Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most

Conditions that impact plan costs can be problematic. Here is a look into the top 10 health conditions hitting the hardest on employers wallets.


As healthcare costs continue to rise, more employers are looking at ways to target those costs. One step they are taking is looking at what health conditions are hitting their pocketbooks the hardest.

“About half of employers use disease management programs to help manage the costs of these very expensive chronic conditions,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans. “In addition, about three in five employers use health screenings and health risk assessments to help employees identify and monitor these conditions so that they can be managed more effectively. Early identification helps the employer and the employee.”

What conditions are costly for employers to cover? In IFEPB’s Workplace Wellness Trends 2017 Survey, more than 500 employers were asked to select the top three conditions impacting plan costs. The following 10 topped the list.

10. High-risk pregnancy

Although high-risk pregnancies have seen a dip of 1% since 2015, they still bottom out the list in 2017; 5.6% of employers report these costs are a leading cost concern for health plans.

9. Smoking

Smoking has remained a consistent concern of employers over the last several years; 8.6% of employers report smoking has significant impact on health plans.

8. High cholesterol

While high cholesterol still has a major impact on health costs- 11.6% say it's a top cause of raising healthcare costs- that number is significantly lower from where it was in 2015 (19.3%).

7. Depression/ mental illness

For 13.9% of employers, mental health has a big influence on healthcare costs. This is down from 22.8% in 2015.

6. Hypertension/ high blood pressure

This is the first condition in IFEBP's report to have dropped a ranking in the last two years. In 2015, hypertension/ high blood pressure ranked 5th with 28.9% of employers reporting it is a high cost condition. In 2017, the condition dropped to 6th with 27.6% of employers noting high costs associated with the disease.

5. Heart disease

This year's study found that 28.4% of employers reported high costs associated with heart disease. In 2015, heart disease was the second highest cost driver with 37.1% of employers citing high costs from the disease.

4. Arthritis/back/musculoskeletal

Nearly three in 10 employers (28.9%) say these conditions are drivers of their health plan costs, compared to 34.5% in 2015.

3. Obesity

Obesity is still a top concern for employers, but slightly less so than it was two years ago. In 2017, 29% of employers found obesity to be a burden on health plans. In 2015, 32.45 cited obesity as a major cost driver.

2. Cancer (all kinds)

Cancer has become more expensive for employers. Now, 35.4% of employers report cancer increasing the costs of health plans, compared to 32% in 2015.

1. Diabetes

The king of raising health costs, diabetes has topped the list both in 2015 and 2017. In the most recent report, 44.3% of employers say diabetes is among the conditions impacting plan costs.

SOURCE:
Otto. N (18 June 2018) "Top 10 health conditions costing employers the most" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/top-10-health-conditions-costing-employers-the-most


Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care

Vision problems are typically not life threatening but can impact the success of your everyday life. Vision care is a significant benefit that could change the lives of many families.


Every day, a school bus drops off as many as 45 children at a community eye clinic on Chicago’s South Side. Many of them are referred to the clinic after failing vision screenings at their public schools.

Clinicians and students from the Illinois College of Optometry give the children comprehensive eye exams, which feature refraction tests to determine a correct prescription for eyeglasses and dilation of their pupils to examine their eyes, including the optic nerve and retina.

No family pays out-of-pocket for the exam. The program bills insurance if the children have coverage, but about a third are uninsured. Operated in partnership with Chicago public schools, the program annually serves up to 7,000 children from birth through high school.

“Many of the kids we’re serving fall through the cracks,” said Dr. Sandra Block, a professor of optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry and medical director of the school-based vision clinics program. Many are low-income Hispanic and African-American children whose parents may not speak English or are immigrants who are not in the country legally.

Falling through the cracks is not an uncommon problem when it comes to vision care. According to a 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as many as 16 million people in the United States have undiagnosed or uncorrected “refractive” errors that could be fixed with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. And while insurance coverage for eye exams and corrective lenses clearly has improved, significant gaps remain.

The national academies’ report noted that impaired vision affects how people experience their world, including normal communication and social activities, independence and mobility. Not seeing clearly can hamper children’s academic achievement, social development and long-term health.

But when people must choose, vision care may lose out to more pressing medical concerns, said Block, who was on the committee that developed the report.

“Vision issues are not life-threatening,” she said. “People get through their day knowing they can’t see as well as they’d like.”

Insurance can make regular eye exams, glasses and treatment for medical problems such as cataracts more accessible and affordable. But comprehensive vision coverage is often achieved only through a patchwork of plans.

The Medicare program that provides coverage for millions of Americans age 65 and older doesn’t include routine eye exams, refraction testing or eyeglasses. Some tests are covered if you’re at high risk for a condition such as glaucoma, for example. And if you develop a vision-related medical condition such as cataracts, the program will cover your medical care.

But if you’re just a normal 70-year-old and you want to get your eyes examined, the program won’t cover it, said Dr. David Glasser, an ophthalmologist in Columbia, Md., who is a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you make an appointment because you’re experiencing troubling symptoms and get measured for eyeglasses while there, you’ll likely be charged anywhere from about $30 to $75, Glasser said.

There are a few exceptions. Medicare will pay for one pair of glasses or contact lenses following cataract surgery, for example. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer vision care.

Many commercial health insurance plans also exclude routine vision care from their coverage. Employers may offer workers a separate vision plan to fill in the gaps.

VSP Vision Care provides vision care plans to 60,000 employers and other clients, said Kate Renwick-Espinosa, the organization’s president. A typical plan provides coverage for a comprehensive eye exam once a year and an allowance toward standard eyeglasses or contact lenses, sometimes with a copayment. Also, individuals seeking plans make up a growing part of their business, she said.

Vision coverage for kids improved under the Affordable Care Act. The law requires most plans sold on the individual and small-group market to offer vision benefits for children younger than 19. That generally means that those plans cover a comprehensive eye exam, including refraction, every year, as well as a pair of glasses or contact lenses.

But since pediatric eye exams aren’t considered preventive care that must be covered without charging people anything out-of-pocket under the ACA, they’re subject to copays and the deductible.

Medicaid programs for low-income people also typically cover vision benefits for children and sometimes for adults as well, said Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association, a professional group.

But coverage alone isn’t enough. To bring down the number of people with undiagnosed or uncorrected vision, education is key to helping people understand the importance of eye health in maintaining good vision. Just as important, it can also reduce the impact of chronic conditions such as diabetes, the national academies’ report found.

“All health care providers need to at least ask vision questions when providing primary care,” said Block.

SOURCE:
Andrews M (13 JUNE 2018). "Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/lack-of-insurance-exposes-blind-spots-in-vision-care/


Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?

Knowing your genes could save your life, especially if a genetic mutation is hereditary. See why incorporating DNA testing is a crucial part of your primary care.


If you have a genetic mutation that increases your risk for a treatable medical condition, would you want to know? For many people the answer is yes. But such information is not commonly part of routine primary care.

For patients at Geisinger Health System, that could soon change. Starting in the next month or so, the Pennsylvania-based system will offer DNA sequencing to 1,000 patients, with the goal to eventually extend the offer to all 3 million Geisinger patients.

The test will look for mutations in at least 77 genes that are associated with dozens of medical conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer, as well as variability in how people respond to pharmaceuticals based on heredity.

“We’re giving more precision to the very important decisions that people need to make,” said Dr. David Feinberg, Geisinger’s president and CEO. In the same way that primary care providers currently suggest checking someone’s cholesterol, “we would have that discussion with patients,” he said. “‘It looks like we haven’t done your genome. Why don’t we do that?’”

Some physicians and health policy analysts question whether such genetic information is necessary to provide good primary care — or feasible for many primary care physicians.

The new clinical program builds on a research biobank and genome-sequencing initiative called MyCode that Geisinger started in 2007 to collect and analyze its patients’ DNA. That effort has enrolled more than 200,000 people.

Like MyCode, the new clinical program is based on whole “exome” sequencing, analyzing the roughly 1 percent of the genome that provides instructions for making proteins, where most known disease-causing mutations occur.

Using this analysis, clinicians might be able to tell Geisinger patients that they have a genetic variant associated with Lynch syndrome, for example, which leads to increased risk of colon and other cancers, or familial hypercholesterolemia, which can result in high cholesterol levels and heart disease at a young age. Some people might learn they have increased susceptibility to  malignant hyperthermia, a hereditary mutation that can be fatal since it causes a severe reaction to certain medications used during anesthesia.

Samples of a patient’s blood or spit are used to provide a DNA sample. After analysis, the results are sent to the patient’s primary care doctor.

Before speaking with the patient, the doctor takes a 30-minute online continuing education tutorial to review details about genetic testing and the disorder. Then the patient is informed and invited to meet with the primary care provider, along with a genetic counselor if desired. At that point, doctor and patient can discuss treatment and prevention options, including lifestyle changes like diet and exercise that can reduce the risk of disease.

About 3.5 percent of the people who’ve been tested through Geisinger’s research program had a genetic variant that could result in a medical problem for which clinicians can recommend steps to influence their health, Feinberg said. Only actionable mutations are communicated to patients. Geisinger won’t inform them if they have a variant of the APOE gene that increases their risk for Alzheimer’s disease, for example, because there’s no clinical treatment. (Geisinger is working toward developing a policy for how to handle these results if patients ask for them.)

Wendy Wilson, a Geisinger spokeswoman, said that what they’re doing is very different from direct-to-consumer services like 23andMe, which tests customers’ saliva to determine their genetic risk for several diseases and traits and makes the results available in an online report.

“Geisinger is prescribing DNA sequencing to patients and putting DNA results in electronic health records and actually creating an action plan to prevent that predisposition from occurring. We are preventing disease from happening,” she said.

Geisinger will absorb the estimated $300 to $500 cost of the sequencing test. Insurance companies typically don’t cover DNA sequencing and limit coverage for adult genetic tests for specific mutations, such as those related to the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, unless the patient has a family history of the condition or other indications they’re at high risk.

“Most of the medical spending in America is done after people have gotten sick,” said Feinberg. “We think this will decrease spending on a lot of care.”

Some clinicians aren’t so sure. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice who has authored books about overdiagnosis and overscreening, including “Less Medicine, More Health.”

He credited Geisinger with carefully targeting the genes in which it looks for actionable mutations instead of taking an all-encompassing approach. He acknowledged that for some conditions, like Lynch syndrome, people with genetic mutations would benefit from being followed closely. But he questioned the value of DNA sequencing to identify other conditions, such as some related to heart disease.

“What are we really going to do differently for those patients?” he asked. “We should all be concerned about heart disease. We should all exercise, we should eat real food.”

Welch said he was also concerned about the cascading effect of expensive and potentially harmful medical treatment when a genetic risk is identified.

“Doctors will feel the pressure to do something: start a medication, order a test, make a referral. You have to be careful. Bad things happen,” he said.

Other clinicians question primary care physicians’ comfort with and time for incorporating DNA sequencing into their practices.

A survey of nearly 500 primary care providers in the New York City area published in Health Affairs this month found that only a third of them had ordered a genetic test, given patients a genetic test result or referred one for genetic counseling in the past year.

Only a quarter of survey respondents said they felt prepared to work with patients who had genetic testing for common diseases or were at high risk for genetic conditions. Just 14 percent reported they were confident they could interpret genetic test results.

“Even though they had training, they felt unprepared to incorporate genomics into their practice,” said Dr. Carol Horowitz, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who co-authored the study.

Speaking as a busy primary care practitioner, she questioned the feasibility of adding genomic medicine to regular visits.

“Geisinger is a very well-resourced health system and they’ve made a decision to incorporate that into their practices,” she said. In Harlem, where Horowitz works as an internist, it could be a daunting challenge. “Our plates are already overflowing, and now you’re going to dump a lot more on our plate.”

SOURCE:
Andrews, M (12 June 2018). "Are You And Your Primary Care Doc Ready To Talk About Your DNA?" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/are-you-and-your-primary-care-doc-ready-to-talk-about-your-dna/


Taking Action to Prevent the Harmful Impact of Short-Term Plans

This article explores the recently established rule on short-term limited duration plans - as proposed by HHS - which would not comply with consumer protections afforded under ACA.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a new rule, open for comment until April 23, 2018, that is dangerous to consumers and to health care marketplaces. This rule would expand the sale of “short-term limited duration plans” that do not have to comply with the consumer protections afforded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and often leave consumers uncovered for major medical expenses.

The short-term plan rule will harm consumers and health care markets

The proposed rule would alter the definition of short-term plans as a backdoor way of creating a new class of plans that do not have to comply with the ACA, extending the duration of short-term plans from policies that last for 3 months to policies that can last just short of one year. Under this rule, insurers may also be allowed to renew a short-term plan for an enrollee after that period is up.

Companies selling these plans can make large profits at consumers’ expense, and the plans do not have to cover pre-existing conditions, provide essential health benefits, include adequate provider networks, or comply with a host of other key protections, as we describe in Seven Reasons the Trump Administration's Short-Term Health Plans Are Harmful to Families. Moreover, if many young and healthy people are drawn into these plans, the plans will undermine the market for real coverage, driving up prices in the ACA-compliant marketplace.

Now is the time to take action to prevent short-term plans from harming consumers and insurance markets throughout the country. Here we outline how advocates, consumers, and states can take action to address this harmful rule.

Stakeholders can urge HHS to stop the spread of harmful short-term plans

It’s important that HHS hears from stakeholders all over the country about how short-term plans will leave those who enroll in them without adequate protection from the costs of care, and how those who seek to stay in the market for comprehensive coverage will experience spikes in premiums and jeopardized access to coverage if short-term plans are allowed to expand.

The short-term plan rule will also burden states and insurance companies that are interested in making comprehensive coverage affordable. Particularly if the rule allows the proliferation of short-term plans that last for up to 12 months to take effect after insurers have already planned their premium pricing for 2019, these plans will cause chaos for comprehensive insurance providers and states alike in maintaining a stable insurance market. These expanded short-term plans should not be put on the market at all, but at the very least HHS should delay implementation of the final rule to give states and insurers more time to plan for it to take effect.

Advocates, consumers, state officials, health care providers, and other stakeholders can all make a difference by commenting to HHS about these problems. Stakeholders can also make a difference by urging state policymakers and officials to comment on the rule as well. Comments should urge HHS to stop or at the very least delay implementation of the rule on short-term plans. Comments should be submitted here by 5 PM on Monday, April 23rd.

States can take direct action to protect against short-term plans

States can take direct action to protect consumers and insurance markets from the harm of short-term limited duration plans. States have broad authority to regulate short-term plans and can adopt new laws or issue new regulations or guidance that exceeds the standards in the proposed rule. Given other upcoming changes in 2019 that will also pose risks for the market, including the repeal of the individual mandate penalty, taking swift action is particularly important.

These strategies can provide protections for consumers and help limit market instability caused by the expansion of short-term plans.

States can prohibit short-term plans altogether. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York currently prohibit short-term plans, and California is pursuing a prohibition via SB910 (Hernandez).

States can require that short-term plans comply with all protections that health plans sold on the comprehensive individual market meet. For example, a few states prohibit short-term plans from refusing to sell to a consumer based on their health status— those plans cannot “underwrite,” or take people’s health status into consideration when people seek to buy them. States could protect consumers from the harm of short-term plans by applying the same requirements to them as apply to comprehensive insurance. These include requirements for external review, essential health benefits and state benefit mandates, network adequacy, medical loss ratios, and pre-existing condition protections, including a requirement that plans do not charge people rates based on their health status. States can also ensure companies that offer short-term plans have to pay any existing state-based assessments, such as insurer taxes. States could also consider assessing short-term plan insurers and using those funds for a reinsurance program for plans that meet ACA standards.

  • States can restrict the duration of short-term plans. For example, states can pass laws prohibiting short-term plans from lasting for longer than 3 months. This will ensure that these plans are used as they were intended- to fill short gaps in coverage- and not as a long-term solution to substitute for real coverage. Some states already limit the period for which a short-term plan can be sold to less than the nearly 12 months allowed in the proposed federal rule. For a good index of such state laws, see State Regulation of Coverage Options Outside of the Affordable Care Act: Limiting Risk to the Individual Market from the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance Reform.
  • States can prohibit short-term plans from renewing consumers’ policies beyond their allowed duration: To ensure that short-term plans are not treated as a replacement for comprehensive insurance, states can prohibit plans from renewing their contract with a consumer once the duration of the short-term plan is over. For example, a state could prohibit insurers from selling a short-term policy to anyone who has enrolled in one during the last 12 months.
  • States can require strong disclosure and marketing rules to ensure short-term plans are transparent about their shortfalls. States can require short-term plans to include prominent disclosures in marketing materials (including websites), application forms, and other forms to warn people about what the plans do not cover and how they may expose consumers to high out-of-pocket costs. For example, Colorado requires short-term plans to provide such a disclosure to warn people about the lack of coverage for pre-existing conditions in short-term plans. Additionally, states can require short-term plans to supply simple, clear, and comparable information about what benefits they do and do not cover, and corresponding cost-sharing requirements. Comprehensive plans must comply with requirements to produce a summary of benefits and coverage, and states could apply such requirements to short-term plans as well.

There are additional protections that states may want to consider to protect people from the harms of short-term plans. For additional discussion of how states can take action, see State Options to Protect Consumers and Stabilize the Market: Responding to President Trump’s Executive Order on Short-Term Health Plans by the Georgetown Center on Health Insurance reform.

State legislators and insurance departments can lead the efforts to enact these important protections. And, they along with any health care ombudsman programs or other organizations that assist health insurance consumers in the state may know of complaints and problems regarding short-term plans that can inform what protections the state should enact. State attorneys general, Better Business Bureaus, or other consumer protection agencies may also be aware of problems and can be helpful allies in efforts to prevent short-term plans from harming consumers and insurance markets alike.

Additionally, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is currently updating its model law for states on Accident and Sickness Insurance Minimum Standards (Model #170) and its companion regulation, the Model Regulation to Implement the Accident and Sickness Insurance Minimum Standards Model Act (Model #171). NAIC consumer representatives including Families USA are advocating to make these models as robust possible in their protection of consumers and the market from the damage of short-term plans. (See the March 2018 report by the NAIC consumer representatives and former Montana regulator Christina Goe, Non-ACA-Compliant Plans and the Risk of Market Segmentation.)

This article was brought to you by Families USA by Claire McAndrew on April 2018.


Resisting Popular Healthcare Trends and Getting Creative

In this article, experts explore the idea that companies need to use the many tools at their disposal, as opposed to relying specifically on one popular trend.

A recent study found that substantial wellness incentives and high-deductible health plans are not the quick fix to improving health care costs they were originally thought to be.

Employers pinned their hopes on high-deductible health plans, but HDHPs only represent 30 percent of medical plans offered by employers, according to the “2018 Medical Trends and Observations Report” released in early March by DirectPath and research and advisory company Gartner.

“Increasingly, employers are realizing that true, long-term cost management will come from a combination of tools and that they need to enlist employees in the effort in a meaningful way,” said Kim Buckey, vice president of client services at employee engagement firm DirectPath.

Employers have explored different options starting with managed care plans and health maintenance organizations the past several decades, moving toward consumer directed health plans years later and considering wellness programs and private exchanges after that, according to Buckey. These solutions could provide short-term relief but not singlehandedly solve the problem, she said.

The logic behind HDHPs was that if employees had skin in the game, they’d be more conscientious about looking for lower-cost options in medical care and become smarter health care consumers, Buckey said. But what this idea did not address the larger issue: employees’ lack of health literacy and little understanding of health insurance comprehension.

“Employees historically just hadn’t had the knowledge or the tools to truly become educated consumers,” she said.

The report, based on an analysis of 900 employee benefit health plans, also found that fewer companies are offering wellness incentives. Some 31 percent of employers offer them today, according to the 2018 report. This number is considerably lower than the 2017 report, which found that 58 percent of employers offered incentives, and the 2016 report, which found that 50 percent did.

“That was surprising because using incentives to drive employee behavior was a big component of most companies’ strategies across the past couple years,” said Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at Gartner. “What companies are finding in a lot of cases is that the incentives were most likely used by healthiest people whose health care costs were already quite low.”

For many companies, incentives have been cutting health care costs for employees who were already spending less rather than making prices more reasonable for people with higher expenses, he said.

This is not the ideal result since the idea behind incentives was, for example, to convince unhealthy people to get an annual physical. This would supposedly help them find health problems before they became serious and more expensive to treat.

“The idea that incentives as currently structured at most companies are becoming of less interest because they’re not as effective as we thought,” Kropp said.

The decline in incentive use may also have to do with concerns about the future legality of these plans, according to the report. A federal judge ruled in December 2017 that the EEOC’s incentive rules — which deem a wellness program voluntary if the incentive or penalty was no more than 30 percent of the cost of the health plan — will only continue until the end of 2018.

Other reports have found different data on wellness incentives. Jessica Grossmeier, vice president of research for the think tank Health Enhancement Research Organization, shared that a Mercer report in 2016 found that two-thirds of employers were using incentives to encourage employee to participate in wellness programs and that 29 percent provided incentives for achieving, maintaining or showing progress toward specific health status targets.

Whether employers will maintain their commitment to using financial wellness incentives will depend on the individual employer and what happens with the EEOC incentive rule. For the time being, employers can take the conservative approach and offer no incentives, take the middle-ground approach and offer modest incentives, or take the aggressive approach and offer up to 30 percent incentives as usual, according to law firm K&L Gates.

Privacy is another concern with wellness programs, Buckey said. Despite generous incentives, some employees may hesitate to participate in these programs because of privacy concerns. Some wellness programs provide employers with aggregate data about the current health status and health risks of their employee population. “With financial and health data breaches increasingly in the news, I think we will see a leveling off or even a lack of interest in participating in programs whether data — even in aggregate — is collected about an employee’s health,” Buckey said.

While strategies such as relying on wellness programs to lower health care costs or using HDHPs to make employees smarter health care consumers have not become the ultimate fix, there are some ways employers can get more creative with their strategy, according to Buckey. She suggested several ways for employers to take a multi-pronged approach to health care cost management.

Employers can offer transparency services, which allow employees to compare pricing for the same service near their home, when they are planning an elective high-cost service like diagnostic tests or surgeries. Employers can also provide better enrollment support in open enrollment so that employees choose the right plan and more carefully manage pharmacy costs by adding measures like mandatary generics or step therapy.

Buckey also mentioned that some of her company’s clients provide patient-advocacy services.

“[It] helps employees identify billing errors and resolve disputes with providers and insurance companies,” she said. “This frees up the employees to focus on their work, rather than financial and medical concerns.”

It’s important for companies to get creative with their health care benefits more than ever before, Kropp said. In the past, employees knew that the health insurance they received at one company was comparable to what they’d receive at many other companies. What the insurance was exactly didn’t matter because most employees felt the plans were more or less the same, he said.

Now companies are starting to realize that better health care plans are a significant differentiator for attracting talent in a competitive labor market, he added. As information for employees and candidates became more transparent and accessible, it became easier as a candidate to understand what health plan offerings looked like at other companies.

“It is a relatively new phenomenon of companies becoming much more vocal about their benefits offerings as a way to compete in a tight labor market,” Kropp said.

This article is from Workforce written by Andie Burjek on April 10, 2018.


March 2018 Compliance Recap

From UBA Benefits, here is your March 2018 Compliance Recap - everything you need to know that's been happening in the employee benefits world.

March was a quiet month in the employee benefits world.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a bulletin that lowered the family contribution limit for health savings account (HSA) contributions. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its model Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program notice (CHIP notice).

The IRS issued its updated Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, issued transition relief regarding HSA eligibility of individuals with health insurance that provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives without a deductible, and issued its updated Guide on Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans.

UBA Updates

UBA released two new advisors:

UBA updated existing guidance: 2018 Annual Benefit Plan Card

IRS Releases Adjusted Annual Inflation Factor

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Internal Revenue Bulletin No. 2018-10 that adjusted the annual inflation factor from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to a new factor called a chained CPI. This is retroactively effective to January 1, 2018.

As a result of the change, the family contribution limit for Health Savings Account contributions is lowered to $6,850 from $6,900. Individuals with family coverage who planned to contribute to the full family amount should decrease their contributions going forward.

Review our updated 2018 Annual Benefit Plan Card and read more.


DOL Updates Employer CHIP Notice

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its model Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program notice (CHIP notice).

Employers that provide health insurance coverage in states with premium assistance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) must provide their employees with the CHIP notice before the start of each plan year. The CHIP notice provides information to employees on how to apply for premium assistance, including how to contact their state Medicaid or CHIP office. The DOL usually updates its model CHIP notice biannually.

IRS Issues Updated Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued its 2018 Publication 15-B which contains information for employers on the employment tax treatment of fringe benefits. The guide is updated to reflect, among other items:

  • The suspension of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements from an employee’s income for any tax year beginning after December 31, 2017, and before January 1, 2026.
  • The suspension of the exclusion for qualified moving expense reimbursements from an employee’s income for tax years beginning after December 1, 2017, and before January 1, 2026. However, the exclusion remains available for a U.S. Armed Forces member on active duty who moves because of a permanent change of station.
  • Limits on the deduction by employers for certain fringe benefits, such as meals and transportation commuting benefits.
  • The definition of items that aren’t tangible personal property for purposes of employee achievement awards.

The guide lists fringe benefits’ tax treatment in its Table 2-1 “Special Rules for Various Types of Fringe Benefits.”

IRS Issues Transition Relief Notice for Plans with Male Sterilization or Contraceptive Benefit

Recently, some states adopted laws that require certain health insurance policies to provide benefits for male sterilization and male contraceptives without cost-sharing.

However, under health saving account (HSA) eligibility requirements, a high deductible health plan (HDHP) generally may not provide benefits for any year until the minimum deductible for that year is satisfied. Although an HDHP may provide preventive care without a deductible or with a deductible that is below the minimum annual amount required by HSA eligibility requirements, male sterilization and male contraceptives are not considered preventive care under the Social Security Act or any Treasury Department guidance.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Notice 2018-12 (Notice) to clarify that if a health plan provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives before satisfying the minimum deductible for an HDHP, then the plan is not an HDHP, regardless of whether state law requires coverage of such benefits. Further, an individual who is not covered by an HDHP with respect to a month is not an HSA-eligible individual and may not deduct contributions to an HSA for that month. Similarly, HSA contributions made by an employer on behalf of the individual are not excludible from income and wages.

To allow states time to change their laws so their residents will be able to purchase health insurance coverage that qualifies as an HDHP, the Notice provides transition relief for periods before 2020 to individuals who are, have been, or become participants in or beneficiaries of a health insurance policy that provides benefits for male sterilization or male contraceptives without a deductible or with a deductible below the minimum deductible for an HDHP.

During the transition relief period, an individual with this type of health insurance policy will not be treated as HSA-ineligible, merely because the policy fails to qualify as an HDHP.

IRS Issues Updated Guide on Health Savings Accounts and Other Tax-Favored Health Plans

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its Publication 969 for taxpayers to use in preparing their 2017 returns. The publication explains health savings accounts (HSAs), medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs and Medicare Advantage MSAs), health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

Question of the Month

  1. How does a person who is 65 years old or older maintain HSA eligibility and continue working? Also, when the person plans to retire, what should the person do about HSA contributions to avoid IRS penalties?
  2. To maintain HSA eligibility, an individual who is working and age 65 or older must:
  • Not apply for or waive Medicare Part A, and
  • Not apply for Medicare Part B, and
  • Waive or delay Social Security benefits.

For example, if a person delays Social Security benefits and delays Medicare Part A and B, retires at the end of April at the age of 65 or older, and applies for Social Security benefits and Medicare on May 1, 2018, then the general rule is that the person’s Social Security entitlement and Medicare Part A coverage will be retroactive for six months, meaning that the benefits would be retroactively effective as of November 2017.

IRS regulations state that a person can’t contribute to an HSA when the person has Medicare, so a person would need to stop contributing six months in advance of applying for Social Security benefits and Medicare. If a person contributes to an HSA after Medicare coverage begins, then the person may be subject to IRS penalties.

4/3/2018


Two opportunities created by association health plans

The new regulations around association health plans (AHPs) — which loosen restrictions for small businesses, franchises and associations — create two distinct opportunities in the benefits industry.

The first is for brokers, who will be crucial advisors to employers eligible for the new coverage options now available.

The second opportunity is for benefits and HR tech vendors, who will be instrumental in managing the transactional and administrative challenges that would otherwise hinder AHP success.

What challenges do association health plans represent? Let’s consider an example — the Nashville Hot Chicken restaurant franchise.

Let’s say Nashville Hot Chicken has 1,000 franchisees, each with five full-time employees. Before AHP options became available to this organization, these five-employee groups would either have had to pursue small group coverage, or employees would have had to find individual plans.

Both options likely would have been prohibitively expensive for the organization or the employees. With the new AHP regulations, however, these 1,000 franchisees may be able to pull all 5,000 workers together and create a large group benefits plan.

In doing so, they would reap the advantages of collective purchasing, just like large groups do. However, this AHP would not work like a regular group plan.

If a regular group has 5,000 employees, they would all be part of a centrally-operated payroll system and the insurance companies would receive just one check for all of the employees enrolled at the group. But under an AHP of franchisees, all the payroll systems would operate independently, and there is no clear, centralized entity to pay carriers.

This creates a massive administrative headache for Nashville Hot Chicken corporate, as well as all the individual franchise owners. In other words, who is going to manage the AHP?

Here’s where the brokers come in. Employers need brokers to walk them through all the complexities of AHPs, including sourcing carriers, third-party vendors, and compliance needs.

It would also be incredibly impractical to manage 5,000 employees through 1,000 separate businesses without a benefits and HR platform.

But brokers can provide a solution to this challenge by adopting a platform. With a benefits and HR system, the various administrative differences from franchisee to franchisee can be accounted for, while still allowing the 5,000-life group to enroll in the group offering.

By removing the administrative headache, benefits tech makes AHPs a real option for Nashville Hot Chicken. But it also gives the tech-savvy broker a clear leg up on the competition. A broker without a tech solution will be at a severe disadvantage for Nashville Hot Chicken’s business compared to a broker who has a platform.

So as small employers, franchisees and industry associations band together for group coverage, benefits tech can give brokers a competitive differentiator for this new business segment.

Read the article.

Source:
Tolbert A. (1 March 2018). "Two opportunities created by association health plans" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/two-opportunities-created-by-association-health-pl/


Pay-to-shop health care incentives gaining traction

Laurie Cook went shopping recently for a mammogram near her home in New Hampshire. Using an online tool provided through her insurer, she plugged in her ZIP code. Up popped facilities in her network, each with an incentive amount she would be paid if she chose it.

Paid? To get a test? It’s part of a strategy to rein in health care spending by steering patients to the most cost-effective providers for non-emergency care.

State public employee insurance programs were among the early adopters of this approach. It is now finding a foothold among policymakers and in the private sector.

Scrolling through her options, Cook, a school nurse who is covered through New Hampshire’s state employee health plan, found that choosing a certain facility scored her a $50 check in the mail.

She then used the website again to shop for a series of lab tests. “For a while there, I was getting a $25 check every few weeks,” said Cook. The checks represented a share of the cost savings that resulted from her selections.

Lawmakers in nearby Maine took the idea further, recently enacting legislation that requires some private insurers to offer pay-to-shop incentives, part of a movement backed by a conservative foundation to get similar measures passed nationally.

Similar proposals are pending in a handful of other statehouses, including Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.

“If insurance plans were serious about saving money, they would have been doing this stuff years ago,” said Josh Archambault, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a limited-government advocacy group based in Naples, Fla., that promotes such “right-to-shop” laws. “This starts to peel back the black box in health care and make the conversation about value.”

Still, some economists caution that shop-around initiatives alone cannot force the level of market-based change needed. While such shopping may make a difference for individual employers, they note it represents a tiny drop of the $3.3 trillion spent on health care in the U.S. each year.

“These are not crazy ideas,” said David Asch, professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation in Philadelphia. But it’s hard to get consumers to change behavior — and curbing health care spending is an even bigger task. Shopping incentives, he warned, “might be less effective than you think.”

If they achieve nothing else, though, such efforts could help remove barriers to price transparency, said Francois de Brantes, vice president and director of the Center for Value in Health Care at Altarum, a nonprofit that studies the health economy.

“I think this could be quite the breakthrough,” he said.

Yet de Brantes predicts only modest savings if shopping simply results in narrowing the price variation between high- and low-cost providers: “Ideally, transparency is about stopping folks from continuously charging more.”

Among the programs in use, only a few show consumers the price differences among facilities. Many, like the one Cook used, merely display the financial incentives attached to each facility based on the underlying price.

 

Advocates say both approaches can work.

“When your plan members have ‘skin in the game,’ they have an incentive to consider the overall cost to the plan,” said Catherine Keane, deputy commissioner of administrative services in New Hampshire. She credits the incentives with leading to millions of dollars in savings each year.

Several states require insurers or medical providers to provide cost estimates upon patients’ requests, although studies have found that information can still be hard to access.

Now, private firms are marketing ways to make this information more available by incorporating it into incentive programs.

For example, Vitals, the New Hampshire-based company that runs the program Cook uses, and Healthcare Bluebook in Nashville offer employers — for a fee — comparative shopping gizmos that harness medical cost information from claims data. This information becomes the basis by which consumers shop around.

Crossing Network Lines

Maine’s law, adopted last year, requires insurers that sell coverage to small businesses to offer financial incentives — such as gift cards, discounts on deductibles or direct payments — to encourage patients, starting in 2019, to shop around.

A second and possibly more controversial provision also kicks in next year, requiring insurers, except HMOs, to allow patients to go out-of-network for care if they can find comparable services for less than the average price insurers pay in network.

Similar provisions are included in a West Virginia bill now under debate.

Touted by proponents as a way to promote health care choice, it nonetheless raises questions about how the out-of-network price would be calculated, what information would be publicly disclosed about how much insurers actually pay different hospitals, doctors or clinics for care and whether patients can find charges lower than in-network negotiated rates.

“Mathematically, that just doesn’t work” because out-of-network charges are likely to be far higher than negotiated in-network rates, said Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

Not necessarily, counters the bill’s sponsor, Del. Eric Householder, who said he introduced the measure after speaking with the Foundation for Government Accountability. The Republican from the Martinsburg area said “the biggest thing lacking right now is health care choice because we’re limited to our in-network providers.”

Shopping for health care faces other challenges. For one thing, much of medical care is not “shoppable,” meaning it falls in the category of emergency services. But things such as blood tests, imaging exams, cancer screening tests and some drugs that are administered in doctor’s offices are fair game.

Less than half of the more than $500 billion spent on health care by people with job-based insurance falls into this category, according to a 2016 study by the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit organization that analyzes payment data from four large national insurers. The report also noted there must be variation in price between providers in a region for these programs to make sense.

Increasingly, though, evidence is mounting that large price differences for medical care exist — even among rates negotiated by the same insurer.

“The price differences are so substantial it’s actually scary,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Vitals.

At the request of Kaiser Health News, Healthcare Bluebook ran some sample numbers for a Northern Virginia ZIP code, finding the cost of a colonoscopy ranged from $670 to $6,240, while a knee arthroscopy ranged from $1,959 to $20,241.

Another challenge is the belief by some consumers that higher prices mean higher quality, which studies don’t bear out.

Even with incentives, the programs face what may be their biggest challenge: simply getting people to use a shopping tool.

Kentucky state spokeswoman Jenny Goins said only 52 percent of eligible employees looked at the shopping site last year — and, of those, slightly more than half chose a less expensive option.

“That’s not as high as we would like,” she said.

Still, state workers in Kentucky have pocketed more than $1.6 million in incentives — and the state said it has saved $11 million — since the program began in mid-2013.

Deductibles, the annual amounts consumers must pay before their insurance kicks in and are usually $1,000 or more, are more effective than smaller shopping incentives, say some policy experts.

In New Hampshire, it took a combination of the two.

The state rolled out the payments for shopping around — and a website to look for best prices — in 2010. But participation didn’t really start to take off until 2014, when state employees began facing an annual deductible, said Deputy Commissioner Keane.

Still, the biggest question is whether these programs ultimately cause providers to lower prices.

Anecdotally, administrators think so.

Kentucky officials report they already are witnessing a market response because providers want patients to have an incentive to choose them.

“We do know providers are calling and asking, ‘How do I get my name on that list’ [of cost-effective providers]?” said Kentucky spokeswoman Goins. “The only way they can do that is to negotiate.”

Read the article.

Source:
Appleby J., Kaiser Health News (5 March 2018). "Pay-to-shop health care incentives gaining traction" [Web blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/05/pay-to-shop-health-care-incentives-gaining-tractio/


Financial shocks could disrupt tomorrow’s retirees

While today’s retirees, dependent as they are on Social Security and traditional pensions rather than 401(k)s, are better able to withstand financial shocks, tomorrow’s retirees won’t have it so easy.

They will be more in danger of being forced to downsize or spend down their assets to meet unexpected expenses such as a spike in medical bills or a loss of income through being widowed.

So says a brief from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which investigated the financial fragility of the elderly to see how well they might be able to deal with financial shocks.

The reason the elderly are seen as financially fragile, the brief says, stems from the fact that, “once retired, they have little ability to increase their income compared to working households.”

And with future retirees becoming ever more dependent on their own retirement savings, and receiving less of their retirement income from Social Security and defined benefit plans, those financial shocks will get harder and harder to deal with.

To see how that will play out, the study looked at the share of expenditures a typical elderly household devotes to basic needs. Next, it looked at how well today’s elderly can absorb those aforementioned major financial shocks. And finally, it examined the increased dependence of tomorrow’s elderly on financial assets, whether those assets are sufficient, and how well those assets do at absorbing shocks.

Nearly 80 percent of the spending of a typical elderly household, the report finds, is used to secure five “basic” needs: housing, health care, food, clothing, and transportation. In lower-income households or the homes of single individuals and in households that rent or have a mortgage, those basic needs make up even more of a household’s spending.

And while there are areas in which a household can cut back—such as entertainment, gifts or perhaps cable TV—as well as potential cutbacks on basic needs, typical retirees can’t cut by more than 20 percent “without experiencing hardship.” And among those lower-income and single households, as well as those with rent or mortgages to pay, the margin is even slimmer.

The need for medical care is so important to those who need it, says the report, that the question becomes whether medical expenditures crowd out spending on other basic items.

And while a widow is estimated by federal poverty thresholds to need 79 percent of the couple’s income to maintain her standard of living, other studies indicate that widows get substantially less than that from Social Security and a pension—estimates, depending on the study, range from 62 percent to 55 percent. And that likely does not leave a widow enough to meet basic expenses.

Among current retirees, only 10 percent report having to cut back on necessary food or medications because of lack of money over the past 2 years.

However, retirees tomorrow, if they have failed to save enough to see them through retirement, are likely to experience income declines of from 6 to 21 percent for GenXers—and that’s assuming that GenXers “annuitize most of their savings at an actuarially fair rate…” despite the fact that very few actually annuitize, and cannot get actuarially fair rates even if they do.

And since the brief also finds that the greater dependency of tomorrow’s retirees on whatever they’ve managed to save in 401(k)s means that they’re exposed to new sources of risk—“that households accumulate too little and draw out too little to cushion shocks and that their finances are increasingly exposed to market downturns”—that means that future retirees will be subjected to a reduced cushion between income and fixed expenses.

To compensate, they will need to downsize and cut their fixed expenses. Neither one bodes well for a comfortable retirement.

Read the article.

Source:
Satter M. (1 March 2018). "Financial shocks could disrupt tomorrow’s retirees" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/01/financial-shocks-could-disrupt-tomorrows-retirees/


Trump urges legal action against opioid manufacturers

Where does Trump stand on the Opioid Crisis? Find out in this article from Benefits Pro.


President Trump says he wants his administration to take legal action against opioid manufacturers.

“Hopefully we can do some litigation against the opioid companies,” Trump said at an event organized at the White House on the opioid epidemic.

Earlier in the week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would be filing a statement of interest in support of a lawsuit launched by more than 400 local governments around the country against pharmaceutical manufacturers. The suit accuses drug-makers of using deceptive advertising to sell powerful, addictive pain medication and for covering up the dangers associated with their use.

It’s not clear whether Trump’s remarks were a reference to the action Sessions has already taken or whether the president is envisioning additional legal action, since he said during the event that he would ask the attorney general to sue.

 

Trump also promised during his presidential campaign to take on pharmaceutical companies over rising drug prices, accusing them of “getting away with murder.” Since his election, however, he has done very little to translate those tough words into policy. A meeting between Trump and pharmaceutical companies early in his administration was described in positive terms by both sides.

The president also has suggested stiffer sentences for drug dealers, even reflecting positively on countries that execute them.

“Some countries have a very, very tough penalty – the ultimate penalty,” he said. “And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do.”

In recent years, public opinion on criminal justice in general and the drug war specifically has shifted in favor of an approach that favors treatment over incarceration. Reducing the prison population has been a goal that has increasingly earned bipartisan support, both at the federal level and in state legislatures around the country. However, Trump and Sessions have both stuck to the “tough-on-crime” mantra that dominated in the 1990’s.

The administration has signaled that it will not support legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. And although the Justice Department has not yet gone after marijuana distributors in states that have legalized the drug, such as Colorado and California, Sessions has rescinded an Obama-era policy that stated that the DOJ would take a hands off approach to pot in those states.

Read the article.

Source:
Craver J. (2 March 2018). "Trump urges legal action against opioid manufacturers" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/03/02/trump-urges-legal-action-against-opioid-manufactur/