6c, and 6d in Line 6.

Be aware that the advance copies of the 2018 Form 5500 are for informational purposes only and cannot be used to file a 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report.

ERISA imposes the Form 5500 reporting obligation on the plan administrator. Form 5500 is normally due on the last day of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For example, a plan administrator would file Form 5500 by July 31, 2019, for a 2018 calendar year plan.

Tax Relief for Victims of November Wildfire in California

Victims of the wildfires that took place beginning on November 8, 2018, in California may qualify for tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The President declared that a major disaster exists in California. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s major declaration permits the IRS to postpone deadlines for taxpayers who have a business in certain counties within the disaster area.

The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.

DOL Releases Employee Benefit Guidance and Relief for 2018 California Wildfire Survivors

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following the 2018 California Wildfires to answer health benefit and retirement benefit questions.

The FAQs cover topics including:

  • Whether an employee will still be covered by an employer-sponsored group health plan if the worksite closed
  • Potential options such as special enrollment rights, COBRA continuation coverage, individual health coverage, and health coverage through a government program in the event that an employee loses health coverage

The DOL also released its Fact Sheet: Guidance and Relief for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by the 2018 California Wildfires to recognize that employers may encounter problems due to the wildfires. The DOL advises plan fiduciaries to make reasonable accommodations to prevent workers’ loss of benefits and to take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established time frames.

The DOL also acknowledged that there may be instances when full and timely compliance by group health plans may not be possible due to physical disruption to a plan’s principal place of business. The DOL’s enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief where appropriate.

IRS Provides Guidance on Leave-Based Donation Programs’ Tax Treatment

The IRS issued Notice 2018-89 to guide employers who adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for victims of Hurricane Michael. These leave-based donation programs allow employees to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer will make to charitable organizations described under Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c).

The employer’s cash payments will not constitute gross income or wages of the employees if paid before January 1, 2020, to the Section 170(c) charitable organizations for the relief of victims of Hurricane Michael. Employers do not need to include these payments in Box 1, 3, or 5 of an employee’s Form W-2.

Treasury Releases 2018-19 Priority Guidance Plan

The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) released its 2018-2019 Priority Guidance Plan (Plan) that describes the priorities for the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the period from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. The Plan contains a list of projects that will be the focus of the Treasury and IRS, including:

  • Guidance on employer shared responsibility provisions
  • Regulations regarding the excise tax on high cost employer-provided coverage (also known as the “Cadillac tax”).

December 2018

December was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world. A U.S. District Court issued an order declaring that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove certain wellness program incentives. The Department of Labor (DOL) updated its Form M-1 filing guidance for association health plans.

U.S. District Court Declares ACA Unconstitutional

On December 14, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Court) issued a declaratory order in ongoing litigation regarding the individual mandate and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court declared that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and declared that the rest of the ACA – including its guaranteed issue and community rating provisions – is unconstitutional.

The Court did not grant the plaintiffs’ request for a nationwide injunction to prohibit the ACA’s continued implementation and enforcement. The Court’s declaratory judgment simply defines the parties’ legal relationship and rights under the case at this relatively early stage in the case.

On December 16, 2018, the Court issued an order that requires the parties to meet and discuss the case by December 21, 2018, and to jointly submit a proposed schedule for resolving the plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

On December 30, 2018, the Court issued two orders. The first order grants a stay of its December 14 order. This means that the court’s order regarding the ACA’s unconstitutionality will not take effect while it is being appealed. The second order enters the December 14 order as a final judgment so the parties may immediately appeal the order.

On December 31, 2018, the Court issued an order that stays the remainder of the case. This means that the Court will not be proceeding with the remaining claims in the case while its December 14 order is being appealed. After the appeal process is complete, the parties are to alert the Court and submit additional court documents if they want to continue with any remaining claims in the case.

At this time, the case’s status does not impact employers’ group health plans. However, employers should stay informed for the final decision in this case.

Read more about the court case.

EEOC Issue Final Rules to Remove Wellness Program Incentive Limits Vacated by Court

On December 20, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove wellness program incentives.

As background, in August 2017, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to allow an incentive for spousal medical history under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules and adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and GINA rules.

In December 2017, the court vacated the EEOC rules under the ADA and GINA effective January 1, 2019. The EEOC issued the following two final rules in response to the court’s order.

The first rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by the ADA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance on the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs that ask them to respond to disability-related inquiries or undergo medical examinations.

The second rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by GINA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance that addressed the extent to which an employer may offer an inducement to an employee for the employee’s spouse to provide current health status information as part of a health risk assessment (HRA) administered in connection with an employer-sponsored wellness program.

Both rules will be effective on January 1, 2019.

Read more about the EEOC’s final rules.

DOL Updates Form M-1 Filing Guidance for Association Health Plans

On December 3, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its “10 Tips for Filing Form M-1 For Association Health Plans And Other MEWAs That Provide Medical Benefits” that provides plan administrators with information on when to file and how to complete portions of Form M-1.

The DOL emphasizes that all multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) that provide medical benefits, including association health plans (AHPs) that intend to begin operating under the DOL’s new AHP rule, are required to file an initial registration Form M-1 at least 30 days before any activity including, but not limited to, marketing, soliciting, providing, or offering to provide medical care benefits to employers or employees who may participate in an AHP.

Read more about the DOL guidance.

1/3/2019

*This information is general and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. You should not act on this information without consulting legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors


Advance Informational Copies of 2018 Form 5500 Annual Return/Report

Recently, the IRS, EBSA and PBGC released informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report. Continue reading this blog post for more information and some highlighted changes.


The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) released advance informational copies of the 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report and related instructions.

Here are some of the changes that the instructions highlight:

  • Principal Business Activity Codes. Principal Business Activity Codes have been updated to reflect updates to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). For Line 2d, a plan administrator would enter the six-digit Principal Business Activity Code that best describes the nature of the plan sponsor’s business from the list of codes on pages 78-80 of the Form 5500 Instructions.
  • Administrative Penalties. The instructions have been updated to reflect that the new maximum penalty for a plan administrator who fails or refuses to file a complete or accurate Form 5500 report has been increased to up to $2,140 a day for penalties assessed after January 2, 2018, whose associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015.

Because the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015 requires the penalty amount to be adjusted annually after the Form 5500 and its schedules, attachments, and instructions are published for filing, be sure to check for any possible required inflation adjustments of the maximum penalty amount that are published in the Federal Register after the instructions have been posted.

  • Form 5500-Participant Count. The instructions for Lines 5 and 6 have been enhanced to make clearer that welfare plans complete only Line 5 and elements 6a(1), 6a(2), 6b, 6c, and 6d in Line 6.

Be aware that the advance copies of the 2018 Form 5500 are for informational purposes only and cannot be used to file a 2018 Form 5500 annual return/report.

ERISA imposes the Form 5500 reporting obligation on the plan administrator. Form 5500 is normally due on the last day of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For example, a plan administrator would file Form 5500 by July 31, 2019, for a 2018 calendar year plan.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (25 January 2019) "Advance Informational Copies of 2018 Form 5500 Annual Return/Report" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/advance-informational-copies-of-2018-form-5500-annual-return/report


Proposed 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Rule

A proposed rule for 2020 benefit payment and parameters was recently released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The proposed rule is intended to reduce fiscal and regulatory burdens associated with the ACA. Read on to learn more.


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule for benefit payment and parameters for 2020. CMS also released its draft 2020 actuarial value calculator and draft 2020 actuarial value calculator methodology.

According to CMS, the proposed rule is intended to reduce fiscal and regulatory burdens associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) across different program areas and to provide stakeholders with greater flexibility.

Although the proposed rule would primarily affect the individual market and the Exchanges, the proposed rule addresses the following topics that may impact employer-sponsored group health plans:

  • Changes related to prescription drug policy
  • Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP)
  • Prohibition against discrimination
  • Maximum annual limitation on cost sharing for plan year 2020
  • Cost-sharing requirements for generic drugs
  • Cost-sharing requirements and drug manufacturers’ coupons

CMS usually finalizes its benefit payment and parameters rule in the first quarter of the year following the proposed rule’s release. February 19, 2019 is the due date for public comments on the proposed rule.

The 2020 open enrollment period will run from November 1, 2019, to December 15, 2019.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (29 January 2019) "Proposed 2020 Benefit Payment and Parameters Rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/proposed-2020-benefit-payment-and-parameters-rule


The ACA Remains In Place After Being Struck Down By Federal Court

Overview

On Dec. 14, 2018, a federal judge ruled in Texas v. United States that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty in 2019. The decision was not stayed, but the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

This lawsuit was filed by 20 states as a result of the 2017 tax reform law that eliminates the individual mandate penalty. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA on the basis that the individual mandate is a valid tax. With the penalty’s elimination, the court, in this case, ruled that the ACA is no longer valid under the U.S. Constitution.

Action Steps

This ruling is expected to be appealed and will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court. As a result, a final decision is not expected to be made until that time. The federal judge’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA; however, the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

Background

The ACA imposes an “individual mandate” beginning in 2014, which requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. In 2011, a number of lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of this individual mandate provision.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA in its entirety, ruling that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when enacting the individual mandate. The Court agreed that, while Congress could not use its power to regulate commerce between states to require individuals to buy health insurance, it could impose a tax penalty using its tax power for individuals who refuse to buy health insurance.

Highlights

  • A federal judge ruled that the entire ACA is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty.
  • This ruling is expected to be appealed and will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court.
  • The ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

Important Dates

December 14, 2018

A federal judge ruled that the entire ACA is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty

January 1, 2019

Individuals will no longer be penalized under the ACA for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage

However, a 2017 tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduced the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019. As a result, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage.

Texas v. United States

Following the tax reform law’s enactment, 20 Republican-controlled states filed a lawsuit again challenging the ACA’s constitutionality. The plaintiffs, first, argued that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid tax, since there will no longer be any revenue generated by the provision.

In addition, in its 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court indicated (and both parties agreed) that the individual mandate is an essential element of the ACA, and that the remainder of the law could not stand without it. As a result, the plaintiffs argued that the elimination of the individual mandate penalty rendered the remainder of the ACA unconstitutional.

The U.S. Justice Department chose not to fully defend the ACA in court and, instead, 16 Democratic-controlled states intervened to defend the law.

Because the court determined that the individual mandate is no longer a valid tax, but is an essential element of the ACA, it ultimately ruled that the ACA is invalid in its entirety.

Federal Court Ruling

In his ruling, Judge Reed O’Connor ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs, determining that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid exercise of Congressional tax power. According to the court, “[u]nder the law as it now stands, the individual mandate no longer ‘triggers a tax’ beginning in 2019.” As a result, the court ruled that “the individual mandate, unmoored from a tax, is unconstitutional.”

Because the court determined that the individual mandate is no longer valid, it now had to determine whether the provision is “severable” from the remainder of the law (meaning whether other portions of the ACA can remain in place or whether the entire law is invalid without the individual mandate).

In determining whether the remainder of the law could stand without the individual mandate, the court pointed out that “Congress stated three separate times that the individual mandate is essential to the ACA … [and that] the absence of the individual mandate would ‘undercut’ its ‘regulation of the health insurance market.’ Thirteen different times, Congress explained how the individual mandate stood as the keystone of the ACA … [and,] ‘together with the other provisions’ [the individual mandate] allowed the ACA to function as Congress intended.” As a result, the court determined that the individual mandate could not be severed, making the ACA invalid in its entirety.

Impact of the Federal Court Ruling

Judge O’Conner’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA, because it did not order for anything to be done or stay the ruling pending appeal. However, this ruling is expected to be appealed, and the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place until a final decision is made. Many industry experts anticipate that the Supreme Court will likely take up the case, which means that a final decision will not be made until that time.

While these appeals are pending, all existing ACA provisions will continue to be applicable and enforced. Although the individual mandate penalty will be reduced to zero beginning in 2019, employers and individuals must continue to comply with all other applicable ACA requirements. This ruling does not impact the 2019 Exchange enrollment, the ACA’s employer shared responsibility (pay or play) penalties and related reporting requirements, or any other applicable ACA requirement.

Download the PDF


2019: A Look Forward

A number of significant changes to group health plans have been made since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010. Many of these changes became effective in 2014 and 2015 but certain changes to a few ACA requirements take effect in 2019.

 Changes for 2019 

  1. Cost-sharing Limits – Non-grandfathered plans are subject to limitations on cost sharing for essential health benefits (EHB). The annual limits on cost sharing for EHB are $7,900 for self-only coverage and $15,800 for family coverage, effective January 1, 2019.
    • Health plans with more than one service provider can divide maximums between EBH as long as the combined amount does not exceed the out-of-pocket maximum limit for the year.
    • Beginning in 2016, each individual – regardless of the coverage the individual is enrolled – is subject to the self-only annual limit on cost sharing.
    • The ACA’s annual cost-sharing limits are higher than high deductible health plans (HDHPs) out-of-pocket maximums. For plans to qualify as an HDHP, the plan must comply with HDHP’s lower out-of-pocket maximums. The HDHP out-of-pocket maximum for 2019 is $6,750 for self-only coverage and $13,500 for family coverage.
  2. Coverage Affordability Percentages – If an employee’s required contribution does not exceed 9.5 percent of their household income for the taxable year (adjusted each year), then the coverage is considered affordable. The adjusted percentage for 2019 is 9.86 percent.
  3. Reporting of Coverage – Returns for health plan coverage offered or provided in 2018 are due in early 2019. For 2018, returns must be filed by February 28, 2019, or April 1, 2019 (if electronically filed). Individual statements must be provided by January 31, 2019.
    • ALEs are required to report information to the IRS and their eligible employees regarding their employer-sponsored health coverage. This requirement is found in Section 6056. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B under this section.
    • Every health insurance issuer, self-insured health plan sponsor, government agency that provides government-sponsored health insurance, and any other entity that provides MEC is required to finalize an annual return with the IRS, reporting information for each individual who is enrolled. This requirement is found in Section 6055. Reporting entities will generally file Forms 1094-C and 1095-C under this section.
    • ALEs that provide self-funded plans must comply with both reporting requirements. Reporting entities will file using a combined reporting method on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
    • Forms Used for Reporting – Reporting entities must file the following with the IRS:
      1. A separate statement for each individual enrolled
      2. A transmittal form for all returns filed for a given calendar year.
    • Electronic Reporting – Any reporting entity that is required to file 250 or more returns in either section must file electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program. Reporting entities that file less than 250 returns can file in paper form or electronically on the ACA Information Returns (AIR) Program.
    • Penalties – Entities that fail to comply with the reporting requirements are subject to general reporting penalties for failure to file correct information returns and failure to furnish correct payee statements. Penalty amounts for failure to comply with the reporting requirements in 2019 are listed below:
Penalty Type Per Violation Annual Maximum Annual Maximum for Employers with up to $5 million in Gross Receipts
General $270 $3,275,500 $1,091,500
Corrected within 30 days $50 $545,500 $191,000
Corrected after 30 days but before August 1 $100 $1,637,500 $545,500
Intentional Disregard $540* None N/A

**Intentional disregard penalties are equal to the greater of either the listed penalty amount or 10 percent of the aggregate amount of the items required to be reported correctly. 

Expected Changes

  1. Health FSA Contributions – Effective January 1, 2018, health FSA salary contributions were limited to $2,650. The IRS usually announces limit adjustments at the end of each year. This limit does not apply to employer contributions or limit contributions under other employer-provided coverage.
  2. Employer Shared Responsibility Regulations – The dollar amount for calculating Employer Shared Responsibility 2 penalties is adjusted for each calendar year. Applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable, minimum value (MV) healthcare coverage to full-time employees and dependent children or pay a penalty. If one or more full-time employees of an ALE receive a subsidy for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange, the ALE is subject to penalties.
    • Applicable Large Employer Status – ALEs are employers who employ 50 or more full-time employees on business days during the prior calendar year.
    • Offering Coverage to Full-time Employees – ALEs must determine which employees are full-time. A full-time employee is defined as an employee who worked, on average, at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours in a calendar month. There are two methods for determining full-time employee status:
      1. Monthly Measurement Method – Full-time employees are identified based on a month-to-month analysis of the hours they worked.
      2. Look-Back Measurement Method – This method is based on whether employees are ongoing or new, and whether they work full time or variable, seasonal or part-time. This method involves three different periods:
        • Measurement period – for county hours of service
        • Administration period – for enrollment and disenrollment of eligible and ineligible employees
        • Stability period – when coverage is provided based on an employee’s average hours worked.
      3. Applicable Penalties – ALEs are liable for penalties if one or more full-time employees receive subsidies for purchasing healthcare coverage through an Exchange. One of two penalties may apply depending on the circumstances:
        • 4980H(a) penalty – Penalty for not offering coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. This penalty does not apply if the ALE intends to cover all eligible employees. ALEs must offer at least 95 percent of their eligible employees’ health care coverage. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation:
          1. ALE’s number of full-time employees (minus 30) X 1/12 of $2,000 (as adjusted), for any applicable month
          2. The $2,000amount is adjusted for the calendar year after 2014:
          3. $2,080 – 2015; $2,160 – 2016; $2,260 – 2017; $2,320 – 2018
        • 4980H(b) penalty – penalty for offering coverage – ALEs are subject to penalties even if they offer coverage to eligible employees if one or more full-time employees obtain subsidies through an Exchange because:
          1. The ALE didn’t offer all eligible employees coverage
          2. The coverage offered is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value.
          3. Monthly penalties are determined by this equation: 1/12 of $3,000 (as adjusted) for any applicable month
            1. $3,120 – 2015; $3,240 – 2016; $3,390 – 2017; $3,480 – 2018

Contact one of our expert advisors for assistance or if you have any questions about compliance in the New Year.

SOURCES: www.dol.gov, www. HHS.gov, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/04/17/2018-07355/patient-protectionand-affordable-care-act-hhs-notice-of-benefit-and-payment-parameters-for-2019, https://www.irs.gov/e-fileproviders/air/affordable-care-act-information-return-air-program


IRS Releases Draft Forms and Instructions for 2018 ACA Reporting

The IRS recently released instructions and draft forms for ACA reporting for 2018. Continue reading to learn about the form and instructions changes.


The IRS recently released draft instructions for both the 1094-B and 1095-B and the 1094-C and 1095-C and the draft forms for 1094-B1095-B1094-C, and 1095-CThere are no substantive changes in the forms or instructions between 2017 and 2018, beyond the further removal of now-expired forms of transition relief. There is a minor formatting change to draft Form 1095-C for 2018. There are dividers for the entry of an individual’s first name, middle name, and last name.

In past years, the IRS provided relief to employers who made a good faith effort to comply with the information reporting requirements and determined that they would not be subject to penalties for failure to correctly or completely file. This did not apply to employers that failed to timely file or furnish a statement.

For 2018, the IRS has stated that it does not anticipate extending the “good faith compliance efforts” relief relating to reporting requirements. Employers should be ready to fully meet the reporting requirements in early 2019 with a high degree of accuracy. There is, however, relief for de minimis errors on Line 15 of the 1095-C.

The IRS confirmed there is no code for Form 1095-C, Line 16 to indicate an individual waived an offer of coverage. The IRS also kept the “plan start month” box as an optional item for 2018 reporting.

Employers must remember to provide all printed forms in landscape format, not portrait.

SOURCE: Hsu, K. (27 September 2018) "IRS Releases Draft Forms and Instructions for 2018 ACA Reporting" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/irs-releases-draft-forms-and-instructions-for-2018-aca-reporting


ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Employers who fail to comply with certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) rules are still subject to penalties. Read this blog post to learn about the four things employers should focus on to avoid financial liabilities.


During the coming months, employers may have questions about whether they still need to worry about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The answer is yes; the ACA is alive and well, despite renewed legal challenges and the elimination of the individual mandate beginning next year.

While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the tax penalty for individuals who don’t have health coverage to $0, effective for 2019, employers are still subject to penalties for failing to comply with certain ACA rules. For example, the IRS is currently enforcing “employer shared responsibility payments” (ESRP) penalties against large employers who fail to meet the ACA requirements to offer qualifying health coverage to their full-time employees. For this purpose, large employers are those with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees. Here are four things about the ACA that employers should focus on to avoid significant financial liabilities.

1. The IRS is currently assessing penalties using 226-J letters

In 2017, the IRS began assessing ESRP penalties against large employers that failed to offer qualifying health coverage to at least 95 percent of their full-time employees. An ESRP penalty assessment comes in the form of a 226-J letter, which explains that the employer may be liable for the penalty, based on information obtained by the IRS from Forms 1095-C filed by the employer for that coverage year, and tax returns filed by the employer’s employees. The employer has only 30 days to respond to the 226-J letter, using IRS Form 14764, which is enclosed with the 226-J letter. The employer must complete and return IRS Form 14765 to challenge any part of the assessment.

The short timeframe for responding to a 226-J letter means that staff who are likely to be the first to receive communications from the IRS should have a plan in place to react quickly. Training for staff should include information about who to notify and what documentation to keep readily available to support an appeal. Not responding to the IRS 226-J letter will result in a final assessment of the proposed penalty. These penalties can be significant. In the worst case, an employer with inadequate health coverage could pay for the cost of the coverage, as well as penalties of $2,000/year (as indexed) for every full time employee (less 30), even those who received health coverage from the employer.

Depending on the employer’s response to the initial assessment, the IRS will then send the employer one of four types of 227 acknowledgment letters. If the employer disputes the penalty, the IRS could accept the employer’s explanation and reduce the penalty to $0 (a 227-K letter). But if the IRS rejects any part of the employer’s response, the employer will receive either a 227-L letter, with a lower penalty amount, or a 227-M letter, a notice that the amount of the initial assessment hasn’t changed. These letters will explain steps the employer has to take to continue disputing the assessment, including applicable deadlines. The next phase of the appeal might include requesting a telephone conference or meeting with an IRS supervisor, or requesting a hearing with the IRS Office of Appeals.

2. ACA reporting requirements and penalties still apply

Along with the ESRP penalties, the Form 1094-C and 1095-C reporting requirements still apply to large employers. The IRS uses information on Forms 1095-C in applying the ESRP rules and deciding whether to assess penalties against the reporting employer. Large employers must file Forms 1095-C every year with the IRS and send them to full-time employees in order to document compliance with the ACA requirement to offer qualified, affordable coverage to at least 95 percent of full-time employees. Technically, the forms are due to employees by January 31, and to the IRS by March 31, each year, to report compliance for the prior year. In the past, the IRS has extended the deadline for providing the forms to employees, but not the deadline for filing with the IRS. 

Penalties can apply if an employer fails to file with the IRS or provide the forms to employees, and the penalty amount can be doubled if the IRS determines that the employer intentionally disregarded the filing requirement. These penalties can apply if an employer fails to file or provide the forms at all, files and provides the forms late, or if the forms are timely filed and provided, but are incorrect or incomplete.

In some instances, the IRS has assessed ESRP penalties based on Form 1095-C reporting errors. So, in addition to the reporting-related penalties, inaccurate information on Forms 1095-C can lead to erroneous ESRP assessments that the employer will then need to refute, using the IRS forms and procedures described above.

Employers should carefully monitor their ACA filings and reports, and consider correcting prior forms if errors are discovered. Employers should also continue tracking offers of coverage made for each month of 2018, to prepare for compliance with the Form 1095-C reporting requirement early in 2019.

3. “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” disclosure forms are still required

The ACA added a new disclosure requirement for group health plans, called a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBC,” that’s intended to help employees make an “apples to apples” comparison of different benefit plan features, such as deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, and copayments for various benefits and services. This requirement still applies, and SBCs must be provided during open enrollment, upon an employee’s initial eligibility for coverage under the plan, and in response to a request from an employee. The template SBC form and instructions for completing it were updated for coverage periods starting after April 1, 2017. For 2018, a penalty of $1,128 per participant can apply to the failure to provide an SBC as required. 

4. The “Cadillac Tax” has not been repealed

The ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax — an annual excise tax on high-cost health coverage — was initially scheduled to take effect in 2018. The Cadillac tax has been repeatedly delayed, and the federal budget bill passed in January delayed it again through December 31, 2021. Despite the repeated delays, the Cadillac tax has not been repealed and is currently scheduled to apply to health coverage offered on or after January 1, 2022. This might be an issue to consider for employers who are negotiating collective bargaining agreements in 2018 that include terms for health benefits extending beyond 2021. 

While uncertainty continues to surround the ACA, employers should remain aware of continuing compliance requirements to avoid the potentially significant penalties that remain in effect under the ACA. 

Boyette, J; Masson, L (21 August 2018) "ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/08/21/aca-4-things-employers-should-focus-on-this-fall/


6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity

After the establishment of the ACA eight years ago, employers have been re-examining their employee benefits packages. Read on to learn more.


Since the ACA was enacted eight years ago, many employers are re-examining employee benefits in an effort to manage costs, navigate changing regulations, and expand their plan options. Self-funded plans are one way that's happening.

In 2017, the UBA Health Plan survey revealed that self-funded plans have increased by 12.8% in the past year overall, and just less than two-thirds of all large employers’ plans are self-funded.

Here are six of the reasons why employers are opting for self-funded plans:

1. Lower operating costs frequently save employers money over time.

2. Employers paying their own claims are more likely to incentivize employee health maintenance, and these practices have clear, immediate benefits for everyone.

3. Increased control over plan dynamics often results in better individual fits, and more needs met effectively overall.

4. More flexibility means designing a plan that can ideally empower employees around their own health issues and priorities.

5. Customization allows employers to incorporate wellness programs in the workplace, which often means increased overall health.

6. Risks that might otherwise make self-funded plans less attractive can be managed through quality stop loss contracts.

If you want to know more about why self-funding can keep employers nimble, how risk can be minimized, and how to incorporate wellness programs, contact your local UBA Partner Firm for a copy of the full white paper, "Self-Funded Plans: A Solid Option for Small Businesses."

SOURCE: Olson, B (16 August 2018) "6 Reasons Self-Funded Plans Are Gaining Popularity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/6-reasons-self-funded-plans-are-gaining-popularity


12 Ways to Save on Health Care

Managing your money is tough, saving for your health care is pretty rough too. These tips and tricks will assist you in managing your medical finances for the future.


We all know paying for health care is a challenge, with or without insurance, amid rising copays, deductibles, and premiums. But there are ways to hold down the costs that can come in handy now, but also as the Affordable Care Act undergoes whatever transformation (or replacement) the Trump administration comes up with.

The Huffington Post reports that, despite the numerous obstacles to cutting costs on health care for individuals —insured or not — there are also numerous ways to do just that, whether it takes due diligence on the patient’s part or having conversations with doctors, hospitals and insurers — even drug companies — about price.

While such tactics may not exactly amount to haggling, negotiating skills can’t hurt, and determination and perseverance are definite assets when it comes to finding the best prices or convincing medical entities to give you a better deal.

Plenty of other sources have good suggestions for slicing medical expenses, whether for prescription drugs, doctor and dentist visits, or hospital care. In fact,

Here’s a look at 12 strategies and suggestions that can end up saving you beaucoup bucks for care and treatment.

12. Check the internet

You would be amazed at how many tips there are online to help you cut the cost of getting — or staying — healthy.

One of the first things you should do is to check out the internet, where you’ll find not just help from the Huffington Post but also from such prominent sources as Kiplinger, Investopedia, Money, CBS and other news stations — and checking them out can have the advantage of providing you with any new suggestions arising out of changes in the law or in the medical field itself. And definitely compare prices on the Internet for procedures and prescriptions before you do anything else.

11. Skip insurance on your prescriptions

Not all the time, and not everywhere, but you could end up getting your prescriptions filled for less money if you don’t go through your medical insurance.

Costco, Walmart, and other retailers with pharmacies often offer cut-to-the-bone prices on generics, some prescription drugs and large orders (say, a 90-day supply of something you take over an extended period). Costco will even provide home delivery, and fill your pets’ prescriptions, too.

Then there are coupons. GoodRx will compare prices for you, provide free coupons you can print out and take to the pharmacy and save, as the website says, up to 80 percent — without charging a membership fee or requiring a sign-up.

10. Talk to your doctor

And ask for samples and coupons. Especially if you’ve never taken a particular drug before, let your doctor know you want to try out a sample lest you have an adverse reaction to the medication and get stuck with 99 percent of your prescription unusable.

Pharmaceutical reps, of course, provide doctors with samples, but they often give them coupons, too, lest you suffer sticker shock in the pharmacy and walk away without filling the prescription. So ask for those too. Doctors can be more proactive about samples than coupons, but remember to ask for both. After all, it’s your money.

9. Talk directly to the drug companies

So you’ve tried to get a brand-name drug cheaper, but coupons don’t help enough and there’s no generic available (or you react badly to it). Don’t stop there; go directly to the source and ask about assistance programs the pharmaceutical company may offer.

Such programs can be need-based, but not always — sometimes it’s a matter of filling out a little paperwork to get a better deal. The Huffington Post points out dialysis drug Renvela can go for several hundred dollars, but drops to $5 a month if the patient completes a simple form.

8. Haggle

Before you go in for a procedure (assuming it’s voluntary), or when the bills start to come in, talk to both the doctors (is there ever only one?) and the hospital and ask for a discount — or a reduction in your bill for paying in cash or for paying the whole amount. Be polite, but stand your ground and negotiate for all you’re worth.

A CBS report cites Consumer Reports as having found that only 31 percent of Americans haggle with doctors over medical bills but that 93 percent of those who did were successful — with more than a third of those saving more than $100. Just make sure you’re talking with the right person in the office — the one who actually has the authority to issue those discounts. And get it in writing.

7. What about an HMO?

If you’re not devoted to your doctor, opting for an HMO can save you money — although it will limit your choices of doctors and hospitals. Still, coverage should be cheaper.

If you’re generally in good health, choosing a plan — HMO or not — that restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals can save you money. And having the flexibility to go see the top specialist in his field won’t necessarily be your top priority unless you have specific health conditions for which you really need specialized care. In that case, you might prefer to hang on to your right of choice, despite the expense.

6. Ask for estimates

Yes, just the way you would from your mechanic or plumber. Ask the doctor/hospital/etc. what the charge is for whatever it is you’re having done, whether it’s a hip replacement or a deviated septum. You will already have checked out the costs for these things on the Internet, of course, so that you have an idea of standard pricing — and if your doctor, etc. comes in substantially higher, look elsewhere.

And while you’re at it, ask whether the doctor uses balance billing. If so, run, do not walk, in the opposite direction and find a doctor who doesn’t. Otherwise, particularly if the doctor’s fees are high, you’ll find yourself paying the balance of his whole bill once the insurance company kicks in its share.

Normally the doctor and insurer reach an agreement that eliminates whatever is left over after you pay your share and the insurer pays its share. But with balance billing, whatever is left over becomes your responsibility — and you’ll be sorry, maybe even bankrupt. By the way, balance billing is actually illegal in some states under some circumstances, so check before you pay.

5. Network, network, network

Always, always ask if the doctor is in network, and if the lab where your blood work goes and the specialist he recommends and the emergency room doctor and surgeon are also in network. Of course you can’t do this if it’s a true emergency, but if you learn after the fact that you were treated by out-of-network doctors at an in-network hospital, see whether your state has any laws against, or limits on, how much those out-of-network practitioners can charge you.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, close to 70 percent of with unaffordable out-of-network medical bills were not aware that the practitioner treating them was not in their plan’s network at the time they received care.

4. Check your bill with a fine-toothed comb

Not only should you check to see whether your bill is accurate, you should also read up on medical terminology so you know whether you’re being billed for medications and procedures you actually received.

Not only do billing offices often mess up — a NerdWallet study found that 49 percent of Medicare medical claims contain medical billing errors, which results in a 26.4 percent overpayment for the care provided, but they can also get a little creative, such as billing for individual parts of a course of treatment that ought to be billed as a single charge. It adds up. And then there are coding errors, which can misclassify one treatment as another and up the charge by thousands of dollars.

3. Get a health care advocate

If you just can’t face fighting insurers or doctors’ offices, or aren’t well enough to fight your own battles, consider calling in a local professional health care advocate. They’ll know what’s correct, be able to spot errors, and can negotiate on your behalf to contest charges or lower bills.

For that matter, if you call them in ahead of time for a planned procedure or course of treatment, they can advise you about care options in your area and maybe forestall a lot of problems.

2. Go for free, not broke

Lots of places offer free flu shots and screenings for things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels — everyplace from drugstores to shopping centers, and maybe even your place of work.

Senior centers do too, but if you can’t find anything locally check out places like Costco and Sam’s Club, which do screenings for $15; that might even be cheaper than your copay at the doctor’s office.

1. Deals can make you smile

Whether you have dental insurance or not, it doesn’t cover much. So go back to #8 (Haggle) to negotiate cash prices with your dentist for major procedures, and take advantage of Living Social or Groupon vouchers to get your routine cleanings and exams with X-rays. The prices, says HuffPost, “range from $19 to $50 and are generally offered by dentists hoping to grow their practices.”

SOURCE:
Satter, M (2 June 2018) "12 ways to save on health care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2017/02/07/12-ways-to-save-on-health-care?t=Consumer-Driven&page=6


Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA

Data provided through two, large government surveys, The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), Kaiser Family Foundation addresses the risk factors involved in repealing and repealing ACA.


Before private insurance market rules in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect in 2014, health insurance sold in the individual market in most states was medically underwritten.1  That means insurers evaluated the health status, health history, and other risk factors of applicants to determine whether and under what terms to issue coverage. To what extent people with pre-existing health conditions are protected is likely to be a central issue in the debate over repealing and replacing the ACA. This brief reviews medical underwriting practices by private insurers in the individual health insurance market prior to 2014, and estimates how many American adults could face difficulty obtaining private individual market insurance if the ACA were repealed or amended and such practices resumed.  We examine data from two large government surveys: The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), both of which can be used to estimate rates of various health conditions (NHIS at the national level and BRFSS at the state level). We consulted field underwriting manuals used in the individual market prior to passage of the ACA as a reference for commonly declinable conditions.

Estimates of the Share of Adults with Pre-Existing Conditions

We estimate that 27% of adult Americans under the age of 65 have health conditions that would likely leave them uninsurable if they applied for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices that existed in nearly all states. While a large share of this group has coverage through an employer or public coverage where they do not face medical underwriting, these estimates quantify how many people could be ineligible for individual market insurance under pre-ACA practices if they were to ever lose this coverage. This is a conservative estimate as these surveys do not include sufficient detail on several conditions that would have been declinable before the ACA (such as HIV/AIDS, or hepatitis C).  Additionally, millions more have other conditions that could be either declinable by some insurers based on their pre-ACA underwriting guidelines or grounds for higher premiums, exclusions, or limitations under pre-ACA underwriting practices. In a separate Kaiser Family Foundation poll, most people (53%) report that they or someone in their household has a pre-existing condition. A larger share of nonelderly women (30%) than men (24%) have declinable preexisting conditions. We estimate that 22.8 million nonelderly men have a preexisting condition that would have left them uninsurable in the individual market pre-ACA, compared to 29.4 million women. Pregnancy explains part, but not all of the difference. The rates of declinable pre-existing conditions vary from state to state. On the low end, in Colorado and Minnesota, at least 22% of non-elderly adults have conditions that would likely be declinable if they were to seek coverage in the individual market under pre-ACA underwriting practices.  Rates are higher in other states – particularly in the South – such as Tennessee (32%), Arkansas (32%), Alabama (33%), Kentucky (33%), Mississippi (34%), and West Virginia (36%), where at least a third of the non-elderly population would have declinable conditions.

Table 1: Estimated Number and Percent of Non-Elderly People with Declinable Pre-existing Conditions Under Pre-ACA Practices, 2015
State Percent of Non-Elderly Population  Number of Non-Elderly Adults
Alabama 33%                   942,000
Alaska 23%                   107,000
Arizona 26%                1,043,000
Arkansas 32%                   556,000
California 24%                5,865,000
Colorado 22%                   753,000
Connecticut 24%                   522,000
Delaware 29%                   163,000
District of Columbia 23%                   106,000
Florida 26%                3,116,000
Georgia 29%                1,791,000
Hawaii 24%                   209,000
Idaho 25%                   238,000
Illinois 26%                2,038,000
Indiana 30%                1,175,000
Iowa 24%                   448,000
Kansas 30%                   504,000
Kentucky 33%                   881,000
Louisiana 30%                   849,000
Maine 29%                   229,000
Maryland 26%                   975,000
Massachusetts 24%                   999,000
Michigan 28%                1,687,000
Minnesota 22%                   744,000
Mississippi 34%                   595,000
Missouri 30%                1,090,000
Montana 25%                   152,000
Nebraska 25%                   275,000
Nevada 25%                   439,000
New Hampshire 24%                   201,000
New Jersey 23%                1,234,000
New Mexico 27%                   332,000
New York 25%                3,031,000
North Carolina 27%                1,658,000
North Dakota 24%                   111,000
Ohio 28%                1,919,000
Oklahoma 31%                   706,000
Oregon 27%                   654,000
Pennsylvania 27%                2,045,000
Rhode Island 25%                   164,000
South Carolina 28%                   822,000
South Dakota 25%                   126,000
Tennessee 32%                1,265,000
Texas 27%                4,536,000
Utah 23%                   391,000
Vermont 25%                     96,000
Virginia 26%                1,344,000
Washington 25%                1,095,000
West Virginia 36%                   392,000
Wisconsin 25%                   852,000
Wyoming 27%                     94,000
US 27%              52,240,000
SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of data from National Health Interview Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. NOTE: Five states (MA, ME, NJ, NY, VT) had broadly applicable guaranteed access to insurance before the ACA. What protections might exist in these or other states under a repeal and replace scenario is unclear.

At any given time, the vast majority of these approximately 52 million people with declinable pre-existing conditions have coverage through an employer or through public programs like Medicaid. The individual market is where people seek health insurance during times in their lives when they lack eligibility for job-based coverage or for public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.  In 2015, about 8% of the non-elderly population had individual market insurance.  Over a several-year period, however, a much larger share may seek individual market coverage.2  This market is characterized by churn, as new enrollees join and others leave (often for other forms of coverage). For many people, the need for individual market coverage is intermittent, for example, following a 26th birthday, job loss, or divorce that ends eligibility for group plan coverage, until they again become eligible for group or public coverage.  For others – the self-employed, early retirees, and lower-wage workers in jobs that typically don’t come with health benefits – the need for individual market coverage is ongoing.  (Figure 1 shows the distribution of employment status among current individual market enrollees.) Prior to the ACA’s coverage expansions, we estimated that 18% of individual market applications were denied. This is an underestimate of the impact of medical underwriting because many people with health conditions did not apply because they knew or were informed by an agent that they would not be accepted.  Denial rates ranged from 0% in a handful of states with guaranteed issue to 33% in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio. According to 2008 data from America’s Health Insurance Plans, denial rates ranged from about 5% for children to 29% for adults age 60-64 (again, not accounting for those who did not apply).

Figure 1: Employment Status of Non-Group Enrollees, 2016

Figure 1: Employment Status of Non-Group Enrollees, 2016

Medical Underwriting in the Individual Market Pre-ACA

Prior to 2014 medical underwriting was permitted in the individual insurance market in 45 states and DC.  Applications for individual market policies typically included lengthy questionnaires about the health and risk status of the applicant and all family members to be covered.  Typically, applicants were asked to disclose whether they were pregnant or contemplating pregnancy or adoption, and information about all physician visits, prescription medications, lab results, and other medical care received in the past year.  In addition, applications asked about personal history of a series of health conditions, ranging from HIV, cancer, and heart disease to hemorrhoids, ear infections and tonsillitis.  Finally, all applications included authorization for the insurer to obtain and review all medical records, pharmacy database information, and related information. Once the completed application was submitted, the medical underwriting process varied somewhat across insurers, but usually involved identification of declinable medical conditions and evaluation of other conditions or risk factors that warranted other adverse underwriting actions. Once enrolled, a person’s health and risk status was sometimes reconsidered in a process called post-claims underwriting. Although our analysis focuses on declinable medication conditions, each of these other actions is described in more detail below.

Declinable Medical Conditions

Before the ACA, individual market insurers in all but five states maintained lists of so-called declinable medical conditions.  People with a current or past diagnosis of one or more listed conditions were automatically denied.  Insurer lists varied somewhat from company to company, though with substantial overlap.  Some of the commonly listed conditions are shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Examples of Declinable Conditions In the Medically Underwritten Individual Market, Before the Affordable Care Act
Condition Condition
AIDS/HIV Lupus
Alcohol abuse/ Drug abuse with recent treatment Mental disorders (severe, e.g. bipolar, eating disorder)
Alzheimer’s/dementia Multiple sclerosis
Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease Muscular dystrophy
Cancer within some period of time (e.g. 10 years, often other than basal skin cancer) Obesity, severe
Cerebral palsy Organ transplant
Congestive heart failure Paraplegia
Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery Paralysis
Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis Parkinson’s disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema Pending surgery or hospitalization
Diabetes mellitus Pneumocystic pneumonia
Epilepsy Pregnancy or expectant parent
Hemophilia Sleep apnea
Hepatitis (Hep C) Stroke
Kidney disease, renal failure Transsexualism
SOURCE: Kaiser Family Foundation review of field underwriting guidelines from Aetna (GA, PA, and TX), Anthem BCBS (IN, KY, and OH), Assurant, CIGNA, Coventry, Dean Health, Golden Rule, Health Care Services Corporation (BCBS in IL, TX) HealthNet, Humana, United HealthCare, Wisconsin Physician Service.  Conditions in this table appeared on declinable conditions list in half or more of guides reviewed.  NOTE: Many additional, less-common disorders also appearing on most of the declinable conditions lists were omitted from this table.

Our analysis of rates of pre-existing conditions in this brief focuses on those conditions that would likely be declinable, based on our review of pre-ACA underwriting documents. Our analysis is limited – and our results are conservative – because NHIS and BRFSS questionnaires do not address some of the conditions that were declinable, and in some cases the questions that do relate to declinable conditions were too broad for inclusion. See the methodology section for a list of conditions included in the analysis. In addition to declinable conditions, many insurers also maintained a list of declinable medications.  Current use of any of these medications by an applicant would warrant denial of coverage.  Table 3 provides an example of medications that were declinable in one insurer prior to the ACA. Our analysis does not attempt to account for use of declinable medications.

Table 3: Declinable Medications
 Anti-Arthritic Medications

  • Adalimumab/Humira
  • Cyclosporine/Sandimmune
  •  Methotrexate/Trexall
  • Ustekinumab/Stelara
  • others
 Anti-Diabetic Medications

  • Avandia/Rosiglitazone
  • Glucagon
  • Humalog/Insulin products
  • Metformin HCL
  • others
Medications for HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis

  • Abacavir/Ziagen
  • Efavirenz/Atripla
  • Interferon
  • Lamivudine/Epivir
  • Ribavirin
  • Zidovudine/Retrovir
  • others

 

Anti-Cancer Medications

  • Anastrozole/Arimidex
  • Nolvadex/Tamoxifen
  • Femara
  • others
Anti-Psychotics, Autism, Other Central Nervous System Medications

  • Abilify/Ariprazole
  • Aricept/Donepezil
  • Clozapine/Clozaril
  • Haldol/Haldoperidol
  • Lithium
  • Requip/Ropinerole
  • Risperdal/Risperidone
  • Zyprexa
  •  others
Anti-Coagulant/Anti-Thrombotic Medications

  • Clopidogrel/Plavix
  • Coumadin/Warfarin
  • Heparin
  • others
Miscellaneous Medications

  • Anginine (angina)
  • Clomid (fertility)
  • Epoetin/Epogen (anemia)
  • Genotropin (growth hormone)
  • Remicade (arthritis, ulcerative colitis)
  • Xyrem (narcolepsy)
  • others
SOURCE:  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Product Guide for Agents

Some individual market insurers also developed lists of ineligible occupations.  These were jobs considered sufficiently high risk that people so employed would be automatically denied.  In addition, some would automatically deny applicants who engaged in certain leisure activities and sports.  Table 4 provides an example of declinable occupations from one insurer prior to the ACA.  Our analysis does not attempt to account for declinable occupations.

Table 4: Ineligible Occupations, Activities
Active military personnel Iron workers Professional athletes
Air traffic controller Law enforcement/detectives Sawmill operators
Aviation and air transportation Loggers Scuba divers
Blasters or explosive handlers Meat packers/processors Security guards
Bodyguards Mining Steel metal workers
Crop dusters Nuclear industry workers Steeplejacks
Firefighters/EMTs Offshore drillers/workers Strong man competitors
Hang gliding Oil and gas exploration and drilling Taxi cab drivers
Hazardous material handlers Pilots Window washers
SOURCE: Preferred One Insurance Company Individual and Family Insurance Application Form

Other Adverse Underwriting Actions

Beyond the declinable conditions, medications and occupations, underwriters also examined individual applications and medical records for other conditions that could generate significant “losses” (claims expenses.)  Among such conditions were acne, allergies, anxiety, asthma, basal cell skin cancer, depression, ear infections, fractures, high cholesterol, hypertension, incontinence, joint injuries, kidney stones, menstrual irregularities, migraine headaches, overweight, restless leg syndrome, tonsillitis, urinary tract infections, varicose veins, and vertigo. One or more adverse medical underwriting actions could result for applicants with such conditions, including:

  • Rate-up – The applicant might be offered a policy with a surcharged premium (e.g. 150 percent of the standard rate premium that would be offered to someone in perfect health)
  • Exclusion rider – Coverage for treatment of the specified condition might be excluded under the policy; alternatively, the body part or system affected by the specified condition could be excluded under the policy. Exclusion riders might be temporary (for a period of years) or permanent
  • Increased deductible – The applicant might be offered a policy with a higher deductible than the one originally sought; the higher deductible might apply to all covered benefits or a condition-specific deductible might be applied
  • Modified benefits – The applicant might be offered a policy with certain benefits limited or excluded, for example, a policy that does not include prescription drug coverage.

In some cases, individuals with these conditions might also be declined depending on their health history and the insurer’s general underwriting approach.  For example, field underwriting guides indicated different underwriting approaches for an applicant whose child had chronic ear infections:

  • One large, national insurer would issue standard coverage if the child had fewer than five infections in the past year or ear tubes, but apply a 50% rate up if there had been more than 4 infections in the prior year;
  • Another insurer, which used a 12-tier rate system, would issue coverage at the second most favorable rate tier if the child had just one infection in the prior year or ear tubes, at the fifth rate tier if there had been 2-3 infections during the prior year, and at the seventh tier if there had been 4 or more infections; for some conditions, this company’s rating might depend on the plan deductible – applicants with history of ear infections would be offered the second rating tier for policies with a deductible of $5,000 or higher;
  • Another insurer would issue standard coverage if the child had just one infection in the prior year or if ear tubes had been inserted more than one-year prior, apply a rate up if there were two infections in the prior year, and decline the application if there were three or more infections;
  • Another insurer would issue standard coverage if the child had fewer than 3 infections in the past year, but issue coverage with a condition specific deductible of $5,000 if there had been 3 or more infections or if ear tubes had been inserted.

In a 2000 Kaiser Family Foundation study of medical underwriting practices, insurers were asked to underwrite hypothetical applicants with varying health conditions, from seasonal allergies to situational depression to HIV.  Results varied significantly for less serious conditions. For example, the applicant with seasonal allergies who made 60 applications for coverage was offered standard coverage 3 times, declined 5 times, offered policies with exclusion riders or other benefit limits 46 times (including 3 offers that excluded coverage for her upper respiratory system), and policies with premium rate ups (averaging 25%) 6 times.

Pre-existing Condition Exclusion Provisions

In addition to medical screening of applicants before coverage was issued, most individual market policies also included more general pre-existing condition exclusion provisions which limited the policy’s liability for claims (typically within the first year) related to medical conditions that could be determined to exist prior to the coverage taking effect.3

Example of pre-existing condition exclusion Jean, an Arizona teacher whose employer provided group health benefits but did not contribute to the cost for family members, gave birth to her daughter, Alex, in 2004 and soon after applied for an individual policy to cover the baby.  Due to time involved in the medical underwriting process, the baby was uninsured for about 2 weeks. A few months later, Jean noticed swelling around the baby’s face and eyes.  A specialist diagnosed Alex with a rare congenital disorder that prematurely fused the bones of her skull.  Surgery was needed immediately to avoid permanent brain damage.   When Jean sought prior-authorization for the $90,000 procedure, the insurer said it would not be covered.  Under Arizona law, any condition, including congenital conditions, that existed prior to the coverage effective date, could be considered a pre-existing condition under individual market policies.  Alex’s policy excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions for one year.  Jean appealed to the state insurance regulator who upheld the insurer’s exclusion as consistent with state law. Source:  Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2005

The nature of pre-existing condition exclusion clauses varied depending on state law.  In 19 states, a health condition could only be considered pre-existing if the individual had actually received treatment or medical advice for the condition during a “lookback” period prior to the coverage effective date (from 6 months to 5 years).  In most states, a pre-existing condition could also include one that had not been diagnosed but that produced signs or symptoms that would prompt an “ordinarily prudent person” to seek medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  In 8 states and DC, conditions that existed prior to the coverage effective date – including those that were undiagnosed and asymptomatic – could be considered pre-existing and so excluded from coverage under an individual market policy.  For example, a congenital condition in a newborn could be considered pre-existing to the coverage effective date (the baby’s birth date) and excluded from coverage.  About half of the states required individual market insurers to reduce pre-existing condition exclusion periods by the number of months of an enrollee’s prior coverage.

Example of policy rescission Jennifer, a Colorado preschool teacher, was seriously injured in 2005 when her car was hit by a drug dealer fleeing the police. She required months of inpatient hospitalization and rehab, and her bills reached $185,000.   Jennifer was covered by a non-group policy which she had purchased five months prior to the accident.   Shortly after her claims were submitted, the insurer re-reviewed Jennifer’s application and medical history.  Following its investigation, the insurer notified Jennifer they found records of medical care she had not disclosed in her application, including medical advice sought for discomfort from a prolapsed uterus and an ER visit for shortness of breath.  The insurer rescinded the policy citing Jennifer’s failure to disclose this history. Jennifer sued the insurer for bad faith; four years later a jury ordered the insurer to reinstate the policy and pay $37 million in damages. Source:  Westword, February 11, 2010.

Unlike exclusion riders that limited coverage for a specified condition of a specific enrollee, pre-existing condition clauses were general in nature and could affect coverage for any applicable condition of any enrollee.  Pre-existing condition exclusions were typically invoked following a process called post-claims underwriting.  If a policyholder would submit a claim for an expensive service or condition during the first year of coverage, the individual market insurer would conduct an investigation to determine whether the condition could be classified as pre-existing. In some cases, post-claims underwriting might also result in coverage being cancelled.  The investigations would also examine patient records for evidence that a pre-existing condition was known to the patient and should have been disclosed on the application.  In such cases, instead of invoking the pre-existing condition clause, an issuer might act to rescind the policy, arguing it would have not issued coverage in the first place had the pre-existing condition been disclosed.

Discussion

The Affordable Care Act guarantees access to health insurance in the individual market and ends other underwriting practices that left many people with pre-existing conditions uninsured or with limited coverage before the law. As discussions get underway to repeal and replace the ACA, this analysis quantifies the number of adults who would be at risk of being denied if they were to seek coverage in the individual market under pre-ACA rules. What types of protections are preserved for people with pre-existing conditions will be a key element in the debate over repealing and replacing the ACA. We estimate that at least 52 million non-elderly adult Americans (27% of those under the age of 65) have a health condition that would leave them uninsurable under medical underwriting practices used in the vast majority of state individual markets prior to the ACA. Results vary from state-to-state, with rates ranging around 22 – 23% in some Northern and Western states to 33% or more in some southern states. Our estimates are conservative and do not account for a number of conditions that were often declinable (but for which data are not available), nor do our estimates account for declinable medications, declinable occupations, and conditions that could lead to other adverse underwriting practices (such as higher premiums or exclusions). While most people with pre-existing conditions have employer or public coverage at any given time, many people seek individual market coverage at some point in their lives, such as when they are between jobs, retired, or self-employed. There is bipartisan desire to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but the details of replacement plans have yet to be ironed out, and those details will shape how accessible insurance is for people when they have health conditions.

Gary Claxton, Cynthia Cox, Larry Levitt, and Karen Pollitz are with the Kaiser Family Foundation. Anthony Damico is an independent consultant to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Methods

To calculate nationwide prevalence rates of declinable health conditions, we reviewed the survey responses of nonelderly adults for all question items shown in Methods Table 1 using the CDC’s 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).  Approximately 27% of 18-64 year olds, or 52 million nonelderly adults, reported having at least one of these declinable conditions in response to the 2015 survey.  The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) relies on the medical condition modules of the annual NHIS for many of its core publications on the topic; therefore, we consider this survey to be the most accurate means to estimate both the nationwide rate and weighted population. Since the NHIS does not include state identifiers nor sufficient sample size for most state-based estimates, we constructed a regression model for the CDC’s 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to estimate the prevalence of any of the declinable conditions shown in Methods Table 1 at the state level.  This model relied on three highly significant predictors: (a) respondent age; (b) self-reported fair or poor health status; (c) self-report of any of the overlapping variables shown in the left-hand column of Methods Table 1.  Across the two data sets, the prevalence rate calculated using the analogous questions (i.e. the left-hand column of Methods Table 1) lined up closely, with 20% of 18-64 year old survey respondents reporting at least one of those declinable conditions in the 2015 NHIS and 21% of 18-64 year olds in the 2015 BRFSS.  Applying this prediction model directly to the 2015 BRFSS microdata yielded a nationwide prevalence of any declinable condition of 28%, a near match to the NHIS nationwide estimate of 27%.

 

Methods Table 1: Declinable Medical Conditions Available in Survey Microdata
Declinable Condition Questions Available in both the 2015 National Health Interview Survey and also the 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Declinable Condition Questions Available in only the 2015 National Health Interview Survey
Ever had CHD Melanoma Skin Cancer
Ever had Angina Any Other Heart Condition
Ever had Heart Attack Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
Ever had Stroke Epilepsy
Ever had COPD Difficulty Due to Mental Retardation
Ever had Emphysema Difficulty Due to Cerebral Palsy
Chronic Bronchitis in past 12 months Difficulty Due to Senility
Ever had Non-Skin Cancer Difficulty Due to Depression
Ever had Diabetes Difficulty Due to Endocrine Problem
Weak or Failing Kidneys Difficulty Due to Blood Forming Organ Problem
BMI > 40 Difficulty Due to Drug / Alcohol / Substance Abuse
Pregnant Difficulty Due to Schizophrenia, ADD, or Bipolar Disorder

In order to align BRFSS to NHIS overall statistics, we then applied a Generalized Regression Estimator (GREG) to scale down the BRFSS microdata’s prevalence rate and population estimate to the equivalent estimates from NHIS, 27% and 52 million.  Since the regression described in the previous paragraph already predicted the prevalence rate of declinable conditions in BRFSS by using survey variables shared across the two datasets, this secondary calibration solely served to produce a more conservative estimate of declinable conditions by calibrating BRFSS estimates to the NHIS.  After applying this calibration, we calculated state-specific prevalence rates and population estimates off of this post-stratified BRFSS sample. The programming code, written using the statistical computing package R v.3.3.2, is available upon request for people interested in replicating this approach for their own analysis.

This article was written by Gary Claxton, Cynthia Cox, Anthony Damico, Larry Levitt and Karen Pollitz on Kaiser Family Foundation. Published: Dec 12, 2016