ERISA's "Church Plan" Exception

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed in 1974. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the agency responsible for administering and enforcing this law. For many years, most of ERISA's requirements applied to pension plans. However, in recent years that has changed, and group plans (called "welfare benefit plans" by ERISA and the DOL) now must meet a number of requirements. Government and church plans do not need to comply with ERISA.

However, some employers are unsure if they meet ERISA's "church plan" exception. Entities associated with churches such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and charities are often unclear about whether they meet the exception. Under ERISA, a church plan is "any employee benefit plan established and maintained by a church or by a convention or association of churches that is exempt from tax under IRS Code Section 501 with respect to which no election has been made under IRS Code Section 410(d). The plan must be established and maintained primarily for benefit of the employees of a church or convention or association of churches. Substantially all the covered individuals under the plan must be employees of the church or the convention or association of churches.

Although this might seem straightforward at first glance, determining whether a church or convention or association of churches exists is dependent on the facts and circumstances of an organization. Organizations may request a DOL opinion letter, or an IRS private letter ruling (although the DOL reserves the right to review IRS determinations via private letter) to determine if they meet the definition. To add another layer of uncertainty, courts are not bound by either DOL or IRS determinations.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 3). ERISA's "church plan" exception [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/erisas-church-plan-exception-1


New House Healthcare Proposal a Mixed Bag for Employers

The House of Representatives has just introduced their new bipartiasn plan for healthcare reform. Find out how this new healthcare legislation will impact your employers' healthcare in this great article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News.

A new bipartisan healthcare plan in the House contains potential positives and negatives alike for employers.

The plan could provide much-sought relief to small and medium-sized businesses with respect to the employer mandate, but it could also institutionalize the mandate for larger firms and does little to reduce employer-reporting headaches. Critics say it also fails to endorse other employer-friendly reforms to the Affordable Care Act.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 40 Republicans and Democrats led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., unveiled their new plan last week to stabilize the individual markets, following the collapse of Senate talks that were focused on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month. The proposal would be separate from an earlier bill that passed the House to overhaul large swaths of the ACA. Congress is now on recess until after Labor Day, but talks around efforts to shore up the individual markets are likely to resume when lawmakers return to Washington this fall.

PaulThe House lawmakers introduced a broad set of bipartisan principles that they hope will guide future legislation, including several key tweaks to the employer mandate. This plan includes raising the threshold for when the mandate kicks in from firms with 50 or more employees to those with at least 500 workers. It also would up the definition of full-time work from those putting in 30 hours to those working 40 hours per week. Among changes focused on the individual markets, the proposal would bring cost-sharing reduction payments under the congressional appropriations process and ensure they have mandatory funding as well as establish a stability fund that states could tap to reduce premiums and other costs for some patients with expensive health needs.

Legislative talks focused on maintaining the Obamacare markets remain in early stages and it’s unclear whether the provisions targeting the employer mandate will gain long-term traction, though lawmakers in support of the plan said that their proposed measure would help unburden smaller companies.

“The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and acts as a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees,” the Problem Solvers Caucus said in their July 31 release.

Observers note that raising the mandate’s threshold would likely have few dramatic effects on coverage rates. But critics argued that while the plan would eliminate coverage requirements for mid-size employers — a boon for smaller companies — it could ultimately make it more difficult to restructure or remove the mandate altogether.

“It would provide relief to some people — however, it will enshrine the employer mandate forever,” says James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee. “You are exempting the most sympathetic characters and ensuring that large businesses will forever be subject to the mandate and its obscene reporting.”

The real-world impact of the change would likely be limited when it comes to coverage rates, as mid-sized and larger employers tend to use health benefits to help attract and retain their workforce. Nearly all firms with 50 or more full-time employees — about 96% — offered at least one plan that would meet the ACA’s minimum value and affordability requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Education Trust employer health benefits survey for 2016. Participation was even higher — 99% — among firms with at least 200 workers.

“At the 500 bar, realistically, virtually every employer is offering coverage to at least some employees,” says Matthew Rae, a senior policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gelfand notes that under the proposed measure, big businesses would still have to comply with time-consuming and costly reporting requirements under the ACA and would continue to face restrictions in plan design, because of requirements in place that, for example, mandate plans have an actuarial value of at least 60%.

“Prior to the ACA, big business already offered benefits — and they were good benefits that people liked and that were designed to keep people healthy and to make them productive workers,” he says. “[The ACA] forces us to waste a boatload of time and money proving that we offer the benefits that we offer and it constrains our ability to be flexible in designing those benefits.”

Susan Combs, founder of insurance brokerage Combs & Co., says that changing the definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours per week could have a bigger impact than raising the mandate threshold, because it would free up resources for employers who had laid off workers or cut back their hours when they began having to cover benefits for people working 30 or more hours.

“Some employers had to lay off employees or had they to cut back on different things, because they had to now cover benefits for people that were in essence really part-time people, not full-time people,” she says. “If you shifted from 30 to 40 hours, that might give employers additional remedies so they can expand their companies and employ more people eventually.”

Two percent of firms with 50-plus full-time workers surveyed by Kaiser in 2016 said that they changed or planned to change the job classifications of some employees from full-time to part-time so that the workers would not be eligible for health benefits under the mandate. Another 4% said that they reduced the number of full-time employees they intended to hire because of the cost of providing health benefits.

Gelfand calls the provision to raise the definition from 30 to 40 hours per week “an improvement,” though he said a better solution would be to remove the employer mandate entirely.

He added that he would like to see any market stabilization plan include more items employers had backed as part of the earlier repeal and replace debate. While the House plan would remove a tax on medical devices, it does not address the Cadillac tax on high-cost plans, one of the highest priority items that employer groups have been working to delay or repeal. It also doesn’t include language expanding the use of tax-advantaged health savings accounts detailed in earlier House and Senate proposals.

“There’s not likely to be another healthcare vehicle that’s focused on ACA reform, so if you have a reform vehicle that goes through and it doesn’t do anything to give us tax relief and it doesn’t do anything to improve consumer-driven health options, like HSAs, and it doesn’t do anything to improve healthcare costs — wow, what a missed opportunity,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 August 10). New house healthcare proposal a mixed bag for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/new-house-healthcare-proposal-a-mixed-bag-for-employers


Determining COBRA Premiums for Fully Insured and Self-Funded Health Plans

Here is a great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) on what you need to know about COBRA when dealing with fully insured and self-funded health plans by Danielle Capilla.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) allows qualified beneficiaries who lose health benefits due to a qualifying event to continue group health benefits. While some group health plans may provide COBRA continuation coverage at a reduced rate or at no cost, most qualified beneficiaries must pay the full COBRA premium. The COBRA election notice should include information about COBRA premiums.

For fully insured health plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees. For self-insured plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees as determined by an actuary or the past cost from the preceding determination period. The applicable premium calculation for both fully- and self-insured plans includes the cost of providing coverage to both active employees and COBRA qualified beneficiaries. All COBRA premiums must be calculated in good faith compliance with a reasonable interpretation of COBRA requirements.

Generally, COBRA payments are made on an after-tax basis. Qualified beneficiaries have 45 days after the election date to make an initial premium payment. The plan may terminate the qualified beneficiary's COBRA rights if no initial premium payment is made before the end of the 45-day period. In addition, plans must allow monthly premium payments and cannot require payment on a quarterly basis. As established under COBRA, premiums are due on the first day of each month with a minimum 30-day grace period. A plan may terminate COBRA coverage for nonpayment or insufficient payment of premiums after the grace period.

If a qualified beneficiary makes an insignificant underpayment, then the premium payment will still satisfy the payment obligation. An underpayment is deemed insignificant if the shortfall is no greater than the lesser of $50 or 10 percent of the required amount. However, if the plan notifies the qualified beneficiary of the shortfall and grants a reasonable amount of time to correct the underpayment (usually 30 days after the notice is provided), then the qualified beneficiary is required to make the payment; otherwise, COBRA coverage may be canceled.

Fully Insured Health Plans

Generally, the applicable COBRA premium amount for fully insured plans is the insurance premium charged by the insurer. The applicable premium is based on the total cost of coverage, which includes both the employer and employee portions. The premium amount is based on the cost of coverage for similarly situated individuals who have not incurred a qualifying event.

A group health plan may charge at most 102 percent of the premium during the standard COBRA coverage period for similarly situated plan participants (100 percent of the total cost of coverage plus an additional 2 percent for administrative costs). However, the plan may increase the premium for a disabled qualified beneficiary and charge 150 percent of the applicable premium during the 11-month disability extension period (months 19 through 29). In addition, COBRA regulations permit a plan to charge a 150 percent premium to nondisabled qualified beneficiaries as long as the disabled qualified beneficiary is covered under the plan. If the disabled qualified beneficiary is no longer covered under the plan, then the remaining qualified beneficiaries may continue coverage up to 29 months at 102 percent of the cost of the plan.

If an employer maintains more than one plan, then a separate applicable premium is calculated for each plan. Also, the applicable premium for a single plan may vary due to factors such as the coverage level, the benefit package, and the region in which covered employee resides. For instance, single employees may pay a different applicable premium than employees who include their spouse on the plan. Thus, the plan may charge different premiums based on the varying coverage levels.

The most common tier structures include employee-only, employee-plus-spouse, employee-plus-children, and employee-plus-family. According to Internal Revenue Ruling 96-8, a fully insured plan that pays different premiums for individual versus family coverage must use those same premium tiers for COBRA continuation coverage. Thus, COBRA premiums are divided into multi-rate and single-rate tier structures.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 1). Determining COBRA premiums for fully insured and self-funded health plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/determining-cobra-premiums-for-fully-insured-and-self-funded-health-plans-1


Government and Education Employers Offer Richest HSA Plans

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bill Olson

Across most industries, HSA contributions are, for the most part, down or unchanged from three years ago, according to UBA’s Health Plan Survey. The average employer contribution to an HSA is $474 for a single employee (down 3.5 percent from 2015 and 17.6 percent from five years ago) and $801 for a family (down 9.2 percent from last year and 13.7 percent from five years ago). Government and education employers are the only industries with average single contributions well above average and on the rise.

Government employees had the most generous contributions for singles at $850, on average, up from $834 in 2015. This industry also has the highest employer contributions for families, on average, at $1,595 (though that is down from 1,636 in 2015). Educational employers are the next most generous, contributing $636, on average, for singles and $1,131 for families.

Singles in the accommodation/food services industries received virtually no support from employers, with average HSA contributions at $166. The same is true for families with HSA plans in the accommodation/food services industries with average family contributions of $174.

Retail employers also remain among the least generous contributors to single and family HSA plans, contributing $305 and $470, respectively. This may be why they have low enrollment in these plans.

The education services industry has seen a 109 percent increase in HSA enrollment since 2013 (aided by employers’ generous contributions), catapulting the industry to the lead in HSA enrollment at 23.8 percent. The professional/scientific/tech and finance/insurance industries follow closely at 23.3 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively.

The mining/oil/gas industry sees the lowest enrollment at 3.8 percent. The retail, hotel, and food industries continue to have some of the lowest enrollment rates despite the prevalence of these plans, indicating that these industries, in particular, may want to increase employee education efforts about these plans and how they work.

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olson B. (2017 July 27). Government and education employers offer richest HSA plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/government-and-education-employers-offer-richest-hsa-plans


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

With the Senate's plan for the repeal and replacement of the ACA failing more Americans are hoping for Congress to move on to more pressing matters. Find out how Americans really feel about the ACA and healthcare reform in this great study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that the majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass the bill that would have repealed and replaced the ACA. Since then, President Trump has suggested Congress not take on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA, but six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with this approach, while one-third (34 percent) agree with it.
  • A majority of the public (57 percent) want to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law, while smaller shares say they want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). However, about half of Republicans and Trump supporters would like to see Republicans in Congress keep working on a plan to repeal the ACA.
  • A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Moving forward, a majority of the public (60 percent) says President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for any problems with the ACA.
  • Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces. The majority of the public are unaware that health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces or health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces only affect those who purchase their own insurance on these marketplaces (67 percent and 80 percent, respectively). In fact, the majority of Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.
  • A majority of the public disapprove of stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and disapprove of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of stopping outreach efforts, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.
  • The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating on a replacement plan. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support these negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).
  • This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability of nine percentage points since the 2016 presidential election as well as an increase of favorability among Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Attitudes Towards Recent “Repeal and Replace” Efforts

In the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate voted on their latest version of a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Known as “skinny repeal,” this plan was unable to garner majority support– thus temporarily halting Congress’ ACA repeal efforts. The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, fielded the week following the failed Senate vote, finds that a majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the U.S. Senate did not pass a bill aimed at repealing and replacing the ACA, while about one-third (35 percent) say this is a “bad thing.” However, views vary considerably by partisanship with a majority of Democrats (85 percent), independents (62 percent), and individuals who say they disapprove of President Trump (81 percent) saying it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill compared to a majority of Republicans (64 percent) and individuals who say they approve of President Trump (65 percent) saying it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill.

The majority of those who view the Senate not passing an ACA replacement bill as a “good thing” say they feel this way because they do not want the 2010 health care law repealed (34 percent of the public overall) while a smaller share (23 percent of the public overall) say they feel this way because, while they support efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, they had specific concerns about the particular bill the Senate was debating.

And while most Republicans and supporters of President Trump say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass ACA repeal legislation, for those that say it is a “good thing” more Republicans say they had concerns about the Senate’s particular legislation (21 percent) than say they do not want the ACA repealed (6 percent). This is also true among supporters of President Trump (19 percent vs. 6 percent).

WHO DO PEOPLE BLAME OR CREDIT FOR THE SENATE BILL FAILING TO PASS?

Among those who say it is a “good thing” that the Senate was unable to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, similar shares say the general public who voiced concerns about the bill (40 percent) and the Republicans in Congress who voted against the bill (35 percent) deserve most of the credit for the bill failing to pass. This is followed by a smaller share (14 percent) who say Democrats in Congress deserve the most credit.

On the other hand, among those who say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill to repeal the ACA, over a third place the blame on Democrats in Congress (37 percent). About three in ten (29 percent) place the blame on Republicans in Congress while fewer (15 percent) say President Trump deserves most of the blame for the bill failing to pass.

HALF OF THE PUBLIC ARE “RELIEVED” OR “HAPPY” THE SENATE DID NOT REPEAL AND REPLACE THE ACA

More Americans say they are “relieved” (51 percent) or “happy” (47 percent) that the Senate did not pass a bill repealing and replacing the ACA, than say they are “disappointed” (38 percent) or “angry” (19 percent).

Although two-thirds of Republicans and Trump supporters say they feel “disappointed” about the Senate failing to pass a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, smaller shares (30 percent and 37 percent, respectively) report feeling “angry” about the failure to pass the health care bill.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACA MOVING FORWARD

With the future of any other replacement plans uncertain, the majority (60 percent) of the public say that because President Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government, they are responsible for any problems with the ACA moving forward, compared to about three in ten Americans (28 percent) who say that because President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law, they are responsible for any problems with it. Partisan divisiveness continues with majorities of Republicans and supporters of President Trump who say President Obama and Democrats are responsible for any problems with it moving forward, while large shares of Democrats, independents, and those who do not approve of President Trump say President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for the law moving forward.

Moving Past Repealing The Affordable Care Act

This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability since Congress began debating ACA replacement plans and a nine percentage point shift since the 2016 presidential election.

The shift in attitudes since the 2016 presidential election is found regardless of party identification. For example, the share of Republicans who have a favorable view of the ACA has increased from 12 percent in November 2016 to 21 percent in August 2017. This is similar to the increase in favorability among independents (11 percentage points) and Democrats (7 percentage points) over the same time period.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE ACA

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that after the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a plan to repeal and replace the ACA, the majority of the public (57 percent) wants to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law but not repeal it. Far fewer want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). About half of Republicans (49 percent) and Trump supporters (46 percent) want Republicans in Congress to continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA, but about a third of each say they would like to see Republicans work with Democrats on improvements to the ACA.

Six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with President Trump’s strategy of Congress not taking on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA while one-third (34 percent) of the public agree with this approach. Republicans and Trump supporters are more divided in their opinion on this strategy with similar shares saying they agree and disagree with the approach.

MOST WANT TO SEE PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS MAKE THE CURRENT HEALTH CARE LAW WORK

Regardless of their opinions of the ACA, the majority of the public want to see the 2010 health care law work. Eight in ten (78 percent) Americans think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while fewer (17 percent) say President Trump and his adminstration should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

This month’s survey also includes questions about specific actions that the Trump administration can take to make the ACA fail and finds that the majority of the public disapproves of the Trump Administration stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and no longer enforcing the individual mandate, the requirement that all individuals have insurance or pay a fine (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of President Trump stopping outreach efforts so fewer people sign up for insurance, which experts say could weaken the marketplaces, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.

The Future of the ACA Marketplaces

About 10.3 million people have health insurance that they purchased through the ACA exchanges or marketplaces, where people who don’t get insurance through their employer can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits.1 Seven in ten (69 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans’ next steps on health care to include fixing the remaining problems with the ACA in order to help the marketplaces work better, compared to three in ten (29 percent) who say it is more important for them to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA.

The majority of Republicans (61 percent) and Trump supporters (63 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA, while the vast majority of Democrats (90 percent) and seven in ten independents (69 percent) want them to fix the ACA’s remaining problems to help the marketplaces work better.

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS ON WHO IS IMPACTED BY ISSUES IN THE ACA MARKETPLACES

Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces which has led some insurance companies to charge higher premiums in certain marketplaces.  Six in ten Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.

There has also been news about insurance companies no longer selling coverage in the individual insurance marketplaces and currently, it’s estimated that 17 counties (9,595 enrollees) are currently at risk to have no insurer on the ACA marketplaces in 2018.2 The majority of the public (54 percent) say health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have no impact on them and their family. Yet, despite the limited number of counties that may not have an insurer in their marketplaces as well as this not affecting those with employer sponsored insurance where most people obtain health insurance, about four in ten (38 percent) of the public believe that health insurance companies choosing to not sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their families.

The majority of the public think both of these ACA marketplace issues will affect everyone who has health insurance and not just those who purchase their insurance on these marketplaces. Six in ten think health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while about one-fourth (26 percent) correctly say it only affects those who buy health insurance on their own. In addition, three-fourths (76 percent) of the public say that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while fewer (17 percent) correctly say it will affect only those who buy health insurance on their own.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD NOT USE COST-SHARING REDUCTION PAYMENTS AS NEGOTIATING STRATEGY

Over the past several months President Trump has threatened to stop the payments to insurance companies that help cover the cost of health insurance for lower-income Americans (known commonly as CSR payments), in order to get Democrats to start working with Republicans on an ACA replacement plan.3 The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support President Trump using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kirzinger A., Dijulio B., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 Aug 11). Kaiser health tracking poll-august 2017: the politics of ACA repeal and replace efforts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-august-2017-the-politics-of-aca-repeal-and-replace-efforts/?utm_campaign=KFF-2017-August-Tracking-Poll&utm_medium=email&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9GaFJKrO9G3bL05k_i4GzC04eMAaSCDlmcsiYsfzAn-SeJdK_JnFvab4GydMfe_9iGiiKy5LR0iKxm6f0gDZGbwqh-bQ&_hsmi=55195408&utm_content=55195408&utm_source=hs_email&hsCtaTracking=4463482c-5ae1-4dfa-b489-f54b5dd97156%7Cd5849489-f587-49ad-ae35-3bd735545b28


What Could Happen If The Administration Stops Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments To Insurers?

Has the President's recent threat to slash Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments for insurers left you worried about your healthcare costs? Find out how the loss of Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments will impact your health insurance in this informative column by Timothy Jost from Health Affairs.

August 4 Update: Voluntary Insurer Reporting Of Catastrophic Coverage Offered Through Exchange Continued

On August 3, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service released Notice 2017-41  informing insurers that for 2017, as for 2015 and 2016, they would be encouraged but not required to report coverage under catastrophic plans in which individuals were enrolled through an exchange. Insurers and employers are generally required to file 1095-B or 1095-C forms with the IRS, and to provide these forms to individuals whom they cover, documenting that the individuals have minimum essential coverage as required by the individual mandate.

Insurers are not, however, required to report qualified health plan coverage provided through the exchanges, because the exchanges themselves file 1095-A forms documenting QHP coverage and provide these forms to enrollees. But catastrophic health plans are not QHPs, so exchanges do not report catastrophic coverage either.

The IRS proposed regulations in 2016 to require insurers to report catastrophic coverage issued through the exchange and thus to fill this gap.  These rules have not yet been finalized however.  In the meantime, the IRS has encouraged insurers to report catastrophic coverage issued through an exchange voluntarily. The guidance extends this policy for another year. Insurers that voluntarily report catastrophic coverage will not be subject to penalties with respect to returns and statements reporting this coverage.

Original Post

Although the decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to allow attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia to join the House v. Price cost-sharing reduction (CSR) litigation as parties complicates President Trump’s ability to simply stop the CSR payments, rumors continue that he is preparing to do so. The CSR payments are made monthly; the next installment is due on August 21, 2017. If the administration intends not to make the August payment, it must announce its decision soon.

Changes to qualified health plan (QHP) applications in the federally facilitated exchange (FFE) are due on August 16, 2017, as are final rates for single risk pool plans including QHPs. Final contracts with insurers for providing QHP coverage through the FFE must be signed by September 27. If the Trump administration is going to defund the CSRs, now is the time it will do it.

The back story on the CSR issue can be found in my post on July 31, while the intervention decision is analyzed in my post on August 1. This post focuses on issues that will need to be resolved going forward if the Trump administration decides to defund the CSRs.

The Choices Insurers Would Face If CSR Payments Were Ended

First, insurers would have to decide whether to continue to participate in the exchanges. Those in the FFE have a contractual right to drop participation for the rest of 2017, but how exactly they would do this would depend on state law, and would probably require 90 days notice. Insurers would also not be able to terminate the policies of individuals covered through the exchange, although once the insurers left the exchange premium tax credits would cease and many policyholders would drop coverage. Insurers that tried to leave immediately would likely suffer reputational damage, and those that could financially would likely try to hold on until the end of the year.

Some insurers might well decide that the government is an unreliable partner and give up on the exchanges for 2018. Indeed, some would conclude that the individual market is too risky to play in at all. The individual market makes up a small part of the business of large insurers; even though it has become more profitable in the recent past, some insurers might conclude that the premium increases that would be needed to make up for the loss of the CSRs would drive healthy enrollees out of the individual market. Rather than deal with a deteriorating risk pool, they might leave the individual market entirely (although they would probably have to give 180 days notice to do so.)

Insurers that decide to stay would have to charge rates that would allow them to survive without the $10 billion dollars the CSR payments would provide. They would need to raise premiums significantly to accomplish this. How they did so would depend on guidance that they got from their state department of insurance or possibly from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The California Experience

On August 1, 2017, Covered California announced its 2018 rates. The California state-based marketplace is an example of how the Affordable Care Act can work in a state that fully supports it and has a big enough market to form a balanced risk pool. For 2018, the average weighted rate increase in California is 12.5 percent, of which 2.8 percent is attributable to the end of the moratorium on the federal health insurance tax. Consumers can switch to plans that will limit their rate change to 3.3 percent in the same metal tier. All 11 health insurers in California are returning to the market for 2018 (although one insurer, Anthem, is leaving 16 of the 19 regions in which it participated for 2017) and 82 percent of consumers will be able to choose between three or more insurers. About 83 percent of hospitals in California participate in at least one plan.

Covered California instructed its insurers to file alternate rates that would go into effect if the Trump administration abandons the CSR payments. The insurers were instructed to load the extra cost onto their silver (70 percent actuarial value) plans, since the CSRs only apply to silver plans. The alternative rates filed by the insurers project that if the CSRs are not funded, they would have to essentially double their premium increases, hiking premiums by an additional 12.4 percent.

Virtually all of this increase would be absorbed by increased federal premium tax credits for those with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. As the premium of the benchmark second-lowest cost silver plan increased, so would the tax credits. A Covered California study concluded that the premium tax credit subsidy in California would increase by about a third if the CSR subsidies are defunded.

Bronze, gold, and platinum plan premiums would not be affected by the silver plan load. As the premium tax credits increased, many more enrollees might be able to get bronze plans for free, and gold plans would become competitive with silver plans in price. More people would likely be eligible for premium tax credits as people higher up the income scale found that premiums cost a higher percentage of their household income.

Consumers who are not eligible for premium tax credits would have to pay the full premium increase themselves. Covered California has suggested, however, that insurers load the premium increase only onto silver plans in the exchange, since CSRs are only available in the exchange. Insurers would likely encourage their enrollees who are in silver plans in the exchange to move to similar products off the exchange that are much more affordable. Bronze, gold, and platinum plans would cost more or less the same on or off the exchange.

Other States Would Likely Make Different Choices Than California’s

It is likely that not all states would follow California’s lead. If state departments of insurance do not allow insurers to increase their premiums, more insurers would leave the individual market. If state departments require insurers to load the CSR surcharge onto all metal-level plans, both on and off the exchange, bronze, gold, and platinum plans would be more expensive and individual insurance would become much more costly for all consumers who are not eligible for premium tax credits. If insurers leave the market or consumers drop coverage, more consumers would end up using care they cannot afford, increasing medical debt and the uncompensated care burden of providers, and of hospitals in particular.

Some insurers in other states have likely already loaded a substantial surcharge onto their 2018 premiums in anticipation of CSR defunding and of other problems, such as uncertainty about the Trump administration enforcing the individual mandate. If insurers in fact profit from excessive rates, consumers might eventually receive medical loss ratio rebates, but 2018 rebates would not be paid out until late in 2019, if the requirement is still on the books by then.

Other Ramifications Of Ending CSR Payments To Insurers

CSR defunding could have other effects as well. Insurers have been reimbursed each month for CSRs based on an estimation of what they are paying out to actually reduce cost sharing. Each year the insurers must reconcile the payments they have received with those they were actually due. Insurers were supposed to have filed their reconciliation data for 2016 by June 2, 2017, and were supposed to be paid any funds due them, or to refund overpayments, in August. Reconciliation payments may also be due in some situations for 2015. If the administration cuts off CSR payments, it could conceivably cut off reconciliation payments as well.

Finally, defunding of CSRs would likely have an effect on risk adjustment payments as well. The risk adjustment methodology has been set for 2018 in the 2018 payment rule. It would likely not be amended for 2018 in light of the CSR defunding. Defunding would increase the statewide average premium on which risk adjustment payments are based. This would generally exaggerate the effects that risk adjustment would otherwise have. In particular, insurers with heavy bronze plan enrollment would end up paying more in, while insurers with more gold or platinum plans might receive higher payments.

Looking Forward

President Trump claims to see the CSR payments as a “bailout” to insurers, which surely they are not. They are a payment for services rendered, much like a Medicare payment to a Medicare Advantage plan. The effects of defunding would reverberate throughout out health care system, likely causing problems far beyond those identified in this post.

Fortunately, Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Murray (D-WA), the chair and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, have announced that they will begin hearings on a bipartisan approach to health reform when the Senate returns in September, and funding of the CSR payments for at least a year seems to be at the top of their list. A bipartisan group of House members has also called for funding the CSRs. And pressure to fund the CSRs continues from the outside, with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners calling for it again last week. It is to be hoped that President Trump will not take steps that would sabotage the individual market and that a solution can quickly be found to the CSR issue that will bring stability to the market going forward.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jost T. (2017 August 2). What could happen if the administration stops cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/08/02/what-could-happen-if-the-administration-stops-cost-sharing-reduction-payments-to-insurers/


How Rising Healthcare Costs are Changing the Retirement Landscape

Has rising the rising cost of healthcare impacted  your plans for retirement?  Here is a great article by Paula Aven Gladych from Employee Benefit News on how healthcare is reshaping the way people are planning their retirement.

It’s hard enough getting employees to save for their retirement. It’s even harder to get them to think about how much they need to save for medical expenses in retirement.

“Most Americans don’t think about what the medical component will be for them,” says Robert Grubka, president of employee benefits at New York-based Voya Financial. “They often think that Medicare and government-provided healthcare is enough and what people quickly find out is, it is helpful but it doesn’t mean it’s enough.” When people think about their retirement plan, the medical piece is “one of the most surprising aspects of it,” he says.

But talking about managing healthcare costs during post-work years is now a vital element of retirement planning. And it’s one employers need to consider, especially as new statistics shed light on the seriousness of the issue.

As a person’s retirement savings shrinks in retirement, their medical expenses continue to increase, according to Voya Financial’s report “Playing the long game – Understanding how healthcare costs can impact your retirement readiness.” Healthcare costs rose 6.5% in 2017, but inflation only went up 2.4%, Voya found.

“The rapid rise of healthcare costs could have a large impact on quality of life in retirement,” according to the report. Forty-two percent of pre- and post-retirees say that healthcare is their biggest concern, especially since nearly half of retirees or their spouses experience a serious or chronic health problem.

Meanwhile, Medicare data finds that those in their 70s spend about $7,566 per person in healthcare costs annually. That figure more than doubles to $16,145 by the time a person reaches age 96. According to Voya, Medicare will only cover about 60% of all retirement healthcare costs, which means people need to figure out a way to cover that other 40%.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the average couple will need $259,000 to cover their out-of-pocket medical expenses in retirement. That figure includes premiums and costs related to all Medicare plans and the cost of supplemental insurance. When asked how much they should stock away for medical expenses, 69% of baby boomers and 66% of retirees thought they needed less than $100,000.

As the retirement industry has shifted away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans, employers have tried to compensate for some of the missing perks of having a pension plan. That includes offering options like life insurance, disability insurance, accident insurance, critical illness insurance or a hospital confinement indemnity.

A 2014 report by the Council for Disability Awareness found that more than 214,000 employers were offering long-term disability insurance plans to their employees in 2013, a slight increase from the previous year.

The other component that is relatively new is the high-deductible health plan that usually comes with a health savings account. The money saved in an HSA can be used for medical expenses in retirement if a person doesn’t use up their balance every year. Any extra funds are invested, just like they would be in a typical retirement plan.

High-deductible health plans make the plan participant more responsible for how those health care dollars are spent. It also has “sped up the recognition of the healthcare issue,” Grubka says.

According to the 2016 Employer Health Benefits Survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 29% of covered workers are enrolled in a high-deductible plan with a savings option. Over the past two years, enrollment in these high-deductible plans increased 8 percentage points as enrollment in PPOs dropped 10 percentage points, the report found.

Many times, individuals must pay out most or all of their deductible at once, which could be $2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a family. That’s when people start taking loans from their retirement plan to help cover costs.

That’s why some of these ancillary products, like critical illness or disability insurance, are so important.

“It is so people can get through the chunky expenses and not get to the point where they have to tap their savings or their retirement plan,” Grubka says.

It’s critical that employees try and determine what all of their expenses will be in retirement. Individuals must try and determine how long they will live, by looking at their family history and making an educated guess. Then they should calculate their projected monthly Social Security payment by setting up an account with the Social Security Administration. They should then add up their expected monthly living expenses like rent/mortgage, groceries and utilities and any healthcare expenses that are not covered by Medicare to come up with a target number.

They should base how much they set aside for retirement on that figure.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gladyech P.  (2017 July 4). How rising healthcare costs are changing the retirement landscape [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-rising-healthcare-costs-are-impacting-retirement-planning


BREAKING: Health Care Bill Moves to Debate on Senate Floor with 51-50 vote

In case you haven't heard, the motion to debate a version of the Health Care Bill after multiple renditions that has been dragging it's way through congress and stalled in the Senate has just been successfully passed with a narrow vote of 51-50 in favor with Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote . The bill has a long road ahead and likely a vast number of revisions.

You can keep an eye on relevant news from our Navigator page right here on our own website.  We know it is overwhelming to try to keep up with all of the news from all of the disparate sources. Our Navigator resource simply works to curate content from a variety of trusted, non-partisan sites across the internet and bring them to a central location to provide you a trusted place to stay-up-to-date on Health Care news at a glance.

 


Source: Wall Street Journal, Daniel Nasaw,Michelle Hackman

Access Live Updates on the Motion Here: http://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/senate-obamacare-repeal-and-replace-vote

Moments ago:

Vice President Mike Pence just broke the 50-50 tie. The motion to proceed passes and the Senate will now begin debate on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

With the motion passed, Senators will now proceed to 20 hours of debate on several proposals repealing parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, including their replacement package and a separate bill repealing the law with a two-year delay.

They are expected to debate numerous amendments – not counted toward the 20 hours – including proposals put forward by Democrats....


 

 

 


Revised GOP Healthcare Bill Still Good for Employers

Has the uncertainty surrounding the BCRA left you worried about your company's healthcare plan? Here is an interesting article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News illustrating all the positives the BCRA  will bring to employers and their company's healthcare program.

The latest version of the Senate Republican healthcare bill contains some significant changes, but provisions impacting employer-sponsored plans remained largely untouched.

The plan, unveiled on Thursday, retains a number of important changes for employers that were included in an earlier draft of the legislation made public last month. GOP lawmakers have been working for months on an effort to undo large swaths of the Affordable Care Act.

“Generally, the changes that were applied didn’t significantly change the dynamics of the Senate bill as it relates to large employers,” says Michael Thompson, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit network of business health coalitions.

Employer groups have been supportive of several major provisions highlighted in the earlier version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act that remain in the new proposal. Those include measures to remove the penalties associated with the employer mandate and a delay to the Cadillac tax for high-cost plans.

The latest Senate bill also retains important changes to health savings accounts that, for example, allow employees to allocate more funds into the accounts and that permit the money to be used on over-the-counter medications. It also reduces the penalty associated with redrawing funds from the account for non-qualified medical spending.

Providing more flexibility around the use of HSAs — tax-advantaged accounts that accompany high-deductible health plans — benefits employers and employees alike, says Chatrane Birbal, senior adviser for government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“As healthcare costs arise, more employers are embracing high-deductible plans and this is a good way for employees to plan ahead for their medical expenses,” she says.

There is one small fix related to health savings accounts that made it into the revised draft, explains James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy for the ERISA Industry Committee.

The updated language now permits out-of-pocket medical expenses for adult children up to 26-years-old who remain on a parent’s health plan to be paid for out of the primary account holder’s HSA. There were previously limitations on use of those funds for those over 18 who remained on a parent’s plan, based on Internal Revenue Service guidelines.

“One of the little tweaks they’ve put in to improve the bill is changing the IRS code to say, actually, yes, an adult dependent still counts and can use an HSA to help save on their healthcare costs,” he says.

Experts note, however, that a key change in the new bill related to HSAs — the ability to use the pre-tax money to pay insurance premiums — does not appear to apply to employer-based plans.

There are several other provisions in the revised legislation that are likely to be debated by the Senate in coming weeks, but that do not directly impact employers.

One controversial measure, developed by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, would allow insurers to offer lower priced, non-ACA-qualified plans in the individual market in addition to plans that meet Obamacare requirements. The latest bill also would provide more funding for the opioid epidemic.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., meanwhile, announced this week that they are developing an alternative proposal to the one unveiled by Republican leaders. Initial details for the alternative proposal were released on Thursday. The legislation is centered on a strategy to send more federal funding directly to the states through block grants.

“Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state’s healthcare needs,” Graham said in a statement on Thursday.

Those representing employer-based plans said they have reservations about the Graham and Cassidy proposal.

Gelfand notes that the alternative plan is expected to keep in place many of the taxes stemming from the ACA, such as the Cadillac tax and a tax on branded prescription drugs, and is unlikely to contain some of the BCRA revisions around the use of HSAs.

“It basically provides none of the relief that the BCRA would provide,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 July 16). Revised GOP healthcare bill still good for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/revised-gop-healthcare-bill-still-good-for-employers?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f024b50000


Senate’s Revised Obamacare Repeal Bill: What’s Different and is it Enough?

Do you know how the Senate's health care bill differs from Congress' bill? Check out this great article by Jared Bilski from HR Morning and find out the 6 key differences that separate the BCRA from the AHCA.

After failing to garner enough support for a vote before the July 4th recess for the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 — aka the ACA repeal bill — the Senate went back to the lab and made some changes. Now the revised bill is out, and HR pros are anxiously waiting to see what happens next.

Although the Senate did leave many of provisions in the original bill intact, it did make some notable changes geared toward appeasing right-leaning Senators who didn’t feel the bill went far enough to repeal and replace the current health reform law.

6 key differences

Those changes:

1. Pared-down benefit requirements

Where the ACA requires insurers to meet minimum requirements that include coverage for 10 essential health benefits, the revised bill would allow insurers to offer cheaper, slimmed-down coverage if the insurers offer at least one plan which meets the ACA standards.

)Note: Healthcare experts warn this change would severely threaten access to coverage for sick patients.)

2. Opioid-crisis funding

The revised bill would provide $45 billion to states to help combat the national opioid crisis. While this is well short of what experts say is needed to address the issue, it’s still more than the $2 billion the original Senate bill had earmarked for opioid-crisis funding.

3. Controversial tax cuts removed

Although the new Senate bill would keep some of the ACA taxes, it would kill two tax cuts that benefited the wealthy and do away with a tax break for high-earning health insurance execs. Both the cuts and the tax breaks were highly criticized aspects of the original Senate bill.

4. Catastrophic health plans

Under the Senate bill revision, people eligible for subsidies to receive tax credits would be able to purchase catastrophic health plans. Plus, anyone would be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage.

The ACA does allow young adult and some additional individuals to buy high-deductible, catastrophic plans featuring low premiums. But federal subsidies aren’t available for these plans — an attractive incentive for healthy individuals with fewer healthcare needs.

5. HSA-premium payments

The bill would allow individuals to use HSA funds to pay for healthcare insurance premiums.

6. Market stabilization

In an effort to help states reduce premiums in order to stabilize their insurance marketplaces, the revised Senate bill provides $182 billion in funding, an $112 billion increase from the $70 billion set aside in the first draft of the bill.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 July 14). Senate's revised obamacare repeal bill: what's different and is it enough [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/senates-revised-obamacare-repeal-bill-whats-different-and-is-it-enough/