Senate Health Bill Would Revamp Medicaid, Alter ACA Guarantees, Cut Premium Support

The Senate has just released their version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  Here is a great article by Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News detailing what the Senate's version of the AHCA legislation means for Americans.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Thursday unveiled a bill that would dramatically transform the nation’s Medicaid program, make significant changes to the federal health law’s tax credits that help lower-income people buy insurance and allow states to water down changes to some of the law’s coverage guarantees.

The bill also repeals the tax mechanism that funded the Affordable Care Act’s benefits, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy and health care industry.

Most senators got their first look at the bill as it was released Thursday morning. It had been crafted in secret over the past several weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seeking a vote on the bill before Congress leaves next week for its Fourth of July recess.

Senators had promised that their ACA replacement would be very different than the version that passed the House in May, but the bill instead follows the House’s lead in many ways.

At lightning speed and with a little over a week for wider review, the Republicans’ bill could influence health care and health insurance of every American. Reversing course on some of the more popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, it threatens to leave tens of millions of lower-income Americans without insurance and those with chronic or expensive medical conditions once again financially vulnerable.

Like the House measure, the Senate bill, which is being called a “discussion draft,” would not completely repeal the ACA but would roll back many of the law’s key provisions. Both bills would also — for the first time — cap federal funding for the Medicaid program, which covers more than 70 million low-income Americans. Since its inception in 1965, the federal government has matched state spending for Medicaid. The new bill would shift much of that burden back to states.

The bill would also reconfigure how Americans with slightly higher incomes who don’t qualify for Medicaid would get tax credits to help pay insurance premiums, eliminate penalties for those who fail to obtain insurance and employers who fail to provide it, and make it easier for states to waive consumer protections in the ACA that require insurance companies to charge the same premiums to sick and healthy people and to provide a specific set of benefits.

“We agreed on the need to free Americans from Obamacare’s mandates, and policies contained in the discussion draft will repeal the individual mandate so Americans are no longer forced to buy insurance they don’t need or can’t afford; will repeal the employer mandate so Americans no longer see their hours and take-home pay cut by employers because of it,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate after releasing the bill. He also noted that the bill would help “stabilize the insurance markets that are collapsing under Obamacare as well.”

It is not clear that the bill will make it through the Senate, however, or that all of it will even make it to the Senate floor. The Senate (like the House) is operating under a special set of budget rules that allow it to pass this measure with only a simple majority vote and block Democrats from dragging out the debate by using a filibuster. But the “budget reconciliation” process comes with strict rules, including the requirement that every provision of the bill primarily impact the federal budget, either adding to or subtracting from federal spending.

For example, the legislation as released includes a one-year ban on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. That is a key demand of anti-abortion groups and some congressional conservatives, because Planned Parenthood performs abortions with non-federal funding. But it is not yet clear that the Senate parliamentarian will allow that provision to be included in the bill.

Also still in question is a provision of the Senate bill that would allow states to waive insurance regulations in the Affordable Care Act. Many budget experts say that runs afoul of Senate budget rules because the federal funding impact is “merely incidental” to the policy.

Drafting the Senate bill has been a delicate dance for McConnell. With only 52 Republicans in the chamber and Democrats united in opposition to the unraveling of the health law, McConnell can afford to lose only two votes and still pass the bill with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. McConnell has been leading a small working group of senators — all men — but even some of those have complained they were not able to take part in much of the shaping of the measure, which seems to have been largely written by McConnell’s own staff.

So far, McConnell has been fielding complaints from the more moderate and more conservative wings of his party. And the draft that has emerged appears to try to placate both.

For example, as sought by moderates, the bill would phase down the Medicaid expansion from 2020 to 2024, somewhat more slowly than the House bill does. But it would still end eventually. The Senate bill also departs from the House bill’s flat tax credits to help pay for insurance, which would have added thousands of dollars to the premiums of poorer and older people not yet eligible for Medicare.

A Congressional Budget Office report estimating the Senate bill’s impact on individuals and the federal budget is expected early next week. The House bill, according to the CBO, would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance over 10 years.

For conservatives, however, the Senate bill would clamp down even harder on Medicaid in later years. The cap imposed by the House would grow more slowly than Medicaid spending has, but the Senate’s cap would grow even more slowly than the House’s. That would leave states with few options, other than raising taxes, cutting eligibility, or cutting benefits in order to maintain their programs.

Defenders of the health law were quick to react.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) complained about changes to coverage guarantees in the ACA.

“I also want to make special note of the state waiver provision. Republicans have twisted and abused a part of the Affordable Care Act I wrote to promote state innovation, and they’re using it to give insurance companies the power to run roughshod over individuals,” he said in a statement issued shortly after the bill was released. “This amounts to hiding an attack on basic health care guarantees behind state waivers, and I will fight it at every turn.”

“The heartless Senate health care repeal bill makes health care worse for everyone — it raises costs, cuts coverage, weakens protections and cuts even more from Medicaid than the mean House bill,” said a statement from Protect Our Care, an umbrella advocacy group opposing GOP changes to the health law. “They wrote their plan in secret and are rushing forward with a vote next week because they know how much harm their bill does to millions of people.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner J. (2017 June 22). Senate health bill would revamp medicaid, alter ACA guarantees, cut premium support [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/senate-health-bill-would-revamp-medicaid-alter-aca-guarantees-cut-premium-support/


Retirement Calculator Seen as Critical Tool

Did you know that the most impactful tool for employee financial wellness is a retirement calculator? Find out more in this article by Bruce Shutan from Employee Benefit News on why you should have a retirement calculator included in your employee benefits program.

In analyzing the financial behaviors of 67,089 U.S. employee financial wellness assessments, Financial Finesse concluded that the most impactful action was for employers to offer a retirement calculator. The 2016 Year in Review Report also suggested that they promote it to the hilt with the help of their brokers and advisers.

“Running that projection is driving other behavior,” such as changes in cash flow or higher retirement plan contributions over time, explains Cynthia Meyer, a financial planner with Financial Finesse and author of the report.

She says advisers can help spotlight the use of a retirement calculator in an educational workshop or enrollment meeting where they can detail examples or case studies involving the potential effect of this handy tool.

The report uncovered a few bright spots. More employees ran a retirement projection, which jumped to 49% in 2016 from 35% in 2015. In addition, about 60% of these employees discovered they were on track to retire comfortably while about 40% discovered they were underfunded and needed to make changes.

Another positive development was that repeat usage of workplace financial wellness programs appears to be gaining momentum. The number of employees who have done annual workplace assessments of their finances multiple times has climbed steadily since 2013 when it was just 6% to 15% in 2014, 16% in 2015 and 29% in 2016.

However, problems persist. Virtually all demographic groups were still found to have insufficient savings for a comfortable retirement. For example, while 92% of the employees studied participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, just 77% contribute enough to earn the full employer match.

Still, Meyer notes that packaging financial wellness content with a good retirement plan is becoming a standard practice as the movement toward a more holistic view of employee finances gains traction.

Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Hot Topics in Retirement and Financial Wellbeing survey found that 59% of employers are very likely and another 33% are moderately likely to focus on the financial wellbeing of workers in ways that extend beyond retirement decisions. Moreover, 86% of employers are very or moderately likely to communicate to their workforces the link between health and wealth.

Rob Austin, director of retirement research at Aon Hewitt, says this is an indication of “just how much I think employers still care about their employees.” It certainly bodes well for brokers and advisers who can expect to be busy in the coming years helping their clients create a strategy and build out a plan that appeals to each workforce, he believes.

Aon Hewitt’s survey, whose 238 respondents represent nearly 9 million employees, noted several other key trends. They include employers enhancing both the accumulation and decumulation phases for their defined contribution plan participants, and defined benefit plan sponsors revisiting ways they’re removing risk from their plan.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Shutan Bruce (2017 May 29). Retirement calculator seen as critical tool [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/retirement-calculator-seen-as-critical-tool?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care

What will change about women's healthcare and what will stay the same? Danielle Kurtzleben explores the potential changes in the following article for NPR.

The Affordable Care Act changed women's health care in some big ways: It stopped insurance companies from charging women extra, forced insurers to cover maternity care and contraceptives and allowed many women to get those contraceptives (as well as a variety of preventive services, like Pap smears and mammograms) at zero cost.

Now Republicans have the opportunity to repeal that law, also known as Obamacare. But that doesn't mean all those things will go away. In fact, many will remain.

Confused? Here's a rundown of how this bill would change some women-specific areas of health care, what it wouldn't change, and what we don't know so far.

What would change:

Abortion coverage

There are restrictions on abortion under current law — the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal subsidies from being spent on abortions, except in the case of pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother. So while health care plans can cover abortions, those being paid for with subsidies "must follow particular administrative requirements to ensure that no federal funds go toward abortion," as the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, explains.

But the GOP bill tightens this. It says that the tax credits at the center of the plan cannot be spent at all on any health care plan that covers abortion (aside from the Hyde Amendment's exceptions).

So while health care plans can cover abortion, very few people may be able to purchase those sorts of plans, as they wouldn't be able to use their tax credits on them. That could make it much more expensive and difficult to obtain an abortion under this law than under current law.

Planned Parenthood funding

This bill partially "defunds" Planned Parenthood, meaning it would cut back on the federal funding that can be used for services at the clinics. Fully 43 percent of Planned Parenthood's revenue in fiscal year 2015 — more than $550 million — came from government grants and reimbursements.

Right now, under Obamacare, federal funds can be spent at Planned Parenthood, but they can't be used for abortion — again, a result of the Hyde Amendment and again, with the three Hyde Amendment exceptions. But this bill goes further, saying that people couldn't use Medicaid at Planned Parenthood.

To be clear, it's not that there's a funding stream going directly from the government to Planned Parenthood that Congress can just turn off. Rather, the program reimburses Planned Parenthood for the care it provides to Medicaid recipients. So this bill would mean that Medicaid recipients who currently receive care at an organization that provides abortions would have to find a new provider (whom Medicaid would then reimburse).

Abortion is a small part of what Planned Parenthood does: The organizations says it accounted for 3.4 percent of all services provided in the year ending in September 2014. (Of course, some patients receive more than one service; Planned Parenthood had around 2.5 million patients in that year. Assuming one abortion per patient, that's roughly 13 percent of all patients receiving abortions.)

Together, providing contraception and the testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases made up three-quarters of the services the organization provided in one year.

That means low-income women (that is, women on Medicaid) could be among the most heavily affected by this bill, as it may force them to find other providers for reproductive health services.

Of the other government money that goes to Planned Parenthood, most of it comes from Title X. That federal program, created under President Richard Nixon, provides family planning services to people beyond Medicaid, like low-income women who are not Medicaid-eligible. Earlier this year, Republicans started the process of stripping that funding.

What wouldn't change (yet):

Republicans have stressed that this bill was just one of three parts, so it's hard to say definitively what wouldn't change at all as a result of their plan. But thus far, here's what is holding steady:

Maternity and contraceptive coverage

Because this was a reconciliation bill, it could cover fiscal-related topics only. It couldn't get into many of the particulars of what people's coverage will look like, meaning some things won't change.

The essential health benefits set out in Obamacare — a list of 10 types of services that all plans must cover — do not change for other policies. Maternity care is included in those benefits, as is contraception, so plans will have to continue to cover those. The GOP bill also doesn't change the Obamacare policy that gave women access to free contraception, as Vox's Emily Crockett reported.

In addition, maternity and contraception are still both "mandatory benefits" under Medicaid. That doesn't change in the GOP bill. (Confusingly, the bill does sunset essential health benefits for Medicaid recipients. But because there is overlap and these particular benefits remain "mandatory," they aren't going away.)

However, all of this won't necessarily remain unchanged. In response to a question about defunding Planned Parenthood this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that he didn't want to "violate anybody's conscience." When a reporter asked how this relates to birth control, Price did not give a definite answer.

"We're working through all of those issues," he said. "As you know, many of those were through the rule-making process, and we're working through that. So that's not a part of this piece of legislation right here."

So this is something that could easily change in the second "phase" of the health care plan, when rules are changed.

"Preventative services [the category that includes contraception] hasn't been touched, but we expect those to be touched probably via regulation," said Laurie Sobel, associate director for women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The end of gender rating

Prior to Obamacare, women were often charged more for the same health plans as men. The rationale was that women tend to use more health care services than men.

However, Obamacare banned the practice, and that ban seems unlikely to change, as the GOP cites nondiscrimination as one of the bill's selling points:

"Our proposal specifically prohibits any gender discrimination. Women will have equal access to the same affordable, quality health care options as men do under our proposal."

See original article Here.

Source:

Kurtzleben, D. (10 March 2017). Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care. [Web Blog Post] Retrieved from address http://www.npr.org/2017/03/10/519461271/heres-what-the-gop-bill-would-and-wouldnt-change-for-womens-healthcare


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


HSAs on the Rise, but Employees Need to Know More About Them

Are your employees aware of the many benefits and features associated with HSAs? Check out this great article by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro on why it is important employees are knowledgeable about HSAs, so they can prepare for their health care expenses while planning for retirement.

According to Fidelity Investments, health savings accounts — and the assets within them — are rising quickly, as both employers and employees try to find ways to pay for health care. Still, a number of the features of HSAs are still underutilized.

While Fidelity says that assets in its HSAs rose 50 percent in the past year, now topping $2 billion, and the number of individual account holders rose 46 percent during the same period to 657,000, it points out more work still needs to be done on showing employees the advantages of such accounts.

Since it’s estimated that couples retiring today could need $260,000 — perhaps even more — to cover their health care costs during retirement, the need for a way to save just for health care expenses, aside from other retirement expenses, is becoming more urgent.

HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside more money than a retirement account alone provides — and people who have both tend to save more overall, with 2016 statistics indicating that people who had both defined contribution and HSA accounts saved on average 10.7 percent of their annual income in the retirement account. Those with just a DC account saved on average 8.2 percent in it.

People are mostly satisfied with HSAs — 80 percent say they are, while 76 percent are satisfied with the ease of using it HSA for medical expenses, 77 percent with the quality of their health care coverage and 77 percent with how the plan helps them manage their health care costs.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve got all the ins and outs figured out yet; 39 percent mistakenly believe that they’ll lose unspent HSA contributions at the end of the year. Yet unlike contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSA), unspent contributions to HSAs roll over from year to year.

Still, employees are learning that HSAs can provide them a means of saving that’s not restricted to cash. While it’s still not common, more people are putting HSA money into investments that can then grow toward covering longer-term health expenses, but employers, says Fidelity, can do more to educate workers on such an option. Nationally, only 15 percent of all HSA assets are invested outside of cash.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 26). HSAs on the rise, but employees need to know more about them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/26/hsas-on-the-rise-but-employees-need-to-know-more-a?ref=hp-news


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


Employees Look to Employers for Financial Stability

Do your employees depend on their pay and benefits for their financial security? Find out in this great article by Nick Otto from Employee Benefit News on what employees depend on from their employers to support their financial well-being.

As the American dream of financial security continues to slip out of reach for many U.S. workers, employers — seen as trusted partners by employees — will need to step up to restore faith in retirement readiness.

Only 22% of individuals described themselves as feeling financially secure, Prudential says in its new research paper, and there is growing acceptance among employers that there is significant value in improving employees’ financial wellness.

Aspirations are modest, says Clint Key, a research officer in financial security and mobility at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Between economic mobility or financial stability, an overwhelming 92% of workers say they want stability.

“Four in 10 don’t have the resources to pay for a $2,000 expense,” he said Tuesday, at a joint financial wellness roundtable sponsored by Prudential Financial and the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. More alarmingly, employees don’t have the income to last a month if they were to lose their job.

Still, Key adds, it isn’t so much the number of dollars in the bank, but the peace of minds that savings buy them.

And employers are feeling the repercussions of the growing stressors in the workplace.

“People who are stressed about finances are five times more likely to take time off from work to deal with personal finances,” added Diane Winland, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Three to four hours every week go to handling personal finances, and these employees are more likely to call out sick from work.”

The security levers once in place, such as home equity, are going away and it’s becoming much more difficult for workers to handle a financial emergency, she added.

The good news, however, is employers get it, she said. “They understand employee financial wellness is tied to the bottom line and it behooves them to invest in their employees,” said Winland. “The conundrum is how to deploy and what to deploy in their programs. Is it counseling? Coaching? Is it a new snazzy app that comes out. The key is there is no silver bullet.”

So, what is there to do?

Each employer has a unique business model and employee base, and, therefore, faces different challenges when implementing a financial wellness approach, Prudential’s paper notes. “Employers should design financial wellness programs that are informed by insights into the unique financial needs of their employees, successfully educate and engage employees, and help employees take concrete actions to improve their financial health. We encourage employers to discuss financial wellness with their benefit consultants or advisers.”

And, added Robert Levy, managing director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, just talk to your employees. “They’re open to discussing their financial challenges,” he said, and employers can engage these conversations through numerous ways: surveys, one-on-one talks, focus groups.

Prudential stepping up

To try to change the current unease in financial security, Prudential Tuesday also announced its expansion of worksite tools for employers to enable them to analyze the financial needs of their workforce and offer the employees a personalized interactive experience that includes videos, tools, webinars and articles that empower them to manage their financial challenges.

In addition, Prudential has launched a $5 million, three-year program in partnership with the Aspen Institute — a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan educational and policy studies organization — to promote employees’ financial security.

“The investment highlights the need to increase the national discourse about greater economic access for employees as they bear increasing risk and responsibility for their short-term and long-term financial security,” said Prudential.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 May 18). employees look to employers for financial stability [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-look-to-employers-for-financial-stability


HSAs and Employer Responsibilities

Do you know all the responsibilities an employer will face when dealing with HSAs? If not, take a look at this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Vicki Randall and find out about all the HSA responsibilities facing employers.

It’s no secret that one of the primary agenda items of the new Republican administration is to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to sign into law a plan that they feel will be more effective in managing health care costs. Their initial attempt at a new plan, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), included an increased focus on leveraging health savings accounts (HSAs) to accomplish this goal. As the plan gets debated and modified in Congress, we do not know whether the role of HSAs will be expanded or not, but they will continue to be a part of the landscape in some shape or form.

HSAs first came into existence in 2003 and they have been gaining momentum as a way to deal with increasing health care costs ever since. If you, as a plan sponsor, do not already offer a health plan compatible with an HSA, chances are you’ve at least discussed them during your annual plan reviews. So, what exactly is an HSA and what is an employer’s responsibility relating to one?

An HSA is a tax-favored account established by an individual to pay for certain medical expenses incurred by account holders and their spouses and tax dependents. Anyone can make a contribution to an eligible Individual’s HSA. This includes the individual’s employer. However, if employers contribute to participant HSAs, employers must:

  1. Ensure their health plan meets high-deductible health plan (HDHP) requirements,
  2. Determine eligibility,
  3. Establish contribution method,
  4. Provide W-2 reporting, and
  5. Confirm employer involvement in the HSA does not create an ERISA plan, or cause a prohibited transaction.

High-Deductible Health Plan Requirements

Plan sponsors should make sure their plan meets certain HDHP requirements before making contributions to participants’ HSAs.

Characteristics of an HDHP

An HDHP is a health plan that has statutorily prescribed minimum deductible and maximum out-of-pocket limits. The limits are adjusted annually for inflation.

For example, for 2017, the limits for self-only coverage are:

  • Minimum Deductible: $1,300
  • Maximum Out-of-Pocket: $6,550

The limits for family coverage (i.e., any coverage other than self-only coverage) are twice the applicable amounts for self-only coverage. The limits are adjusted annually for inflation and, for a given year, are published by the IRS no later than June 1 of the preceding year. In addition, an HDHP cannot pay any benefits until the deductible is met. The only exception to this rule is benefits for preventive care.

Eligibility

Eligible Individuals can make or receive contributions to their HSAs. A person is an eligible individual if he or she is covered by an HDHP and is not covered by any other plan that pays medical benefits, subject to certain exceptions.

Employer Contribution Methods

Employers that contribute to the HSAs of their employees may do so inside or outside of a cafeteria (Section 125) plan. The contribution rules are different for each option.

Contributions Outside of a Cafeteria Plan

When contributing to any employee’s HSA outside of a cafeteria plan, an employer must make comparable contributions to the HSAs of all comparable participating employees.

Contributions Made Through a Cafeteria Plan

HSA contributions made through a cafeteria plan do not have to satisfy the comparability rules, but are subject to the Section 125 non-discrimination rules for cafeteria plans. HSA employer contributions will be treated as being made through a cafeteria plan if the cafeteria plan permits employees to make pre-tax salary reduction contributions.

Employer HSA Contribution Amounts

Contributions from all sources cannot exceed certain annual limits prescribed by the IRS. Although employer contributions cannot exceed the applicable limits, employers are only responsible for determining the following with respect to an employee’s eligibility and maximum annual contribution limit on HSA contributions:

  • Whether the employee is covered under an HDHP or low-deductible health plan, or plans (including health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) sponsored by that employer; and
  • The employee’s age (for catch-up contributions). The employer may rely on the employee’s representation as to his or her date of birth.

When employers contribute to the HSAs of their employees and retirees, the amount of the contribution is excludable from the eligible individual’s income and is deductible by the employer provided they do not exceed the applicable limit. Withholding for income tax, FICA, FUTA, or RRTA taxes is not required if, at the time of the contribution, the employer reasonably believes that contribution will be excludable from the employee’s income.

Employer Reporting Requirements

An employer must report the amount of its contribution to an employee’s HSA in Box 12 of the employee’s W-2 using code W.

Design and Operational Considerations

Employers should make sure that their involvement in the HSA does not create an ERISA plan, or cause them to become involved in a prohibited transaction. To ensure that contributions will not cause the health plan to become subject to ERISA, certain restrictions exist that employers should be aware of and follow. Employer contributions to an HSA will not cause the employer to have established a health plan subject to ERISA provided:

  • The establishment of the HSA is completely voluntary on the part of the employees; and
  • The employer does not:
    • limit the ability of eligible individuals to move their funds to another HSA or impose conditions on utilization of HSA funds beyond those permitted under the code;
    • make or influence the investment decisions with respect to funds contributed to an HSA;
    • represent that the HSA is an employee welfare benefit plan established or maintained by the employer;
    • or receive any payment or compensation in connection with an HSA.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Randall V. (2017 May 25). HSAs and employer responsibilities [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/hsas-and-employer-responsibilities


CenterStage...The Experts Weigh In

5 Main Benefits of Self-Funding

Simply put, a Partially Self-Funded health plan is just an alternative, and often times more effective way of financing your employer sponsored health plan. Outside of “How does it work?” the questions that are most frequently asked are regarding the risks involved with this strategy and limiting the employer’s exposure. It was once thought that partially self-funding your health plan was reserved for only large employers. Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI.org) reported that in 2015 there was a 36.8% increase in private sector employers moving to partially self-funding. We don’t see the use of this strategy slowing down any time soon. It’s all about building the self-funded plan the right way in order to reduce the risk, while at the same time creating opportunity for savings.

A well designed self-funded plan built by a knowledgeable advisor will result in healthier employees and money saved over time. The opportunity for nearly all size employers is substantial. Whether your company is large enough to be completely self-funded, or are mid-size and need stop loss, or are smaller and can take advantage of a level-funding type plan, there are self-funding opportunities for all size employers.

In this article, Scott Smeaton shares his insights on what makes self-funded plans beneficial and what Hierl can do to help.

Scott Smeaton, Executive Vice President

“My advice to anyone who is considering moving to a self funded plan from a traditionally funded plan is that it’s not a one year strategy,” said Scott Smeaton, Executive Vice President of Hierl. “Take the time to find a knowledgeable advisor who will help you understand the risks and opportunities with self-funding, and commit to it for at least three years."

1. Financial Control

The most significant benefit of self-funding is the resulting increased financial control. Self-funded plans often times improve cash flow as funds that would otherwise be held by the insurance carrier for unreported or pending claims are free for use. With a self-funded plan, employers have access to detailed reports and documentation of how every health plan dollar is spent. “We’ve all heard the phrase, we can’t manage what we can’t measure”. Self-funded plans provide access to information that we otherwise would not have.

2. Lower Costs

While traditional fully insured plans allow for a guaranteed monthly cost, meaning the premium stays the same month to month, self-funded plans provide greater flexibility where you only pay for what you use. The disadvantage of a traditional plan is that in a year that the claims and administrative expenses are less than the premium an employer paid – none of that money will be refunded back.

With a partially self-funded plan, you will have administrative and stop loss insurance expenses that will be about 20% of your total budget. The other 80% is purely claims. If at the end of the year your claims were lower than expected, the employer realizes the savings. In a year when claims exceed what is expected, we have stop loss insurance to protect the employer and its employees.

“Wellness efforts and self-funded benefit plans can often work hand in hand in reducing your annual health plan costs,” explained Scott. “I often tell employers who are currently fully insured and have experienced low claims cost that if you believe you can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of your employees, then a self-funded plan will be perfect for you because you will be rewarded for wellness efforts and initiatives.”

3. Increased Flexibility

Self-funded plans provide employers the flexibility to design a health benefit plan that addresses specific employee needs as well as company objectives. When compared to traditional plans, self-funded plans allow you to choose your own partners and plan designs. Whether it’s the provider network, the prescription benefit manager, utilization management or centers of excellence manager, vendors can be hand selected from national provider networks to incorporate in the program.

A fully insured plan is required to meet state mandates, state premiums taxes, and ACA taxes among other expenses. Self-funded plans are not subject to the state mandates and either avoids or minimizes many of the taxes.

4. Control Over Plan Design

A downside of traditional plans is being required to select an off-the-shelf plan that your insurance carrier offers.

“One of the things we are doing with our self-funded plans is designing our plans in a way that drives employees to seek out the highest quality but lowest cost providers within their provider network. Provider discounts are great, but there’s even more savings to be gained by creating incentives to seek care from these highest quality, lowest cost providers within that network. Employees are beginning to understand the importance of being better healthcare consumers and it’s paying off. When this happens, it’s only in a self-funded environment that you see the maximum savings from these efforts,” said Scott.

5. Information Management

Self-funded plans provide convenient, secure access to all the necessary information needed to effectively manage plan structure. With a self-funded plan, you can:

  • Track and report data regularly: tracking data allows monthly or quarterly patterns to be detected and acted upon accordingly. Proactive data tracking helps employers stay on top of what is coming next.
  • Utilize predictive plan modeling: past and current claim data can be used to analyze risks and forecast costs allowing for spending waste to be eliminated.

How can Hierl help?

If an employer is moving to a self-funded plan for the first time, Hierl walks clients through a simple process beginning with a risk tolerance analysis to be sure that the plan design keeps the client within their comfort level. From there, Hierl assists with finding a product and design that meets a client’s specific needs. Whether this is a level-funded plan, a captive self-funded plan that limits exposure, or a stop-loss plan that will refund any excess premium at the end of the year, an expert will help determine the best plan for the employer and their employees.

Hierl’s Self-Funded Renewal 101

Here’s an example of the process Hierl guides fully insured clients through as they transition to selffunding. For more information or assistance reach out to an expert at Hierl today.

  • 9-6 months before renewal - Hierl walks clients through all the components of how self-funding works (Self-Funding 101).
  • 6-7 months before the renewal - Hierl facilitates interviews with TPA (Third Party Administrators) in order to select the TPA that best meets the client’s goals and objectives.
  • 5-6 months before renewal - Hierl provides benefit modeling to illustrate self-funding plan design and financial projections in order to compare it to the current fully insured plan.
  • 2-4 months before renewal – Implementation and enrollment is completed.

To download the full article click Here.