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Compliance Recap - October 2017

October was a busy month in the employee benefits world. President Trump announced a new Acting Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Eric Hargan fills the position vacated by Tom Price, who resigned in late September 2017.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued the instructions for Forms 1094/1095 for the 2017 tax year, announced PCORI fees for 2017-18, and announced cost-of-living adjustments for 2018. President Trump issued an Executive Order on healthcare and announced an end to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's cost sharing reductions.

The IRS, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued two interim final rules to allow a greater number of employers to opt out of providing contraception to employees at no cost through their employer-sponsored health plan.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a proposed rule to delay a disability claims procedure regulation's applicability date. The IRS provided additional guidance on leave-based donation programs' tax treatment and released an information letter on COBRA and Medicare. HHS released its proposed rule on benefits and payment parameters for 2019. The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued its Priority Guidance Plan for projects it intends to complete during the first half of 2018.

UBA Updates

UBA released seven new advisors in October:

UBA updated existing guidance:

IRS Issues 2017 Instructions for Forms 1094/1095

The IRS issued the instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the 2017 tax year. Applicable large employers use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information related to their employer shared responsibility provisions under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Read more about the instructions and forms.

IRS Announces PCORI Fee for 2017-18

The IRS announced the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee for 2017-18. The fee is $1.00 per covered life in the first year the fee is in effect. The fee is $2.00 per covered life in the second year. In the third through seventh years, the fee is $2.00, adjusted for medical inflation, per covered life.

For plan years that end on or after October 1, 2016, and before October 1, 2017, the indexed fee is $2.26. For plan years that end on or after October 1, 2017, and before October 1, 2018, the indexed fee is $2.39.

Read more about the PCORI fee.

IRS Announces Cost-of-Living Adjustments for 2018

The IRS released Revenue Procedures 2017-58 and Notice 2017-64 to announce cost-of-living adjustments for 2018. For example, the dollar limit on voluntary employee salary reductions for contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) is $2,650, for taxable years beginning with 2018.

Download the chart of 2018 annual benefit plan amounts.

Executive Order on Healthcare

On October 12, 2017, the White House released the Executive Order "Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States," signed by President Trump, that directs various federal agencies to explore options relating to association health plans, short-term, limited-duration insurance, and health reimbursement arrangements in the next 60-120 days.

Employers should not make any changes to their group health plans based on the Executive Order until regulations are issued.

Read more about the Executive Order.

President Trump Ends ACA Cost Sharing Reductions

President Trump announced that the ACA's cost sharing reductions for low income Americans would be stopped. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed that the payments would stop immediately.

Because the cost sharing reductions are different than the advance premium tax credit, this payment termination will not have a direct impact on employers at this time. However, employers with fully insured health plans might see group health plan rate increases in the future as insurance companies work to make up for revenue loss.

Read more about the payment termination.

Agencies Roll Back Contraceptive Mandate

The Internal Revenue Service, Employee Benefits Security Administration, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued two interim final rules that were effective on October 6, 2017. These rules will allow a greater number of employers to opt out of providing contraception to employees at no cost through their employer-sponsored health plan.

The expanded exemption encompasses all non-governmental plan sponsors that object based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and higher education institutions' student health plan arrangements. The exemption also now encompasses employers who object to providing contraception coverage based on sincerely held moral objections and higher education institutions' student health plan arrangements. Further, if an insurance company has sincere religious beliefs or moral objections, it would be exempt from having to sell coverage that provides contraception. The exemptions apply to both non-profit and for-profit entities.

Read more about the contraceptive mandate rollback.

DOL Proposes Delay to Final Disability Claims Procedures Regulations' Applicability Date

The DOL issued a proposed rule to delay the applicability date of its final rule that amends the claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans that provide disability benefits. The DOL's Fact Sheetcontains a summary of the final rule's requirements.

The DOL is delaying the applicability date from January 1, 2018, to April 1, 2018, to consider whether to rescind, modify, or retain the regulations and to give the public an additional opportunity to submit comments and data concerning the final rule's potential impact.

IRS Provides Additional Guidance on Leave-Based Donation Programs' Tax Treatment

Last month, the IRS provided guidance for employers who adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for victims of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irma. This month, the IRS issued Notice 2017-62 which extends the guidance to employers' programs adopted for the relief of victims of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Maria.

These leave-based donation programs allow employees to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer will make to charitable organizations described under Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c).

The employer's cash payments will not constitute gross income or wages of the employees if paid before January 1, 2019, to the Section 170(c) charitable organizations for the relief of victims of Hurricane or Tropical Storm Maria. Employers do not need to include these payments in Box 1, 3, or 5 of an employee's Form W-2.

IRS Releases Information Letter on COBRA and Medicare

The IRS released Information Letter 2017-0022 that explains that a covered employee's spouse can receive COBRA continuation coverage for up to 36 months if the employee became entitled to Medicare benefits before employment termination. In this case, the spouse's maximum COBRA continuation period ends the later of: 36 months after the employee's Medicare entitlement, or 18 months (or 29 months if there is a disability extension) after the employment termination.

CMS Releases 2019 Benefits Payment and Parameters Proposed Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed ruleand fact sheet for the 2019 Benefit Payment and Parameters. The proposed rule is intended to increase individual market flexibility, improve program integrity, and reduce regulatory burdens associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in many ways, including updates and annual provisions to:

  • Essential health benefits
  • Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP)
  • Special enrollment periods (SEPs)
  • Exemptions
  • Termination effective dates
  • Medical loss ratio (MLR)

CMS usually finalizes the Benefit Payment and Parameters rule in the first quarter of the year following the proposed rule's release. November 27, 2017, is the due date for public comments on the proposed rule.

Almost all the topics addressed in the proposed rule would affect the individual market and the Exchanges, particularly the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges.

Of interest to small group health plans, CMS proposes to change how states will select essential health benefits benchmark plans. If CMS keeps this change in its final rule, then it will affect non-grandfathered small group health plans for benefit years 2019 and beyond.

Read more about the proposed rule.

Treasury Issues its Priority Guidance Plan

The Treasury issued its 2017-2018 Priority Guidance Plan that lists projects that it intends to complete by June 30, 2018, including:

  • Guidance on issues related to the employer shared responsibility provisions
  • Regulations regarding the excise tax on high cost employer-provided coverage ("Cadillac tax")
  • Guidance on Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (QSE HRAs)

Question of the Month

Q: Although the transitional reinsurance fee (TRF) expired, why might an employer have one TRF remittance due in November?

A: The TRF premium stabilization program was in place from 2014 to 2016. Calendar year 2016 was the last year for which the TRF was required. HHS offered employers with self-insured plans with an option to pay the TRF in one or two payments. If an employer chose to pay in two installments for the 2016 benefit year, then the employer's first payment was due by January 17, 2017, and its second payment is due by November 15, 2017.


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Critical compliance changes for next year: An open enrollment checklist

Keeping up-to-date with health care is one of our top priorities. From HR Morning, here is a comprehensive list of everything you need to know so far going into 2018.


As HR pros immerse themselves in negotiating plan changes for this year’s open enrollment, it’s critical to keep these new 2018 regulation changes front and center.

To help, here’s a checklist of changes you’ll need to be aware of when making plan-design moves:

1. Mental Health Parity reg changes enforced

Beginning January 1, 2018, plans that require “fail first” or “step therapy” could violate the Parity Act’s “non-quantitative treatment limitation” (NQTL) rules. Under the NQTL rules, plans can’t be more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse benefits than they are for medical/surgical ones.

Here’s an example of a fail-first strategy: Requiring mental health or addiction patients to try an intensive outpatient program before admission to an inpatient treatment if the same restriction doesn’t apply to medical/surgical benefits.

2. New Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template

Under the ACA, plans were required to start using the new SBC template on or after April 1, 2017.

For calendar year plans, that means this is the first enrollment with the new template, which includes new coverage examples and updates about cost-sharing. You can find more details on and instructions for the new form here: bit.ly/temp544

3. Women’s preventive care

The Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines were updated for 2018 calendar plans to include a number of items that must be covered without any cost-sharing. The list includes breast cancer screenings for average-risk women, screenings for cervical cancer, diabetes mellitus and more.

 

See the original article here.

Source:

Bilski J. (17 October 2017). "Critical compliance changes for next year: An open enrollment checklist" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/critical-compliance-changes-for-next-year-an-open-enrollment-checklist/


Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding

Are you looking for a run-down on Navigator programs and their funding? In this article from the Kaiser Family Foundation, we are offered an informative peak of the 2017 changes in federal Navigator funding within the Affordable Care Act (ACA).


Read the original article here.

Source:

Pollitz K., Tolbert J., Diaz M. (11 October 2017). "Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/data-note-changes-in-2017-federal-navigator-funding/

 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created Navigator programs to provide outreach, education, and enrollment assistance to consumers eligible for coverage through the Marketplaces and through Medicaid and requires that they be funded by the marketplaces.  For the past two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has funded Navigator programs in the 34 states that use the federal marketplace through a multi-year agreement that was expected to continue for the current budget year.  In August, CMS officials announced significant reductions to Navigator funding for the 2018 budget year.  These funding reductions coming so close to the start of the 2018 open enrollment period will affect the help many Navigators can provide to consumers seeking to enroll in coverage.

This data note analyzes funding changes and discusses the implications for Navigators and consumers.  It presents results of a Kaiser Family Foundation online survey of federal marketplace (FFM) Navigator programs conducted from September 22, 2017 – October 4, 2017 about 2017 funding awards (for the 2018 open enrollment period), the relationship between funding amounts and program performance, and the likely impact of funding changes on programs and the consumers they serve. It also includes insights from a roundtable meeting of more than 40 Navigators co-hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation held on September 15, 2017, as well as analysis of administrative data.

BACKGROUND

In 2015, CMS signed three-year agreements with Navigator organizations to provide consumer assistance to residents of federal marketplace states.  The multi-year agreements promoted continuity and experience among Navigator professionals.  Multi-year agreement also spared CMS and Navigators the time and expense involved in reissuing grants during critical weeks leading up to open enrollment.  Under the agreements, Navigator programs in the FFM states are required to set goals and report performance data throughout the year relating to specific duties and activities.

Funding amounts under the multi-year agreements have been determined annually — $60 million for the first budget year (which runs September through August), and $63 million for the second budget year.  CMS notified continuing programs of the grant amount available to them for the coming year in late spring; programs then submitted work plans, budgets, and performance goals based on that amount.  Once CMS approved these plans, final awards were made in late August.

In May 2017, continuing Navigator programs were notified of available third-year funding amounts, which totaled $60 million, with grants for most programs similar to the year-two funding amount. In June, programs submitted their work plans and budgets corresponding to these amounts. The Navigator programs expected final Notice of Awards (NOA) by September 1, 2017.

On August 31, one day prior to the end of the second budget period of the grants, CMS announced it would reduce Navigator funding by more than 40%. CMS issued a bulletin stating that funding for the third year would be based on program performance on its enrollment goals for the second budget period.  On September 13, 2017, two weeks into the third budget year of the grant, FFM Navigator programs received preliminary NOAs for third-year funding, which totaled $36.8 million, or 58% of the year-two awards. (See Appendix A for funding awards by program.)

2017 NAVIGATOR FUNDING REDUCTIONS

CMS notified Navigator program of their preliminary 2017 grant awards on September 13, 2017.  The full list of preliminary awards was obtained and released by a third party (see Appendix A). This section summarizes funding changes based on information from that list.

Funding changes at the state level for 2017 were uneven across states.  Three FFM states (Delaware, Kansas, and West Virginia) received no net reduction in year-three Navigator funding.  Among the other 31 FFM states, the funding reductions ranged from 10% in North Carolina to 80% or more in Indiana, Nebraska, and Louisiana (Table 1).

Table 1: 2016 Federal Navigator Funding Awards  and Preliminary 2017 Awards as of  September 13, 2017, by State
State 2016 Funding Award 2017 Preliminary Funding Award Percent Change
Alabama $1,338,335 $1,036,859 -23%
Alaska $600,000 $446,805 -26%
Arizona $1,629,237 $1,167,592 -28%
Delaware $600,000 $600,000 0%
Florida $9,464,668 $6,625,807 -30%
Georgia $3,682,732 $1,433,936 -61%
Hawaii $334,510 $185,143 -45%
Illinois $2,581,477 $1,792,170 -31%
Indiana $1,635,961 $296,704 -82%
Iowa $603,895 $226,323 -63%
Kansas $731,532 $731,532 0%
Louisiana $1,535,332 $307,349 -80%
Maine $600,000 $551,750 -8%
Michigan $2,228,692 $627,958 -72%
Mississippi $907,579 $382,281 -58%
Missouri $1,815,514 $729,577 -60%
Montana $495,701 $374,750 -24%
Nebraska $600,000 $115,704 -81%
New Hampshire $600,000 $456,214 -24%
New Jersey $1,905,132 $720,545 -62%
North Carolina $3,405,954 $3,061,034 -10%
North Dakota $636,648 $208,524 -67%
Ohio $1,971,421 $568,327 -71%
Oklahoma $1,162,363 $798,000 -31%
Pennsylvania $3,073,116 $1,988,501 -35%
South Carolina $1,517,783 $511,048 -66%
South Dakota $600,000 $236,947 -61%
Tennessee $1,772,618 $1,497,410 -16%
Texas $9,217,235 $6,110,535 -34%
Utah $902,681 $394,862 -56%
Virginia $2,187,871 $1,108,189 -49%
West Virginia $600,000 $600,000 0%
Wisconsin $1,338,306 $749,215 -44%
Wyoming $605,847 $183,654 -70%
Total $62,882,140 $36,825,245 -41%
Source: List of preliminary grant awards was obtained and released by a third party, not by CMS.

When the multi-year agreement was established, federal funding was allocated across FFM states based on the state’s share of the number of uninsured people, with a minimum amount ($600,000) reserved for each of the smallest states.  This allocation formula no longer seems to apply.  For example, total funding for Navigators in Indiana ($290,000) was less than that for Navigators in Alaska ($447,000) despite the fact that there are four times as many uninsured residents in Indiana compared to Alaska (422,000 vs 95,600 in 2016).  Similarly, funding for Navigators in Ohio was less than that for Navigators in Oklahoma ($568,000 vs $798,000) though there are more uninsured residents in Ohio (631,000 vs 409,000).1

Overall, the funding reductions varied widely across individual Navigator programs. The vast majority (82%) of Navigator programs experienced reductions, while 18% of programs saw their funding stay the same or increase compared to funding levels in 2016. Forty-nine percent of programs had their funding reduced by more than half and more than one-quarter experienced funding reductions of over 75% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Changes in Navigator Program Funding, 2016-2017

NAVIGATOR PROGRAM FUNDING VERSUS PERFORMANCE

This section summarizes findings from the KFF Survey of FFM Navigators about 2017 funding changes and program performance on certain metrics during the second year of the multi-year agreement.  All Navigator programs were contacted, and 51% participated in the survey.

Navigators say the basis for 2017 funding decisions has not been clear.  Nearly half (49%) of respondents said that the rationale for the funding notice they received on September 13 was not provided at all, and another 40% said it was unclear (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Navigator Program Perception of Clarity of CMS Funding Rationale

The August 31 CMS bulletin indicated that funding for the Navigators would be based on performance against year-two “enrollment goals.” According to the bulletin, “a grantee that achieved 100 percent of its enrollment goal for plan year 2017 will receive the same level of funding as last year, while a grantee that enrolled only 70 percent of its enrollment goal would receive 70 percent of its previous year funding level, a reduction of 30 percent. The new funding formula will ensure accountability within the Navigator program.”

It is not clear what metric CMS used to determine funding levels since Navigators have been required to track a number of activities relative to goals, all of which could result in or contribute to enrollment in health coverage.  These include:

  • Number of consumers assisted with qualified health plan (QHP) selection/enrollment (including reenrollment);
  • Number of one-on-one interactions with consumers, including both general and specific inquiries; and
  • Number of consumers assisted with applying for Medicaid/CHIP, including referral of consumers in non-expansion states to the state Medicaid office;
  • Number of consumers reached through outreach and public education activities.2
NAVIGATOR-ASSISTED QUALIFIED HEALTH PLAN SELECTION METRIC

The number of consumers assisted with QHP selections is the most direct measure of marketplace enrollment tracked by Navigators, although as discussed below, it does not capture all marketplace enrollments that involved Navigator assistance.

There are two measures of Navigator-assisted QHP selections, one self-reported by the programs and one based on data collected by healthcare.gov – the Multidimensional Information and Data Analytics System, or MIDAS data.  The healthcare.gov online application includes a field where Navigator staff can enter their identification number for each consumer whom they assist. Navigators report that program staff have not been trained on this data entry and did not consistently enter it. Several weeks after the start of the fourth open enrollment period, some Navigator programs said they were encouraged by their CMS project officers to improve consistency of staff identification numbers on applications.  Some say they subsequently received reports from CMS staff during the project year comparing MIDAS and self-reported data on QHP selections that did not match – in some cases by a factor of two – and programs did not know why.  Other programs said they did not receive reports from CMS on their MIDAS data.  Navigators expressed concern about the accuracy of data counting QHP selections, especially if this will become the basis for future funding decisions.

The survey asked Navigators to provide both their goal and self-reported performance data for Navigator-assisted QHP selections as reported to CMS for the second budget period. Navigator performance relative to the goal was compared to the change in funding from 2016 to 2017.  Among programs that provided the performance data, findings include:

For 22.5% of programs, 2017 funding matches performance on the self-reported QHP selection metric (Figure 3).  Included in this group were:

  • 15.0% of programs that exceeded or met at least 95% of the goal and whose 2017 funds were not reduced; and
  • 7.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding reduced by the same or similar percentage (+/- 5%).

For 77.5% of programs, 2017 funding does not reflect performance on the QHP selection metric.  Included in this group were:

  • 22.5% of programs that exceeded or met at least 95% of the goal and whose 2017 funds were reduced;
  • 27.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding reduced by a greater percentage; and
  • 27.5% of programs that did not meet the goal and had funding changed by a smaller percentage.

Figure 3: Change in Navigator Funding Compared to Performance on QHP Selection Metric

The QHP selection metric tends to undercount enrollment that is connected to assistance provided by Navigators. Through the survey and at the roundtable, Navigators expressed concern that the QHP selection measure does not reflect the number of consumers whom they help and who ultimately enroll in marketplace health plans.  This metric, as defined by CMS, counts only those consumers who select a plan in the Navigator’s presence, a fraction of the total number of individuals who enroll in coverage and who were helped by Navigators.  For example, if a Navigator helped a consumer complete her application and reviewed plan choices, but the consumer went home to consider her options and made a final selection that evening, that visit could not be reported as a Navigator-assisted plan selection.3 According to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2016 Survey of Health Insurance Marketplace Assister Programs and Brokers, 18% of assister programs reported that nearly all consumers they helped who were determined eligible to enroll in a QHP made their plan selection during the initial visit. Thirty-five percent said they knew the final plan selection of all or nearly all such consumers whom they helped.

OTHER NAVIGATOR PERFORMANCE METRICS

Funding changes for 2017 also do not appear to align with performance on other metrics.  Navigators reported goals and performance data on other key metrics that relate to enrollment (Figure 4). Most programs met or exceeded these goals, so these metrics do not appear to be related to the funding reductions.  Among programs that answered these questions, Eight in ten programs (83%) met their goals for one-on-one consumers interactions, 71% met their goals for helping consumers enroll in Medicaid or CHIP, and three quarters met their outreach and education event goal.

Figure 4: Most Navigators Met Other Enrollment-Related Goals

One-on-one assistance: The most comprehensive measurement required by CMS is the number of consumers provided one-on-one assistance.  A one-on-one encounter can involve helping a consumer with any step along the process that ends with enrollment:  educating consumers about the availability of plans and assistance, completing a marketplace application for financial assistance, appealing a marketplace decision, reviewing and understanding plan options, or selecting a QHP.  Navigators also provide one-on-one assistance to consumers after they enroll so that they can remain covered.  Such help includes answering tax reconciliation questions, resolving premium payment disputes, and referring consumers for help with denied claims.  Once they have resolved the problem they came in with, many consumers leave and complete the enrollment process on their own.  The one-on-one assistance metric would also count consumers who are helped but who do not enroll in coverage.  On average, the number one-on-one encounters Navigators reported was 15 times higher than the number of QHP selections.

Medicaid/CHIP enrollment assistance or referrals: The ACA requires a “no wrong door” application process through which consumers can apply through the marketplace, using a single streamlined application, for either private health insurance subsidies or Medicaid/CHIP.  Navigators are required to help all consumers with the application.  Navigators from Medicaid expansion states noted that most consumers who sought help were ultimately determined Medicaid eligible.  At the roundtable, some commented that, when the August 31 bulletin was released, they assumed CMS would base funding on enrollment under both types of coverage.

Outreach and public education: Four years after implementation, the public’s understanding of ACA benefits and requirements remains limited.  For example, many consumers continue to be unaware that signups for private non-group health insurance, generally, must take place during open enrollment.4  Turnover in marketplace plans is high, as most participants need non-group coverage only while they are between jobs or other types of coverage.  Navigators report that consumers are less likely to seek, or be receptive to, information about the marketplace until they actually need it.

IMPACT OF NAVIGATOR FUNDING REDUCTIONS

This section summarizes findings from the KFF Navigator survey as well as insights from the Navigator Roundtable meeting on program changes that may result from the funding reductions.

Most Navigator programs say they will continue to operate in 2018 despite the funding reductions.However, three programs said they will terminate work for year-three.  These include two programs – one statewide and one nearly statewide5 – that had been the only Navigator service providers for consumers in most areas of their respective states.  Their decision to withdraw was based on the level and timing of funding reductions.  The September 13 NOA directed that no more than 10% of the grantee’s award could be spent by programs pending CMS review and approval of the final budget and work plan.  Because the preliminary award was announced two weeks into the plan year with final awards scheduled to be made as late as October 28, grantees were faced with maintaining staff payroll and other expenses for as long as two months without assurances they would be reimbursed. The terminating programs, both operated by nonprofits, determined this was not feasible.

Most programs report they will likely reduce their geographic service area and limit help to rural residents. Among programs whose funding was reduced, 45% of statewide programs and two-thirds of regional programs said it is somewhat or very likely they will have to limit the territory their program will serve in year three. Programs emphasized their inability to afford the same level of travel expenses and/or the cost of satellite offices that they had previously incurred in order to offer in-person help to consumers living farther away.  Consumers living in rural communities may be the most affected.  Most (55%) statewide Navigator programs and 72% of regional programs expect to limit services to rural residents this year (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Navigator Programs Reducing Geographic Service Area and Services in Rural Areas

Nearly all programs (89%) expect to lay off staff as a result of funding reductions (Figure 6).  Some programs expect to cut Navigator staff by 75% or more.  The KFF 2016 Assister Survey found that continuity among staff has been high to date.  One advantage of the multi-year agreement was to allow staff experience to grow over time.  To fill in the gaps left by staff lay-offs, some programs plan to rely more heavily on less experienced volunteers.

Figure 6: Navigator Program Response to Funding Reductions

Most Navigator programs expect to reduce services in other ways, as well.  Nearly all programs (81%) say they will likely reduce outreach and public education activities as a result of budget reductions.  In addition, 89% of programs say they will likely reduce spending on marketing and advertising. Nearly six in ten programs (57%) said they will likely reduce the number of months in which they offer Navigator assistance.  Some programs expect to close following open enrollment, others will cut back to a skeletal staff.  As a result, consumers who need assistance at tax time, or help with special enrollments or post-enrollment problems during the year, may have difficulty finding it.

Over four in ten programs say it is likely they will curtail help to consumers related to Medicaid.  At the roundtable, some discussed a strategy of pre-screening consumers during open enrollment to identify those likely eligible for Medicaid/CHIP.  These consumers might be asked to come back at a later date, if they do not have an immediate medical or coverage need, because Medicaid and CHIP enrollment is year round.  Other expressed concern that, if CMS bases future funding on QHP plan selections, Navigators in Medicaid expansion states could be disadvantaged.

In addition, 57% of programs say they will likely limit time staff can devote to helping consumers with complex cases.  These cases include consumers experiencing identity proofing problems (for example, faced by young adults who have not previously filed income tax returns or established credit ratings).6  They also include consumers with income data-matching problems (for example, self-employed individuals who have difficulty estimating income for the coming year).  People who cannot resolve identity or other data verification problems within 90 days risk losing their marketplace coverage or subsidies.

Another 54% of programs say they will likely limit the number of limited English proficiency (LEP) consumers they can serve.  Programs often pay a premium for bi-lingual staff, an expense they may no longer be able to afford with reduced funding.

Consumers who need these kinds of assistance may have difficulty finding it elsewhere.  Many consumers seek help from other types of marketplace assister programs.  Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) also receive funding from the federal government to provide in-person enrollment assistance, although the authorization for most federal funding expired September 30 and has yet to be extended.  In addition, Certified Application Counselor (CAC) programs provide in-person help in the marketplace, though are not paid by the marketplace.  The KFF 2016 Assister Survey found that all three types of programs play an important role in helping consumers.  They also tend to differ from Navigator programs in some key respects.  In particular, Navigator programs typically undergo a higher level of training; they are more likely to operate statewide, sponsor outreach and enrollment events, handle complex cases, and provide help throughout the year.

The KFF 2016 Assister Survey also found that agents and brokers are less likely than marketplace assister programs to serve consumers who need translation services, help with complex cases, and help with Medicaid applications. Brokers and agents are also less likely to help uninsured consumers, immigrants, and consumers who lack internet at home.

DISCUSSION

The Administration’s decision to reduce funding for Navigator programs comes at a challenging time for consumers who rely on coverage through the marketplaces. High-profile insurer exits from the marketplaces, rising premiums, and uncertainty over the federal commitment to funding the cost sharing subsidies are likely sowing confusion among consumers about whether coverage and financial assistance remain available. This confusion, coupled with a shortened open enrollment period, increases demand for the consumer education and in-person enrollment assistance Navigators provide. At a time when more help may be needed, the funding reductions are likely to reduce the level of in-person help available to consumers during this fall’s open enrollment and throughout the 2018 coverage year.

Navigator programs generally report that they do not understand the basis for the funding decisions, and our survey results suggest that there is not a clear link between funding and performance of programs relative to goals on the measures they are required to track and self-report. This ambiguity makes it difficult for programs to plan for the future.

Both the magnitude of the reductions and the timing has caused disruption to Navigator program planning and operations.  Programs plan to adopt various strategies in response to the reductions, including reducing their geographic service area and cutting services, such as outreach and assisting with complex cases. Three programs report they will terminate operations, leaving consumers in their states with very limited access to in-person help. While consumers may be able to turn to other assister programs or brokers, less in-person assistance will be available in some areas, especially for people with complex situations or who live in remote or rural communities.

 

Read the original article here.

Source:

Pollitz K., Tolbert J., Diaz M. (11 October 2017). "Data Note: Changes in 2017 Federal Navigator Funding" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/data-note-changes-in-2017-federal-navigator-funding/


An Early Look at 2018 Premium Changes and Insurer Participation on ACA Exchanges


Each year insurers submit filings to state regulators detailing their plans to participate on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces (also called exchanges). These filings include information on the premiums insurers plan to charge in the coming year and which areas they plan to serve. Each state or the federal government reviews premiums to ensure they are accurate and justifiable before the rate goes into effect, though regulators have varying types of authority and states make varying amounts of information public.

In this analysis, we look at preliminary premiums and insurer participation in the 20 states and the District of Columbia where publicly available rate filings include enough detail to be able to show the premium for a specific enrollee. As in previous years, we focus on the second-lowest cost silver plan in the major city in each state. This plan serves as the benchmark for premium tax credits. Enrollees must also enroll in a silver plan to obtain reduced cost sharing tied to their incomes. About 71% of marketplace enrollees are in silver plans this year.

States are still reviewing premiums and participation, so the data in this report are preliminary and could very well change. Rates and participation are not locked in until late summer or early fall (insurers must sign an annual contract by September 27 in states using Healthcare.gov).

Insurers in this market face new uncertainty in the current political environment and in some cases have factored this into their premium increases for the coming year. Specifically, insurers have been unsure whether the individual mandate (which brings down premiums by compelling healthy people to buy coverage) will be repealed by Congress or to what degree it will be enforced by the Trump Administration. Additionally, insurers in this market do not know whether the Trump Administration will continue to make payments to compensate insurers for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which are the subject of a lawsuit, or whether Congress will appropriate these funds. (More on these subsidies can be found here).

The vast majority of insurers included in this analysis cite uncertainty surrounding the individual mandate and/or cost sharing subsidies as a factor in their 2018 rates filings. Some insurers explicitly factor this uncertainty into their initial premium requests, while other companies say if they do not receive more clarity or if cost-sharing payments stop, they plan to either refile with higher premiums or withdraw from the market. We include a table in this analysis highlighting examples of companies that have factored this uncertainty into their initial premium increases and specified the amount by which the uncertainty is increasing rates.

Changes in the Second-Lowest Cost Silver Premium

The second-lowest silver plan is one of the most popular plan choices on the marketplace and is also the benchmark that is used to determine the amount of financial assistance individuals and families receive. The table below shows these premiums for a major city in each state with available data. (Our analyses from 201720162015, and 2014 examined changes in premiums and participation in these states and major cities since the exchange markets opened nearly four years ago.)

Across these 21 major cities, based on preliminary 2018 rate filings, the second-lowest silver premium for a 40-year-old non-smoker will range from $244 in Detroit, MI to $631 in Wilmington, DE, before accounting for the tax credit that most enrollees in this market receive.

Of these major cities, the steepest proposed increases in the unsubsidized second-lowest silver plan are in Wilmington, DE (up 49% from $423 to $631 per month for a 40-year-old non-smoker), Albuquerque, NM (up 34% from $258 to $346), and Richmond, VA (up 33% from $296 to $394). Meanwhile, unsubsidized premiums for the second-lowest silver premiums will decrease in Providence, RI (down -5% from $261 to $248 for a 40-year-old non-smoker) and remain essentially unchanged in Burlington, VT ($492 to $491).

As discussed in more detail below, this year’s preliminary rate requests are subject to much more uncertainty than in past years. An additional factor driving rates this year is the return of the ACA’s health insurance tax, which adds an estimated 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums.

Most enrollees in the marketplaces (84%) receive a tax credit to lower their premium and these enrollees will be protected from premium increases, though they may need to switch plans in order to take full advantage of the tax credit. The premium tax credit caps how much a person or family must spend on the benchmark plan in their area at a certain percentage of their income. For this reason, in 2017, a single adult making $30,000 per year would pay about $207 per month for the second-lowest-silver plan, regardless of the sticker price (unless their unsubsidized premium was less than $207 per month). If this person enrolls in the second lowest-cost silver plan is in 2018 as well, he or she will pay slightly less (the after-tax credit payment for a similar person in 2018 will be $201 per month, or a decrease of 2.9%). Enrollees can use their tax credits in any marketplace plan. So, because tax credits rise with the increase in benchmark premiums, enrollees are cushioned from the effect of premium hikes.

Table 1: Monthly Silver Premiums and Financial Assistance for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker Making $30,000 / Year
State  Major City 2nd Lowest Cost Silver
Before Tax Credit
2nd Lowest Cost Silver
After Tax Credit
Amount of Premium Tax Credit
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
2017 2018 % Change
from 2017
California* Los Angeles $258 $289 12% $207 $201 -3% $51 $88 71%
Colorado Denver $313 $352 12% $207 $201 -3% $106 $150 42%
Connecticut Hartford $369 $417 13% $207 $201 -3% $162 $216 33%
DC Washington $298 $324 9% $207 $201 -3% $91 $122 35%
Delaware Wilmington $423 $631 49% $207 $201 -3% $216 $430 99%
Georgia Atlanta $286 $308 7% $207 $201 -3% $79 $106 34%
Idaho Boise $348 $442 27% $207 $201 -3% $141 $241 70%
Indiana Indianapolis $286 $337 18% $207 $201 -3% $79 $135 72%
Maine Portland $341 $397 17% $207 $201 -3% $134 $196 46%
Maryland Baltimore $313 $392 25% $207 $201 -3% $106 $191 81%
Michigan* Detroit $237 $244 3% $207 $201 -3% $29 $42 44%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $366 $383 5% $207 $201 -3% $159 $181 14%
New Mexico Albuquerque $258 $346 34% $207 $201 -3% $51 $144 183%
New York*** New York City $456 $504 10% $207 $201 -3% $249 $303 21%
Oregon Portland $312 $350 12% $207 $201 -3% $105 $149 42%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $418 $515 23% $207 $201 -3% $211 $313 49%
Rhode Island Providence $261 $248 -5% $207 $201 -3% $54 $47 -13%
Tennessee Nashville $419 $507 21% $207 $201 -3% $212 $306 44%
Vermont Burlington $492 $491 0% $207 $201 -3% $285 $289 2%
Virginia Richmond $296 $394 33% $207 $201 -3% $89 $193 117%
Washington Seattle $238 $306 29% $207 $201 -3% $31 $105 239%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Looking back to 2014, when changes to the individual insurance market under the ACA first took effect, reveals a wide range of premium changes. In many of these cities, average annual premium growth over the 2014-2018 period has been modest, and in two cites (Indianapolis and Providence), benchmark premiums have actually decreased. In other cities, premiums have risen rapidly over the period, though in some cases this rapid growth was because premiums were initially quite low (e.g., in Nashville and Minneapolis).

Table 2: Monthly Benchmark Silver Premiums
for a 40 Year Old Non-Smoker, 2014-2018
State Major City 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Average Annual % Change from 2014 to 2018 Average Annual % Change After Tax Credit, $30K Income
California Los Angeles $255 $257 $245 $258 $289 3% -1%
Colorado Denver $250 $211 $278 $313 $352 9%  -1%
Connecticut Hartford $328 $312 $318 $369 $417 6%  -1%
DC Washington $242 $242 $244 $298 $324 8%  -1%
Delaware Wilmington $289 $301 $356 $423 $631 22%  -1%
Georgia Atlanta $250 $255 $254 $286 $308 5%  -1%
Idaho Boise $231 $210 $273 $348 $442 18%  -1%
Indiana Indianapolis $341 $329 $298 $286 $337 0%  -1%
Maine Portland $295 $282 $288 $341 $397 8%  -1%
Maryland Baltimore $228 $235 $249 $313 $392 15%  -1%
Michigan* Detroit $224 $230 $226 $237 $244 2%  -1%
Minnesota** Minneapolis $162 $183 $235 $366 $383 24%  6%
New Mexico Albuquerque $194 $171 $186 $258 $346 16%  1%
New York*** New York City $365 $372 $369 $456 $504 8%  -1%
Oregon Portland $213 $213 $261 $312 $350 13%  -1%
Pennsylvania Philadelphia $300 $268 $276 $418 $515 14%  -1%
Rhode Island Providence $293 $260 $263 $261 $248 -4%  -1%
Tennessee Nashville $188 $203 $281 $419 $507 28%  2%
Vermont Burlington $413 $436 $468 $492 $491 4%  -1%
Virginia Richmond $253 $260 $276 $296 $394 12%  -1%
Washington Seattle $281 $254 $227 $238 $306 2% -1%
NOTES: *The 2018 premiums for MI and CA reflect the assumption that CSR payments will continue. **The 2018 premium for MN assumes no reinsurance. ***Empire has filed to offer on the individual market in New York in 2018 but has not made its rates public.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Changes in Insurer Participation

Across these 20 states and DC, an average of 4.6 insurers have indicated they intend to participate in 2018, compared to an average of 5.1 insurers per state in 2017, 6.2 in 2016, 6.7 in 2015, and 5.7 in 2014. In states using Healthcare.gov, insurers have until September 27 to sign final contracts to participate in 2018. Insurers often do not serve an entire state, so the number of choices available to consumers in a particular area will typically be less than these figures.

Table 3: Total Number of Insurers by State, 2014 – 2018
State Total Number of Issuers in the Marketplace
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 (Preliminary)
California 11 10 12 11 11
Colorado 10 10 8 7 7
Connecticut 3 4 4 2 2
DC 3 3 2 2 2
Delaware 2 2 2 2 1 (Aetna exiting)
Georgia 5 9 8 5 4 (Humana exiting)
Idaho 4 5 5 5 4 (Cambia exiting)
Indiana 4 8 7 4 2 (Anthem and MDwise exiting)
Maine 2 3 3 3 3
Maryland 4 5 5 3 3 (Cigna exiting, Evergreen1 filed to reenter)
Michigan 9 13 11 9 8 (Humana exiting)
Minnesota 5 4 4 4 4
New Mexico 4 5 4 4 4
New York 16 16 15 14 14
Oregon 11 10 10 6 5 (Atrio exiting)
Pennsylvania 7 8 7 5 5
Rhode Island 2 3 3 2 2
Tennessee 4 5 4 3 3 (Humana exiting, Oscar entering)
Vermont 2 2 2 2 2
Virginia 5 6 7 8 6 (UnitedHealthcare and Aetna exiting)
Washington 7 9 8 6 5 (Community Health Plan of WA exiting)
Average (20 states + DC) 5.7 6.7 6.2 5.1 4.6
NOTES: Insurers are grouped by parent company or group affiliation, which we obtained from HHS Medical Loss Ratio public use files and supplemented with additional research.
1The number of preliminary 2018 insurers in Maryland includes Evergreen, which submitted a filing but has been placed in receivership.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Uncertainty Surrounding ACA Provisions

Insurers in the individual market must submit filings with their premiums and service areas to states and/or the federal government for review well in advance of these rates going into effect. States vary in their deadlines and processes, but generally, insurers were required to submit their initial rate requests in May or June of 2017 for products that go into effect in January 2018. Once insurers set their premiums for 2018 and sign final contacts at the end of September, those premiums are locked in for the entire calendar year and insurers do not have an opportunity to revise their rates or service areas until the following year.

Meanwhile, over the course of this summer, the debate in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has carried on as insurers set their rates for next year. Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would have made significant changes to the law effective in 2018 or even retroactively, including repeal of the individual mandate penalty. Additionally, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals over whether it would continue to enforce the individual mandate or make payments to insurers to reimburse them for the cost of providing legally required cost-sharing assistance to low-income enrollees.

Because this policy uncertainty is far outside the norm, insurers are making varying assumptions about how this uncertainty will play out and affect premiums. Some states have attempted to standardize the process by requesting rate submissions under multiple scenarios, while other states appear to have left the decision up to each individual company. There is no standard place in the filings where insurers across all states can explain this type of assumption, and some states do not post complete filings to allow the public to examine which assumptions insurers are making.

In the 20 states and DC with detailed rate filings included in the previous sections of this analysis, the vast majority of insurers cite policy uncertainty in their rate filings. Some insurers make an explicit assumption about the individual mandate not being enforced or cost-sharing subsidies not being paid and specify how much each assumption contributes to the overall rate increase. Other insurers state that if they do not get clarity by the time final rates must be submitted – which has now been delayed to September 5 for the federal marketplace – they may either increase their premiums further or withdraw from the market.

Table 4 highlights examples of insurers that have explicitly factored into their premiums an assumption that either the individual mandate will not be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will not be made and have specified the degree to which that assumption is influencing their initial rate request. As mentioned above, the vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the Administration.

Insurers assuming the individual mandate will not be enforced have factored in to their rate increases an additional 1.2% to 20%. Those assuming cost-sharing subsidy payments will not continue and factoring this into their initial rate requests have applied an additional rate increase ranging from 2% to 23%. Because cost-sharing reductions are only available in silver plans, insurers may seek to raise premiums just in those plans if the payments end. We estimate that silver premiums would have to increase by 19% on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments, with the amount varying substantially by state.

Several insurers assumed in their initial rate filing that payment of the cost-sharing subsidies would continue, but indicated the degree to which rates would increase if they are discontinued. These insurers are not included in the Table 4. If CSR payments end or there is continued uncertainty, these insurers say they would raise their rates an additional 3% to 10% beyond their initial request – or ranging from 9% to 38% in cases when the rate increases would only apply to silver plans. Some states have instructed insurers to submit two sets of rates to account for the possibility of discontinued cost-sharing subsidies. In California, for example, a surcharge would be added to silver plans on the exchange, increasing proposed rates an additional 12.4% on average across all 11 carriers, ranging from 8% to 27%.

Table 4: Examples of Preliminary Insurer Assumptions Regarding Individual Mandate Enforcement and
Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR) Payments
State Insurer Average Rate Increase  Requested Individual Mandate Assumption CSR Payments Assumption Requested Rate Increase Due to Mandate or CSR Uncertainty
CT ConnectiCare 17.5% Weakly enforced1 Not specified Mandate: 2.4%
DE Highmark BCBSD 33.6% Not enforced Not paid Mandate and CSR: 12.8% combined impact
GA Alliant Health Plans 34.5% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.0%
CSR: Unspecified
ID Mountain Health CO-OP 25.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 17.0%
ID PacificSource Health Plans 45.6% Not specified Not paid CSR: 23.2%
ID SelectHealth 45.0% Not specified Not paid CSR: 20.0%
MD CareFirst BlueChoice 45.6% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
ME Harvard PilgrimHealth Care 39.7% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 15.9%
MI BCBS of MI 26.9% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Blue Care Network of MI 13.8% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 5.0%
MI Molina Healthcare of MI 19.3% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid (two rate submissions) Mandate: 9.5%
NM CHRISTUS Health Plan 49.2% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.0%, combined impact of individual mandate non-enforcement and reduced advertising and outreach
NM Molina Healthcare of NM 21.2% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 11.0%
NM New Mexico Health Connections 32.8% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
OR* BridgeSpan 17.2% Weakly enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 11.0%
OR* Moda Health 13.1% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 1.2%
OR* Providence Health Plan 20.7% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 9.7%, largely due to individual mandate non-enforcement
TN BCBS of TN 21.4% Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 7.0%
CSR:  14.0%
TN Cigna 42.1% Weakly enforced Not paid CSR: 14.1%
TN Oscar Insurance  NA (New to state) Not enforced Not paid Mandate: 0%, despite non-enforcement
CSR: 17.0%, applied only to silver plans
VA CareFirst BlueChoice 21.5% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
VA CareFirst GHMSI 54.3% Not enforced Potentially not paid Mandate: 20.0%
WA LifeWise Health Plan of Washington 21.6% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 5.2%
CSR: 2.3%
WA Premera Blue Cross 27.7% Weakly enforced Not paid Mandate: 4.0%
CSR: 3.1%
WA Molina Healthcare of WA 38.5% Weakly enforced Paid Mandate: 5.4%
NOTES: The CSR assumption “Potentially not paid” refers to insurers that filed initial rates assuming CSR payments are made and indicated that uncertainty over CSR funding would change their initial rate requests. In Michigan, insurers were instructed to submit a second set of filings showing rate increases without CSR payments; the rates shown above assume continued CSR payments. *The Oregon Division of Financial Regulation reviewed insurer filings and advised adjustment of the impact of individual mandate uncertainty to between 2.4% and 5.1%. Although rates have since been finalized, the increases shown here are based on initial insurer requests. 1Connecticare assumes a public perception that the mandate will not be enforced.
SOURCE:  Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of premium data from Healthcare.gov and insurer rate filings to state regulators.

Discussion

A number of insurers have requested double-digit premium increases for 2018. Based on initial filings, the change in benchmark silver premiums will likely range from -5% to 49% across these 21 major cities. These rates are still being reviewed by regulators and may change.

In the past, requested premiums have been similar, if not equal to, the rates insurers ultimately charge. This year, because of the uncertainty insurers face over whether the individual mandate will be enforced or cost-sharing subsidy payments will be made, some companies have included an additional rate increase in their initial rate requests, while other companies have said they may revise their premiums late in the process. It is therefore quite possible that the requested rates in this analysis will change between now and open enrollment.

Insurers attempting to price their plans and determine which states and counties they will service next year face a great deal of uncertainty. They must soon sign contracts locking in their premiums for the entire year of 2018, yet Congress or the Administration could make significant changes in the coming months to the law – or its implementation – that could lead to significant losses if companies have not appropriately priced for these changes. Insurers vary in the assumptions they make regarding the individual mandate and cost-sharing subsidies and the degree to which they are factoring this uncertainty into their rate requests.

Because most enrollees on the exchange receive subsidies, they will generally be protected from premium increases. Ultimately, most of the burden of higher premiums on exchanges falls on taxpayers. Middle and upper-middle income people purchasing their own coverage off-exchange, however, are not protected by subsidies and will pay the full premium increase, switch to a lower level plan, or drop their coverage. Although the individual market on average has been stabilizing, the concern remains that another year of steep premium increases could cause healthy people (particularly those buying off-exchange) to drop their coverage, potentially leading to further rate hikes or insurer exits.

Methods

Data were collected from health insurer rate filing submitted to state regulators. These submissions are publicly available for the states we analyzed. Most rate information is available in the form of a SERFF filing (System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing) that includes a base rate and other factors that build up to an individual rate. In states where filings were unavailable, we gathered data from tables released by state insurance departments. Premium data are current as of August 7, 2017; however, filings in most states are still preliminary and will likely change before open enrollment. All premiums in this analysis are at the rating area level, and some plans may not be available in all cities or counties within the rating area. Rating areas are typically groups of neighboring counties, so a major city in the area was chosen for identification purposes.


Employer Premiums Rise Nearly 7% in 2017; Employees Absorb More of the Health Insurance Cost

On October 26th, UBA released the following press release on the UBA Health Plan Survey:


Increased prescription drug costs for employees with 5- and 6-tier plans; increased out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, especially for singles; self-funding on the rise

Premium renewal rates (the comparison of similar plan rates year over year) for employer sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.6%—a significant increase from the five-year average increase of 5.6%, according to the 2017 United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Health Plan Survey, released today. Two states saw record premium increases: Connecticut saw a 24% increase in premiums in 2017, up to $655 from $530; New York also saw a large increase of 14%, up to $712 in 2017 over $624 in 2016.

On the other side, some states saw decreases in premiums, such as Arizona and Washington which saw 2% and 10% decreases, respectively.

Percent Premium Increase Over Time

Average employee premiums for all employer-sponsored plans rose from $509 in 2016 for single coverage to $532 in 2017 and from $1,236 to $1,272 for family coverage (a 4.5% and 3% increase respectively). Average annual total costs per employee increased from $9,727 to $9,935. However, the employee share of total costs rose 5% from $3,378 to $3,550, while the employer’s share rose less than 1%, from $6,350 to $6,401.

“Premiums have been holding relatively steady the last few years. And while this year’s increases are not astronomical, their departure from the trend does warrant attention. To mitigate these rising costs, employers are shifting more premium onto employees, offering more lower-cost consumer directed health plans (CDHPs) and health maintenance organization (HMO) plans, increasing out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and leveraging continued extensions on the ability to “grandmother,” says Peter Weber, President of UBA. “We’ve also seen reductions in prescription drug coverage to defray increasing costs even further.”

Prescription Drug Plans—For a second year, prescription drug plans with four or more tiers are exceeding the number of plans with one to three tiers. Almost three-quarters (72.6%) of prescription drug plans have four or more tiers, while 27.4% have three or fewer tiers. Even more surprising is that the number of six-tier plans has surged, accounting for 32% of all plans, when only 2% of plans were using this design only a year ago.

“While employers chose to hold contributions, copays and in-network benefits steady, they dramatically shifted prescription drug costs to employees. By increasing tiering and adding coinsurance (vs. copays), employers were able to contain costs,” says Weber.

Out-of-Pocket Costs—Median in-network deductibles for singles and families across all plans remain steady at $2,000 and $4,000, respectively. Single out-of-network median deductibles saw a 13% increase in 2016, and a 17.6% increase in 2017, from $3,400 to $4,000. Both singles and families are facing continued increases in median in-network out-of-pocket maximums (up by $560 and $1,000, respectively, to $5,000 and $10,000).

Self-Funding—The number of employers using self-funding grew 48% for employers with 25 to 49 employees in 2017 (5.8% of plans), and 13.4% for employers with 50 to 99 employees (9.3% of plans).

Overall, 12.8% of all plans are self-funded, up from 12.5% in 2016, while almost two-thirds (60.9%) of all large employer (1,000+ employees) plans are self-funded.

“Self-funding has always been an attractive option for large groups, but we see self-funding becoming increasingly desirable to all employers as a way to avoid various cost and compliance aspects of health care reform,” says Weber. “For small employers with healthy populations, self-funding may be particularly attractive since fully insured community-rated plans under the ACA don’t give them any credit for a healthy group.”

The 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey Executive Summary is available now at http://bit.ly/2017UBASurvey. For interviews, contact Carina Sammartino, Media Relations, csammartino (at) hrmarketer.com or 760-331-3547.

About the 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey
The 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey contains the validated responses of 20,099 health plans and 11,221 employers, who cumulatively employ over two and a half million employees and insure more than five million total lives. While other surveys primarily target large employers, the focus of the UBA survey is to report results that are applicable to the small and mid-size companies that represent the overwhelming majority of the nation’s employers, while also including a mix of large companies in rough proportion to their actual prevalence, nationally. This is an important distinction compared to other national surveys.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Mukhtar G. (26 October 2017). "Employer Premiums Rise Nearly 7% in 2017; Employees Absorb More of the Health Insurance Cost" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/news/employer-premiums-rise-nearly-7-in-2017-employees-absorb-more-of-the-health-insurance-cost


Compliance Bulletin: Newly Adopted Wage Equity Laws

OVERVIEW

In an effort to close the wage gap that exists between male and female employees, a number of states and major cities have recently adopted wage equity and salary history laws. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, the average female employee earned 80 cents for every dollar a man received during the same period. Statistics suggest the gap may be even greater for ethnic or racial minority employees. When applicable, employers must comply with their state and local laws in addition to the Federal Equal Pay Act. When both federal and local laws differ, the law that provides the greater protection or benefit to the employee applies.

ACTION STEPS FOR EMPLOYERS

Affected employers should:

  • Eliminate prohibited salary history inquiries.
  • Update job applications and other employment forms to comply with pay equity laws.
  • Train recruiters and hiring managers regarding applicable pay equity laws.

 

State Laws

New York City

Effective date: Oct. 1, 2017

An amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law prohibits employers from inquiring into a candidate’s salary history as an unlawful discriminatory practice.

Covered Employers: New York City employers and employment agencies with four or more employees. Individuals employed by a parent, spouse or child, and individuals engaged in domestic service are not considered employees under this amendment.

Covered Individuals: Candidates and new hires during the hiring process, except internal transfers or promotions, when public employees’ salaries are determined by collective bargaining or when disclosure of salary history is mandated by law.

Requirements: A covered employer is prohibited from inquiring about or relying on a candidate’s salary history when determining a salary offer.

Oregon

Effective dates: Salary inquiries Oct. 1, 2017

Protected classes and posting requirements Jan. 1, 2019

In addition to prohibiting salary history inquiries, the Oregon Equal Pay Act of 2017 extends pay equity protections to nine additional protected classes.

Covered Employers: All Oregon employers.

Covered Individuals: All Oregon job applicants.

Requirements: Effective Oct. 1, 2017, employers are prohibited from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history. Effective Jan. 1, 2019, employees who perform comparable work cannot be paid different pay rates based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability or age.

Delaware

Effective date: Dec. 1, 2017

An amendment to Title 19 of the Delaware Code prohibits employers from asking a candidate’s compensation history during the interview process.

Covered Employers: All Delaware employers and hiring agencies.

Covered Individuals: All Delaware job candidates.

Requirements: Employers are prohibited from making inquiries concerning a candidate’s compensation history, using that history to screen candidates or requiring that prior compensation satisfy minimum or maximum criteria.

Massachusetts

Effective date: July 1, 2018

The Pay Equity Act addresses equal pay for comparable work, allowable variations in wages, pay secrecy policies and using salary history in the hiring process.

Covered Employers: All Massachusetts employers.

Covered Individuals: All Massachusetts employees and candidates.

Requirements: Employers are prohibited from inquiring about or relying on a candidate’s salary history during the hiring process.

San Francisco

Effective date: July 1, 2018

The Parity in Pay Ordinance prohibits employers from making inquiries concerning a job applicant’s salary history.

Covered Employers: San Francisco employers, those contracting with the city and their agents.

Covered Individuals: All job applicants, including temporary or seasonal workers.

Requirements: Employers are prohibited from asking an applicant’s salary history. Salary history may not be considered in the hiring process or when determining a salary offer. Employers are prohibited from disclosing a current or former employee’s salary history without prior authorization, unless the information is publicly available.

 

Applicable Federal Laws

In addition to the state and local laws mentioned above, employers should be aware of the following federal laws that regulate employment discrimination and other aspects of the hiring and employment processes.

Equal Pay Act

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) requires that men and women receive equal pay for equal work.

Covered Employers and Employees: Virtually all employers and employees.

Requirements: Employers are required to pay equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. Men and woman in substantially equal jobs, those requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility and performed under similar conditions at the same workplace, must be paid equally.

Title VII, ADEA, ADA

Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit compensation discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. There is no requirement that the jobs be substantially equal.

Covered Employers and Employees: Title VII and ADA, all employers with 15 or more employees. ADEA, all employers with 20 or more employees.

Executive Order 11246

Executive Order 11246 prohibits discrimination in employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.

Covered Employers and Employees: Federal contractors and federally assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in government business in one year.


Compliance Recap September 2017

Download the full Compliance Recap here.

September was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued final Forms 1094/1095, special per diem rates for 2017-18, and
guidance on the tax treatment of leave-based donation programs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services (CMS) announced a Medicare special enrollment period for individuals impacted by recent
hurricanes. A U.S. District Court remanded a payment rate rule to the IRS, the Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Labor (DOL) for further explanation of their rule.

UBA Updates

UBA released one new advisor in September: IRS Releases Draft Forms and Instructions for
2017 ACA Reporting.

IRS Issues Forms 1094/1095
The IRS issued Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C for the 2017 tax year. Coverage providers
use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report health plan enrollment. Applicable large employers use Forms
1094-C and 1095-C to report information related to their employer shared responsibility provisions under
the ACA.

IRS Issues 2017-18 Special Per Diem Rates
The IRS issued Notice 2017-54 to provide special per diem rates for taxpayers to use in substantiating
the amount of ordinary and necessary business expenses incurred while traveling away from home on or
after October 1, 2017.

IRS Provides Guidance on Tax Treatment of Leave-Based Donation Programs
Some employers adopted or will adopt leave-based donation programs to provide charitable relief for
victims of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irma. These leave-based donation programs allow employees to
forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer will make to
charitable organizations described under Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c).

The IRS’ Notice 2017-52 states that the employer’s cash payments will not constitute gross income or
wages of the employees if paid before January 1, 2019, to the Section 170(c) charitable organizations for
the relief of victims of Hurricane or Tropical Storm Irma. Employers do not need to include these
payments in Box 1, 3, or 5 of an employee’s Form W-2.

CMS Announces Special Enrollment Period for Hurricane Victims

CMS established a Medicare special enrollment period for individuals affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma,
and Maria. The special enrollment period will allow individuals to enroll, dis-enroll, or switch Medicare health
or prescription drug plans from the start of the incident period through the end of 2017.

Court Remands Regulations to HHS, DOL, and IRS

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Departments of Health and
Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (the Departments) acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to
seriously respond to comments and proposed alternatives as part of the notice and comment process for
the Departments’ rule on how much plans are required to pay out-of-network physicians for emergency
health care services.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), group health plans cannot impose a higher
copayment or coinsurance rates for participants who receive emergency medical treatment from an out-of-network
provider.

Pursuant to that ACA provision, the Departments issued an interim final rule to establish that “a plan or
issuer satisfies the copayment and coinsurance limitations in the statute if it provides benefits for out-of-network
emergency services in an amount equal to the greatest of three possible amounts—

(1) The amount negotiated with in-network providers for the emergency service furnished;
(2) The amount for the emergency service calculated using the same method the plan generally uses
to determine payments for out-of-network services (such as the usual, customary, and
reasonable charges) but substituting the in-network cost-sharing provisions for the out-of-network
cost-sharing provisions; or
(3) The amount that would be paid under Medicare for the emergency service.”

Despite extensive public comment, the Departments issued the final rule without substantive revision. A
college of emergency physicians was dissatisfied with the Departments’ response to public comments
and filed suit against the Departments.

Although the court determined that the Departments failed to seriously respond to public comments, the
court declined to vacate the rule. The court remanded the case to the Departments for further explanation
of their rule.

Question of the Month

Q. How does the new child age rating structure affect employers in the small group market who are in
states that adopt the new age band?

A. The new child age rating bands will likely result in an increase in 2018 premiums.

As background, in December 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final
rule that creates multiple child age bands rather than a single age band for individuals age 0 through 20,
for plan or policy years beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

Per HHS, establishing single-year age bands starting at age 15 will result in small annual increases in
premiums attributable to age for children age 15 to 20, which will help mitigate large premium increases
attributable to age due to the transition from child to adult age rating at age 21.

States are not required to adopt these new age rating bands. However, for employers in states that adopt
these new age rating bands, employers will see an increase in 2018 premiums at renewal if they have
employees or dependents who fall within the 14-20 age range.

Download the full Compliance Recap here.


HRL - White - House

President Trump Ends ACA Cost Sharing Reductions

On the evening of October 12, 2017, President Trump announced that cost-sharing reductions for low-income Americans in relation to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) would be stopped. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has confirmed that payments will be stopped immediately. It is anticipated at least some state attorney generals will file lawsuits to block the ending of the subsidy payments, with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stating he is prepared to file a lawsuit to protect the subsidies.

Background

Individuals with household modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) in excess of 100 percent but not exceeding 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) may be eligible for cost-sharing reductions for coverage purchased through health insurance exchanges if they meet a variety of criteria. Cost-sharing reductions are limited to coverage months for which the individual is allowed a premium tax credit. Eligibility for cost-sharing reductions is based on the tax year for which advanced eligibility determinations are made by HHS, rather than the tax year for which premium credits are allowed. In 2015, cost-sharing subsides reduced out-of-pocket (OOP) limits:

· Less than 100 percent but not exceeding 200 percent of FPL: OOP limits reduced by two-thirds
· Greater than 200 percent but not exceeding 300 percent of FPL: OOP limits reduced by one-half
· Greater than 300 percent but not exceeding 400 percent of FPL: OOP limits reduced by one-third

After 2015, the base percentages were shifted based on a percentage of average per capita health insurance premium increases. The cost-sharing reduction is paid directly to the insurer, and is automatically applied when eligible individuals enroll in a silver plan on the Marketplace or Exchange.

The cost-sharing reduction is not the same as the "advance premium tax credit" which is also available to individuals with household modified AGIs of at least 100 percent and not exceeding 400 percent of the FPL.

Impact on Employers

There is no direct impact to employers at this time. However, employers with fully insured health plans might see group health plan rate increases in future years as insurance companies work to make up for the loss of revenue.

 


HRL - White - House

4 Main Impacts of Yesterday's Executive Order

Yesterday, President Trump used his pen to set his sights on healthcare having completed the signing of an executive order after Congress failed to repeal ObamaCare.

Here’s a quick dig into some of what this order means and who might be impacted from yesterday's signing.

A Focus On Small Businesses

The executive order eases rules on small businesses banding together to buy health insurance, through what are known as association health plans, and lifts limits on short-term health insurance plans, according to an administration source. This includes directing the Department of Labor to "modernize" rules to allow small employers to create association health plans, the source said. Small businesses will be able to band together if they are within the same state, in the same "line of business," or are in the same trade association.

Skinny Plans

The executive order expands the availability of short-term insurance policies, which offer limited benefits meant as a bridge for people between jobs or young adults no longer eligible for their parents’ health plans. This extends the limited three-month rule under the Obama administration to now nearly a year.

Pretax Dollars

This executive order also targets widening employers’ ability to use pretax dollars in “health reimbursement arrangements”, such as HSAs and HRAs, to help workers pay for any medical expenses, not just for health policies that meet ACA rules. This is a complete reversal of the original provisions of the Obama policy.

Research and Get Creative

The executive order additionally seeks to lead a federal study on ways to limit consolidation within the insurance and hospital industries, looking for new and creative ways to increase competition and choice in health care to improve quality and lower cost.


Compliance Recap August 2017

August was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its 2018 affordability rate, four information letters regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and its draft Forms 1094 and 1095. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) increased the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) health and welfare fringe benefit rate and issued compliance guidance for employee benefit plans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projected Medicare Part D premiums for 2018. A U.S. District Court remanded wellness program rules to the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for reconsideration.

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in August:

IRS Released the 2018 Affordability Rate

The Internal Revenue Service released its Revenue Procedure 2017-36 which sets the affordability percentage at 9.56 percent for 2018. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an applicable large employer may be liable for a penalty if a full-time employee’s share of premium for the lowest cost self-only option offered by the employer is not affordable (for 2018, if it’s more than 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income) and the employee gets a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage.

Because the 2018 affordability rate is lower than the 2017 affordability rate, applicable large employers may need to reduce their employees’ share of premium contributions to maintain affordable coverage. Employers should double check their anticipated 2018 premiums now to prevent the need for mid-year changes.

IRS Releases Information Letters

The IRS issued Information Letters 2017-0010, 2017-0011, 2017-0013, and 2017-0017 on the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions and individual mandate.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 explain that the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions continue to apply. The letters state, “The [President’s January 20, 2017] Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.” Further, the letters indicate that there are no waivers from potential penalties for failing to offer health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents.

IRS Information Letters 2017-0011 and 2017-0017 address the continued application of the ACA’s individual shared responsibility provisions. Letter 2017-0017 states, “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.”

IRS Issues Draft Forms 1094/1095

The IRS issued draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C for the 2017 tax year. Coverage providers use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report health plan enrollment. Applicable large employers use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information related to their employer shared responsibility provisions under the ACA.

There are no changes to the face of draft Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, or 1095-C. The IRS made one substantive change to draft Form 1094-C. The IRS removed the line 22 box “Section 4980H Transition Relief” which was applicable to the 2015 plan year only.

DOL Increases SCA Health and Welfare Fringe Benefit Rate

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its All Agency Memorandum Number 225 which increased the prevailing health and welfare fringe benefits issued under the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) to a rate of $4.41 per hour which is required in all government contract bids or other service contracts awarded on or after August 1, 2017.

There is a different rate for Hawaii. The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level for Hawaii will be $1.91 per hour for all employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act (HPHCA). The new SCA health and welfare fringe benefits level will be $1.63 per hour for employees on whose behalf the contractor is required to provide health care benefits under the HPHCA and who are performing on contracts covered by Executive Order 13706 Establishing Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractors.

DOL Issues Compliance Guidance for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

The DOL issued guidance for employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, and employers located in a county identified for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to Hurricane Harvey.

Because plan participants and beneficiaries may have difficulty meeting deadlines for filing ERISA benefit claims and making COBRA elections, the DOL advised plan sponsors to “act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes.”

The DOL acknowledged that group health plans may not be able to timely and fully comply with deadlines due to a physical disruption to a plan’s principal place of business. The DOL’s enforcement approach will emphasize compliance assistance, including grace periods and other relief as appropriate.

CMS Issues Projected Part D Premiums for 2018

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects that the average basic premium for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan will be $33.50 per month for 2018.

Court Remands Wellness Regulations to EEOC for Reconsideration

On August 22, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules.

The court declined to vacate the EEOC’s rules because of the significant disruptive effect it would have. However, the court remanded the rules to the EEOC for reconsideration.

Question of the Month

  1. Based on the recent court decision to require the EEOC to reconsider its wellness program rules, does this mean that the EEOC rules no longer apply to employer wellness programs?
  2. No. For now, the current EEOC rules apply to employer wellness programs. However, employers should stay informed on the status of the EEOC’s reconsideration of the wellness program rules so that employers can change their wellness programs’ design, if necessary, to comply with new EEOC rules.

You can download the full recap here.