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.

Appleby J., Kaiser Health News (5 March 2018). "Pay-to-shop health care incentives gaining traction" [Web blog Post]. Retrieved from address

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.

Craver J. (2 March 2018). "Trump urges legal action against opioid manufacturers" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address

Ahead of the Midterms, Voters across Parties See Costs as their Top Health Care Concern

From Kaiser Health News is this poll deciphering where the public sits ahead of Midterms. What is there top healthcare concern? Costs. Get all the information in this article.

At a time when the Trump Administration is encouraging state efforts to revamp their Medicaid programs through waivers, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll finds the public splits on whether the reason behind proposals to impose work requirements on some low-income Medicaid beneficiaries is to lift people out of poverty or to reduce spending.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in January provided new guidance to states and has since approved such waivers in two states (Kentucky and Indiana). Eight other states have pending requests

When asked the goal of work requirements, four in 10 (41%)  say it is to reduce government spending by limiting the people enrolled in the program, while a third (33%) say it is to lift people out of poverty as proponents say.

While larger shares of Democrats and independents say the reason is to cut costs, Republicans are more divided, with roughly equal shares saying it is to lift people out of poverty (42%) as to reduce government spending (40%). People living in the 10 states that have approved or pending work requirement waivers are similarly divided, with near-equal shares saying the goal is to lift people out of poverty (37%) as to reduce government spending (36%). This holds true even when controlling for other demographic variables including party identification and income.


In addition to work requirements, five states are currently seeking Medicaid waivers to impose lifetime limits on the benefits that non-disabled adults could receive under the Medicaid program. The poll finds the public skeptical of such a shift, with two thirds (66%) saying Medicaid should be available to low-income people as long as they qualify, twice the share (33%) as say it should only provide temporary help for a limited time.

Substantial majorities of Democrats (84%) and independents (64%) say Medicaid should be available without lifetime limits, while Republicans are divided with similar shares favoring time limits (51%) and opposing them (47%).

These views may reflect people’s personal experiences with Medicaid and the generally positive views the public has toward the current program, which provides health coverage and long-term care to tens of millions of low-income adults and children nationally.

Seven in 10 Americans report a personal connection to Medicaid at some point in their lives – either directly through their own health insurance coverage (32%) or their child being covered (9%), or indirectly through a friend or other family member (29%).

Three in four (74%) hold favorable views of Medicaid, including significant majorities of Democrats (83%), independents (74%) and Republicans (65%). About half (52%) of the public say the current Medicaid program is working well for low-income enrollees, while about a third (32%) say it is not working well.

Most Residents of Non-Expansion States Favor Medicaid Expansion to Cover More Low-Income People

Under the Affordable Care Act, most states expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income adults. In the 18 states that have not done so, a majority (56%) say that their state should expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, while nearly four in 10 (37%) say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today.

Slightly more than half of Republicans living in the 18 non-expansion states (all of which have either Republican governors, Republican-controlled legislatures or both) say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today (54%) while four in 10 (39%) say their state should expand their Medicaid program.

Favorable Views of the ACA Reach New High in More Than 80 KFF Polls

The poll finds 54 percent of the public now holds a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, the highest share recorded in more than 80 KFF polls since the law’s enactment in 2010. This reflects a slight increase in favorable views since January (50%), while unfavorable views held steady at 42 percent.

The shift toward more positive views comes primarily from independents (55% view the ACA favorably this month, up slightly from 48% in January).


Public Remains Confused about Repeal of the ACA’s Individual Mandate

The poll also probes the public’s awareness about the repeal of the ACA’s requirement that nearly all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine, commonly known as the individual mandate. The tax legislation enacted in December 2017 eliminated this requirement beginning in 2019.

About four in 10 people (41%) are aware that Congress repealed the individual mandate, a slight increase from January, when 36 percent were aware of the provision’s repeal.

However, misunderstandings persist. Most (61%) of the public is either unaware that the requirement has been repealed (40%) or is aware of its repeal but mistakenly believes the requirement will not be in effect during 2018 (21%). Few (13%) are both aware that it has been repealed and that it remains in effect for this year.

Costs are Voters’ Top Health Care Concern ahead of the 2018 Midterm Elections

Looking ahead to this year’s midterm elections, the poll finds Democratic, Republican and independent voters most often cite costs as the health care issue that they most want candidates to address.

When asked to say in their own words what health care issue that they most want candidates to discuss, more than twice as many voters mention health care costs (22%) as any other issue, including repealing or opposing the Affordable Care Act (7%).  Costs are the clear top issue for Democrats (16%) and independents (25%), and one of the top issues for Republicans (22%) followed by repealing or opposing the ACA (17%).

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation, the poll was conducted from February 15-20, 2018 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,193 adults. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (422) and cell phone (771). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

Read the article.

 Kaiser Family Foundation (1 March 2018). "Poll: Public Mixed on Whether Medicaid Work Requirements Are More to Cut Spending or to Lift People Up; Most Do Not Support Lifetime Limits on Benefits" [Web Poll Post]. Retrieved from address

Getting to Know HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs

This month’s CenterStage features Hierl Benefit Advisor, Tonya Bahr, discussing the differences, similarities, and customizations of HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) versus FSAs (Flexible Savings Accounts), as well as how HRAs (Health Reimbursement Arrangements) may be a great add-on.

About Tonya

Tonya Bahr has 15 years of experience in human resources and benefits. Throughout her HR career, Tonya has been involved in benefit plan designs, wellness program implementations, and open enrollment facilitation. She has a passion for educating employees and business owners on benefit options, helping them make decisions that best fit their personal and financial objectives.

So, which is better for you: a FSA or a HSA?

Comparing the Differences

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) are two popular ways employers can help their employees pay for out of pocket expenses associated with their healthcare costs. Both offer pre-tax advantages, which make them attractive. However, the names of these accounts really do distinguish their purposes. One is a SAVINGS account while the other is a SPENDING account.

Here are some tips and advice Tonya says to keep in mind when choosing between an HSA or FSA:

1.    Unlike the FSA, an HSA is portable and flexible. You can never lose the money in the account (both employee and employer contributions) so if you change jobs, change plan types, or don’t use the money in a given year, it all goes with you. The amount you can contribute toward an HSA is greater and the balance in the account earns interest.

2.    With an FSA, you can use the entire contribution amount upfront even if you haven’t contributed the full amount.

3.    With an HSA, you can only use the money actually in the account, but the FSA allows you to use the full contribution amount elected.

4.    You cannot contribute to an HSA and a full FSA at the same time. However, you can have an HSA and Limited FSA. Limited FSAs can only be used toward dental and vision expenses; whereas HSAs and full FSAs can be used toward medical, prescription, dental, and vision. HSA dollars can also be used to pay Cobra premiums, Long Term Care premiums, and Medicare premiums. Once an individual reaches age 65, money in an HSA can be spent on anything. The money is no longer earmarked for qualified medical expenses.

5.    HSAs are only available with High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP). HDHPs can seem a little intimidating at first given employees are responsible for the deductible before copays apply. However, they offer lower premiums, which is money in an employee’s pocket, which can in turn be used to start funding an HSA.



Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) are a vehicle used to offset increased plan design changes and employee’s out of pocket responsibility. Under an HRA, an employer purchases a plan design (typically a higher deducible option or out of pocket maximum), but they offer their employees a different plan. The difference is paid by the HRA. Employees submit their claims to a third party who manages the HRA and then in turn sends the employee funds to cover the cost of care. This type of scenario can work well for groups that have a healthier population and don’t experience high claim costs.

The savings is in the premium reduction for going with a higher deductible option and the gamble that employees won’t meet the limits of the HRA. Employers take on a risk with this type of arrangement because if a lot of members experience high claims and meet the HRA limits, the employer is the one paying to fund the HRA.

To conclude, employers can have an HRA with either an FSA or an HSA, but there are restrictions on how far down a qualified HDHP can go and still be HSA-qualified. Tonya’s suggestion is to avoid this risk by contacting her and discussing your options. You can contact Tonya Bahr at 920.921.5921 for more information.

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Health prices to outpace inflation for first time since 2010

Since 2010, our health prices have stayed in pace or below inflation. For the first time since then, they're expected be much, much more. Get the details in this article from Employee Benefit Advisor.

The growth in U.S. healthcare prices is projected to outpace economy-wide inflation for the first time since 2010, the second report in a week to signal the end of a long stretch of restrained medical increases.

This year, price increases for personal health expenditures are projected to rise 2.2%, compared with 1.9% for overall inflation, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The findings confirmed a recent analysis warning that the U.S. could be at the cusp of a return to higher medical inflation.

Health spending is determined by the price of goods and services, as well as how much health care people use. In recent years, increases in health spending have been driven by volume, as millions more people gained insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. While high-cost drugs have made headlines, overall price hikes have been historically low, increasing by an average of 1.1% annually between 2014 and 2016.

Those trends are projected to reverse. Government actuaries expect the number of people without health insurance to increase slightly after Republicans lifted the ACA’s penalty for going uninsured late last year. Medical price growth, meanwhile, will rebound, “in part reflecting more rapid growth in healthcare workers’ wages,” the report said.


Healthcare inflation has been partly restrained by limits on how much Medicare pays hospitals and physicians under the ACA and other legislation, combined with overall slow growth in prices throughout the economy.

In recent days, concerns about higher-than-expected inflation have rattled stock markets and pushed up Treasury yields. Investors feared that a tightening labor market and rising wages could push up prices and spur the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates faster than anticipated to keep the economy from overheating.

Total health spending is projected to increase by 5.3% to about $3.7 trillion in 2018, according to the CMS report, and the growth will average 5.5% per year over the next decade. While that’s still faster than the overall rate of economic growth, it’s an improvement from past decades. Between 1990 and 2007, annual health spending increased by 7.3% per year.

Read the original article here.

Bloomberg News (20 February 2018). "Health prices to outpace inflation for first time since 2010" [Web Blog Post].Retrieved from address

A New Approach to Paid Leave: WorkFlex in the 21st Century Act

From SHRM, let's take a look a this innovative approach toward paid leave using WorkFlex.

Do you ever sit in your office and wonder about everyone else? Ponder whether anyone is dealing with the same things that you are in that very moment? The simple fact is that everyone independent of age, gender, race or title, wants to be there to support their family. For myself, that means advocating for clients, while caring for my mother and doing all that I can for my wife and two boys. It is quite a balancing act on the best of days. To be fair, I know that I am not alone in this balancing act. As I write this I am wondering if you know exactly what I mean. Perhaps not for yourself, but a colleague or a friend.

Now since we generally live, work or both in New Jersey and in particular within the Delaware Valley there are some things that impact our ability to balance. For example, if you work for an organization that has offices in Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE; Trenton, NJ; Montclair, NJ and Haddonfield, NJ exactly how do you provide equal paid leave to employees? Why should you care? Because these specific locations differ in how they require paid leave to be provided to employees. Are you concerned about this? You are not alone, clients regularly ask what to do as it relates to dealing with paid leave. Often this is more challenging for us than in most places around the country due to the varying ways that towns as opposed to States or the Commonwealth deal with this issue.

Some time ago I was asked to assist SHRM with the creation of federal legislation to address the issue of varying applications of paid leave laws around the country.  After a significant amount of discussions, revisions and hard work by a host of individuals we came up with a legitimate proposal to address our respective concerns.  Recently the “Workflex in the 21st Century Act” (HR 4219) was introduced in the House by Representative Mimi Walters. This bill is designed to support the goals of everyone, not just employers or employees. You can read more about the specifics at:

For now, allow me to give you three specific reasons (although there are more) that both you and your organization should support this legislation:

First, unlike federal mandates under the FMLA, FLSA, or ADA, this legislation is OPT-IN, which means as an employer in order for your organization to be held responsible under the bill it would have to decide to agree to it first. Put another way, an employer is not required to do it if it chooses to go in another direction.

Second, many federal employment laws bring with them a threshold beyond which every employer is held to the same standard, however that is not the case with the “Workflex in the 21st Century Act.”  It is designed to grow with your organization. As a result the benefit thresholds change based on the number of employees in an organization, so that it supports growth rather than stifling expansion.

Third, contrary to the way things are currently going in our region, this bill provides a level of certainty and flexibility for both employers and employees alike to know the threshold of their leave benefits, which will result in more productive employees and organizations. Part of the reason for this certainty is that the various local leave laws would be preempted by this bill.

What does all this mean? I would suggest that this bill is a good compromise of interests across the spectrum of both employers and employees, as well as unions, who want to do the right thing. Allow for realistic time to care for a child, parent or for yourself. No one needs to change jobs to get a specific type of benefit and employers can choose if it makes sense for their workplace, rather than being dictated to in terms of the benefits to provide their employees.

Now I would like to challenge you to join me. This is the first piece of legislation that SHRM has created for the workplace and as you can see the goal is to address concerns that all workers have, independent of title, so we can all have the balance that we need and want in order to be better contributors in our respective organizations, supportive of our parents, children and ourselves. How can we achieve this together? We can all reach out to our federal legislators and let them know that you support the “Workflex in the 21st Century Act” (HR 4219). You can find more information on or on the SHRM Advocacy App. Let’s take this opportunity to make the workplace better for everyone, together.

Read more.


Lessig L. (February 8th, 2018). "A New Approach to Paid Leave: WorkFlex in the 21st Century Act" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address

HRL - White - House

HHS Nominee Vows To Tackle High Drug Costs, Despite His Ties To Industry

What is President Trump’s solution for fighting high drug prices? From Kaiser Health News, check out this article on the new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday pressed President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top health post to explain how he would fight skyrocketing drug prices — demanding to know why they should trust him to lower costs since he did not do so while running a major pharmaceutical company.

Alex M. Azar II, the former president of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Trump’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, presented himself as a “problem solver” eager to fix a poorly structured health care system during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Azar said addressing drug costs would be among his top priorities.

But armed with charts showing how some of Eli Lilly’s drug prices had doubled on Azar’s watch, Democrats argued Azar was part of the problem. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s top Democrat, said Azar had never authorized a decrease in a drug price as a pharmaceutical executive.

“The system is broken,” Wyden said. “Mr. Azar was a part of that system.”

Azar countered that the nation’s pharmaceutical drug system is structured to encourage companies to raise prices, a problem he said he would work to fix as head of HHS.

“I don’t know that there is any drug price of a brand-new product that has ever gone down from any company on any drug in the United States, because every incentive in this system is towards higher prices, and that is where we can do things together, working as the government to get at this,” he said. “No one company is going to fix that system.”

Azar’s confirmation hearing Tuesday was his second appearance before senators as the nominee to lead HHS. In November, he faced similar questions from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during a courtesy hearing.

If confirmed, Azar would succeed Tom Price, Trump’s first health secretary, who resigned in September amid criticism over his frequent use of taxpayer-paid charter flights. A former Republican congressman who was a dedicated opponent of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Price had a frosty relationship with Democrats in Congress as he worked with Republicans to try to undo the law.

Price and the Trump administration often turned to regulations and executive orders to undermine the Affordable Care Act, since Republicans in Congress repeatedly failed to enact a repeal. “Repeal and replace” has been the president’s mantra.

But at the hearing, Azar was circumspect about his approach, noting that his job would be to work under existing law. “The Affordable Care Act is there,” he said, adding that it would fall to him to make it work “as best as it possibly can.”

Senate Republicans touted Azar’s nearly six years working for the department under President George W. Bush, including two years as a deputy secretary. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Azar’s “extraordinary résumé,” adding that, among HHS nominees, he was “probably the most qualified I’ve seen in my whole term in the United States Senate.” Hatch, who is the longest-serving Republican senator in history, has been a senator for more than 40 years.

In addition to drug costs, Azar vowed to focus on the nation’s growing opioid crisis, calling for “aggressive prevention, education, regulatory and enforcement efforts to stop overprescribing and overuse,” as well as “compassionate treatment” for those suffering from addiction.

Pressed about Republican plans to cut entitlement spending to compensate for budget shortfalls, Azar said he was “not aware” of support within the Trump administration for such cuts.

“The president has stated his opposition to cuts to Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security,” Azar said. “He said that in the campaign, and I believe he has remained steadfast in his views on that.”

But Democrats pushed back, pointing out that Trump had proposed Medicaid cuts in his budget request last year. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said such cuts would hurt those receiving treatment for opioid addiction.

“What happens to these people?” he said.

Despite such Democratic criticism, Azar is likely to be confirmed when the full Senate votes on his nomination. An HHS spokesman Tuesday pointed reporters to an editorial in STAT supporting Azar, written by former Senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle — a Republican and a Democrat. “We need a person of integrity and competence at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services,” they wrote. “The good news is that President Trump has nominated just such a person, Alex Azar.”

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Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market

What are level-funded plans, and why are they becoming so popular? Allow this article to break down the facts for you.

A brighter light is being cast on level-funded group health plans as benefits decision-makers tackle open-enrollment season. Several industry observers say the trend is more pronounced given that the Affordable Care Act remains largely intact — for now.

There has been an ebb and flow to these self-insured underwritten plans over the past 18 months, says Michael Levin, CEO and co-founder of the healthcare data services firm Vericred. But with a fixed monthly rate for more predictability, he says they can drive 25% to 35% savings relative to fully-insured ACA plans that must comply with the medical loss ratio for a certain segment of the market.

Level funding typically leverages an aggregate and/or specific stop-loss product to cap exposure to catastrophic claims. These plans are offered by an independent third-party administrator or health insurance carrier through an administrative-services-only contract.

It’s best suited for companies with a very low risk profile comprised of young or healthy populations, according to Levin. And with low attachment, stop-loss coverage in most states, he explains that the plans have “very little downside risk from the group’s perspective.” Two exceptions are California and New York whose constraints on the stop-loss attachment point “essentially preclude level-funded plans from being offered” there, he adds.

The arrangement is trickling down market. “We’ve heard from carriers that will go down to seven employees, plus dependents, while others cut it off at 20 or 25,” he says.

David Reid, CEO of EaseCentral, sees a “resurgence of level funding” across more than 38,000 employers with less than 500 lives that his SaaS platform targets through about 6,000 health insurance brokers and 1,000 agencies. His average group is about 30 employees.

He’s also seeing more customers using individual-market plans rather than group coverage through Hixme’s digital healthcare benefits consulting platform. Under this approach, health plans are bundled with other specific types of insurance and financing as a line of credit to fill coverage gaps. Employer contributions are earmarked for individual-market plans, which are purchased through payroll deduction.

Read further.

Shutan B. (17 November 2017). "Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address



From The ACA Times, let's take a look at ACA Health Coverage in 2018.

It was meant to have the opposite effect.

The Trump administration’s decision to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by shortening the annual open enrollment period to 45-days and cutting funding to promote open enrollment was predicted to reduce the number of people who might seek insurance coverage for 2018 on

Instead, more than 600,000 people signed up for health insurance under the ACA in the first four days of enrollment. According to Reuters: “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that during the period of Nov. 1 through Nov. 4, 601,462 people, including 137,322 new consumers, selected plans in the 39 states that use the federal website”

Access to healthcare remains top of mind for Americans. For instance, exit polls in Virginia for state elections found healthcareto be the most pressing issue on the minds of voters who elected a Democratic governor in that state. And entrepreneurs and small businesses owners and employees are among those that benefit greatly from having access to healthcare insurance plans through the ACA.

For employers, all this, along with recent guidance from the IRS, points to the ACA continuing strong and the employer mandate being enforced. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to assess your compliance with the ACA and what data you need to file ACA related forms with the IRS for the 2017 tax year.


Read the original article.

Sheen R. (20 November 2017). "WHY IT MATTERS THAT MORE PEOPLE SIGNED UP FOR ACA HEALTH COVERAGE IN 2018" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address