Senate Releases Proposed Healthcare Bill; Differs from House AHCA

Make sure to stay up-to-date with the most recent healthcare news thanks to our partners at United Benefit Advisor (UBA).

On June 22, 2017, the United States Senate released a “Discussion Draft” of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” (BCRA), which would substitute the House’s House Resolution 1628, a reconciliation bill aimed at "repealing and replacing" the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The House bill was titled the "American Health Care Act of 2017" (AHCA). Employers with group health plans should continue to monitor the progress in Washington, D.C., and should not stop adhering to any provisions of the ACA in the interim, or begin planning to comply with provisions in either the BCRA or the AHCA.

Next Steps

  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to score the bill by Monday, June 26, 2017.
  • The Senate will likely begin the voting process on the bill on June 28 and a final vote is anticipated sometime on June 29.
  • The Senate and House versions will have to be reconciled. This can be done with a conference committee, or by sending amendments back and forth between the chambers. With a conference committee, a conference report requires agreement by a majority of conferees from the House, and a majority of conferees by the Senate (not both together). Alternatively, the House could simply agree to the Senate version, or start over again with new legislation.

The BCRA

Like the AHCA, the BCRA makes numerous changes to current law, much of which impact the individual market, Medicare, and Medicaid with effects on employer sponsored group health plans. Also like the AHCA, the BCRA removes both the individual and the employer shared responsibility penalties. The BCRA also pushes implementation of the Cadillac tax to 2025 and permits states to waive essential health benefit (EHB) requirements.

The BCRA would change the excise tax paid by health savings account (HSA) owners who use their HSA funds on expenses that are not medical expenses under the Internal Revenue Code from the current 20 percent to 10 percent. It would also change the maximum contribution limits

to HSAs to the amount of the accompanying high deductible health plan's deductible and out-of-pocket limitation and provide for both spouses to make catch-up contributions to HSAs. The AHCA contains those provisions as well.

Like the AHCA, the BCRA would remove the $2,600 contribution limit to flexible health spending accounts (FSAs) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The BCRA would allow individuals to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26 (the same as the ACA’s regulations, and the AHCA) and would not allow insurers to increase premium costs or deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Conversely, the AHCA provides for a "continuous health insurance coverage incentive," which will allow health insurers to charge policyholders an amount equal to 30 percent of the monthly premium in the individual and small group market, if the individual failed to have creditable coverage for 63 or more days during an applicable 12-month look-back period.

The BCRA would also return permissible age band rating (for purposes of calculating health plan premiums) to the pre-ACA ratio of 5:1, rather than the ACA's 3:1. This allows older individuals to be charged up to five times more than what younger individuals pay for the same policy, rather than up to the ACA limit of three times more. This is also proposed in the AHCA.

The ACA’s cost sharing subsidies for insurers would be eliminated in 2020, with the ability of the President to eliminate them earlier. The ACA’s current premium tax credits for individuals to use when purchasing Marketplace coverage would be based on age, income, and geography, and would lower the top threshold of income eligible to receive them from 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 350 percent of the FPL. The ACA allowed any “alien lawfully present in the US” to utilize the premium tax credit; however, the BCRA would change that to “a qualified alien” under the definition provided in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The BCRA would also benchmark against the applicable median cost benchmark plan, rather than the second lowest cost silver plan.

To download the proposed summary of the AHCA changes click Here.

Download our infographic and find out about all the change proposed in the Senate's AHCA legislation.

 


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/


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/


Ear To The Door: 5 Things Being Weighed In Secret Health Bill Also Weigh It Down

With Congress passing the American Health Care Act a few weeks, the legislation now shifts to the Senate for its final approval. Take a look at this article by Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News and find out where we are at on the healthcare repeal process and which aspects of the AHCA legislation the Senate is bound to change.

Anyone following the debate over the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act knows the 13 Republican senators writing the bill are meeting behind closed doors.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to push for a vote before the July 4 Senate recess, Washington’s favorite parlor game has become guessing what is, or will be, in the Senate bill.

Spoiler: No one knows what the final Senate bill will look like — not even those writing it.

“It’s an iterative process,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico, adding that senators in the room are sending options to the Congressional Budget Office to try to figure out in general how much they would cost. Those conversations between senators and the CBO — common for lawmakers working on major, complex pieces of legislation — sometimes prompt members to press through and other times to change course.

Although specifics, to the extent there are any, have largely stayed secret, some of the policies under consideration have slipped out, and pressure points of the debate are fairly clear. Anything can happen, but here’s what we know so far:

1. Medicaid expansion

The Republicans are determined to roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The question is, how to do it. The ACA called for an expansion of the Medicaid program for those with low incomes to everyone who earns less than 133 percent of poverty (around $16,000 a year for an individual), with the federal government footing much of the bill. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the expansion was optional for states, but 31 have done so, providing new coverage to an estimated 14 million people.

The Republican bill passed by the House on May 4 would phase out the federal funding for those made eligible by the ACA over two years, beginning in 2020. But Republican moderates in the Senate want a much slower end to the additional federal aid. Several have suggested that they could accept a seven-year phaseout.

Keeping the federal expansion money flowing that long, however, would cut into the bill’s budget savings. That matters: In order to protect the Senate’s ability to pass the bill under budget rules that require only a simple majority rather than 60 votes, the bill’s savings must at least match those of the House version. Any extra money spent on Medicaid expansion would have to be cut elsewhere.

2. Medicaid caps

A related issue is whether and at what level to cap federal Medicaid spending. Medicaid currently covers more than 70 million low-income people. Medicaid covers half of all births and half of the nation’s bill for long-term care, including nursing home stays. Right now, the federal government matches whatever states spend at least 50-50, and provides more matching funds for less wealthy states.

The House bill would, for the first time, cap the amount the federal government provides to states for their Medicaid programs. The CBO estimated that the caps would put more of the financial burden for the program on states, who would respond by a combination of cutting payments to health care providers like doctors and hospitals, eliminating benefits for patients and restricting eligibility.

The Medicaid cap may or may not be included in the Senate bill, depending on whom you ask. However, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations say the real sticking point is not whether or not to impose a cap — they want to do that. The hurdles: how to be fair to states that get less federal money and how fast the caps should rise.

Again, if the Senate proposal is more generous than the House’s version, it will be harder to meet the bill’s required budget targets.

3. Restrictions on abortion coverage and Planned Parenthood

The senators are actively considering two measures that would limit funding for abortions, though it is not clear if either would be allowed to remain in the bill according to the Senate’s rules. The Senate Parliamentarian, who must review the bill after the senators complete it but before it comes to the floor, will decide.

The House-passed bill would ban the use of federal tax credits to purchase private coverage that includes abortion as a benefit. This is a key demand for a large portion of the Republican base. But the Senate version of the bill must abide by strict rules that limit its content to provisions that directly impact the federal budget. In the past, abortion language in budget bills has been ruled out of order.

4. Reading between the lines

A related issue is whether House language to temporarily bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid program will be allowed in the Senate.

While the Parliamentarian allowed identical language defunding Planned Parenthood to remain in a similar budget bill in 2015, it was not clear at the time that Planned Parenthood would have been the only provider affected by the language. Planned Parenthood backers say they will argue to the Parliamentarian that the budget impact of the language is “merely incidental” to the policy aim and therefore should not be allowed in the Senate bill.

5. Insurance market reforms

Senators are also struggling with provisions of the House-passed bill that would allow states to waive certain insurance requirements in the Affordable Care Act, including those laying out “essential” benefits that policies must cover, and those banning insurers from charging sicker people higher premiums. That language, as well as an amendment seeking to ensure more funding to help people with preexisting conditions, was instrumental in gaining enough votes for the bill to pass the House.

Eliminating insurance regulations imposed by the ACA are a top priority for conservatives. “Conservatives would like to clear the books of Obamacare’s most costly regulations and free the states to regulate their markets how they wish,” wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is one of the 13 senators negotiating the details of the bill, in an op-ed in May.

However, budget experts suggest that none of the insurance market provisions is likely to clear the Parliamentarian hurdle as being primarily budget-related.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner J. (2017 June 16). Ear to the door: 5 things being weighed in secret health bill also weigh it down [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/ear-to-the-door-5-things-being-weighed-in-secret-health-bill-also-weigh-it-down/


The Employer Mandate: Essential or Dispensable?

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

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

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

The Employer Mandate

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

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

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

The Rationale

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

The Rationale for Repeal

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

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

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

Concerns About Repeal

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

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

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

 Proceed with Caution

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Patient and State Stability Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Waiver Options

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

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

WAIVER TO PERMIT RATING BASED ON HEALTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS PACKAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE LIMIT ON AGE RATING

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

Issues and Tradeoffs that States May Need to Resolve

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

States would undertake this role facing some significant challenges.

COMPETING DEMANDS FOR REDUCED FEDERAL FUNDING

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

CHALLENGES IN REDUCING PREMIUMS AND MAINTAINING COVERAGE

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

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

Measuring Premium Change

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

WAIVING ESSENTIAL BENEFITS COULD REDUCE PREMIUMS BUT ALSO LIMIT AVAILABILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDRESSING FUNDING LIMITATIONS OVER TIME

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

Discussion

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


HSAs 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


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll - May 2017: The AHCA's Proposed Changes to Health Care

Find out how the American public feels about the American Health Care Act in this great article by Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY FINDINGS:
  • With Congress currently discussing the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a plan that would repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, this month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that more Americans have an unfavorable view of the plan than a favorable one (55 percent vs. 31 percent, respectively). The share with favorable views of the AHCA is about 20 percentage points lower than the share with favorable views (49 percent) of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). The majority of Republicans (67 percent) have a favorable view of the AHCA.
  • This month’s survey finds the public has increasingly negative views of how their health care will be affected by proposed changes. In December 2016, after the presidential election but before the release of the Republican plan, less than one-third of the public thought their health care would get worse if the 2010 health care law was repealed. This month’s survey, fielded after House Republicans passed the AHCA, finds larger shares say the cost of health care for them and their family (45 percent), their ability to get and keep health insurance (34 percent), and the quality of their own health care will get worse if Congress passes the AHCA (34 percent).
  • About one in ten (8 percent) think the Senate should pass the AHCA as is, without making any changes to the plan passed by the House. Similar shares – about one-fourth of the public – think the Senate should make either major changes to the legislation (26 percent) or minor changes to it (24 percent), while about three in ten (29 percent) say they do not think the Senate should pass this bill.

The American Health Care Act

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the House Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).1 With the Senate currently debating the plan and discussing their own approach, the most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds more Americans have an unfavorable view of the AHCA than a favorable one (55 percent vs. 31 percent, respectively). There is also a considerable enthusiasm gap with a larger share saying that they have a “very unfavorable” view (40 percent) than saying they have a “very favorable” view (12 percent).

MAJORITY OF REPUBLICANS HOLD A FAVORABLE VIEW OF THE AHCA

The AHCA has solid support among the Republican base. Two-thirds of Republicans say they have a favorable view of the plan including three in ten (29 percent) who say they have a “very favorable” view.

FEW SEE AHCA AS FULFILLING PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PROMISES ABOUT HEALTH CARE

Three-fourths (76 percent) of the public thinks the health care plan recently passed by the House does not fulfill most of the promises President Trump has made about health care while 14 percent say it fulfills most or all of his promises.

This viewpoint is shared regardless of party identification with majorities of Democrats (86 percent), independents (79 percent), and Republicans (59 percent) saying the AHCA fulfills some or none of the promises President Trump has made about health care.

MORE AMERICANS VIEW THE ACA FAVORABLY THAN THE AHCA

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been tracking public opinion on the ACA since its passage in 2010. This month’s survey continues to find the public leans more favorable than unfavorable in their views of the 2010 health care law, with 49 percent expressing a favorable view of the ACA compared to 42 perecent expressing an unfavorable view.

In fact, more of the public is favorable in their overall views of the ACA than in their views of the Republican plan to replace the 2010 health care law. About half of Americans have a favorable view of the ACA compared to about three in ten who have a favorable view of the new Republican plan.

Partisanship is the main driver behind support for either the ACA or the AHCA, with a majority of Republicans viewing the AHCA favorably (67 percent), while a majority of Democrats view the ACA favorably (78 percent). More independents view the ACA favorably (48 percent) than view the AHCA favorably (30 percent).

Despite the lack of support for the House Republican plan, a majority of the public (74 percent) say they think it is either “very likely” (37 percent) or “somewhat likely” (36 percent) that the president and Congress will repeal and replace the ACA. About one-fourth of the public say it is either “not too likely” (15 percent) or “not likely at all” (9 percent).

MOST AMERICANS WANT CHANGES TO THE AHCA BEFORE SENATE PASSES THE BILL

About one in ten (8 percent) think the Senate should pass the AHCA as is, without making any changes to the plan passed by the House. Similar shares – about one-fourth of the public – think the Senate should make either major changes to the legislation (26 percent) or minor changes to it (24 percent), while about three in ten say they do not think the Senate should pass this bill.

Attitudes toward what the Senate should do when it comes to the AHCA are largely driven by partisanship with most Republicans (60 percent) saying they think it should pass as is (15 percent) or with minor changes (45 percent) while half of Democrats (51 percent) say the Senate should not pass this bill. Independents are more divided but one-third (34 percent) say the Senate should make major changes to the bill.

ATTITUDES TOWARDS AHCA PROVISIONS

The AHCA – like other health care plans – includes complex policies that the public may not fully understand or pay attention to. In an effort to examine general attitudes towards several of the more well-known provisions, we ask respondents whether after hearing about the specific provision they are “more likely” or “less likely” to support the plan. Much like overall attitudes towards the AHCA, various provisions of the law asked about in this survey do not garner large levels of support from the public. When asked whether individual elements of the Republican replacement plan would make them “more likely” or “less likely” to support the plan, none of the elements receive a majority of the public saying it would make them “more likely” to support it.  The only provision that has a larger share of the public saying it makes them “more likely” than say it makes them “less likely” to support the law is allowing states to implement a Medicaid work requirement (42 percent compared to 28 percent).

There are several provisions currently included in the plan that a majority of the public say makes them “less likely” to support the legislation. These include allowing states to decide if health insurance companies can charge sick people more than healthy people if they haven’t had continuous coverage (65 percent), eliminating the individual mandate and instead allowing insurance companies to charge people 30% higher premiums for a year if they haven’t had continuous coverage (62 percent), allowing states to eliminate the essential health benefit requirement (60 percent), and making changes that would generally decrease what younger people pay for insurance and increase what older people pay (58 percent).

REPUBLICAN SUPPORT FOR SOME ASPECTS OF THE AHCA

There is some support for aspects of the AHCA among Republicans. For example, a majority of Republicans say that the Medicaid work requirement (75 percent) and federal funding for states to set up high-risk pools (59 percent) makes them more likely to support the plan. In addition, about four in ten Republicans say the same about the provisions which stop federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood (45 percent), change Medicaid funding to a per capita cap or block grant system (45 percent), allow states to change the essential health benefits (42 percent), and end the funding for Medicaid expansion (40 percent).

PERCEIVED EFFECTS OF THE AHCA

Overall, about half of Americans say the quality of their own health care (48 percent) and their own ability to get and keep health insurance (47 percent) will stay about the same if the president and Congress pass the health care plan currently being discussed. When it comes to the cost of health care for them and their family, almost half say it will get worse (45 percent) while about one-third say it will stay about the same (36 percent) and 16 percent say it will get better.

Immediately following the 2016 presidential election and prior to the release of the Republican plan, most Americans thought that their health care would stay about the same if the 2010 health care law was repealed. Yet, in this month’s survey which was fielded after House Republicans passed the AHCA, larger shares say the cost of health care for them and their family, their ability to get and keep health insurance, and the quality of their own health care will get worse if Congress passes the AHCA.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kirzinger A., Dijulio B., Hamel L., Sugarman E., Brodie M. (2017 May 31). Kaiser health tracking poll - may 2017: the AHCA's proposed changes to health care [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-costs/report/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-may-2017-the-ahcas-proposed-changes-to-health-care/


Insurer Participation on ACA Marketplaces, 2014-2017

Have you wondered how the health insurance marketplace has fared since the passing of the ACA. Here is a really good article by Ashley Semanskee and Cynthia Cox highlighting the impact the ACA has had on insurance marketplaces across the country.

Since the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces opened in 2014, there have been a number of changes in insurance participation as companies entered and exited states and also changed their footprint within states. Our earlier analyses of insurer participation and some notable company exits can be found here.

In 2014, there were an average of 5.0 insurers participating in each state’s ACA marketplace, ranging from 1 company in New Hampshire and West Virginia to 16 companies in New York. 2015 saw a net increase in insurer participation, with an average of 6.0 insurers per state, ranging from 1 in West Virginia to 16 in New York. In 2016, insurer participation changed in a number of states due to a combination of some new entrants and the failure of a number of CO-OP plans. In 2016, the average number of companies per state was 5.6, ranging from 1 in Wyoming to 16 in Texas and Wisconsin.

In 2017, insurance company losses led to a number of high profile exits from the market. The average number of companies per state in 2017 was 4.3, ranging from 1 company in Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming to 15 companies in Wisconsin. In 2017, 58% of enrollees (living in about 30% of counties) had a choice of three or more insurers, compared to 85% of enrollees (living in about 63% of counties) in 2016.

Insurer participation varies greatly within states, and rural areas tend to have fewer insurers. On average, metro-area counties have 2.5 insurers participating in 2017, compared to 2.0 insurers in non-metro counties. In 2017, 87% of enrollees lived in metro counties.

There are a number of areas in the country with just one exchange insurer. In 2017, about 21% of enrollees (living in 33% of counties) have access to just one insurer on the marketplace (up from 2% of enrollees living in 7% of counties in 2016). Often, when there is only one insurer participating on the exchange, that company is a Blue Cross Blue Shield or Anthem plan. Before the ACA, many state individual markets were often dominated by Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Semanskee A., Cox C. (2017 June 1). Insurer participation on ACA marketplaces, 2014-2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/insurer-participation-on-aca-marketplaces-2014-2017/