3 HSA Facts Employers Need to Know

With the passing of the AHCA, HSAs are on the verge of changing as we know it. Take a look at this informative article from Benefits Pro about what changes to HSAs means for employers by Whitney Richard Johnson.

Health Savings Accounts offer employers a way to help employees with health care costs without being as involved as they might be with, say, a Flexible Saving Account. But what are some other advantages?

And what are employers' responsibilities? Although employers will want to research more indepth about HSAs, here is a quick look at some basic HSA questions and answers:

#1: What are the advantages to an employer of offering an HDHP and HSA combination?

The benefits of offering employees an HDHP and HSA vary dramatically depending upon the circumstances. A major strength of offering an HSA program is flexibility.

Employers can be very generous and fully fund an HSA and also pay for the HDHP coverage. Alternatively, employers can also use the flexibility of the HSA to allow for the employer to reduce its involvement in benefits and put more responsibility onto the employee.

Generally, employers switch to HDHPs and HSAs to save money on the health insurance premiums (or to reduce the rate of increase) and to embrace the concept of consumer driven healthcare. The list below elaborates on strengths of HDHPs and HSAs.

Lower Premiums. HDHPs, with their high deductibles, are usually less expensive than traditional insurance.

Consumer-driven health care. Many employers believe in the concept of consumer-driven healthcare. If an employer makes employees responsible for the relatively high deductible, the employees may be more careful and inquisitive into their health care purchases. Combining this with an HSA where employees can keep unused money increases employees’ desire to use health care dollars as if they were their own money – because it is their own money.

Lower administration burden. Given the individual account nature of HSAs, much of the administrative burden for HSAs is switched from the employer (or paid third-party administrator) to the employee and the HSA custodian as compared to health FSAs and HRAs. This increased burden on the employee comes with significant perks: more control over how and when the money is spent, increased privacy, and better ability to add money to the HSA outside of the employer.

Tax deductibility at employee level. The ability of employees to make their own HSA contributions directly and still get a tax deduction is advantageous. Although it is better for employees to contribute through an employer, an employee can make contributions directly. An employer may not offer pretax payroll deferral or it may be too late for an employee to defer. For example, an employee that decides to maximize his prior year HSA contribution in April as he is filing his taxes can still do so by making an HSA contribution directly with the HSA custodian.

HSA eligibility. Becoming eligible for an HSA is a benefit that also stands on its own. Although not all employees will embrace HSAs, savvy employees that understand the benefits of HSAs will value a program that enables them to have an HSA.

#2: What are the employer responsibilities regarding employee HSAs?

If an employer offers pretax employer contributions, then the employer has the following responsibilities:

Make comparable contributions. If the employer is making a pretax employer contribution (nonpayroll deferral), it must do so on a comparable basis.

Maintain Section 125 plan for payroll deferral. If the employer allows pretax payroll deferral, then the employer must adopt and maintain a Section 125 plan that provides for HSA deferrals. This includes collecting employee deferral elections, sending the deferred amount directly to the HSA custodian, and accounting for the money for tax-reporting purposes.

HSA eligibility and contribution limits. Employers should work with employees to determine eligibility for an HSA and the employee’s HSA contribution limit. Although it is legally the employee’s responsibility to determine his or her eligibility and contribution limit, a mistake in these areas generally involves work by both the employer and the employee to correct. Mistakes are best avoided by upfront communication. Also, the employer does have some responsibility not to exceed the known federal limits. An employer may not know if a particular employee is ineligible for an HSA due to other health coverage but an employer is expected to know the current HSA limits for the year and not exceed those limits.

Tax reporting. The employer needs to properly complete employees’ W-2 forms and its own tax-filing regarding HSAs (HSA employer contributions are generally deductible as a benefit under IRC Section 106).

Business owner rules. Business owners generally are not treated as employees and employers need to review HSA contributions for business owners for proper tax reporting.

Detailed rules. There are various detailed rules that fall within the responsibility of the employer that are too numerous to list here but include items such as: (1) holding employer contributions for an employee that fails to open an HSA, (2) not being able to “recoup” money mistakenly made to an employee’s HSA, (3) actually making employer HSA contributions into employees HSAs on a timely basis, and (4) other detailed rules.

#3: How do employers switching from traditional insurance to HDHPs explain the change to employees?

Although there is no certain answer to this question, a straight-forward and honest approach to the change will likely work best.

Changing from traditional insurance to a high deductible plan with an HSA can be significant because employees likely face a higher deductible (although traditional health plan deductibles have been increasing to the point they are close to HDHPs).

Often the largest obstacle to the change is that employees feel something is being taken away from them. An employer that can show that the actual dollars contributed by the employer are level, or increased, versus the previous year helps a lot – especially if the employer makes a substantial HSA contribution for employees.

If the employer is making the change to reduce its health care expenses, then the employer will have to explain and justify that change to employees to get employees’ support for the change (e.g., the business is in a tough spot due to a difficult economy, etc.).

Depending on the facts, the change will likely be an improvement for some employees and HSA eligibility provides benefits to all employees. Some specific benefits include the following:

Saving money. The HDHP is generally significantly less expensive. Depending upon the circumstances, this fact often saves not only the employer money but also the employee. Highlighting the savings will help convince employees the change is positive. Although an actual reduction of the employee’s portion of the premium expense may be unlikely given increasing health insurance premiums, explaining that without the change the employee’s portion of the premium would have increased by more will help reduce tension.

Tax savings. The HSA enables tax savings. For some employees these tax savings are significant.

Control. HSAs give individuals control over their money and accordingly their doctor and treatment choices.

Flexibility. An HSA is very flexible and allows for some employees to put aside a large amount and get a large tax benefit. For those that prefer not to do so, the HSA allows that as well. Plus, even better, the HSA allows employees to change their mind mid-year. If an employee believes they are not going to need any medical services, the employee needs to contribute only a minimum deposit to an HSA. If it turns out that the employee does incur some medical treatment, the employee can contribute at that time and still get the tax benefits. Employees are often frustrated by HSA rules because of some confusion, but when explained that the rules are very flexible they appreciate HSAs more.

Distribution reasons. HSAs allow for more distribution reasons than FSAs: namely to pay for health insurance premiums if unemployed and receiving COBRA, to pay for some health insurance premiums after age sixty-five, to use for any purpose penalty-free after age sixty-five, to carry forward a large balance, and more.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Johnson W. (2017 May 11). 3 HSA facts employers need to know [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/11/3-hsa-facts-employers-need-to-know?kw=3+HSA+facts+employers+need+to+know&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20170514&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=Benefits+Weekend+PRO&page_all=1


What's Really at Stake in the Medicaid Spending Debate

Does the prospect of a $834 billion reduction in Medicaid spending have you worried. Then take a look at this article by Drew Altman of Kaiser Family Foundation and find out how cuts to Medicaid will impact more than just healthcare.

The $834 billion cut in federal Medicaid spending in the American Health Care Act would kick off budget battles in the states that go way beyond Medicaid. We could see cuts to higher education, school funding, corrections, environmental protection or other state priorities — or new taxes, depending on the state.

The bottom line: What began as a Medicaid spending reduction in Congress will end up as a battle of budget priorities.

A new analysis from long time state Medicaid expert Vern Smith at HMA suggests why. To offset the $834 billion in reductions in federal Medicaid spending in the AHCA, states would need to increase their own general fund spending by an average of one third beginning in 2022, and 37% in 2026. States will have to decide whether to eat the reductions and cut their Medicaid programs, raise taxes, or cut spending for other state priorities, or to do some combination of these things.

In the short term, most of the reductions come from curtailing the ACA's Medicaid expansion, and the 31 states plus the District of Columbia that have expanded will be the most affected.

The problem: It's possible that with more flexibility, states could absorb some of the reductions by operating their Medicaid programs more efficiently, but only at the margins.

Medicaid spending is already growing more slowly than Medicare and private insurance on a per capita basis. Virtually all states have already picked the low hanging fruit to rein in their Medicaid costs, and most have already deployed the full spectrum of delivery and payment reforms currently in the arsenal to control spending growth.

Cutting payments to providers is always the Medicaid cut of first resort, but payments to providers are already too low in many states to cut them further.

What to watch: The need to absorb large reductions in Medicaid will pit cabinet agencies, legislative committees and interest groups against one another in some states. Nothing receives more attention from governors, legislators and interest groups than the size of the annual increase in the state general fund and how the increase is divided each year.

The amount of the annual increase that goes to Medicaid is already a sore point in state budgets. Now the annual budget dance will start with a big hole to fill in Medicaid.

It does not seem to have dawned on folks with an interest in state funding for higher education, or corrections, or schools, or environmental protection that the debate about Medicaid could soon become a debate about their issues. But Medicaid is the largest source of federal revenues states receive, and once the proposed reductions trickle down to state budgets, it won't only be a Medicaid debate any longer.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Altman D. (2017 June 2). What's really at stake in the medicaid spending debate [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.axios.com/whats-really-at-stake-in-the-medicaid-spending-debate-2428102663.html


Analysis: 6.3 Million People with Pre-Existing Conditions Would Be at Risk for Higher Premiums under the House’s Health Bill

Take a look at this interesting article from Kaiser Family Foundation about how people with pre-existing conditions will face higher premiums on their health insurance due to the passing of the AHCA.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis estimates that 6.3 million people — 23 percent of 27.4 million non-elderly adults with a gap of several months in insurance coverage in 2015 – could potentially face higher premiums under the House’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), due to pre-existing health conditions.

The bill, which passed the House earlier this month, allows states to waive community rating in the individual insurance market. Insurers in states with such waivers could vary premiums by health status for an entire plan year for enrollees with a gap in insurance of 63 or more consecutive days in the past year.

People with pre-existing conditions would likely face large premium surcharges under an AHCA waiver, according to the analysis, as insurers would be unable to decline coverage based on a person’s medical history, a practice that was permitted in nearly all states before it was prohibited by the Affordable Care Act in 2014. An earlier analysis from the Foundation estimated that 27 percent of non-elderly adults have a condition that would have led to a coverage refusal in the pre-ACA market.

The new analysis also identifies a second group of people who could be at risk of higher premiums: those with pre-existing conditions now buying their own insurance. It finds that an estimated 3.8 million adults, or about 25 percent of all adult enrollees in the 2015 individual insurance market, had a pre-existing condition that could subject them to higher premiums under an AHCA community rating waiver if they don’t maintain continuous coverage.

The AHCA allocates $8 billion over five years to states with community rating waivers, resources that can be used to help reduce premiums or pay out-of-pocket medical expenses for people rated based on their health status. However, the House bill does not require states to set up an alternate source of coverage for people who face higher premiums based on their health. It is uncertain how many states would waive community rating under the AHCA.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Author (Date). Analysis: 6.3 million people with pre-existing conditions would be at risk for higher premiums under the house's health bill [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/analysis-6-3-million-people-with-pre-existing-conditions-would-be-at-risk-for-higher-premiums-under-the-houses-health-bill/?utm_campaign=KFF-2016-The-Latest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=52062246&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_VsXEz5DH19yz9a0M6hl4QfqXSaABYhLLADcvZymz30D-94xqDepLSsy4AGwu-LbtONEahQvbbjampBln3kkIlrAgSlw&_hsmi=52062246


Ten Ways That the House American Health Care Act Could Affect Women

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) will bring a lot of changes to many people and their healthcare. Find out how women's healthcare will be affected by the new legislation in this great article by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Women have much at stake as the nation debates the future of coverage in the United States. Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made fundamental changes to women’s health coverage and benefits, changes to the law and the regulations that stem from it would have a direct impact on millions of women with private insurance and Medicaid. On May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), to repeal and replace elements of the ACA (Appendix Table 1). It would eliminate individual and employer insurance mandates, effectively end the ACA Medicaid expansion, cap federal funds for the Medicaid program, make major changes to the federal tax subsidies available to assist individuals who purchase private insurance, and ban federal Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood. It would also allow states to waive the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits requirements and permit health status as a factor in insurance rating for individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage with the goal of reducing insurance costs.1 The Senate will now take up legislation to repeal and replace the ACA and may consider several elements that the House has approved in the AHCA. This brief reviews the implications of the AHCA for women’s access to care and coverage.

ACA’s Impact on Coverage and Access for Women

Since the ACA’s passage, the uninsured rate has declined to record low levels. Between 2013 and 2015, the uninsured rate among women ages 19 to 64 fell from 17% to 11% (Figure 1). This drop was due in large part to the Medicaid expansion that was adopted by 31 states and DC, and the availability of federal tax credits to subsidize premium costs for many low and modest-income women and men. In addition to coverage improvements, fewer women face affordability barriers since the ACA was enacted. Women have consistently been more likely than men to report that they delay or go without needed care because of costs. The ACA addressed some of these financial barriers by providing subsidies for premiums and cost sharing, eliminating out of pocket costs for preventive services, lifting the lifetime limits on expenses insurance will cover, and requiring minimum levels of coverage for ten Essential Health Benefit categories. Since its passage, the share of women who report that they delayed or went without care due to costs has fallen (Figure 2). This drop has been particularly marked among low-income women, although costs continue to be a greater challenge for this group as well.

1. MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY: EXPANSION AND WORK REQUIREMENTS

Medicaid has been the foundation of coverage gains under the ACA. Eliminating federal funds for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion could leave many of the nation’s poorest women without a pathway to coverage.

Women comprise the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries—before the passage of the ACA and today. Prior to the ACA, compared to men, women were more likely to qualify for Medicaid because of their lower incomes and because they were more likely to meet one of the program’s eligibility categories: pregnancy, parent of a dependent child, over 65, or disability. The ACA eliminates the program’s “categorical” requirements, allowing states to extend Medicaid eligibility to all individuals based solely on income. In the 31 states and DC that have chosen to expand Medicaid, individuals with household incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) qualify, and the federal government finances 95% of the costs.2

It is estimated that by 2015, 11 million adults had gained coverage as a result of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. This opened the door for continuous coverage to pregnant women who often became ineligible for coverage 60 days after the birth of their baby and had no other pathway to coverage as new mothers. The Medicaid expansion has also helped women who do not have children gain access to coverage, since before the expansion they were ineligible for coverage in most states. If passed, the AHCA bill would withdraw the enhanced federal funds for the Medicaid expansion except for beneficiaries enrolled as of December 31, 2019 who do not have a break in eligibility for more than 1 month. This loss of federal financing would leave states without the funds needed to continue supporting this expansion, potentially forcing some states to roll back eligibility for parents to the very low levels that were in place before the ACA (Figure 3). For example, a single mother of two living in Louisiana or Indiana would not have qualified for Medicaid if her income exceeded $4,687. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, under the House AHCA bill, some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would not continue that coverage (some states might also begin to reduce coverage prior to 2020), and that no new states will adopt the expansion.

The AHCA bill would also amend the federal Medicaid statute to allow states to require some beneficiaries, including parents of children 6 and older and adults without disabilities, to show proof of employment. States would have flexibility to design the details of the work requirement within federal guidelines and would receive additional federal support to help cover the administrative costs of this change.

2. CAPPING FEDERAL MEDICAID SPENDING

Medicaid provides health coverage to nearly one in five women in the U.S. Capping the program would limit the federal dollars that states would receive for a program that pays for half of births, three-quarters of all public family planning, and provides supplemental coverage for nearly 1 in 5 senior women on Medicare.

Since its inception in 1965, Medicaid has evolved to become a leading source of coverage for low-income women of all ages (Figure 4). The program provides health coverage to one in five women of reproductive age and one in four Latinas and African American women. Over the years, the program has also expanded to be the largest payor of maternity care and publicly-funded family planning in the U.S.

Medicaid is financed by a combination of federal and state dollars. For most beneficiaries, the federal government pays a percentage of costs, ranging between 50-75% depending on the state. Beginning in 2020, the AHCA would convert federal Medicaid funding from an open-ended matching system to an annual fixed amount of federal dollars. States could choose a “block grant” (for payment of services for children under 18 and poor parents of dependent children) or a “per capita cap” approach for five enrollment groups (the elderly, individuals with disabilities, children, newly eligible adults, and all other adults). While a capped approach would reduce federal spending, it would also shift more responsibility to states to pay more of their own dollars if they want to sustain the program at current levels.

While fixed federal financing would affect all individuals insured by Medicaid, one area that is particularly important for women is the program’s coverage of family planning services. Currently, the federal government requires coverage of family planning services and supplies and pays for 90% of the cost of these services, a higher match than for all other services.3 This higher federal payment rate provides states with an incentive to cover the full range of contraceptive methods. Under a per capita cap structure, states will still be required to cover family planning services, but there will no longer be an enhanced federal matching rate for family planning services provided to most beneficiaries. As a result, there may be less up-front financial incentive for states to cover the more expensive methods of contraception like IUDs, even though they are highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. Should states select a block grant option, family planning services would no longer be a mandatory benefit for non-disabled women on Medicaid.

If a state chooses a per capita cap structure, the AHCA would not change the financing structure for stand-alone family planning expansions that are currently in place in over half the states. These limited scope programs have allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage for family planning services to low-income women and men who do not have other family planning coverage. Since the AHCA’s per capita cap does not apply to these programs, states could continue to receive a 90% federal matching rate for them. These programs may become increasingly important to women because the CBO predicts that under this bill the number of uninsured would rise by 24 million over the next 10 years, and these Medicaid family planning programs are often an important source of reproductive care for uninsured women.

Both capped financing approaches would limit states’ ability to respond to rising costs, new and costly treatments, or public health emergencies such as the opioid epidemic or Zika. States may decide to make programmatic cuts such as cutting provider payments, particularly when facing fiscal pressures. For example, on average, Medicaid pays ob-gyns 76% of the Medicare rate4 and a smaller share of the commercial rate. If states were to make further cuts to provider payments or to plans, the pool of participating providers could shrink in response to reduced rates, which could make it harder for many women enrollees to find a participating ob-gyn or cause delays in scheduling appointments.
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3. MEDICAID AND PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services for many low-income women across the nation. Cutting off federal Medicaid payments to the organization could limit the availability of the most effective contraceptives, as well as STI and cancer screenings for many women on Medicaid.

Many low–income women obtain reproductive care at safety-net clinics that receive public funds to pay for the care they provide. The network includes a range of clinics that provide a broad range of primary care services, such as community health centers (CHCs) and health departments as well as specialized clinics that focus on providing family planning services. The largest organization of specialized family planning clinics is Planned Parenthood, which receives federal support through reimbursement for care delivered to women and men on Medicaid, as well as grant funds from the federal Title X family planning program. Despite comprising only 6% of the safety-net clinics that provided subsidized family planning services in 2015, Planned Parenthood clinics served 32% of women (nearly 2 million women) seeking contraceptive care at these centers (Figure 5).

Should it become law, the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year, even though federal law already prohibits federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions other than those to terminate pregnancies that are a result of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. The AHCA bill would provide additional funds to CHCs, presumably to compensate for loss of a major provider of care to women, but there are no specifics in the bill that would require the health centers to use these funds to provide services to women. There is also concern that CHCs do not currently have the capacity to fill the gap in care that would arise if Planned Parenthood were no longer a participating Medicaid provider.5 Not all CHCs provide the same range of services as Planned Parenthood, and care at CHCs could be more costly than that provided by specialized family planning providers like Planned Parenthood.6 The CBO’s March 13, 2017 analysis of the AHCA stated that cutting off Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year would result in loss of access to services in some low-income communities because it is the only public provider in some regions. The report also stated that the policy would result in thousands of additional unintended pregnancies that would be financed by Medicaid.7

4. ABORTION COVERAGE

Private and public coverage of abortion is currently limited in many states through the federal Hyde Amendment and state laws. The AHCA would go further than the ACA to restrict the availability of abortion coverage through private insurance policies.

Since 1976, the federal Hyde Amendment has limited the use of federal funds for abortion only to cases when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or is a threat to the woman’s life. Since its first passage over 40 years ago, the amendment has dramatically limited coverage of abortion under Medicaid, as well as other federal programs.8

In private insurance, the ACA explicitly bars abortion from being included as part of the Essential Health Benefit package defined by states and allows states to ban all plans in their Marketplaces from covering abortion. States can also ban abortion coverage in all state regulated private plans.9 As of March 2017, 25 states have laws limiting or banning coverage of abortion in ACA Marketplaces, and of these, 10 states ban abortion coverage in both the Marketplaces and in the private insurance market.

To ensure no federal dollars are used to subsidize abortion coverage, the AHCA bill would no longer make this a state option, rather it would ban abortion coverage in all Marketplace plans as well as prohibit the use of federal tax credits to purchase any plans that cover abortion that are available outside the Marketplace. The bill would limit employer coverage of abortion by disqualifying small employers from receiving tax credits if their plans cover abortion beyond Hyde limitations.

This provision would be in direct conflict with existing state policies in California and New York that require plans to cover abortion. Furthermore, no off market plans in these states would be able to enroll individuals who receive tax credits. Therefore, if enacted, the AHCA’s abortion coverage ban would likely face legal challenges.

5. TAX CREDITS, PREMIUM AND COST-SHARING SUBSIDIES

The AHCA would set the level of tax credit assistance using primarily age, and would repeal the ACA’s cost-sharing protections for low-income individuals. Because women have a lower income than men at all ages, this approach could place women at a disadvantage compared to men.

Women comprise more than half (54%) of ACA marketplace enrollees in the 34 states that use the federally facilitated marketplace, healthcare.gov. Approximately eight in ten (81%) Marketplace beneficiaries receive a premium tax credit, which offsets premium costs and makes them more affordable. In 2015, more than one-third (37%) of women who purchased insurance on their own were low-income ($23,540 for a single person) compared to 31% of men. 10 The current subsidy structure under the ACA provides higher levels of subsidies to those who are low-income, older, and who live in areas with more expensive coverage.

The AHCA, in contrast, would take a very different approach and reduce the amount that the federal government would contribute to subsidies with the goal of reducing federal spending. The AHCA would provide a flat tax credit based on age only up until an income of $75,000 for a single individual, and phases out at higher incomes. This would result in a large decrease in tax subsidies to older Marketplace enrollees compared to what is available to them today.

The AHCA would set aside additional federal funds to assist older enrollees as well as services for pregnant women and newborns and individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, but how those funds would be allocated is still to be determined. Nonetheless, under the AHCA’s tax credit methodology, people with lower incomes would receive significantly less than they do under current law. A higher share of women is poor or low-income than men, because women are more likely than men to head single parent households, work part-year or part-time, are paid less than men for similar work, and take breaks from the workforce to stay home and care for children and aging parents. As a result, this approach could disproportionately disadvantage women. In addition, the AHCA proposes to repeal the cost-sharing subsides available today under the ACA that provide additional protection from the high costs of deductibles, cost-sharing, and co-insurance to individuals with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level.

6. INSURANCE REFORMS

The ACA banned many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women. While the AHCA maintains the gender-rating ban and the dependent coverage expansion, it could allow states to permit insurers to charge higher premiums to individuals with health problems if they have a lapse in coverage.
DEPENDENT COVERAGE

A popular element of the ACA is the provision that requires private health insurers that offer dependent coverage to children to allow young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance plans. This provision was the first in the ACA to take effect, and it increased the availability of insurance to an age group that historically had a high uninsured rate (Table 1). In 2015, 39% of women ages 19 to 25 reported that they were covered as a dependent.

GENDER RATING

Prior to the ACA, non-group insurers in many states charged women who purchase individual insurance more than men for the same coverage, a practice called gender rating.12 Yet, plans sold on the individual market often did not cover many important services for women, such as maternity care, mental health services, and prescription drugs.13 An estimated 6.5 million women purchased coverage on the individual insurance market in 2011, and many of these women paid higher rates than men. Prior to the ACA, most of the women in this market were of reproductive age, working, and had incomes below 250% FPL.14 The ACA bans gender rating and the AHCA would not change this.

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

One of the most popular provisions of the ACA has been the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions. In the years before the ACA was passed, insurance companies often denied or would not renew coverage to individuals with a “preexisting condition,” which included several conditions common among women such as pregnancy, breast cancer, or a prior C-section. The AHCA would not re-instate this practice, but individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage would be charged a penalty when they try to obtain health insurance after having a coverage gap. The penalty could be in the form of higher premium rates (30%) for one year. Alternatively, states could obtain a waiver to allow insurers to again engage in medical underwriting for one year, charging people with health problems higher rates. This would have the effect of raising premiums for people with pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy, prior C-section, or clinical depression.
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7. ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS

The ACA instituted new rules that require all plans in the individual market as well as Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of benefits. Of particular importance to women has been the inclusion of maternity care, preventive services, and mental health.

The ACA requires all Marketplace plans and Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of “essential health benefits” (EHB). Each state chooses a benchmark benefit plan, which sets the floor for services that plans in that state must cover within each EHB category.15
The AHCA would allow states to apply for a waiver to define their own EHBs beginning in 2020. Waivers would be automatically approved unless the HHS Secretary issues a denial within 60 days of submission. This means states could choose to exclude mental health or maternity care (see pregnancy-related care section below) from their EHB requirements. While the idea of choice sounds appealing to some, it is antithetical to how insurance operates ─ by spreading the costs and risks across the pool of insured individuals. Plans that include a broader range of benefits would be considerably more expensive than they are today. In addition to state-level waivers, the AHCA bill would rescind the EHB requirement for Medicaid expansion programs, meaning that beneficiaries in this group would not be entitled to coverage for all ten categories. Existing Medicaid rules require states to cover some of the categories, such as hospitalization and maternity and newborn care, but others such as substance abuse treatment and prescription drugs are optional and offered at state discretion.Prior to the ACA, there were few federal requirements on what private plans in the individual market had to cover. The ACA established a floor for benefits that individual market plans must cover with the goal of reducing variation and adverse selection by standardizing “meaningful coverage.” This is particularly important for women, as they are the exclusive users of maternity care and more frequent users of services in some other EHB categories, such as prescription drugs and mental health. Mental health services in particular were routinely excluded in individual plans prior to the ACA. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are all more common among women than men.

8. PREVENTIVE SERVICES

Currently, all private plans, Medicaid expansion programs, and Medicare must cover recommended preventive services without cost sharing. Important services for women include: breast and cervical cancer screening, osteoporosis screening, pregnancy related services, well woman visits, and contraception.

In addition to EHBs, the ACA included a related requirement that all private plans cover federally-recommended preventive services without charging cost-sharing. In contrast to EHBs, which apply to individually purchased plans and Medicaid expansion only, the preventive services requirement applies to all forms of private insurance, including employer-sponsored and individual market plans. Prior to the ACA, the only federal–level requirements that applied to group plans were for coverage of a minimum length of stay after a delivery, availability of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, and parity for mental health services. The preventive services coverage requirement also applies to the Medicaid expansion and Medicare programs. This means that most adults with some form of private or public insurance now have coverage without cost-sharing for all of the services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), immunizations recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and services for women recommended by the Health Resources and Services Administration.16

Among the slate of services covered, many are exclusively for women or address conditions that have a disproportionate impact on women (Figure 6). These services address some of the most common conditions for women, including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. For older women, the preventive services policy means that Medicare now covers the full cost of mammograms and bone density screenings, which were previously subject to 20% co-insurance before passage of the ACA.

The AHCA would maintain preventive services requirements for private plans, but would repeal the requirements for the Medicaid expansion population. Preventive services for adults are covered at state option for other Medicaid beneficiaries. States could opt to roll back coverage of preventive services for this group.

9. CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE

Today, the majority of women with private insurance have no cost contraceptive coverage. This preventive benefit has reduced women’s out-of-pocket spending on birth control and made the most effective, but often costly, contraceptive methods affordable for most insured women. This provision could be eliminated or modified through regulatory changes without the need for Congressional action.

Current law requires that most private plans include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods for women at no additional cost. Research has found that the requirement has had a large impact in a short amount of time. For example, in the first two years that the policy was in effect, the share of women with any out of pocket spending on oral contraceptives fell sharply to just 3.0% of women with employer-sponsored insurance (Figure 7).17 Similar effects have been documented for other contraceptives, including IUDs.18

The AHCA bill does not specifically address the contraceptive coverage requirement. However, President Trump and Secretary Price have expressed support for advancing “religious freedom,”19 and this provision has been at the heart of two cases that have reached the Supreme Court where employers have claimed that the requirement violates their religious beliefs. The contraceptive coverage requirement was implemented through a series of agency regulations that included contraception in the package of women’s preventive services, defined the religious exemption and accommodation available to houses of worship and faith-based nonprofits respectively, and clarified that plans must cover 18 contraceptive methods. Since these requirements are in regulations, the Trump Administration can issue new regulations and guidance to permit employers and insurers to cover fewer methods, or to exempt more employers with religious objections without the need for congressional action.20President Trump’s Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty specifically calls on the Secretaries of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services to amend regulations to protect conscience-based objections to the ACA’s preventive-care mandate.21 The goal of this is to exempt any employer with a religious or moral objection from the contraceptive coverage requirement, even though current regulations already relieve employers from paying for such coverage while assuring that women have coverage for contraceptives.

If the federal requirement is eliminated or scaled back, the scope of contraceptive coverage would again be shaped by employers, insurance plans, and state policy. More than half (28) of states have laws requiring plans in their states to cover contraceptives, but these are more limited than the ACA. Only five of the 28 states require coverage of the full range of contraceptives without cost sharing, but these state-level mandates do not apply to self-funded plans, which cover most insured workers.22

10. PREGNANCY-RELATED CARE

Today, pregnant and postpartum women have a greater range of protections and benefits than they did prior to the ACA. These range from mandatory maternity and newborn coverage, to no-cost prenatal screening, and breastfeeding supports. The AHCA would allow states to define the Essential Health Benefits requirements with a waiver, potentially excluding coverage for maternity care.

Before the ACA, pregnant women seeking insurance in the individual market were routinely turned away as having a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, many individual plans did not cover maternity services because it was not required in this market. Some individual plans offered separate maternity coverage as a rider which could be costly, ranging from roughly $15 to $1600 a month.23 Some plans also imposed a waiting period before the rider took effect. These discriminatory practices were limited to the individual market because coverage for maternity services has been required for decades both under Medicaid and in most employer-sponsored plans due to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The ACA changed this by including maternity and newborn care as part of the EHB package that must be included in individual private plans as well as under Medicaid expansion. While some states had required individual plans in their states to cover maternity services to varying degrees prior to the ACA, most did not.24 In addition, the ACA made other improvements through coverage of preventive services such as no-cost prenatal screenings and breastfeeding supports.

The AHCA would weaken some of the protections for pregnant women that are currently in place. By halting funds for Medicaid expansion, some new mothers would lose coverage once the 60-day postpartum period ends and become uninsured. Furthermore, it would permit states to waive the current federal EHB standards, potentially allowing states to remove or scale back maternity services as a required benefit. The bill would also allot funds to the Patient and State Stability Fund for pregnancy and newborn care, but there are no details on how it will be used.

Some have touted the benefits of excluding maternity coverage for those who will not need it such as men and older women as a way of giving policyholders more flexibility to choose their own coverage and purchase less expensive plans. However, this also means that the risk pool for plans that include maternity services would primarily be comprised of women who anticipate using maternity care, and would likely greatly increase costs for women who sought such coverage. Furthermore, given that nearly half of pregnancies are unintended some women would buy coverage that does not include maternity care thinking they won’t need it, only to find out their coverage falls short when they are pregnant.

Conclusion

Today, women’s health coverage levels are at an all-time high. In addition to the coverage gains in the Marketplaces and Medicaid, many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women have been banned. Minimum standards for benefits that individual plans must cover through the EHB and the preventive services requirements for all private plans have assured that most insured women have coverage for a broad range of recommended services that they need such as maternity care, mental health services, and preventive services such as mammograms, pap smears, and contraceptives. Recent polling shows that the American public values these protections, including those for poorer women (Figure 8). In addition, while the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood for one year, 75% of Americans say they favor continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

If enacted, the AHCA would alter subsidies for private insurance, eliminate the Medicaid expansion, ban Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, place a cap on Medicaid spending, and turn EHB standards over to the states. This legislation would have considerable impact on women, particularly low-income women who rely on subsidies and those who are on Medicaid. The Senate will now take up their own debate about the future of the ACA. In addition to legislation, many of the ACA’s other provisions could be amended through federal-level administrative actions. Given the gains that women have made in access to meaningful and affordable coverage, they have much at stake in the current debate over the future of our nation’s private and public insurance programs.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Ranji U., Salganicoff A., Sobel L., Rosenzweig C. (2017 May 8). Ten ways that the house american health care act could affect women [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/ten-ways-that-the-house-american-health-care-act-could-affect-women/


More Employers View HSAs as Part of Retirement Strategy

Did you know that more employers are starting to use health savings accounts as a tool for retirement? Find out more from this interesting read from Employee Benefits Advisor on how employers are utilizing HSAs in their retirement program by Paula Aven Gladych.

The health savings account market is continuing its massive growth — as well as its increasing importance to the retirement industry.

According to a survey conducted by the Plan Sponsor Council of America, more than 75% of plan sponsors “view the HSA as part of their retirement benefits strategy.”

Nearly 60% of the respondents believe HSAs should replace flexible spending accounts, and nearly three-fourths of employers think that HSAs should be open to all employees, not just those enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, according to the survey. The PSCA received 255 responses to its survey, with 181 of plan sponsors saying they sponsor an HSA for their employees.

HSAs are medical savings accounts that employees and employers can use to pay for qualifying healthcare expenses, now and into the future. It is widely acknowledged that healthcare expenses are one of the largest expenses people face in retirement, so this is one more tool individuals can use to save for their futures.

Made possible by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, the accounts allow employees to set money aside pre-tax. Any money that isn’t spent down in a given year can be invested, just like a retirement plan. That money can be used to pay for current and future healthcare expenses.

HSAEnrollment in employer-sponsored HSA/high-deductible plans more than doubled from 5% in 2005 to 11% in 2015, but in spite of that, 6.2 million of the 22.5 million people eligible to participate in an HSA did not contribute to it, according to the PSCA survey.

In 2016, the PSCA created an HSA committee to focus on health savings accounts and their impact on employee retirement readiness and to evaluate and improve their integration with defined contribution retirement plans.

“Absent legislative action that would curtail HSA tax preferences, HSA accounts are here to stay,” says PSCA Executive Director Tony Verheyen.

According to survey respondents, about 80% of employees are eligible to participate in an employer-sponsored HSA plan, with an average account balance of $3,161. Forty percent of employers said that fewer than 25% of their participants use up their entire HSA balance each year and 35% of plans said that 26-50% of their participants use their entire balance every year.

“So many employers participating in the survey do perceive the HSA to be a vehicle for employees to accumulate savings,” the report found.

Two-thirds of employers who sponsor a health savings account program for employees say they contribute a set dollar amount to each account based on the high-deductible health plan coverage tier an employee has chosen. More than 80% of the employers who sponsor an HSA say they contribute some money to the plan. Forty percent of plans say they front load contributions at the start of the year, while 30% contribute some amount every payday.

More than half of those surveyed said they cover the cost of HSA maintenance fees for active employees and 6% said they pay them for terminated employees. Only 21% of surveyed employers expressed concern about the fiduciary liability of sponsoring an HSA-high-deductible health plan.

The Plan Sponsor Council of America is made up of employee benefit plan sponsors who work together to help improve and expand upon the employer-sponsored retirement plan system.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gladych P. (2017 May 9). More employers view HSAs as part of retirement strategy [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/more-employers-view-hsas-as-part-of-retirement-strategy


The Pitfalls of Online Enrollment Systems

Are you using an online system to enroll your clients into their employee benefits? Check out this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about the risk associated with online enrollment by Elizabeth Kay.

Online enrollment platforms are great, but communication and understanding are terribly important for the end-user.

I always say, "technology is great, when it works." Online enrollment platforms have been around for years, and the technology that powers them has grown and advanced at an exponential rate. Who would have guessed that we would be enrolling in our employee benefits directly from our own phones and tablets, without being given the huge enrollment packets from HR?

In this virtual communication age, you can't take the “human” out of Human Resources, and you can't take the confusion out of insurance benefits just because you wrap it in a nice, pretty website with fancy graphics and videos.

An employee's health concerns and needs are as diverse and different as hair colors are at Comic Con, so while a brief overview of plan details is fine for one person, someone else wants to know how many physical therapy visits they can have in a year, or if their child's insulin pump will be covered on their plan.

A simple online enrollment platform does not always meet the needs of all employees, and not all platforms will offer the level of detail some will require. Aside from posting the evidence of coverage, or insurance contract, at a place that is easily found on the portal, there may not be a way to achieve that level of detail. However, even for those that don't need that level of detail, critical information must be communicated easily and effectively.

Costly mistakes can be made when benefits are not communicated effectively, or when important information is simply omitted. For example, since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented, some employers have opted to offer minimum value plans (MVPs), or plans that cover very few procedures such as office visits, preventive care, and hospital room and board, but they do not cover a wide range of other services such as ambulance, surgery, medical devices, physical or occupational therapy, etc.

When an employee sees a number of choices or plans from which to choose, they will likely compare the various plan options by looking at the carrier, if the plans are HMOs or PPOs, and the cost. From there, an employee may look at the office copays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and coinsurance.

If the comparison shows MVP plans as well as traditional health plans, but does not call out in big, bold letters, all of the items the MVP plan does not cover, one could come away with the understanding that if they choose the MVP plan, they are selecting a plan that is a comprehensive insurance plan just like the other plans shown, or like they have had in the past.

Most of us don't read our car insurance policy in detail until we get in an accident and the insurance adjustor says, "sorry, your policy does not cover that." The same is usually true for our health insurance plans.

You could argue that it is the responsibility of the employee to verify that the plan they are choosing meets all of their needs, certainly. But if that information is not easy to locate, you could find fault with the employer, or insurance carrier, if there were to be a problem. Furthermore, an employer would want to show their employees that they want to take care of them, and not set them up for failure in the event of a crisis.

Let's walk through a scenario. An employee named "Joe" is 28, and is enrolling in his company's health plans during open enrollment. His company recently merged with another larger company, and so the benefits being offered are slightly different, but look pretty close to what they had been last year. There are four plans offered, two that are HMO plans with Kaiser and two that are PPO plans, one is labeled Silver, the other Gold.

Joe is young and single, and when he was living at home with his parents, he had never had Kaiser and always traditionally had PPO coverage. Last year, Joe enrolled in the Silver PPO plan so he could continue to see the doctors that had been managing his care for all of his adult life, so he elects the same plan this year. The online system shows a $250 deductible, $40 office visit copay, and 30% coinsurance. In addition, the Kaiser premiums have gone up considerably from what he remembered them to be last year, and are higher than the PPO plan options, so he feels comfortable that he has made the choice that is best for him.

Later in the year, he comes down with a bad cold. The pressure in his head that is caused by the cold is so severe that when he sneezed, he blew out his right ear drum. He goes to the doctor, and his doctor orders a CT scan of his ear. The CT scan shows he has perforated his ear drum and will need surgery to repair it. The surgery is scheduled for two weeks after that. He contacts the hospital and surgeon to confirm they are contracted, in-network providers under his health plan, and asks them to do a pre-determination of benefits so he will know up front how much he should expect to pay as his 30% of the cost of the procedure.

While waiting for the surgeon and hospital to get back to him regarding the out-of-pocket costs, he receives the bill for the CT scan and explanation of benefits from his doctor for the office visit and CT scan. They show his office copayment that he paid at the time of service, and his $250 deductible, plus 30% of the remaining cost of the CT scan, which came out to a total of $500. He pays the bills and continues to work even though he is in extreme discomfort from his right ear.

The surgeon and hospital both get back to him and let him know the surgery itself will cost approximately $20,000 because his plan does not cover surgery, period. Joe is not an executive in a large company; he does not have the money to pay for a $20,000 surgery and also afford to take three weeks off of work in order for him to recover. So, what is he to do?

He can't enroll in another plan offered by his employer for another nine months when they go through open enrollment again. It is March, so he has missed the state Exchange open enrollment window, and he has not experienced an involuntary loss of coverage that would enable him to enroll in a state Exchange plan. If he were to purchase a short-term, comprehensive medical plan it won't cover any pre-existing conditions, which his perforated ear drum would certainly be considered. So, unless he gets married and enrolls on his new spouse's plan if they were offered one by their employer, he is out of options. He will simply have to wait until open enrollment next year.

How do you think Joe is feeling about his employer right now? Do you think he is counting his blessings that he only ruptured his ear drum and was not diagnosed with cancer that needed to be removed before it spread any further? Or is he going to be using a few choice words to describe an employer that offers a medical plan to its employees that has a longer list of services not covered than are covered? I can't say that I know for sure, but I can guess.

Now, the question becomes how does an employer prevent their employees from running into these kinds of pitfalls? It comes down to clear communication—multiple forms of communication that are easily accessible to employees and their family members that may also play a role in making plan decisions. Having someone to partner with your company, such as a UBA Partner Firm that will not only help you develop long-term plan strategies for your employee benefits package, but can be an integral part of developing and implementing online systems, hard copy communications, and give you access to tools such as smartphone applications that not only give employees access to essential information, but also push out important communications that contain relevant information at the appropriate times like open enrollment. Making plan details easily accessible in the online platform, with clear and bold statements if there are essential benefits that are not covered on the plan such as a warning, should be clearly stated so that employees are well informed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insurance is a complicated business and you, as an employer, would not want to make decisions about the health care you offer your employees without someone to guide you through the various options and possibilities. As responsible employers, our employees should not have to either.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kay E. (2017 May 2). The pitfalls of online enrollment systems [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/the-pitfalls-of-online-enrollment-systems


Preexisting Conditions And Continuous Coverage: Key Elements Of GOP Bill

Do you suffer from a preexisting condition? Take a look at this article by Michelle Andrews from Kaiser Health News and find out how the passing of the AHCA will impact your health care.

Before he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2015, Anthony Kinsey often went without health insurance. He is a contract lawyer working for staffing agencies on short-term projects in the Washington, D.C., area, and sometimes the 90-day waiting period for coverage through a staffing agency proved longer than the duration of his project, if coverage was offered at all.

When Kinsey, now 57, learned he had cancer, he was able to sign up for a plan with a $629 monthly premium because the agency he was working for offered group coverage that became effective almost immediately. The plan covered the $62,000 surgery to cut out the diseased bone and tissue on the left side of his face, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. His share of the treatment cost was $1,800.

If the American Health Care Act, which the House recently passed, becomes law, people like Kinsey who have health problems might not fare so well trying to buy insurance after a lapse.

The Republican bill would still require insurers to offer coverage to everyone, including people who have preexisting medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or even cancer. But it would allow states to opt out of the federal health law’s prohibition against charging sick people more than healthy ones. In those states, if people have a break in coverage of more than 63 days, insurers could charge them any price for coverage for approximately a year, effectively putting coverage out of reach for many sick people, analysts say. After a year, they would be charged a regular rate again.

Coming up with a figure for how many people have preexisting conditions that could put them at risk for facing unaffordable health insurance premiums has been the subject of debate, with estimates ranging from 133 million on the high end to 2 million on the low end.

What we know is that before the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, insurers in the individual market frequently charged people more if they were sick. According to a 2009 survey of individual market insurers by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, 34 percent of coverage was offered at higher-than-standard rates, while 6 percent of those offers included waivers that excluded coverage for specific conditions.

But some health policy analysts suggest that it’s not only people who have a gap in coverage who could be affected if a state seeks the health law waiver. There could be consequences for anyone with a preexisting condition, even those who have maintained continuous insurance coverage. That’s because the bill opens the door for insurers to set rates for people based on their health. For example, those without a health condition could be offered discounted premiums.

“If you have a preexisting condition, you’re going to be put into the block of business with the sicker risk pool,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Requiring people to maintain continuous coverage is the Republicans’ preferred alternative to Obamacare’s individual mandate that requires people to have insurance or pay a fine. But there are many reasons people may have a gap in coverage, especially if they’re sick, say consumer advocates.

“If they’re diagnosed with cancer and going through a grueling treatment, they might move closer to their caregiver or the cancer center,” said Kirsten Sloan, vice president for policy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “They may quit their job for that reason, or they may lose their job.”

Once people have a gap in coverage they may really be in a bind if the available coverage is unaffordable. To address this, the Republican bill requires states to set up a high-risk pool or reinsurance program or participate in a federal risk-sharing program.

State high-risk pools, which were available in 35 states before the ACA passed, have been widely criticized, however, as inadequate for people with expensive health care needs. Premiums were often extremely high, and there were frequently lifetime or annual limits on coverage. Some plans excluded coverage for as long as a year for the very conditions people needed insurance.

Still, Thomas Miller, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says high-risk pools offer a reasonable solution for the 2 million to 4 million people in the individual market he estimates have preexisting conditions but would otherwise be medically uninsurable or offered such high-cost coverage that they couldn’t afford it. The $130 billion over nine years that the bill sets aside to use for high-risk pools or other individual market activities, along with an additional $8 billion over five years for states that get waivers from ACA community-rating requirements, “could be adequate” to meet the need, he said.

Besides, he argued, the higher rates would last for only a year.

“Once you’ve paid up, you graduate back to the regular market,” Miller said. “It’s not like being sentenced to the Gulag.”

Kinsey said he plans to keep his coverage up to date from now on, but he doesn’t think it’s fair to charge sick people higher rates even if they have a break in coverage.

“It would be problematic,” he said. “I’m not in favor of that.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 May 16). Preexisting conditions and continuous coverage: key elements of GOP bill [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/preexisting-conditions-and-continuous-coverage-key-elements-of-gop-bill/?utm_campaign=KFF-2016-The-Latest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=52062246&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-90h4NOm7X9KLzIv7cYUNaGbi_qAFjmLW8NHmH89fiCT1u4SVQ8G95MFvTb3ljYlm3XiY20qWwsBfqH8PKOCwaULkf-ug&_hsmi=52062246


Is Social Media Putting Employees’ Health, Safety at Risk?

Do your employees know about all of the risks that can come from their social media? Find out how social media can affect your employee's safety and health in this article from Employee Benefit News by Jill Hazan.

The issue of personal online safety has finally crossed over into the healthcare arena — and employers need to step up and learn to best educate employees about keeping them safe.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, “Parental Sharing on the Internet: Child Privacy in the Age of Social Media and the Pediatrician’s Role,” highlights how parents who post information about their children on social media put them at greater risk for identity theft. In addition, this trend toward oversharing compromises a child’s protected health information. What might happen when that child applies for a job in the future and a simple internet search reveals health information she would not want an employer to know?

While HIPAA protects the confidentiality of an individual’s medical records, it doesn’t provide comprehensive protections outside the healthcare environment. The laws around the privacy rights of children relative to their parents’ online disclosures are still evolving. The article recommends that pediatricians ask parents about their social media habits to help keep children safe and their data private. It is a natural extension that all primary care providers should be asking patients about social media behaviors, as the issues of identity theft and data privacy are relevant to children and adults alike.
This recommendation is increasingly significant from an employee benefit perspective.

So what should employers do?

Employers routinely provide healthcare benefits to employees. If health plans and physicians are acknowledging and addressing the risks of social media from a privacy and security perspective, shouldn’t employers extend that focus into the workplace? With the continued employer emphasis on wellness, it is incumbent on health plans and employers alike to educate employees on online security and the risks of identity theft.

 

There are a variety of resources and benefits that employers can access to assist employees in navigating the online world safely. A series of well-structured, engaging seminars on identity theft and online security that combine real-life stories with actionable advice are effective in educating employees and changing behaviors. Online tutorials, like those provided by the Center for Identity at the University of Texas, Austin, can guide employees on setting proper privacy settings on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Identity theft protection plans provide monitoring and restoration services, as well as education to help keep employees and their families secure. EAPs may provide guidance on identity theft and counseling for victims. Comprehensive legal benefit plans provide legal advice and representation for victims of identity theft. Employers may also provide employees access to online data protection tools for use at work and home with features that encrypt communication and block malware and phishing attempts.

Employees need to understand how to navigate the social media and online environment to keep their families safe. Identity theft of a family member affects more than just one person. It can register an emotional, physical and financial toll on the entire family. Employers need to structure a comprehensive approach to managing the health and wellness of employees as it relates to their online behaviors. A program with a combination of employee benefits, from healthcare to identity theft protection benefits, supplemented by onsite employee education, will support the goals of the health plan and, ultimately, the organization’s overall business objectives.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Hazan J. (2017 May 1). Is social media putting employees' health, safety at risk? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/is-social-media-putting-employees-health-safety-at-risk?feed=00000152-18a4-d58e-ad5a-99fc032b0000


New CBO AHCA Score Confirms What We Already Knew

The CBO has just released their final score for the revised version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Find how the CBO scored this revised piece of legislation and what it means for you in this article by Mark J. Mazur from Tax Policy Center

Meet the new estimate of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  It looks a lot like the old one.

On May 24, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its estimate of the revised AHCA, which the House of Representatives passed on May 7.  The revised AHCA allows states to opt out of ACA requirements establishing essential health benefits and permits states establishing high-risk pools to allow insurers to set premiums based on health status.  The modified bill sets aside $8 billion to help subsidize these pools.

Like its predecessor, the revised AHCA has four distinct major components.

  1. One would cut taxes paid by high-income individuals (lower taxes on capital gains, divided, and interest income for households with annual income over $250,000) and by companies in specific industries: health insurance, medical devices, prescription drugs, and indoor tanning salons.
  2. The second is a grab bag of tax reductions, such as loosened rules for flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts, repeal of the tax on individuals who can afford but don’t buy adequate health coverage, and a further delay of the excise tax on high-cost health plans (the so-called “Cadillac Tax”).
  3. The third restructures the tax credits that subsidize health care coverage, moving from existing income-related tax credits for purchasing health insurance on the ACA Marketplaces to age-related tax credits to purchase health insurance.
  4. And the fourth cuts Medicaid spending reducing coverage and essentially paying for the tax cuts.

The chart below shows the tax changes (the first two major components mentioned) go almost entirely to the highest earning households, while providing little or no benefit to the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution.  In fact, TPC estimates that a $37,000 average annual tax cut will go to the 1 percent of the population with the highest earnings (annual income of over $772,000).  The top 0.1 percent of the income distribution would receive an annual tax cut of over $200,000 (annual income over $3.9 million).  (Note that this chart shows the estimates for 2022, but incorporates the tax law changes for 2023 as the AHCA phases in some of the tax changes).

The bottom line: CBO estimates confirm the AHCA is largely a tax bill paired up with Medicaid cuts to offset the costs. And, as in the earlier version of the bill, almost all the benefits go to the highest income households in the country.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Mazur M. (2017 May 24). New CBO AHCA score confirms what we already knew [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/new-cbo-ahca-score-confirms-what-we-already-knew


The Facts on the GOP Health Care Bill

Do you know all the facts behind the American Health Care Act (AHCA)? Check out this article by Fact Check and find out about all the details behind the GOP new health care legislation.

House Republicans released their replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act on March 6. How does the GOP’s American Health Care Act differ from the ACA? We look at the major provisions of the amended version of the bill, as of May 4. (The legislation passed the House on May 4 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.)

Is there a requirement to have insurance or pay a tax?

No. For all months after Dec. 31, 2015, the bill eliminates the tax penalties that the ACA imposes on nonexempt individuals for not having health insurance, as well as employers with 50 or more full-time workers who do not offer health insurance to their employees. (To be clear, unless this bill becomes law quickly, those filing their 2016 tax returns will still be subject to the penalty.)

Are insurance companies required to offer coverage regardless of preexisting conditions?

Yes, but there’s a penalty for not having continuous coverage. Under both the ACA and the GOP bill, insurers can’t deny coverage to anyone based on health status. Under the GOP bill, they are required, however, to charge 30 percent higher premiums for one year, regardless of health status, to those entering the individual market who didn’t have continuous coverage, which is defined as a lapse of coverage of 63 days or more over the previous 12 months.

However, an amendment proposed in late April allows states to obtain a waiver that would enable insurers to charge more to people with preexisting conditions who do not maintain continuous coverage. Such policyholders could be charged higher premiums based on health status for one year. After that, provided there wasn’t another 63-day gap, the policyholder would get a new, less expensive premium that was not based on health status. This change would begin in 2019, or 2018 for those enrolling during special enrollment periods.

States with such a waiver would also have to have either a “risk mitigation program,” such as a high-risk pool, or participate in a new Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, as a House summary of the amendment says. Beyond those programs, another amendment to the bill would provide $8 billion in federal money over five years to financially aid those with preexisting conditions who find themselves facing higher premiums in waiver states.

For more on this waiver program, see our May 4 article, “The Preexisting Conditions Debate.”

What happens to the expansion of Medicaid?

It will be phased out.

Prior to the ACA, Medicaid was available to groups including qualified low-income families, pregnant women, children and the disabled. The ACA expanded eligibility to all individuals under age 65 who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,643 a year for an individual), but only in states that opted for the expansion. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have opted in to the expansion, which includes enhanced federal funding, so far. More than 11 million newly eligible adults had enrolled in Medicaid through March 2016, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Under the Republican health care plan, no new enrollment can occur under this Medicaid expansion, with enhanced federal funds, after Dec. 31, 2019. States that haven’t already opted in to the expansion by March 1, 2017, can’t get the ACA’s enhanced federal funding for the expansion-eligible population.

To be clear, the bill doesn’t eliminate the Medicaid expansion coverage for those who are enrolled prior to 2020 in the current expansion states. But if those enrollees have a break in coverage for more than one month after Dec. 31, 2019, they won’t be able to re-enroll (unless a state wanted to cover the additional cost itself).

The Republican plan includes another notable change to Medicaid. It would cap the amount of federal funding that states can receive per Medicaid enrollee, with varying amounts for each category of enrollee, such as children, and the blind and disabled. Currently, the federal government guarantees matching funds to states for qualifying Medicaid expenses, regardless of cost. Under the GOP bill, states have the option of receiving a block grant, rather than the per-capita amounts, for traditional adult enrollees and children – not the elderly or disabled. States also have the option of instituting work requirements for able-bodied adults, but not pregnant women.

Are insurers required to cover certain benefits?

The latest version of the bill requires insurers to provide 10 essential health benefits mandated by the ACA, unless a state obtains a waiver to set its own benefit requirements. The ACA’s essential health benefits required insurance companies to cover 10 health services: ambulatory, emergency, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive care and chronic disease management, and pediatric services including dental and vision.

Beginning in 2020, states could set their own essential health benefits by obtaining a waiver.

At that point, state requirements could vary, as they did before the ACA was enacted. For instance, a 2009 report from the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, a group representing insurance companies, said 47 states had a mandate for emergency service benefits, while 23 mandated maternity care and only three mandated prescription drug coverage.

State Medicaid plans would not have to meet the essential health benefits requirement after Dec. 31, 2019.

Are there subsidies to help individuals buy insurance? How do they differ from the Affordable Care Act?

There are two forms of financial assistance under the ACA: premium tax credits (which would change under the GOP plan) and cost-sharing to lower out-of-pocket costs (which would be eliminated).

Let’s look at the premium tax credits first. They would be available to individuals who buy their own coverage on the individual, or nongroup, market. But instead of a sliding scale based on income, as under the ACA, the Republican plan’s tax credits are based on age, with older Americans getting more. (The plan, however, allows insurers to charge older Americans up to five times more than younger people, as we will explain later.)

The ACA tax credits also take into account the local cost of insurance, varying the amount of the credit in order to put a cap on the amount an individual or family would have to spend for their premiums. The Republican plan doesn’t do that. (See this explanation from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation for more on how the ACA tax credits are currently calculated.)

There are income limits under the GOP bill. Those earning under $75,000, or $150,000 for a married couple, in modified adjusted gross income, get the same, fixed amounts for their age groups — starting at $2,000 a year for those under age 30, increasing in $500 increments per decade in age, up to $4,000 a year for those 60 and older. The tax credits are capped at $14,000 per family, using the five oldest family members to calculate the amount. This new structure would begin in 2020, with modifications in 2018 and 2019 to give more to younger people and less to older people.

For those earning above those income thresholds, the tax credit is reduced by 10 percent of the amount earned above the threshold. For instance, an individual age 60 or older earning $100,000 a year would get a tax credit of $1,500 ($4,000 minus 10 percent of $25,000).

That hypothetical 60-year-old gets $0 in tax credits under the ACA. But if our 60-year-old earns $30,000 a year, she would likely get more under the ACA than the GOP plan: In Franklin County, Ohio, for instance, the tax credit would be $6,550 under the ACA in 2020 and $4,000 under the Republican plan. (This interactive map from the KFF shows the difference in tax credits under the health care plans.)

As for the cost-sharing subsidies available now under the ACA — which can lower out-of-pocket costs for copays and other expenses for those earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level  — those would be eliminated in 2020. However, the GOP bill sets up a Patient and State Stability Fund, with $100 billion in funding over nine years with state matching requirements, that can be used for various purposes, including lowering out-of-pocket costs of a state’s residents. An additional $30 billion was added to this fund for other programs: $15 billion would be used to set up the Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, another reinsurance program, and $15 billion is set aside specifically for maternity and mental health coverage.

Small-business tax credits would end in 2020. The health insurance marketplaces stay, but the tax credits can be used for plans sold outside of those marketplaces. And the different levels of plans (bronze, silver, etc.) based on actuarial value (the percentage of costs covered) are eliminated; anyone can buy a catastrophic plan, not just those under 30 as is the case with the ACA.

What does the bill do regarding health savings accounts?

It increases the contribution limits for tax-exempt HSAs, from $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families now to $6,550 and $13,100, respectively. It allows individuals to use HSA money for over-the-counter drugs, something the ACA had limited to only over-the-counter drugs for which individuals had obtained a prescription.

There were so-called winners and losers in the individual market under the ACA. How would that change under this bill?

Both the current law and the Republican proposal primarily impact the individual market, where 7 percent of the U.S. population buys its own health insurance. As we’ve written many times, how the ACA affected someone in this market depended on their individual circumstances — and the same goes for the House Republicans’ plan. In general, because the ACA said that insurers could no longer vary premiums based on health status and limited the variation based on age, older and sicker individuals could have paid less than they had before, while younger and healthier individuals could have paid more.

The GOP plan allows a wider variation in pricing based on age: Insurers can charge older individuals up to five times as much as younger people, and states can change that ratio. Under the ACA, the ratio was 3:1. So, younger individuals may see lower premiums under this bill, while older individuals could see higher premiums.

Older Americans do get higher tax credits than younger Americans under the Republican plan, but whether that amounts to more or less generous tax credits than under the ACA depends on other individual circumstances, including income and local insurance pricing. Those with low incomes could do worse under the GOP plan, while those who earned too much to qualify for tax credits under the ACA (an individual making more than $48,240) would get tax credits.

We would encourage readers to use the Kaiser Family Foundation’s interactive map to see how tax credits may change, depending on various circumstances. “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive larger tax credits under the ACA than they would under the American Health Care Act replacement,” KFF says. “Conversely, some people who are younger, higher-income, or live in low-premium areas (like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington) may receive larger assistance under the replacement plan.”

A few weeks after the bill was introduced, House Republicans, through an amendment, made a change to a tax provision to create placeholder funding that the Senate could use to boost tax credits for older Americans, as we explain in the next answer.

Also, some individuals with preexisting conditions could see higher premiums under the legislation, if they don’t maintain continuous coverage and live in states that received waivers for pricing some plans based on health status.

Which ACA taxes go away under the GOP plan?

Many of the ACA taxes would be eliminated.

As we said, the bill eliminates all fines on individuals for not having insurance and large employers for not offering insurance. Also, beginning in 2017, for high-income taxpayers, the bill eliminates the 3.8 percent tax on certain net investment income. The 0.9 percent additional Medicare tax on earnings above a threshold stays in place until 2023. The bill repeals the 2.3 percent tax on the sale price of certain medical devices in 2017 and the 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services (effective June 30, 2017). It also gets rid of the annual fees on entities, according to the IRS, “in the business of providing health insurance for United States health risks,” as well as fees on “each covered entity engaged in the business of manufacturing or importing branded prescription drugs.”

It reduces the tax on distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs) not used for qualified medical expenses from 20 percent to 10 percent and the tax on such distributions from Archer medical savings accounts (MSAs) from 20 percent to 15 percent. It lowers the threshold for receiving a tax deduction for medical expenses from 10 percent to 5.8 percent of adjusted gross income. (Originally, the bill lowered the threshold to 7.5 percent, but House Republicans changed that to create some flexibility for potential funding changes the Senate could make. A congressional aide told us that the change is expected to provide $85 billion in spending over 10 years that the Senate could use to boost the tax credit or provide other support for Americans in the 50-64 age bracket.)

And from 2020 through 2025, the bill suspends the so-called “Cadillac tax,” a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance plans offered by employers.

Will young adults under the age of 26 still be able to remain on their parents’ plans?

Yes. The bill does not affect this provision of the ACA.

How does the bill treat abortion? 

It puts a one-year freeze on funding to states for payments to a “prohibited entity,” defined as one that, among other criteria, provides abortions other than those due to rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. This would include funding to Planned Parenthood under Medicaid, which is most of the organization’s government funding. Under current law, Planned Parenthood can’t use federal money for abortions, except those in cases of rape, incest or risk to the mother’s life.

Also under the GOP plan, tax credits can’t be used to purchase insurance that covers abortion beyond those three exceptions. Health insurance companies would still be able to offer “separate coverage” for expanded coverage of abortions, which individuals could then purchase on their own.

How many people will have insurance under the plan, as compared with the ACA?

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the legislation, as passed by the House, would lead to 14 million fewer people having insurance in 2018 and 23 million fewer insured in 2026, compared with current law under the ACA.
How much will the bill cost, as compared with the ACA?

CBO estimated that the legislation passed by the House would reduce federal deficits by $119 billion over the next decade, 2017-2026. It would reduce revenues by $992 billion, mostly by repealing the ACA’s taxes and fees, and reduce spending by $1.11 trillion for a net savings of $119 billion, according to CBO.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Robertson L., Gore D., Schipani V.  (2017 May 24). The facts on the GOP health care bill [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.factcheck.org/2017/03/the-facts-on-the-gop-health-care-bill/