Rising Healthcare Costs Hurting Retirement Contributions

The rising costs of healthcare are starting to have a negative impact on employees. Find out how employees are having trouble saving for their retirement thanks to the rise of healthcare costs in the interesting article by Paula Aven Gladych from Employee Benefit News.

Rising healthcare costs have had a dramatic impact on the ability of workers to save for retirement and other financial goals.

The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report finds that of the workers who have experienced rising healthcare costs, more than half say they are contributing less to their financial goals as a result, including more than six in 10 who say they are saving less for retirement.

What’s more, financial stress also is playing a big role in employee physical health with nearly six in 10 employees saying it has had a negative impact on their physical well-being. This stress weighs most heavily on millennials at 68%, compared with baby boomers at 51%, according to the research.

Because of these dire statistics, more and more employees are looking to their employer to help them through financial challenges.

“We spend a lot of our waking time working and a lot of our finances are made up of the compensation and benefits our employer provides,” says Sylvie Feast, director of financial guidance services for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “[Employer’s] healthcare and 401(k) plans are really valued by employees. I don’t think it’s surprising that they are looking to their employer that provides essential benefits to help provide access to ways to better manage their finances.”

And because employers offer healthcare and retirement benefits, it isn’t a stretch for workers to expect their employers to offer financial wellness as a benefit as well, Feast says.

“There’s no silver bullet, but a continuing evolution of trying new things to see what works and has an impact with the workforce,” Feast says. “Culture has something to do with it.”

Online tools, educational content, professional seminars in the workplace and personal consultations can be especially effective offerings, Feast says, adding that those options can help employees get more comfortable talking about their finances at work and at home with their family.

“People are pretty private about their finances,” Feast says. “I think there’s this access the employer needs to provide, but there also needs to be an arms-length distance so it is not the employer delivering it.”

Retirement savings is the area most workers want help with, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s survey. More than half of baby boomers (54% ), 53% of Generation X and 43% of millennials say they need help saving for retirement, with 50% of all respondents ranking it as their No. 1 financial issue.

For millennials, good general savings habits and paying down debt were their next most important financial priorities. For Generation X, paying down debt, good general savings habits and budgeting all tied for second, and for baby boomers, planning for healthcare costs and paying down debt were their next biggest financial priorities.

Eighty-six percent of employees surveyed say they would participate in a financial education program provided by their employer, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Financial education is a slow, but worthy process, Feast says.

“People don’t just automatically start to show an immediate impact to their behavior,” she says. But, “if [employees] take steps, [they] will start to gain control and get more confidence.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gladych P. (2017 June 7). Rising healthcare costs hurting retirement contributions [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/rising-healthcare-costs-hurting-retirement-contributions


Millennials Lead Generational Split on Health Benefits

Did you know that millennial employees are more likely to focus on the benefits and costs associated with their healthcare plans compared to older employees? Take a look at this article by Amanda Eisenberg from Employee Benefit Adviser on why millennials are so much more involved with their healthcare plans.

Millennials are more likely to partake in cost-saving healthcare decisions than their older counterparts, according to new analysis from EBRI.

Employees born in 1977 or later, the millennial age range in this analysis, are well informed about their health plan and report higher levels of satisfaction with the health plan choices and financial aspects of their health plans than baby boomers and Gen Xers, according to the 2017 “Consumer Engagement in Health Care and Choice of Health Plan” report.

Millennials also are more likely to ask for a generic instead of a brand name drug (47%), develop a budget to manage healthcare expenses (35%) and check whether the health plan would cover care or medication (57%) compared to Generation X or baby boomers, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington, D.C.

Paul Fronstin, co-author of the study, attributed the generational attitude differences to the frequency employees interact with the health system and familiarity with technology.

“Older people are not used to using tools like online calculators to figure out health costs,” says EBRI’s director of health research and education program.

On the other hand, older generations have more experience buying and using healthcare than millennials, who are unlikely to contact cancer, heart disease and other illnesses that generally plague middle-aged and older employees, says Fronstin.

“It may be less stressful to pick the wrong plan and it may be coming out in [millennials’] attitudes,” he says. “Millennial attitudes could easily change as they get older and use more healthcare.”

The data comes from a 2015 poll of polled 3,590 adults between the ages of 21 and 64 who had health insurance provided through an employer (82%), purchased directly from a carrier or purchased through a government exchange.

The data, while two years old, doesn’t change the underlying attitudes toward healthcare options and costs, says Fronstin.

Yet determining those attitudes and a corresponding benefits plan is a major struggle for employers, he says.

Baby boomers and millennials “are both big segments of the population that most employers rely on,” Fronstin says. “You’ve got different groups here. If you want to be as effective as possible and get the most productivity, you need to understand where they’re coming from.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Eisenberg A. (2017 May 29). Millennials lead generational split on health benefits [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/millennials-lead-generational-split-on-health-benefits?brief=00000152-1443-d1cc-a5fa-7cfba3c60000


How the Senate Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) Could Affect Coverage and Premiums for Older Adults

The Senate is on the verge of voting for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) a new replacement to the ACA. Find out how the passing of the BCRA will impact older Americans and their healthcare in this informative article by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), adults in their 50s and early 60s were arguably most at risk in the private health insurance market. They were more likely than younger adults to be diagnosed with certain conditions, like cancer and diabetes, for which insurers denied coverage. They were also more likely to face unaffordable premiums because insurers had broad latitude (in nearly all states) to set high premiums for older and sicker enrollees.

The ACA included several provisions that aimed to address problems older adults faced in finding more affordable health insurance coverage, including guaranteed access to insurance, limits on age rating, and a prohibition on premium surcharges for people with pre-existing conditions. Following passage of a bill to repeal and replace the ACA in the House of Representatives on May 4, 2017, the Senate has released a discussion draft of its proposal, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) on June 26, 2017, that follows a somewhat different approach.

The Senate BCRA discussion draft would make a number of changes to current law that would result in an increase of four million 50-64-year-olds without health insurance in 2026, according to CBO’s analysis.

The Senate proposal would disproportionately affect low-income older adults with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL): three of the four million 50-64-year-olds projected to lose health insurance in 2026 would be low-income. CBO projects the uninsured rate for low-income older adults would rise from 11% under current law to 26% under the BCRA by 2026.

The increase in the number and share of uninsured older adults would be due to several changes made by the BCRA to private health insurance market rules and subsidies, as well as changes to the Medicaid program.

CHANGES AFFECTING PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE

Age Bands. Under current law, insurers are prohibited from charging older adults more than 3-times the premium amount for younger adults. The Senate bill would allow insurers to charge older adults five-times more than younger adults, beginning in 2019. States would have flexibility to establish different age bands (broader or narrower). CBO estimates that age rating would increase premiums significantly for plans at all metal levels for older adults. The impact of age rating would be such that, for a 64-year-old, the national average premium for an unsubsidized bronze plan in 2026 would increase from $12,900 (current law) to $16,000 (BCRA). The wider age bands permitted under the BCRA would result in higher premiums for an unsubsidized bronze plan than the premium for an unsubsidized silver plan under the current law age-rating standard.

Tax Credits. The Senate’s BCRA makes three key changes affecting premium tax credits for people in the non-group insurance market. First, it changes the income eligibility for tax credits, extending eligibility to people with income below the FPL but capping eligibility at income of 350% FPL. Under current law, income eligibility for tax credits is 100%-400% FPL. This change has the effect of reducing premiums for people with incomes below poverty in the marketplace who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid (discussed further below) while increasing premiums for people with incomes between 350%-400% FPL.

Second, BCRA changes the level of subsidy for people based on age. Under both current law and the BCRA, individuals must pay a required contribution amount, based on income, toward the cost of a benchmark plan; the premium tax credit equals the difference between the cost of the benchmark plan and the required individual contribution. Under current law, the required contribution rate is the same for all people at the same income level regardless of age. However, under the BCRA, the required contribution amount would increase with age for people with an income above 150% FPL. For example, under current law, at 350% FPL, individuals are required to contribute the same percentage of income toward the benchmark plan, regardless of age (9.69% in 2017). Under the BCRA, starting in 2020, a 24-year-old would contribute about 6.4% of income, while a 60-year-old would have to contribute 16.2% of income.1

Third, the Senate proposal reduces the value of the benchmark plan used to determine premium tax credits from a more generous silver-level plan (under current law) to the equivalent of a bronze plan (under BCRA). Deductibles under bronze plans are much higher than under silver plans (in 2017, on average, $6,105 for bronze plans vs. $3,609 for silver plans). Under current law, silver plan deductibles are further reduced by cost-sharing subsidies for eligible individuals with incomes below 250% FPL (on average to $255, $809, or $2,904, depending on income). The BCRA eliminates cost-sharing subsidies starting in 2020. As a result, people using tax credits to buy a “benchmark” bronze plan would face significantly higher deductibles under the Senate proposal than under current law.

For older adults with income above the poverty level, the combined impact of these changes would be to increase the out-of-pocket cost for premiums at all income levels. For example, a 64-year old with an income of $26,500 would see premiums increase by $4,800 on average for a silver plan in 2026; a 64-year old with an income of $56,800 could see premiums increase of $13,700 in 2026, according to CBO.

Premium tax credits under the BCRA would continue to be based on the cost of a local benchmark policy, so results would vary geographically. Older adults living in higher cost areas could see greater dollar increases, while people living in lower cost areas could see lower increases.

For a bronze plan, the national average premium expense for a 64-year old could increase by $2,000 for an individual with an income of $26,500 in 2026 and by as much as $11,600 for an older adult with $56,800 in income.

Under current law, people with income below 100% FPL generally are not eligible for premium tax credits. The ACA extended Medicaid eligibility to adults below 138% FPL, but the Supreme Court subsequently ruled the expansion is a state option. To date 19 states have not elected the Medicaid expansion, leaving 2.6 millionuninsured low-income adults in this coverage gap.

For older adults with income below 100% FPL who are not eligible for Medicaid, CBO estimates the extension of premium tax credit eligibility will significantly reduce the net premium expense for a 64-year-old in 2026 relative to current law (e.g., by more than $12,000 for an individual at 75% FPL).

However, CBO estimates that few low-income people would purchase any plan. Even with relatively low premiums, older adults with very low incomes may choose to go without coverage due to relatively high, unaffordable deductibles. For example, an individual with an income of $11,400 (75% FPL) who is not eligible for Medicaid, would pay $300 in premiums in 2026 under BCRA but face a deductible in excess of $6,000 – which amounts to more than half of his or her income that year.

On average, 55-64 year-olds would pay 115% higher premiums for a silver plan in 2020 under the BCRA after taking tax credits into account. Low-income 55-64-year-olds would pay 294% higher premiums relative to current law.

CHANGES TO MEDICAID

Changes to Medicaid proposed in the Senate bill also contribute to the increase in the projected increase in the number of uninsured older adults nationwide. The BCRA would limit federal funds for states that have elected to expand coverage under Medicaid for low-income adults, phasing down the higher federal match for these expansion states over three years (2021-2023). This provision, coupled with a new cap on the growth in federal Medicaid funding over time on a per capita basis, would result in an estimated 15 million people losing Medicaid coverage by 2026 according to CBO, some of whom are counted among the four million older adults projected to lose health insurance under the BCRA, shown in Figure 1. In 2013, about 6.5 million 50-64-year-olds relied on Medicaid for their health insurance coverage, a number that has likely increased due to the Medicaid expansion.2 Since 2013, Medicaid enrollment overall has grown by nearly 30%.

IMPACT ON OLDER ADULTS ON MEDICARE

The loss of coverage for adults in their 50s and early 60s could have ripple effects for Medicare, a possibility that has received little attention. If the BCRA results in a loss of health insurance for a meaningful number of people in their late 50s and early 60s, as CBO projects, there is good reason to believe that people who lose insurance will delay care, if they can, until they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, and then use more services once on Medicare. This could cause Medicare spending to increase, which would lead to increases in Medicare premiums and cost-sharing requirements.3

The proposed BCRA changes to Medicaid are also expected to affect benefits and coverage for older, low-income adults on Medicare. Today, 11 million low-income people on Medicare have supplemental coverage under Medicaid that helps cover the cost of Medicare’s premiums and cost-sharing requirements, and the cost of services not covered by Medicare, such as nursing home and home- and community-based long-term services and supports. The BCRA reduces the trajectory of Medicaid spending, with new caps on the growth of benefit spending per person; these constraints are expected to put new fiscal pressure on states to control costs that could ultimately affect coverage and benefits available to low-income people on Medicare. Under the BCRA, the growth in Medicaid per capita spending for elderly and disabled beneficiaries is dialed down to a slower growth rate, from CPI-M+1 to CPI-U beginning in 2025, below currently projected growth rates, just as the first of the Boomer generation reaches their 80s and is more likely to need Medicaid-funded long-term services and supports.

DISCUSSION

The Senate bill to repeal and replace the ACA, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA), if enacted, would be expected to result in an increase of four million uninsured 50-64-year olds in 2026, relative to current law. The increase is due to a number of factors, including higher premiums at virtually all income levels for older adults, potentially unaffordable deductibles for older adults with very low incomes, , and reductions in coverage under Medicaid. Reductions in coverage could have unanticipated spillover effects for Medicare in the form of higher premiums and cost sharing, if pre-65 adults need more services when they age on to Medicare as a result of being uninsured beforehand. The BCRA would also impose new, permanent caps on Medicaid spending which could affect coverage and costs for low-income people on Medicare.

Other changes in BCRA will affect Medicare directly. The BCRA would repeal the Medicare payroll tax imposed on high earners included in the ACA. This provision, according to CMS, will accelerate the insolvency of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund and put the financing of future Medicare benefits at greater risk for current and future generations of older adults – another factor to consider as this debate moves forward.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Nueman T., Pollitz K., Levitt L. (2017 June 29). How the senate better care reconciliation act (BCRA) could affect coverage and premiums for older adults [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/how-the-senate-better-care-reconciliation-act-bcra-could-affect-coverage-and-premiums-for-older-adults/


Coverage Losses by State for the Senate Health Care Repeal Bill

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its score on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).  Find out how each state will be impacted by the implementation of BCRA  in this great article by Emily Gee from the Center for American Progress.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its score of the Senate’s health care repeal plan, showing that the bill would eliminate coverage for 15 million Americans next year and for 22 million by 2026. The CBO projects that the Senate bill would slash Medicaid funding by $772 billion over the next decade; increase individual market premiums by 20 percent next year; and make comprehensive coverage “extremely expensive” in some markets.

The score, released by Congress’ nonpartisan budget agency, comes amid an otherwise secretive process of drafting and dealmaking by Senate Republicans. Unlike the Senate’s consideration of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which involved dozens of public hearings and roundtables plus weeks of debate, Senate Republican leadership released the first public draft of its Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) just days before it hopes to hold a vote.

The Center for American Progress has estimated how many Americans would lose coverage by state and congressional district based on the CBO’s projections. By 2026, on average, about 50,500 fewer people will have coverage in each congressional district. Table 1 provides estimates by state, and a spreadsheet of estimates by state and district can be downloaded at the end of this column.

The coverage losses under the BCRA would be concentrated in the Medicaid program, but the level of private coverage would also drop compared to the current law. The CBO projects that, by 2026, there will be 15 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage and 7 million fewer with individual market coverage. Our Medicaid numbers reflect that states that have expanded their programs under the ACA would see federal funding drop starting in 2021 and that the bill would discourage expansion among states that would otherwise have done so in the future.

Like the House’s repeal bill, the Senate’s version contains a provision allowing states to waive the requirement that plans cover essential health benefits (EHB). The CBO predicts that half of the population would live in waiver states under the Senate bill. The CBO did not specify which states it believes are most likely to secure waivers; therefore, we did not impose any assumptions about which individual states would receive waivers in our estimates. Even though the demographic composition of coverage losses would differ among waiver and nonwaiver states, for this analysis we assume that all states’ individual markets would shrink.

CBO expects that state waivers could put coverage for maternity care, mental health care, and high-cost prescription drugs “at risk.” CBO projects that “all insurance in the nongroup market would become very expensive for at least a short period of time for a small fraction of the population residing in areas in which states’ implementation of waivers with major changes caused market disruption.” Note that health insurance experts have noted that in addition to directly lowering standards for individual market coverage, waivers would also indirectly subject people in employer coverage to annual and lifetime limits on benefits.

The CBO’s score lists multiple reasons why out-of-pocket costs for individual market enrollees would rise under the bill. One reason is that bill’s changes to premium subsidies means that most people would end up buying coverage resembling bronze-level plans, which today typically have annual deductibles of $6,000. In addition, EHB waivers would force enrollees who could not afford supplemental coverage for non-covered benefits out of pocket while also allowing issuers to set limits on coverage.

In summary, the CBO projects that the effects of the Senate bill would be largely similar to those of the house bill: tens of millions of people would no longer have coverage, and those who remained insured see the quality of their coverage erode substantially. In just a few days, the Senate will vote to turn these dire projections into reality.

Methodology

Our estimates of coverage reductions follow the same methodology we used previously for the House’s  health care repeal bill. We combine the CBO’s projected national net effects of the House-passed bill on coverage with state and local data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census, and administrative data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia redrew their district boundaries prior to the 2016 elections. While the rest of our data uses census estimates corresponding to congressional districts for the 114th Congress, we instead used county-level data from the 2015 five-year American Community Survey to determine the geographic distribution of the population by insurance type in these three states. We matched county data to congressional districts for the 115th Congress using a geographic crosswalk file provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Our estimates of reductions in Medicaid by district required a number of assumptions. CBO projected that a total 15 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage by 2026 under the Senate bill: 5 million fewer would be covered by additional Medicaid expansion in new states, and 10 million fewer would have Medicaid coverage in current expansion states and among pre-ACA eligibility groups in all states. The CBO projected that, under the ACA, additional Medicaid expansion would increase the proportion of the newly eligible population residing in expansion states from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2026. It projected that just 30 percent of the newly eligible population would be in expansion states. Extrapolating from the CBO’s numbers, we estimate the Senate bill results in a Medicaid coverage reduction of 3.3 million enrollees in current expansion states by 2026.

We then assume the remaining 6.7 million people who would lose Medicaid coverage are from the program’s pre-ACA eligibility categories: low-income adults, low-income children, the aged, and disabled individuals. We used enrollment tables published by the Medicaid and CHIP Payment Access Commission (MACPAC) to determine total state enrollment and each eligibility category’s share of the total, and we assumed that only some of the disabled were nonelderly. We then divided state totals among districts according to each’s Medicaid enrollment in the American Community Survey. Because each of the major nonexpansion categories is subject to per capita caps under the bill, we reduced enrollment in all by the same percentage.

Because we do not know which individual states would participate in Medicaid expansion in 2026 in either scenario, our estimates give nonexpansion states the average effect of forgone expansion and all expansion states the average effect of rolling back eligibility. We divided the 5 million enrollment reduction due to forgone expansion among nonexpansion states’ districts proportionally by the number of low-income uninsured. We made each expansion state’s share of that 3.3 million proportional to its Medicaid expansion enrollment in its most recent CMS report and then allocated state totals to districts proportional to the increase in nonelderly adult enrollment between 2013 and 2015. For Louisiana, which recently expanded Medicaid, we took our statewide total from state data and allocated to districts by the number of low-income uninsured adults.

Medicaid covers seniors who qualify as aged or disabled. Although the CBO did not specify the Medicaid coverage reduction that would occur among seniors under per capita caps, applying to elderly enrollees the same percentage reduction we calculated for nonexpansion Medicaid enrollees implies that 900,000 could lose Medicaid.

Lastly, our estimates of the reduction in exchange, the Basic Health Plan, and other nongroup coverage are proportional to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s estimates of exchange enrollment by congressional district. The House bill reduces enrollment in nongroup coverage, including the exchanges, by 7 million relative to the ACA. To apportion this coverage loss among congressional districts, we assumed that the coverage losses would be largest in areas with higher ACA exchange enrollment and in states where we estimated the average cost per enrollee would increase most under an earlier version of the AHCA.

The CBO projects that the net reduction in coverage for the two categories of employer-sponsored insurance and “other coverage” would be between zero and 500,000 people in 2026. We did not include these categories in our estimates.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gee E. (2017 June 27). Coverage losses by state for the senate health care repeal bill [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2017/06/27/435112/coverage-losses-state-senate-health-care-repeal-bill/


Well-Being Strategies for a Diverse Workforce, Building Value at an Individual Level

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Lindsay Simpson.

Your organization has 312 employees, which means you have 312 different needs for well-being support. Well-being strategies should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Developing a set of flexible and responsive well-being strategies that meet changing individual needs throughout an employee’s tenure is a critical way to both attract and retain talent. A few case studies to illustrate:

Jordan is serving in an entry-level position. This single, gender fluid, 20-something is eager to learn and grow. In conversations with HR, Jordan has also indicated a high level of overall stress due to a burdensome education loan and is barely able to make loan payments on top of rent and other monthly expenses. Jordan’s outlook on saving for retirement is grim. At the same time, they are an active member of the local young professional network and keeps fit while playing in a competitive Ultimate league.

Anvi has been in an executive leadership role with the organization for seven years. She is a gifted and valued trailblazer who keeps the organization nimble in a climate of constant change. Despite spending long hours at work, her colleagues know little about Anvi’s family and personal life, as she is rather private. From time to time though, Anvi demonstrates affection for her team by sharing artfully created meals that illustrate her diverse cooking skills and interests.

Mark has been a dedicated, career-long, mid-level employee in accounting. Although lately he shows declining interest in his once-beloved work. Colleagues have noticed in Mark a new tendency to decline offers to share lunch or coffee breaks. Last year, Mark led the company volunteerism committee, but has recused himself from this duty, citing a conflict of interest with his role as a finance officer for a local non-profit organization.

Each of these individuals show up to the workplace with a unique set of values, talents, beliefs, interests, and resources. At the same time, all employees benefit from a workplace culture that attends to each person’s sense of purpose, plus physical, social, financial and community well-being. It can be a daunting challenge to meet such diverse needs and interests, which is why we must build programs and policies with employees, listening to what they want and seeking out ways to efficiently design a system of supports. The first step to any thoughtful program is to conduct a needs assessment. Turn up the volume on your curiosity and lead with the question: What do employees want? Consider gathering responses by survey, current HR data sources, and focus groups. Be sure to gather demographic information that will help segment the findings. The results may confirm your beliefs about employee wishes or reveal interesting surprises, as noted in this example.

In a 2015 survey of 1,647 folks across 11 diverse organizations, the American Institute of Preventative Medicine found the following:

  • Incentive strategies: Almost unanimously, employees favored reduced health insurance premium (34 percent) and cash (25 percent) as incentives to get healthier. However, 53 percent of those age 70 and older noted they do not need an incentive to be healthier.
  • Well-being topics of interest: Nutrition (78 percent) and physical activity (77 percent) topics were of highest interest by those age 18 to 69. These same age groups also favored stress management topics more than colleagues age 70 and older. Moderate interest in depression was common among all age groups, and all age groups showed the least interest in tobacco cessation. Compared with colleagues of older age groups, the youngest cohort (18 to 24) indicated high interest in sleep enhancement.
  • Program offerings: All age groups favored health risk assessments (26 percent) and health challenges (25 percent) over other well-being program offerings. Furthermore, older groups (50 to 69 and 70 and older) prefer in-person educational seminars, and younger employees (18 to 24) were more likely to engage in weight loss programs.
  • Fitness devices: The oldest individuals were more likely than all younger individuals to report owning a personal fitness tracking device such as a Fitbit or pedometer, 40 percent age 70 and older, 37 percent age 50 to 69, 31 percent age 33 to 49, 29 percent age 25 to 32, and 17 percent age 18 to 24.

A small-scale needs and interest study like this can challenge our biases about certain groups within our employee population and reveal key details about the value employees hold for well-being programs. Results should inform design of a well-being strategy that accurately and cost-effectively meets a range of needs in the workplace. After all, “research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with purpose,” said Zora Neale Hurston. The pursuit of growing a cost-effective culture of well-being and individual value for programmatic supports will be more beneficial to organizational health than a hard measure of return on investment.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Simpson L. (2017 May 30). Well-being strategies for a diverse workforce, building value at an individual level [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/well-being-strategies-for-a-diverse-workforce-building-value-at-an-individual-level


Would States Eliminate Key Benefits if AHCA Waivers are Enacted?

If lower premiums were a possibility, would states actually enact waivers to exclude certain essential health benefits? Check out this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation to learn more about the possible result of giving states the power to use waivers when it comes to healthcare coverage.

As the debate over amending health insurance market rules continues, proponents of changing the law have proposed reducing the health benefits provided by non-group plans as a potential way to lower premiums in the market.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prescribes 10 categories of essential health benefits that non-group and small-group policies must cover, and provides in most cases that the scope of these benefits should be similar to those in employer group health plans, which cover most non-elderly Americans.  The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which passed the House of Representatives on May 5, would permit states to seek waivers to amend the required benefits if doing so would achieve one of several purposes, including lowering premiums.1  We look below at the benefits covered by non-group plans before the ACA as a possible indication of how states could respond to the waiver authority under the AHCA.

Background

The lack of coverage for benefits such as maternity and mental health care in many nongroup plans, which was a frequent point of criticism when the ACA was debated, was one (but not the only) reason why non-group coverage was less expensive before the ACA was enacted.  In the pre-ACA market, certain benefits were excluded to make coverage more affordable and to guard against potential adverse selection by applicants with more predictable, chronic health care needs.  Even with the ability to medically screen applicants for non-group policies, some insurers excluded coverage for conditions such as mental health and substance abuse care unless states required that they be covered.

States determined coverage requirements for health insurance policies prior to the ACA.  A few states defined a standard benefit package to be offered by insurers in the nongroup market.  Most states adopted some mandates to cover or offer specific benefits or benefit categories – such as requirements for policies to cover maternity benefits or mental health treatments. In addition to deciding which categories of benefits must be included or offered, states might also specify a minimum level or scope of coverage; for example, a few states required that mental health benefits have similar cost sharing and limits as other outpatient services (sometimes called parity).

Pre-ACA non-group plans varied considerably in scope and comprehensiveness of coverage, with some plans limiting benefit categories or putting caps on benefits, while others offered more comprehensive options.  For example, some plans did not cover prescriptions, others covered only generic medications or covered a broader range of medications subject to an annual cap, while still others covered a more complete range of medications.  This diversity was possible because insurers generally were able to decline applicants with pre-existing conditions, and could require their existing customers to pass screening if they wanted to upgrade to more comprehensive benefits.  This prevented applicants from selecting the level of coverage they wanted based on their known health conditions, but also prevented many people from being able to obtain non-group coverage at all.

To look more closely at the benefits provided in pre-ACA non-group plans, we analyzed data submitted by insurers for display on HealthCare.gov for the last quarter of 2013.  Beginning in 2010, insurers submitted information about their non-group plans to be displayed on HealthCare.gov; the data includes information on benefits, coverage levels for each benefit, benefit limits, premiums and cost sharing parameters, and enrollment.  We focus here on the benefits and benefit limits.  We use data from 2013 because it is the most current year prior to when the ACA’s major insurance market changes went into effect, provides more benefit categories than some earlier years, and has more information about benefit limits for each category.  We note, however, that the ACA prohibition on annual dollar limits took effect shortly after enactment and was phased in between 2010 and 2013, so these types of limits would likely not be reflected often in data we received. This means that our analysis likely misses some of the limits (for example, dollar limits on prescriptions) that existed in nongroup policies before the ACA was enacted.  We limit the analysis to plans where insurers report enrollment in the product upon which the plan is based.  Our methods are described in more detail in the appendix.

Results

The data include 8,343 unique plans across 50 states and the District of Columbia.  We looked at the percentage of plans that included coverage for major benefit categories.  Not surprisingly, all of the plans covered basic benefits such as inpatient hospital services, inpatient physician and surgical services, emergency room services, and imaging services, while virtually all (99%) covered outpatient physician/surgical services,  primary care visits, home health care services, and inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services.

Certain other benefits, however, were covered much less often (Figure 1).  Large shares of plans did not provide coverage for inpatient or outpatient mental/behavioral health care services (38% each), inpatient or outpatient substance abuse disorder services (45% each), and delivery and inpatient care for maternity care (75%).2 In addition, 6% of plans did not provide coverage for generic drugs, 11% did not provide coverage for preferred brand drugs, 17% did not provide coverage for non-preferred brand drugs, and 13% did not provide coverage for specialty drugs.

Even when coverage was provided, some policies had meaningful limits or restrictions for certain benefits.  Mental/behavioral health care is a case in point.  Among plans with coverage for outpatient mental/behavioral health services, 23% limited benefits for some or all mental/behavioral services to fewer than 30 visits or sessions over a defined period (often a year) and 12% limited it to 12 or fewer.  A small share (about 5%) of plans providing coverage for outpatient mental/behavioral health services provided benefits only for conditions defined as severe mental disorders or biologically-based illnesses or applied limits (such as visit limits) if the illness was not defined as severe or biologically based.  The definitions of these terms varied by state.3

Similarly, for plans covering outpatient substance abuse disorder services, 22% limited the benefit to fewer than 30 visits or sessions; 12% limited it to 12 or fewer. In many of these plans, visits for either mental health or substance abuse care were combined to apply toward the same limit.

Among the relatively few plans that provided coverage for delivery and inpatient maternity care, a small share (3%) applied separate deductibles of at least $5,000 for maternity services and some plans (6%) applied a separate waiting period of at least year before benefits were available.  A few plans restricted benefits to enrollees enrolled in family coverage or required that the enrollee’s spouse also be enrolled.

Discussion

The ACA raised the range of benefits provided by non-group policies such that the benefits now offered by non-group plans are comparable to those offered in employer group plans.  The desire to lower non-group premiums, however, has led policymakers to consider allowing states to roll back the essential health benefits prescribed by the ACA.

Among the pre-ACA policies we reviewed, virtually all included benefits for certain services: hospital, physician, surgical, emergencies, imaging, and rehabilitation.  Other services were covered less often, including prescription drugs, mental/behavioral health care, substance abuse disorder care, and coverage for pregnancy and delivery.  This latter group of services all have some element of predictability or persistency that make them more subject to adverse selection. For example, many people use drug therapies over long periods and would be much more likely to select policies covering prescriptions than people who do not regularly use prescription drugs. If states were to drop any of these services from the list of essential health benefits for non-group plans, access to them could be significantly reduced.

The difficulty is that insurers would be very reluctant to offer some of these services unless they were required in all policies because people who need these benefits would disproportionately select policies covering them. In the pre-ACA market, insurers were able to offer products with different levels of benefits because they generally were able to control who could purchase them by medically screening new applicants.  Even existing customers faced medical screening if they wanted to change to a more comprehensive policy at renewal.  Through these practices, insurers were able to avoid the situation where people could choose cheaper policies when they were healthy and upgrade to better benefits when their health worsened. The proposed AHCA market rules, however, would not guard against this type of adverse selection, because people with pre-existing health conditions would be able to select any policy offered at a standard premium rate, and change their selection annually without incurring a penalty, as long as they maintained continuous coverage. This means that the range of benefits provided by insurers in states with essential health benefit waivers would likely be more limited than what insurers offered in the pre-ACA non-group market.  Benefit choice might be particularly limited in states that specify only a few benefits as essential.

It is hard to imagine that insurers would cover certain benefits if they were not required.  For example, some insurers before the ACA did not offer mental health benefits unless required by a state, even when they could medically screen all of the applicants.  And given the current problems with substance abuse in many communities, insurers would be reluctant to include coverage to treat them unless required. Offering these benefits as an option (for example, including them in some policies but not in others), would result in very high premiums for optional benefits because people who know they need them would be much more likely to choose them.

The AHCA presents state policymakers with a dilemma: they can reduce the essential health benefits to allow less expensive insurance options for their residents, but doing so may eliminate access to certain benefits for people who want and need them.

See original article Here.

Source:

Claxton, G., Pollitz, K., Semanskee, A., Levitt, L. (14 June 2017) Would States Eliminate Key Benefits if AHCA Waivers are Enacted? [Web Blog Post] Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/would-states-eliminate-key-benefits-if-ahca-waivers-are-enacted/


GOP’s Health Bill Could Undercut Some Coverage In Job-Based Insurance

Thanks to the legislation passed by the House, healthcare is on the verge of changing as we know it. Check out this interesting article by Michelle Andrews from Kaiser Health News on how these changes will affect Americans who get their healthcare through an employer.

This week, I answer questions about how the Republican proposal to overhaul the health law could affect job-based insurance and what the penalties for not having continuous coverage mean. Perhaps anticipating a spell of uninsurance, another reader wondered if people can rely on the emergency department for routine care.

Q: Will employer-based health care be affected by the new Republican plan?

The American Health Care Act that recently passed the House would fundamentally change the individual insurance market, and it could significantly alter coverage for people who get coverage through their employers too.

The bill would allow states to opt out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including no longer requiring plans sold on the individual market to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization, drugs and maternity care.

Small businesses (generally companies with 50 or fewer employees) in those states would also be affected by the change.

Plans offered by large employers have never been required to cover the essential health benefits, so the bill wouldn’t change their obligations. Many of them, however, provide comprehensive coverage that includes many of these benefits.

But here’s where it gets tricky. The ACA placed caps on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket in deductibles, copays and coinsurance every year, and they apply to most plans, including large employer plans. In 2017, the spending limit is $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for family coverage. Yet there’s a catch: The spending limits apply only to services covered by the essential health benefits. Insurers could charge people any amount for services deemed nonessential by the states.

Similarly, the law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime or annual dollar limits on services — but only if those services are related to the essential health benefits.

In addition, if any single state weakened its essential health benefits requirements, it could affect large employer plans in every state, analysts say. That’s because these employers, who often operate in multiple states, are allowed to pick which state’s definition of essential health benefits they want to use in determining what counts toward consumer spending caps and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

“If you eliminate [the federal essential health benefits] requirement you could see a lot of state variation, and there could be an incentive for companies that are looking to save money to pick a state” with skimpier requirements, said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: I keep hearing that nobody in the United States is ever refused medical care — that whether they can afford it or not a hospital can’t refuse them treatment. If this is the case, why couldn’t an uninsured person simply go to the front desk at the hospital and ask for treatment, which by law can’t be denied, such as, “I’m here for my annual physical, or for a screening colonoscopy”?

If you are having chest pains or you just sliced your hand open while carving a chicken, you can go to nearly any hospital with an emergency department, and — under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — the staff is obligated to conduct a medical exam to see if you need emergency care. If so, they must try to stabilize your condition, whether or not you have insurance.

The key word here is “emergency.” If you’re due for a colonoscopy to screen for cancer, unless you have symptoms such as severe pain or rectal bleeding, emergency department personnel wouldn’t likely order the exam, said Dr. Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not the standard of care to do screening tests in the emergency department,” Pines said, noting in that situation the appropriate next step would be to refer you to a local gastroenterologist who could perform the exam.

Even though the law requires hospitals to evaluate anyone who comes in the door, being uninsured doesn’t let people off the hook financially. You’ll still likely get bills from the hospital and physicians for any care you receive, Pines said.

Q: The Republican proposal says people who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” would have to pay extra for their insurance. What does that mean? 

Under the bill passed by the House, people who have a break in their health insurance coverage of more than 63 days in a year would be hit with a 30 percent premium surcharge for a year after buying a new plan on the individual market.

In contrast, under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” people are required to have health insurance or pay a fine equal to the greater of 2.5 percent of their income or $695 per adult. They’re allowed a break of no more than two continuous months every year before the penalty kicks in for the months they were without coverage.

The continuous coverage requirement is the Republicans’ preferred strategy to encourage people to get health insurance. But some analysts have questioned how effective it would be. They point out that, whereas the ACA penalizes people for not having insurance on an ongoing basis, the AHCA penalty kicks in only when people try to buy coverage after a break. It could actually discourage healthy people from getting back into the market unless they’re sick.

In addition, the AHCA penalty, which is based on a plan’s premium, would likely have a greater impact on older people, whose premiums are relatively higher, and those with lower incomes, said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, who authored an analysis of the impact of the penalties.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 May 23). GOP's health bill could undercut some coverage in job-based insurance[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/gops-health-bill-could-undercut-some-coverage-in-job-based-insurance/


The Employer Mandate: Essential or Dispensable?

Have you wondered how the passing of the AHCA will impact employers? Check out this article by David Blumenthal, M.D and David Squires from Commonwealth Fund and see how employers will affect by the passing of the most recent healthcare legislation.

The Commonwealth Fund’s Sara Collins has blogged that, “Employers are at the heart of the U.S. health insurance system and their ongoing commitment to it will be critical to its success and viability over time.” The point is undeniable. More than 150 million Americans under the age of 65 get their coverage through the workplace, and employer-sponsored insurance remains critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage plans.

Some may therefore be surprised by the growing talk of repealing the ACA’s requirement that employers cover their employees. To unpack this issue, let’s take a look at the ACA provision itself, why it was enacted, and the potential upside and downside of repeal.

The Employer Mandate

The ACA section under discussion is often called an employer mandate, but that’s an oversimplification. The law says that employers with 50 or more employees have a choice. They can offer health insurance that meets minimum standards for affordability and coverage to employees working 30 or more hours a week. Or they can pay the federal government a penalty if at least one of their employees receives a federal subsidy for a private insurance plan sold through one of the new ACA insurance marketplaces.

You can call this a mandate. Or you can call it a requirement that businesses share responsibility for the costs of covering all Americans, either by helping to buy insurance directly for their own employees, or helping the federal government do so.

The language here matters. The concept of shared responsibility reflects a political calculation and a statement of values. It asserts that for the ACA to be fair and politically viable, all Americans have to do their part. All U.S. citizens are required to have health insurance, and many will have to pay a penalty if they go without it (the individual mandate). Employers must cover workers or help the government financially to do so. Taxpayers have to support the expansion in Medicaid eligibility and marketplace subsidies. Hospitals have to take cuts in Medicare payments, medical device makers need to accept additional taxes, and so on. The most successful American social programs—such as Social Security and Medicare—rely on this concept of shared responsibility.

The Rationale

Whatever you label it, the employer coverage requirement has several rationales beyond the concept of shared sacrifice. Policymakers want to deter employers who now provide coverage to  their employees from dumping workers into the marketplaces, either by dropping coverage completely or limiting benefits to the point where workers will chose to buy insurance elsewhere. The requirement also attempts to nudge employers who don’t cover employees into offering health insurance. And on the assumption that some businesses will chose to pay rather than offer coverage, the employer provision provides an important source of revenue to cover the ACA’s expenses: an estimated $139 billion over 10 years.

The Rationale for Repeal

Several arguments are fueling the repeal push. First, implementation will be administratively complex and burdensome. For example, employers will have to report many new details about their workers, including what coverage they have been offered and whether they have received coverage elsewhere.

Second, some economists are concerned that the employer requirements will distort hiring decisions, leading companies to bring on fewer low-income employees who might be eligible for subsidized coverage in the marketplaces. Firms with payrolls near 50 workers might hire fewer workers altogether. Economists also believe that if employers incur penalties for not offering coverage, workers might contribute to the costs of insurance through reduced wages. Other economists, however, believe these effects will be modest.

Third, modeling from RAND and the Urban Institute suggests that when fully implemented in 2016, the employer provisions will increase the number of insured Americans by only a few hundred thousand. The overwhelming proportion of U.S. employers already provides insurance to their employees, and would continue to do so without the penalties in the ACA, the analysts contend.

Concerns About Repeal

Supporters of the employer requirement posit that projections that employers would stay in the health insurance business without the ACA requirements are just that—projections. Balanced against employers’ past record of providing coverage is an increasing tendency for businesses to reduce the generosity of coverage. In fact, the law’s requirements that workplace coverage be affordable and meaningful may be as important as the requirement that employers offer coverage at all.

Eliminating the employer provisions would also leave a big hole in funding for the ACA. The likelihood that supporters and opponents could reach agreement on how to raise the missing cash seems low, especially given the recent history of the congressional effort to replace the Medicare physician payment formula known as the SGR. This year, a bipartisan consensus on policy crashed and burned when Republicans and Democrats could not agree on new sources of revenue to pay for the legislation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, repealing the employer mandate would undermine the concept of shared responsibility and potentially add momentum—which could grow in a new Congress or under a new president—to the idea of eliminating the individual mandate as well. After all, why should individuals have to buy insurance when businesses don’t? Virtually all disinterested analysts agree that the individual mandate is critical to the stability of the new insurance marketplaces created under the ACA, and to reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

 Proceed with Caution

The full effects of repealing the employer provisions of the ACA remain speculative. A repeal seems unlikely in the short term, in part, because a repeal effort would open the floodgates to partisan warfare over undoing the ACA in its entirety, or to changing other elements of the law that could have more far-ranging consequences.

However, if serious bipartisan discussion of ACA improvement becomes possible, expect to see a repeal of employer coverage provisions front and center on the legislative agenda.  Under these circumstances, lawmakers should still proceed with caution. It may be wise to experiment with implementing the employer provisions and to reassess their comparative benefits and costs  at a later date. The philosophy of shared responsibility is foundational to the law’s political viability, and should not be discarded without compelling evidence that the employer requirements are not essential to the ACA’s success.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Blumenthal D., Squires D. (2017 June 4). The employer mandate: essential or dispensable [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2014/jun/the-employer-mandate


State Flexibility to Address Health Insurance Challenges under the American Health Care Act, H.R. 1628

Great article Kaiser Family Foundation about how states's health insurance markets will be impacted with the passing of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The American Health Care Act, as passed by the House, (HR 1628 or AHCA) would make significant changes to the insurance market provisions established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to the financial assistance provided to people who purchase non-group coverage.  The proposal would reduce the federal role in health coverage and devolve authority to states over key market rules and consumer protections affecting access and affordability, albeit with federal back-up provisions if states fail to take action.  This brief outlines the provisions in the AHCA providing flexibility for states and addresses some of the issues and tradeoffs they could face.

The AHCA would dramatically reduce federal spending on health coverage between 2018 and 2026, lowering federal contributions to Medicaid by $834 billion and subsidies for non-group health insurance by an additional $290 billion.1  The AHCA also would eliminate the tax penalty for people who do not have health insurance, replacing it with a premium surcharge (30% for up to one year) for non-group enrollees who have a gap of insurance of at least 63 days in the previous year. The tax penalty for employers that do not offer coverage to full-time workers also would be repealed.  Overall, CBO estimates that the AHCA changes would result in an additional 23 million people being uninsured in 2026.2

To offset a portion of the federal spending reductions, the AHCA would create a federal fund called the Patient and State Stability Fund (“Fund.”) The bill appropriates up to $123 billion between 2018 and 2026 that states could use for a number of designated purposes related to coverage and the costs of care, plus an additional $15 billion for a federal invisible risk sharing program that states would have the option to administer.  States also would have flexibility to modify important insurance provisions: through waivers, they could extend rate variation due to age, modify the essential health benefits, or permit insurers to use an applicant’s health as a rating factor for individuals applying for coverage if they have had a coverage gap in the year prior to their enrollment.

In the next sections, we describe the Fund and the waiver authority in the AHCA.  After that, we discuss some of the issues and tradeoffs that states would need to address with the flexibility and funds provided.

Patient and State Stability Fund

The AHCA creates a new grant program that makes up to $123 billion available to states between 2018 and 2026.  Of that, $100 billion ($15 billion for each of 2018 and 2019 and $10 billion each year from 2020 to 2026) would be available for a number of purposes described below, although in its estimate, CBO assumed that most of the funds would be used to reduce premiums or increase benefits in the non-group market.3  An additional $15 billion would be available in 2020 for maternity coverage and newborn care and prevention, treatment, or recovery support services for individuals with mental or substance use disorders.  An additional $8 billion would be available between 2018 and 2023 to reduce premiums and other out-of-pocket costs for individuals paying higher premiums due to a waiver permitting insurers to use health status in setting premiums (discussed below).

Funds would be allocated among states through a formula that considers the total medical claims incurred by health insurers in the state, the number of uninsured in the state with incomes under poverty, and the number of health insurers serving, for 2018 and 2019, the state’s exchange, and for 2020 to 2026, the state’s insurance market.

States could apply for funding for any of the permitted purposes under an expedited process, with applications automatically approved unless the federal government denies the application within 60 days for cause.  Starting in 2020, state matching funds would be required to draw down the allocated federal funds: states would be required to match 7% of the federal funds in 2020, phasing up to 50% in 2026.4  No funds would be appropriated for years after 2026.

States could seek funds for one or more of the specified purposes:

  • Providing financial assistance to high-risk individuals not eligible for employer-based coverage who enroll in the individual market.  The bill language is vague, but this provision appears to permit states to use their allocation to set up a high-risk pool or other mechanisms to provide or subsidize coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions without access to employer-sponsored coverage. By covering high-cost people in a separate pool, their costs are removed from the premium calculations of non-group insurers, lowering the premiums for other enrollees in private insurance.  The AHCA does not address how people with preexisting conditions might be encouraged or required to participate in separate high-risk pools in states without waivers, because people with preexisting conditions generally would have access to non-group coverage at a community rate during open and special enrollment periods.  A high-risk pool could be an option in states with a waiver to use health as a rating factor, where the pool could provide coverage to people with preexisting conditions who are offered coverage at very high premiums due to their health.
  • Providing incentives to entities (e.g., insurers) to enter into arrangements with the state to stabilize premiums in the individual market.  This provision appears to permit states to use their allocation for a reinsurance program. Reinsurance programs lower premiums in a market because they reimburse health insurers for a portion of the claims for people with high-costs, reducing the premiums they need to collect from enrollees.  A reinsurance program operated during the first three years of the ACA; the Congressional Budget Office  estimated that the reinsurance program ($10 billion in 2014) reduced non-group premiums by about 10% in 2014.
  • Reducing the cost of providing non-group or small-group coverage in markets to individuals facing high costs due to high rates of utilization or low population density. Premiums vary significantly across and within states.  This provision would allow states to use resources in higher cost or rural areas.
  • Promoting participation in the non-group and small-group markets and increasing options in these markets. In the past, for example, state based marketplaces that devote resources to outreach and enrollment assistance have been able to help more applicants during open enrollment periods.
  • Promoting access to preventive, dental and vision care services and to maternity coverage, newborn care, and prevention, treatment and recovery support services for people with mental health or substance disorders. This purpose was added to the bill as the House considered changes to the ACA essential health benefits standard.  Fifteen billion dollars in Fund resources are dedicated for spending on maternity, newborn, mental health, and substance abuse services in the year 2020.
  • Providing direct payments to providers for services identified by the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). For example, states might use Fund resources to expand services provided by public hospitals, free clinics, and other safety net providers that offer treatment to residents who are uninsured or under-insured.
  • Providing cost-sharing assistance for people enrolled in health insurance in the state. The AHCA would repeal current law cost sharing subsidies ($97 billion between 2020 and 2026), which pay insurers for the cost of providing reduced cost sharing to low-income marketplace enrollees.  States could use their fund allocation to offset some of this reduction or assist others with private health insurance (such as those with employer-based coverage) who have high out-of-pocket costs.

These categories are quite broadly specified, providing states with discretion about what policies they may want to pursue and how to how to design programs to address different health care needs in their state.  The options include ways to reduce premiums (through reinsurance, for example), to make direct payments to health care providers, or to help insurance enrollees with high out-of-pocket costs.  States could pursue one or more of these approaches, although they are constrained by the amount of funds available and by their need to match the federal funds after 2020.

CBO estimated that $102 billion of the $123 billion provided to states would be claimed by states by 2026. CBO assumed that states would use most of their Fund allocations to reduce premiums or increase benefits in the non-group market; it assumed $14 billion of the available $15 billion available for maternity coverage, newborn care, and mental health and substance abuse care would be used for direct payments for services.5

Federal default program.  In states without an approved application for monies from the Fund for a year, the bill would authorize the CMS administrator, in consultation with the insurance commissioner for the state, to operate a reinsurance program in the state for that year.  The program would reimburse insurers 75% of the cost of claims between $50,000 and $350,000 for years 2018 and 2019; the CMS Administrator would adjust these parameters for 2020 through 2026.  To receive funds through the default program, the state would be required to match the federal funds, with matching rates starting at 10% in 2018 and increasing to 50% by 2024, remaining at 50% through 2026.

Invisible risk sharing program.  The AHCA also would create a separate reinsurance program as part of the Fund, called the Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program (FIRSP).  The FIRSP is not a grant program, but would make payments to health insurers in every state to offset a portion of the claims for eligible individuals (e.g., enrollees with high claims or with specified conditions).  The CMS Administrator would determine the parameters of the program and would administer the program, although states would be authorized to assume operation of the program beginning in 2020.  The bill appropriates $15 billion to the FIRSP for 2018 through 2026.  Additionally, at the end of each year, any unallocated monies in the Fund (which could occur if a state did not agree to match the federal funds) would be reallocated to FIRSP as well.

The AHCA does not specify how FIRSP would be coordinated with states that adopt a reinsurance program or for which the CMS Administrator is operating a federal default program.  These issues could be addressed as the Administrator specifies the parameters of the FIRSP.  CBO assumed that all of the $15 billion in FIRSP funding would be used over the period.6

State Waiver Options

The AHCA would permits states to seek waivers to federal minimum standards for non-group and small-group coverage to (1) modify the limit for age rating,7 (2) modify the essential health benefit package, and (3) permit insurers to consider the health status of applicants for non-group coverage if they have had a coverage gap in the past year.

To obtain a waiver, state must show that the waiver would do one or more of the following: reduce average premiums, increase health insurance enrollment, stabilize the market for health insurance, stabilize premiums for people with preexisting conditions or increase choice of health plans. The waiver permitting health as a rating factor has an additional requirement, discussed below.

WAIVER TO PERMIT RATING BASED ON HEALTH

The AHCA generally would require non-group insurers to assess a premium surcharge of 30% to all applicants (regardless of their health) who have had a coverage gap of at least 63 consecutive days in the 12 months preceding enrollment. The surcharge would apply during an enforcement period (which ends at the end of a calendar year).

In lieu of the 30% premium surcharge, the bill also authorizes states to seek a waiver that would permit insurers to consider an applicant’s health in determining premiums.  Health status rating could apply for people with a coverage gap in the year preceding enrollment.  States could seek a waiver for enrollments during special enrollment periods for 2018 and beyond, and for signups during open enrollment periods for 2019 and beyond.  Insurers would not be permitted to deny coverage to an applicant based on their health, but the bill does not limit the additional amount that an applicant can be charged based on their health (the state could limit the amount of the health surcharge but is not required to do so).  Similar to the rules regarding the 30% surcharge, insurers would be able to apply the health status rating through December 31 of the plan year for which the individual enrolled.

To be eligible for a community-rating waiver, in addition to the general waiver requirements, the state must have in place a program that either provides financial assistance to high risk individuals (e.g., a high risk pool) or provide incentives to help stabilize premiums in the individual health insurance market (e.g., reinsurance payments to insurers) or it must participate in the FIRSP.  Because the FIRSP would operate in all states, with no requirement for state matching funds, it would appear that all states would be eligible for the community-rating waiver without having to set up a separate high-risk pool or reinsurance program.  The bill imposes no additional requirements for the state programs. The bill would provide $8 billion to the Fund over five years (2018 through 2022) for states with these waivers to help reduce the premiums out-of-pocket costs for people who have higher premiums due to waiver.  State matching funds would seem to be required to draw down funds starting in 2020. CBO estimates that $6 billion of the $8 billion would be used.

Because there is no limit on the amounts by which insurers could vary premiums based on health, a premium surcharge for people with pre-existing conditions who have had gaps in coverage could provide a stronger incentive for people to maintain continuous coverage than the 30% surcharge that would otherwise apply. Before passage of the ACA, insurers declined applicants frequently, even when they could have charged a higher premium instead, suggesting that insurers would likely assess very high health premium surcharges for people with potentially costly preexisting conditions.  While not an actual denial, very high surcharges would likely have in practice the same effect for many people subject to surcharges based on their health.

Under the bill, states with a waiver could also permit insurers to use health rating to charge healthy applicants with a coverage gap a lower than standard premium available to people with continuous coverage.  Under this approach, healthy applicants would have an incentive to submit to health rating, even if they had continuous coverage.  This could have a destabilizing effect on the market because healthy people could have an incentive to switch to new coverage at renewal, without submitting proof of continuous coverage, in hopes of finding a lower premium based on their good health, which would cause the standard rates generally available for people with continuous coverage to increase.

As a condition of receiving a community-rating waiver, the AHCA does not require that a state must assure access to non-group coverage or make an alternative source of coverage available to people subject to health rating if the rate they are offered is very high.  For example, a state participating in the FIRSP is eligible for this waiver, and that program reimburses health insurers for people that become enrollees; a person offered a very high health status rate might never become covered.  It is unclear how much authority the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) would have to address this issue in the waiver process, given the expedited waiver approval provisions in the bill.

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS PACKAGE

Under current law, insurance policies offered in the non-group and small-group markets must cover a fairly comprehensive list of defined essential health benefits: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.  The essential health benefits are a minimum that must be offered; insurers may offer additional benefits as well.

In addition to the list of essential health benefit categories, a number of constraints and consumer protections apply to their definition by the Secretary of HHS, including:

  • that the scope of the essential health benefits offered in these markets is equal to the scope of benefits provided under a typical employer plan;
  • that coverage decisions, determination of reimbursement rates, establishment of incentive programs, and design benefits cannot be made in ways that discriminate against individuals because of their age, disability, or expected length of life;
  • that essential health benefits take into account the needs of diverse segments of the population, including women, children, and people with disabilities;
  • that essential health benefits not be subject to denial to individuals against their wishes on the basis of the individuals’ age or expected length of life or of the individuals’ present or predicted disability, degree of medical dependency, or quality of life;
  • that emergency services provided by out-of-network providers would be provided without prior authorization or other limits on coverage, and would be subject to in-network cost sharing requirements;

Current law also prohibits insurers from applying annual or lifetime dollar limits to essential health benefits.

The AHCA would authorize states, for years 2020 and beyond, to seek a waiver to modify the essential health benefits that insurers would need to offer in the non-group and small group markets.  States also could seek to modify the provisions relating to the scope of the benefits and to their definition.  There are no limits or parameters in the AHCA regarding the changes a state could make to the essential health benefit list or its definitions, although several provisions of current law could limit their discretion.  For example, the current prohibition on applying annual and lifetime maximum dollar limits to essential health benefits may prevent states from using dollar limits in defining the scope of benefits they include as essential health benefits, and the application of mental health parity rules to qualified health plans may prohibit a state that includes mental health or substance abuse services as an essential health benefit from applying limits to the scope of those benefits that are not applicable to other benefits.

The waiver authority gives states wide latitude in defining essential health benefits that would be required in non-group and small group coverage.  A state could remove one or more benefits from the list, which would mean that insurers could offer plans without those benefits or could offer them as an option in some policies or with limits.  Maternity benefits, for example, were often not included in non-group policies prior to the ACA.  A state also could limit the scope of a benefit; for example, determine that only generic drugs were essential health benefits or limit the scope of hospitalization to 60 days per year.  Insurers would then be required to offer at least the limited scope of the benefit, with the option to cover a broader scope of the benefit (in our example, hospital coverage without no day limit) in some or all of their policies in the state.  A state could also eliminate the standard, defining essential benefits to mean whatever insurers in a competitive market offer.  As discussed below, however, adverse selection concerns would make it difficult for insurers to offer coverage that is much more comprehensive than the defined minimum at a reasonable premium.

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE LIMIT ON AGE RATING

The AHCA would generally amend current law to expand the permissible premium variation due to age from 3 to 1 to 5 to 1, or any other ratio a State might elect.  States also would be authorized to seek a waiver, for years 2018 and beyond, to put in place a higher rate permissible ratio. There are no limits in the AHCA on the ratio that a state could permit insurers to use.  The waiver authority here appears to be redundant, as the underlying bill would authorize states to elect different ratios without seeking a waiver.

Issues and Tradeoffs that States May Need to Resolve

The AHCA would reduce the federal role and resources in providing health insurance coverage, particularly for people who are lower and moderate income and are covered though the Medicaid coverage expansion or through the non-group market.  States would assume an expanded role, both financially and in making key decisions about the access and scope of benefits available to these people.

States would undertake this role facing some significant challenges.

COMPETING DEMANDS FOR REDUCED FEDERAL FUNDING

The AHCA, by reducing the overall amount of federal premium tax credits, eliminating cost-sharing subsidies, and reducing federal contributions for the Medicaid expansion population and overall, would significantly reduce federal health care payments received by insurers, providers and people, leaving fewer people covered and more people with higher out-of-pocket costs.  CBO estimates that, between 2018 and 2026, the AHCA would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $834 billion and federal spending on subsidies for non-group health insurance by $290 billion (Figure 1).8 By 2026, 23 million fewer people would have health insurance.  States would have access to grant money through the Fund to try to address some of the issues, but the resources available through the Fund would be far less than the spending reductions. CBO estimates that states would use $102 billion from the Fund, with an additional $15 billion being spent by the FIRSP.9 States would be faced with a number of competing demands for the federal grant money, including lowering premiums, helping people with high cost sharing, and helping people and providers address access and financial issues resulting from the greater number of people without insurance.

CHALLENGES IN REDUCING PREMIUMS AND MAINTAINING COVERAGE

A second challenge for states relates to the cost of non-group health insurance premiums.  Proponents of the AHCA have identified lowering the cost of non-group health insurance as a significant goal of the proposed law, but the underlying federal portions of the bill do not really do that.  In fact, replacing the individual requirement to have health coverage with the continuous coverage provision would initially increase premium rates as compared with current law.10 A few provisions, including the elimination of the health insurance and the medical device taxes, the FIRSP, and the elimination of standard cost-sharing tiers would offset some of the increase from repealing the individual coverage requirement. The most significant tools to potentially lower premiums, however, would be under state discretion: using Fund dollars for reinsurance to offset premiums and seeking waivers to modify the essential health benefits and to permit the insurers to use health as a rate factor for applicants with a coverage gap.  Each of these options, however, would involve significant policy and political tradeoffs.

Applying the grant dollars from the Fund could have a significant additional impact on premium rates, particularly because fewer people would likely be covered than under current law. CBO has assumed in its cost estimates of the AHCA that states would use most of their grants from the Fund to reduce non-group premiums or increase benefits.11 Based on a previous CBO cost estimate for the AHCA, researchers at the Brookings Institution estimated that the AHCA increased average premiums by about four percent when age is held constant (see box below). This suggests that states would need to use most of their grant Funds to bring premiums back to current levels. As just discussed, however, applying all or a large percentage of the grant funds to reduce premiums would mean that other potential needs might remain unaddressed.

Measuring Premium Change

Determining how much premiums would change due to changes in law is complicated because a number of factors affect what people pay and who would actually buy coverage.  There are a few ways to look at this.  One is the change in the average premium; this is the change in the average amount that people are expected to pay under current law and under the change.  This is a good measure of how overall costs will change, but not a very good measure of how a particular person might see their premium change.  Because premiums vary by things, such as where people live and what age they are, the average can change just because the distribution of enrollees changes; for example, if more young people enroll, the average premium goes down, but the premium that a person at any given age sees might remain the same.  Looking at changes for people in certain rating classes, such as by age, comes closer to looking at what particular people may see, although the changes still may vary by location or by health status if insurers can use them in rating.  Premiums for a person of a particular age or health also could vary due to changes in benefits or to the cost sharing they face.

WAIVING ESSENTIAL BENEFITS COULD REDUCE PREMIUMS BUT ALSO LIMIT AVAILABILITY

The waiver options would also pose difficult decisions for states.  For example, a state could lower premium rates by using an essential health benefits waiver to reduce the required benefits in non-group or small-group policies.  The argument for this approach is that some people could choose policies that cost less because they cover less, and others who want additional benefits could pay more for policies that covered those benefits.  There are several difficulties with this, however.

One is that most claims costs fall into the basic insurance categories that would be hard to exclude.  A recent report from Milliman based on their commercial claims database, found that claims from hospital care, outpatient care including physician costs, and prescription drugs accounted for around 70% of claims costs; adding emergency care and laboratory services brings that to over 80%.  Redefining essential health benefits to meaningfully lower premiums would require either placing meaningful limits on these categories (for example, only including generic drugs as an essential benefit) or eliminating whole other categories.  Looking at some of the categories that were sometimes excluded prior to the ACA: maternity coverage accounts for 3.4% of claims, mental health and substance abuse accounts for 4.2% of claims and preventive benefits account for 5.6% of claims.12 To obtain policies with lower premiums, people would need to choose policies with important limitations.  CBO also notes that, should such categories be dropped from the definition of essential health benefits, non-group enrollees who need such care could see their out-of-pocket medical care spending increase by thousands of dollars in any given year.

A second difficulty is that this approach would lead to significant adverse selection against plans with benefits that were more comprehensive than the minimum required.  Because market rules permit applicants to choose any policy at initial enrollment, and change their level of coverage annually at renewal, people who have or develop higher needs for a benefit that is not a defined essential health benefit can enroll or switch a plan that covers it without any impediment.  For example, if a state were to determine that prescription drugs were not an essential health benefit, people without current drug needs would be more likely to take policies that did not provide drug coverage while people with current needs would be more likely to take policies that did.  This would increase premiums for policies covering prescriptions to relatively high levels, discouraging people without drug needs from purchasing them, which would lead to even higher premiums. While the risk adjustment program could offset some of the impacts of selection, developing a risk adjustment methodology where there is substantial benefit variation is difficult.13  This dynamic would discourage insurers from offering coverage for important benefits not defined as essential health benefits, or if they were to offer it, they would do so at high premiums.  People at average risk would likely not have reasonable options if they wanted to purchase coverage with significant benefits beyond those that were required for all policies.  CBO also estimates that insurers generally would not want to sell policies that include benefits that were not required by state law.

The AHCA requires that $15 billion of the money in the Fund be used for maternity coverage, newborn care, and prevention, treatment and recovery support services for mental health and substance abuse disorders.  States that chose not to include any of these services as essential health benefits could use these funds to make these services available, for example, by subsidizing optional coverage or providing direct services.  The funds would only be available in 2020, although it might be possible for a state to use them over a longer period.  The $15 billion was added to the Fund along with the authority to waive essential health benefits, which suggests that the sponsors may be anticipating that these services are at risk of not being defined as essential health benefits by states.

The second significant waiver option for states in the AHCA, allowing insurers to use health as a rating factor for applicants with a coverage gap within the previous year, would put states in the middle of one of the most contentious issues in this debate: how to provide access to coverage for people with preexisting health conditions.  There are few specifics in the bill, but generally, as discussed above, a state could seek a waiver to allow insurers to use health in rating applicants with a coverage gap and to apply the health rate until the end of the calendar year (their enforcement period).

WAIVING COMMUNITY RATING VS. PROTECTING ACCESS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE SICK

This provision has the potential to reduce non-group premiums overall because permitting health-based rates that exceed 30% penalty that otherwise would apply to applicants with a coverage gap rating would make it more expensive for them to buy non-group plans, either generating more premiums from them or, more likely, diverting them from enrolling in the non-group market. If the permitted health surcharges were sufficiently high, the effect would be very close to a denial.  As noted above, the AHCA does not require states seeking this waiver to have any alternative method of access for people facing very high premiums based on their health.  The state would at least have to participate in the FIRSP (and it appears that the program operates in all states), but that mechanism only assists insurers when high-risk or high-cost people enroll, and people assessed a very high premium might not have an opportunity to enroll.

States electing this waiver would have tools to protect access for people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions.  One option that has been mentioned by supporters would be to create a high-risk pool that could offer coverage to people facing a high health surcharge.  The bill would permit states to use monies from the Fund to support a high-risk pool, and the bill would appropriate an additional $8 billion for 2018 through 2023 that could be used to reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for people assessed a higher premium because of the waiver to use health status as a factor.  States could use their share of the $8 billion to reduce premiums for high-risk pool coverage as an alternative for people who could not afford the health status surcharge for non-group coverage, and could use their general allocation from the Fund to support the costs of the pool if the $8 billion were to be insufficient or when it ends in 2023.

For states, the tradeoff would be balancing providing reasonable access to people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions against the goal of lowering premiums for others.  A state could have the biggest impact on premiums for non-group coverage by permitting insurers to assess a health surcharge without limits and not providing an alternative means of access.  This would result in many people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions being priced out of the market, which would not only lower claims costs immediately, but would also prevent them from establishing continuous coverage and migrating to non-group plans at regular rates after their enforcement periods end.  Possibly more likely is that states would take some steps to assist people subject to health rating from being effectively declined through high premiums.  Options could include establishing a high-risk pool with premiums that are more affordable than the health adjusted premiums people would be assessed under the waiver, limiting the health surcharges that insurers could assess, or using a portion of their share of the $8 billion to reduce premium costs to a more affordable level.  For states weighing these choices, as they improve access and affordability for people who would be subject to the health adjusted rates, they generally lessen the impact that the waiver would have on premiums overall.

Likely, the high-risk pool option would have the largest impact on non-group premiums of these options, because it would move the claims for some high-risk people outside of the non-group market, at least until the people established continuous coverage and moved to non-group plans with premiums not adjusted for their health.  The bill does not establish any parameters for a high-risk pool, such as the premiums that could be charged, what the coverage and cost sharing would be, and whether there would be any limits on coverage.  For example, it is not clear if a high-risk pool would need to offer essential health benefits, would be subject to provisions prohibiting dollar limits, or would be considered coverage for which people could receive a premium tax credit.  States would need to establish parameters in all of these areas.

CBO estimated that about one-half of people live in states that would seek a waiver to modify the essential health benefits, use health as a rating factor, or both.  About two-thirds of these people would live in states that would choose to make moderate changes to market regulations, which would result in a modest reduction in premiums. One-third of these people live in states that CBO assumed would choose to substantially modify the essential health benefits and allow health status rating in their non-group markets.14  In these states, CBO estimated that people in good health would face significantly lower premiums while people less healthy people would be unable to purchase comprehensive coverage at premiums similar to current law and might not be able to purchase coverage at all.15  Although the additional grant funds for states with waivers to use health status rating would lower premiums and out-of-pocket premiums, CBO found that the premium effects would be small because “. . . the funding would not be sufficient to substantially reduce the large increases in premiums for high-cost enrollees”16 .  CBO did not produce illustrative premiums for this scenario.

ADDRESSING FUNDING LIMITATIONS OVER TIME

A third challenge for states is that the annual appropriations to the Fund do not grow over time and end entirely after 2026, even though the underlying health care needs continue to grow.  For example, the cost of health care would continue to increase over the period, while the number of uninsured would also increase.  Adding to the increasing cost burden, the federal premium tax credits would grow more slowly than premium over time, shifting more costs to enrollees and reducing their impact on affordability.  The appropriations for the Fund also end in 2023 (for the $8 billion) and 2026 for the rest of the Fund.  At the same time, the state matching requirements for money from the Fund grow over time, from 7% in 2020 to 50% in 2026.  This means that states would need to invest an increasing amount of resources on policies and programs for which federal funds may end, perhaps abruptly, in the foreseeable future. Unless the federal government would agree to commit to appropriate funds several years in advance, states might be reluctant to make budget or program commits to programs that they may be unable to maintain without significant federal assistance.

Discussion

Overall, the AHCA would present states with a number of difficult problems and choices, and with limited resources with which to address them.  The bill would reduce federal contributions for Medicaid and federal payments to subsidize non-group insurance by about $1 trillion dollars, while repealing the federal tax penalty for not having health insurance would increase non-group premiums significantly above current levels.  These provisions would disproportionately affect the affordability of coverage and care for lower income and older people, and would cause millions of people to become uninsured.

States would be eligible for $123 billion in grant funds to help offset these impacts, but would face difficult tradeoffs. If states use most of their grant funds to reduce premiums, as CBO has assumed, there would not be funds left to address other needs, such as helping lower income and older people facing higher premium and out-of-pocket costs and health care providers who would be serving a growing number of uninsured people.  States also would have the options of reducing covered benefits or allowing insurers to increase premiums for applicants with pre-existing conditions, each of which would lower premiums but would raise out-of-pocket costs for people with health problems.

State also would need to find an increasing amount of matching state funds to be eligible for the federal grant fund, and could face uncertainty if federal funds are not appropriated in advance.  States choosing not to participate (by not providing matching funds) would be left without resources to address the higher premiums and affordability issues that would arise.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Claxton G., Pollitz K., Levitt L. (2017 June 5). State flexibility to address health insurance challenges under the american health care act, h.r. 1628 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/state-flexibility-to-address-health-insurance-challenges-under-the-american-health-care-act-h-r-1628/


HSAs vs. HRAs: Things Employers Should Consider

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bob Bentley on what employers should know about choosing between HSAs and HRAs.

With health care costs and insurance premiums continuing to rise, employers are looking for ways to reduce their insurance expenses. That usually means increasing medical plan deductibles. According to the latest UBA Health Plan Survey, the average in-network single medical plan deductible increased from $2,031 in 2015 to $2,127 in 2016. But shifting costs to employees can be detrimental to an employer’s efforts to attract and retain top talent. Employers are looking for solutions that reduce their costs while minimizing the impact on employees.

One way employers can mitigate increasing deductibles is by packaging a high-deductible health plan with either a health savings account (HSA) contribution or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). Either can be used to bridge some or all of the gap between a lower deductible and a higher deductible while reducing insurance premiums, and both offer tax benefits for employers and employees. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach that employers need to consider.

Health Savings Account (HSA) General Attributes

  • The employee owns the account and can take it when changing jobs.
  • HSA contributions can be made by the employer or employee, subject to a maximum contribution established by the government.
  • Triple tax advantage – funds go in tax-free, accounts grow tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are for qualified expenses (see IRS publication 502).
  • Funds may accumulate for years and be used during retirement.
  • The HSA must be paired with an IRS qualified high-deductible health plan (QHDHP); not just any plan with a deductible of $1,300 or more will qualify.

HSA Advantages

  • Costs are more predictable as they are not related to actual expenses, which can vary from year to year; contributions may also be spread out through the year to improve cash flow.
  • Employees become better consumers since there is an incentive to not spend the money and let it accumulate. This can result in an immediate reduction in claims costs for a self-funded plan.
  • HSAs can be set up with fewer administration costs; usually no administrator is needed, and no ERISA summary plan description (SPD) is needed.
  • The employer is not held responsible by the IRS for ensuring that the employee is eligible and that the contribution maximums are not exceeded.

HSA Disadvantages

  • Employees cannot participate if they’re also covered under a non-qualified health plan, which includes Tricare, Medicare, or even a spouse’s flexible spending account (FSA).
  • Employees accustomed to copays for office visits or prescriptions may be unhappy with the benefits of the QHDHP.
  • IRS rules can be confusing; IRS penalties may apply if the employee is ineligible for a contribution or other mistakes are made, which might intimidate employees.
  • Employees may forgo treatment to avoid spending their HSA balance or if they have no HSA funds available.

Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) General Attributes

  • Only an employer can contribute to an HRA; employees cannot.
  • The employer controls the cash until a claim is filed by the employee for reimbursement.
  • HRA contributions are tax deductible to the employer and tax-free to the employee.
  • To comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an HRA must be combined with a group medical insurance plan that meets ACA requirements.

HRA Advantages

  • HRAs offer more employer control and flexibility on the design of the HRA and the health plan does not need to be HSA qualified.
  • The employer can set it up as “use it or lose it” each year, thus reducing funding costs.
  • An HRA is compatible with an FSA (not just limited-purpose FSA).
  • Depending on the employer group, HRAs can sometimes be less confusing for employees, particularly if the plan design is simple.
  • HRA funds revert to the employer when an employee leaves – which might increase employee retention.

HRA Disadvantages

  • Self-employed individuals cannot participate in HRA funding.
  • There is little or no incentive for employees to control utilization since funds may not accumulate from year to year.
  • More administration may be necessary – HRAs are subject to ERISA and COBRA laws.
  • HRAs could raise HIPAA privacy concerns and create the need for policies and testing.

Both HSAs and HRAs can be of tremendous value to employers and employees. As shown, there are, however, a number of considerations to determine the best program and design for each situation. In some cases, employers may consider offering both, allowing employees to choose between an HSA contribution and a comparable HRA contribution, according to their individual circumstances.

For a comprehensive chart that compares eligibility criteria, contribution rules, reimbursement rules, reporting requirements, privacy requirements, applicable fees, non-discrimination rules and other characteristics of account-based plans, request UBA’s Compliance Advisor,  “HRAs, HSAs, and Health FSAs – What’s the Difference?”.

For information on modest contribution strategies that are still driving enrollment in HSA and HRA plans, read our breaking news release.

For a detailed look at the prevalence and enrollment rates among HSA and HRA plans by industry, region and group size, view UBA’s "Special Report: How Health Savings Accounts Measure Up", to understand which aspects of these accounts are most successful, and least successful.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bentley B. (2017 May 12). HSAs vs. HRAs: things employers should consider[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/hsas-vs.-hras-things-employers-should-consider