Compliance Recap - December 2018

December was a relatively quiet month in the employee benefits world.

A U.S. District Court issued an order declaring that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove certain wellness program incentives. The Department of Labor (DOL) updated its Form M-1 filing guidance for association health plans.

UBA Updates

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

U.S. District Court Declares ACA Unconstitutional

On December 14, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Court) issued a declaratory order in ongoing litigation regarding the individual mandate and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court declared that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and declared that the rest of the ACA – including its guaranteed issue and community rating provisions – is unconstitutional.

The Court did not grant the plaintiffs’ request for a nationwide injunction to prohibit the ACA’s continued implementation and enforcement. The Court’s declaratory judgment simply defined the parties’ legal relationship and rights under the case at this relatively early stage in the case.

On December 16, 2018, the Court issued an order that requires the parties to meet and discuss the case by December 21, 2018, and to jointly submit a proposed schedule for resolving the plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

On December 30, 2018, the Court issued two orders. The first order grants a stay of its December 14 order. This means that the court’s order regarding the ACA’s unconstitutionality will not take effect while it is being appealed. The second order enters the December 14 order as a final judgment so the parties may immediately appeal the order.

On December 31, 2018, the Court issued an order that stays the remainder of the case. This means that the Court will not be proceeding with the remaining claims in the case while its December 14 order is being appealed. After the appeal process is complete, the parties are to alert the Court and submit additional court documents if they want to continue with any remaining claims in the case.

At this time, the case’s status does not impact employers’ group health plans. However, employers should stay informed for the final decision in this case.

Read more about the court case.

EEOC Issue Final Rules to Remove Wellness Program Incentive Limits Vacated by Court

On December 20, 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two final rules to remove wellness program incentives.

As background, in August 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to allow an incentive for spousal medical history under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) rules and adopt 30 percent incentive levels for employer-sponsored wellness programs under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules and GINA rules.

In December 2017, the court vacated the EEOC rules under the ADA and GINA effective January 1, 2019. The EEOC issued the following two final rules in response to the court’s order.

The first rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by the ADA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance on the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs that ask them to respond to disability-related inquiries or undergo medical examinations.

The second rule removes the section of the wellness regulations that provided incentive limits for wellness programs regulated by GINA. Specifically, the rule removes guidance that addressed the extent to which an employer may offer an inducement to an employee for the employee’s spouse to provide current health status information as part of a health risk assessment (HRA) administered in connection with an employee-sponsored wellness program.

Both rules will be effective on January 1, 2019.

Read more about the EEOC’s final rules.

DOL Updates Form M-1 Filing Guidance for Association Health Plans

On December 3, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its “10 Tips for Filing Form M-1 For Association Health Plans And Other MEWAs That Provide Medical Benefits” that provides plan administrators with information on when to file and how to complete portions of Form M-1.

The DOL emphasizes that all multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) that provide medical benefits, including association health plans (AHPs) that intend to begin operating under the DOL’s new AHP rule, are required to file an initial registration Form M-1 at least 30 days before any activity including, but not limited to, marketing, soliciting, providing, or offering to provide medical care benefits to employers or employees who may participate in an AHP.

Read more about the DOL guidance.

Question of the Month

Q: If an employee must increase the hours of childcare needed because the employee changes work schedules, may the employee increase the DCAP amount that the employee elects?

A: Yes, increasing the hours of childcare is a permitted election change event that would allow an employee to increase the employee’s DCAP election amount consistent with the change in childcare cost.

**This information is general and is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice. You should not act on this information without consulting legal counsel or other knowledgeable advisors.


The case for self-funded health benefit plans and reference-based pricing

Do you offer a reference-based pricing health benefit plan? A recent survey shows an increase in self-funded plan designs that use reference-based pricing for 2019. Read this blog post to learn more.


Self-funding and reference-based pricing are hot topics with small businesses. They are so popular, in fact, that a recent survey shows an overall increase in their 2019 projection of small employer clients having a reference-based pricing health benefit plan design. Small businesses are seeing these savings, and they’re starting to explore how reference-based pricing can help them, too.

Before we get to why self-funded plan designs that use reference-based pricing are becoming more popular for small businesses, let’s review the basics.

Reference-based pricing is a methodology of calculating payment to providers for covered treatments and services using a “reasonable fee” based on a reference point. A common reference point is the Medicare fee schedule. Some self-funded health benefit plans calculate the reasonable fee as a percentage of the Medicare fee schedule to determine reimbursement for services rendered.

Bottom line: Self-funded health benefit plan designs that use reference-based pricing can allow for a great deal of flexibility with a variety of arrangements and overall cost-savings.

So, what’s behind the recent trend toward reference-based pricing for smaller employers? A few key factors.

First, a self-funded health benefit plan design that uses referenced-based pricing can mean less expensive coverage for employees and employers.

When coupling a self-funded health benefit plan with stop-loss insurance, reference-based pricing provides an affordable way to extend coverage to employees through lower employee contributions. So, employees are happy because they’re saving money.

And employers are happy, too, because they’re allowing for more coverage to more employees. There’s a refund potential for employers if claims dollars are less than funded. There’s also a premium tax savings of around 2% since self-funded claim dollars are not subject to state health insurance premium taxes.

Moreover, self-funded health benefit plan designs that utilize reference-based pricing may also include transparency reports with aggregate health claims data and demographic information, which allow employers to better manage costs. Overall, anytime you can design a plan that’s beneficial for employees and employers, it’s a win.
Second, reference-based pricing can provide employees more flexibility when it comes to choosing a provider. Typically, an important feature of any health benefit plan design for employees is the ability to choose the provider they want. Some self-funded plan designs that use reference-based pricing give employees the chance to pick the provider that’s right for them. And, when employees are happy with their health plan, employers are usually pretty happy, too.

Finally, self-funded plan designs that use reference-based pricing can help employees become smarter healthcare consumers because of all the transparency and choice involved. When employees better understand the healthcare processes and system, costs come down for both the employee and employer. In fact, just understanding their coverage better may help employees better use their health benefit plans.

For example, using telemedicine when appropriate, establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor and using client advocacy services can all help employees better utilize their health benefit plans. In the end, employees get smarter about how they manage their care, and employers win with reduced costs.

These factors are driving more small businesses to consider reference-based pricing self-funded health benefit plan designs with stop-loss insurance. And, for good reason. These plan designs can give employers the opportunity to offer their employees affordable health benefits, provide more choice in their health plans and providers, and encourage more employee engagement. While moving to reference-based pricing may be too big of a leap for some employers, self-funding continues to provide a means for employers to offer comprehensive major medical health benefits at lower costs.

SOURCE: MacLeod, D. (6 December 2018) "The case for self-funded health benefit plans and reference-based pricing" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-case-for-self-funded-health-benefit-plans-and-reference-based-pricing


The ACA Remains In Place After Being Struck Down By Federal Court

Overview

On Dec. 14, 2018, a federal judge ruled in Texas v. United States that the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty in 2019. The decision was not stayed, but the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

This lawsuit was filed by 20 states as a result of the 2017 tax reform law that eliminates the individual mandate penalty. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA on the basis that the individual mandate is a valid tax. With the penalty’s elimination, the court, in this case, ruled that the ACA is no longer valid under the U.S. Constitution.

Action Steps

This ruling is expected to be appealed and will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court. As a result, a final decision is not expected to be made until that time. The federal judge’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA; however, the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

Background

The ACA imposes an “individual mandate” beginning in 2014, which requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. In 2011, a number of lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of this individual mandate provision.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA in its entirety, ruling that Congress acted within its constitutional authority when enacting the individual mandate. The Court agreed that, while Congress could not use its power to regulate commerce between states to require individuals to buy health insurance, it could impose a tax penalty using its tax power for individuals who refuse to buy health insurance.

Highlights

  • A federal judge ruled that the entire ACA is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty.
  • This ruling is expected to be appealed and will likely be taken up by the Supreme Court.
  • The ACA will remain in place pending appeal.

Important Dates

December 14, 2018

A federal judge ruled that the entire ACA is invalid due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty

January 1, 2019

Individuals will no longer be penalized under the ACA for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage

However, a 2017 tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduced the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019. As a result, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage.

Texas v. United States

Following the tax reform law’s enactment, 20 Republican-controlled states filed a lawsuit again challenging the ACA’s constitutionality. The plaintiffs, first, argued that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid tax, since there will no longer be any revenue generated by the provision.

In addition, in its 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court indicated (and both parties agreed) that the individual mandate is an essential element of the ACA, and that the remainder of the law could not stand without it. As a result, the plaintiffs argued that the elimination of the individual mandate penalty rendered the remainder of the ACA unconstitutional.

The U.S. Justice Department chose not to fully defend the ACA in court and, instead, 16 Democratic-controlled states intervened to defend the law.

Because the court determined that the individual mandate is no longer a valid tax, but is an essential element of the ACA, it ultimately ruled that the ACA is invalid in its entirety.

Federal Court Ruling

In his ruling, Judge Reed O’Connor ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs, determining that the individual mandate can no longer be considered a valid exercise of Congressional tax power. According to the court, “[u]nder the law as it now stands, the individual mandate no longer ‘triggers a tax’ beginning in 2019.” As a result, the court ruled that “the individual mandate, unmoored from a tax, is unconstitutional.”

Because the court determined that the individual mandate is no longer valid, it now had to determine whether the provision is “severable” from the remainder of the law (meaning whether other portions of the ACA can remain in place or whether the entire law is invalid without the individual mandate).

In determining whether the remainder of the law could stand without the individual mandate, the court pointed out that “Congress stated three separate times that the individual mandate is essential to the ACA … [and that] the absence of the individual mandate would ‘undercut’ its ‘regulation of the health insurance market.’ Thirteen different times, Congress explained how the individual mandate stood as the keystone of the ACA … [and,] ‘together with the other provisions’ [the individual mandate] allowed the ACA to function as Congress intended.” As a result, the court determined that the individual mandate could not be severed, making the ACA invalid in its entirety.

Impact of the Federal Court Ruling

Judge O’Conner’s ruling left many questions as to the current state of the ACA, because it did not order for anything to be done or stay the ruling pending appeal. However, this ruling is expected to be appealed, and the White House announced that the ACA will remain in place until a final decision is made. Many industry experts anticipate that the Supreme Court will likely take up the case, which means that a final decision will not be made until that time.

While these appeals are pending, all existing ACA provisions will continue to be applicable and enforced. Although the individual mandate penalty will be reduced to zero beginning in 2019, employers and individuals must continue to comply with all other applicable ACA requirements. This ruling does not impact the 2019 Exchange enrollment, the ACA’s employer shared responsibility (pay or play) penalties and related reporting requirements, or any other applicable ACA requirement.

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Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year

Poor employee health costs employers half a trillion dollars each year and almost 1.4 billion in missed work days, according to a recent report from the Integrated Benefits Institute. Read this blog post to learn more.


Poor employee health is costing employers in a big way — to the tune of half a trillion dollars and nearly 1.4 billion days of missed work each year.

That’s according to a new report from the Integrated Benefits Institute, which finds that employees miss around 893 million days a year from illness and chronic conditions, and another 527 million days because of impaired performance due to those illnesses. Those days add up to $530 billion in lost productivity.

“To put this in further context, the cost of poor health to employers is greater than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe,” says Thomas Parry, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, an independent nonprofit that serves more than 1,250 employers including Amazon, Kroger, McDonald’s and Walmart.

The $530 billion price tag is on top of what employers already spend on healthcare benefits. Employers pay $880 billion in healthcare benefits for their employees and dependents, which means that poor health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits,” according to the study.

“There’s not a CEO or CFO that can placidly accept their business expending the equivalent of almost two-thirds of their healthcare dollars on lost productivity,” Perry says. “Illness costs this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and we can no longer afford to ignore the health of our workforce.”

Employers invest in healthcare benefits to maintain a productive workforce. But this new study suggests that more needs to be done to keep employees healthy, or strategies need to be put in place to lower spending. Or both.

“It’s critical that employers understand how strategies for managing healthcare spend — such as cost- shifting to employees or ensuring better access and more cost-effective care — can impact the kinds of conditions that drive illness-related lost productivity,” says Brian Gifford, director of research and analytics at IBI.

The study broke down the estimated costs of poor health into several categories:

Wage and benefits (incidental absence due to illness, workers’ compensation and federal family and medical leave): $178 billion.

Impaired performance (attributed to chronic health conditions): $198 billion.

Medical and pharmacy (workers’ compensation, employee group health medical treatments, employee group health pharmacy treatments): $48 billion.

Workers’ compensation other costs (absence due to illness, reduced performance): $25 billion.

Opportunity costs of absence (missed revenues, costs of hiring substitutes, overtime): $82 billion.

For its study, IBI used 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as its own benchmarking data from 66,000 U.S. employers.

SOURCE: Paget, S. (20 November 2018) "Poor employee health costs employers half trillion dollars a year" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/poor-employee-health-costs-employers-half-trillion-dollars-a-year?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


4 FAQs about 2019 Medicare rates

Medicare Part B premiums are expected to be held to roughly a 1.1 percent increase for most enrollees in 2019, according to Medicare managers. Continue reading for answers to the four most frequently asked questions about the 2019 Medicare rates.


Medicare managers announced last week that they will hold increases in Medicare Part B premiums to about 1.1 percent for most enrollees in 2019. For some high-income enrollees, however, premiums will rise 7.4 percent.

Medicare Part B is the component of the traditional Medicare program that covers physician services and hospital outpatient care.

Here’s a look at how the monthly Part B premiums will change, by annual income level:

  • Individuals earning less than $85,000, and couples earning less than $170,000:$135.50 in 2019, from $134 this year.
  • Individuals earnings $160,000 to $500,000, and couples earning $320,000 to $750,000: $433.40 in 2019, from $428.60 this year.
  • Individuals earning $500,000 or more, and couples earning $750,000 or more: $460.50 in 2019, from $428.60 this year.

The annual Medicare Part B deductible will increase by 1.1 percent, to $185.

Another component of the traditional Medicare program, Medicare Part A, covers inpatient hospital bills.

Medicare managers use payroll taxes to cover most of the cost of running the Medicare Part A program. Few Medicare Part A enrollees pay premiums for that coverage. But, for the enrollees who do have to pay premiums for Medicare Part A coverage, the full premium will increase 3.6 percent, to $437 per month.

The Medicare Part A deductible for inpatient hospital care will increase 1.8 percent, to $1,340.

Why are high earners paying so much more for Medicare Part B?

Congress has been increasing the share of Medicare costs that high earners pay in recent years.

For 2018, the top annual income category for Medicare Part B rate-setting purposes was for $160,000 and over for individuals, and for $320,000 and over for couples. Premiums from those Medicare Part B enrollees are supposed to cover 80 percent of their Part B claims.

In the Balanced Budget Act of 2018, Congress added a new annual income category: for individuals earning $500,000 or more and couples earning $750,000 or more. Premiums from Part B enrollees in that income category are supposed to cover 85 percent of those enrollees’ Part B claims.

Who do these rate increases actually affect?

Medicare now has about 60 million enrollees of all kinds, according to the CMS Medicare Enrollment Dashboard.

About 21 million are in Medicare Advantage plans and other plans with separate premium-setting processes.

About 38 million are in the traditional Medicare Part A, the Medicare Part B program, or both the Medicare Part A and the Medicare Part B programs. CMS refers to the traditional Medicare Part A-Medicare Part B program as Original Medicare. The rate increases have a direct effect on the Original Medicare enrollees’ costs.

How do the Medicare increases compare with the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)?

The Social Security Administration recently announced that the 2019 Social Security COLA will be 2.8 percent.

That means the size of the COLA will be greater than the increase in Medicare premiums for all Medicare enrollees other than the highest-income Medicare Part B enrollees and the enrollees who pay the full cost of the Medicare Part A premiums.

Why should financial professionals care about Original Medicare premiums?

For consumers who already have traditional Medicare coverage, the Part A and Part B premiums may affect how much they have to spend on other insurance products and related products, such as Medicare supplement insurance coverage.

For retirement income planning clients, Medicare costs are something to factor into income needs calculations.

Because access to Medicare coverage is critical to all but the very wealthiest retirees, knowledge about how to get and keep eligibility for Medicare coverage on the most favorable possible terms is of keen interest to many consumers ages 50 and older. Some consumers may like to get information about that topic from their insurance agents, financial planners and other advisors.

Resources

Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that runs Medicare, are preparing to publish the official 2019 Medicare rate notices in the Federal Register on Wednesday. A preview copy of the Part A notice is available here, and a preview copy of the Part B notice is available here.

SOURCE: Bell, A. (16 October 2018) "4 FAQs about 2019 Medicare rates" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/10/16/medicare-posts-2019-rates-pinches-high-earners-412/


Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide

Switching to a self-funded plan can seem like a daunting prospect to many HR directors, but there are also many significant benefits to switching. Read on for three tools to help you decide if you’re ready to switch.


When your health plan is fully insured, it’s easy for your finance department to budget for the cost — you just pass on the health insurer’s annual renewal premium amount to them and that becomes the annual budget number. But you and your broker may have come to suspect that you are leaving money on the table by continuing on a fully insured basis, and you may want to test the self-funded waters.

By now, you may already know there are significant benefits to self-funding, but actually making the switch is a scary prospect for HR directors.

Before you can transition to a self-funded plan, you need to be financially stable and willing to take a bit of a risk. As a safeguard, you also need to familiarize yourself with the two forms of stop-loss insurance. One caps the impact on any one covered member’s claims (individual or specific stop loss), and the other caps your total annual claim liability (aggregate stop loss). Your broker can guide you on which stop loss levels and which stop-loss coverage periods are right for your population when transitioning from fully insured to self-funding.

Beyond these stop-loss safeguards, size will dictate how you pay. If you have fewer than 100 covered employees, you may be able to pay the same amount monthly, just as you do with your fully insured premium. This monthly payment equals projected claims plus an aggregate margin, a monthly administration fee and the stop loss charge. This eliminates unpredictable monthly payments for a small self-funded group.

However, for larger groups of over 100 employees, moving to self-funding will mean paying claims as they are processed (which means uneven claim payments), plus stop loss and administration.

To help you determine if you’re ready for self-funding, you may want to analyze your plan in a few different ways.

1. Look back: A look back analysis is just what it sounds like — a view of how your plan would have performed over the last couple years had you been self-funded, compared to how it did perform under a fully insured model. This should be an easy enough task for your broker to take on, especially if they have sought out self-funded quotes from claim administrators and stop-loss carriers on your behalf. In addition, they should know what your actual claims costs were. The result is that you’ll know whether you would have saved money or not.

2. Look forward: You may already know what your upcoming fully insured renewal looks like. But even if you don’t have hard numbers yet, you can work with your broker to determine a strong estimate of what your proposed premiums will be. Then, your broker should get a self-funded quote, which includes the expected and maximum claims, plus the administrative fees and stop-loss premiums. This is your expected self-funded costs for the upcoming policy period. Compare that estimate to your fully insured renewal costs. (Make sure the self-funded costs are on the same “incurred claims with runout” basis that the fully insured costs would be, for a fair apples-to-apples comparison.)
3. Probability. While the “look forward” analysis compares your fully insured costs to your expected self-funded costs, it is based on “expected” claims. The risky part of self-funding is that your actual claims will not ultimately materialize exactly as expected. There are some more sophisticated tools that combine group-specific data (such as your claims history, demographics and the proposed fixed costs) with a fairly large actuarial database to come up with thousands of possible outcomes.

By charting all of these outcomes, you can produce likelihood percentages of where your actual claims will come in at — versus the “expected” level, and versus the fully insured renewal rate. Not all brokers have this tool on hand, and as a result, there may be a cost associated with producing one. The output from this tool may appeal to your colleagues in the finance department.

Other considerations

During your analysis, you may want to set your self-funded policy year liability based on incurred claims (plus fixed costs), even though your actual paid claims within that policy year may be less due to the lag between when provider services occur and when you actually fund them. The lag is a cash-flow advantage but it does not represent a reduced claim liability.

Finally, don’t lose sight of the cost of high claimants, an important part of planning if you choose the self-funding route. Will your past high claimants continue into your renewal period? Are you aware of new high claimants on the horizon? Stop-loss carriers generally insure only “unknown risks,” not “known risks.” If a plan member has an expensive chronic condition, such as kidney failure, a stop loss carrier may “laser” that individual and set a higher individual stop-loss threshold. It’s important that you know what’s excluded and factor in any uncovered catastrophic claimants into your analysis.

In the end, it may turn out that self-funding is not a good fit, or possibly that this year is just not the year for it. But whether it is, or it isn’t, it is comforting to know that you’ve done your due diligence and have documentation supporting the decision you’ve reached.

SOURCE: DePaola, Raymond (5 October 2018) "Are you ready for self-funding? Three tools to help you decide" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/ready-for-self-funding-three-tools-to-help-you-decide


New rule pushes for hospital price transparency

Beginning in January 2019, hospitals will be required to provide patients with a list of the cost of all their charges. Read this blog post to learn more.


The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced a proposed rule aimed at providing patients with a clear price listing of the cost of their hospital charges. In an effort to fulfill the proposed rule’s objective, CMS suggested an amendment to the requirements previously established by Section 2718(e) of the Affordable Care Act.

CMS issued the final rule (CMS-1694-F), which included the suggested amendment discussed in the April 24, 2018 proposed rule. Currently, under Section 2718(e), hospitals are given the option to either (i) make public a list of the hospital’s standard charges or (ii) implement policies for allowing the public to view a list of the hospital’s standard charges in response to an individual request.

Beginning January 1, 2019, however, hospitals will be required to make available a list of their current standard charges via the Internet in a machine-readable format and to update this information at least annually, or more often as appropriate.

This could be in the form of the chargemaster itself of another form of the hospital’s choice, as long as the information is in machine-readable format. CMS believes that this update will further promote price transparency by improving public accessibility of hospital charge information.

In the final rule, CMS explains that it is aware of the challenges that continue to exist because the chargemaster data may not accurately reflect what any given individual is likely to pay for a particular service or visit.

Additionally, the comments received in response to the proposed rule argue that the chargemaster data would not be useful to patients because it is confusing as to the amount of the actual out-of-pocket costs imposed on a particular patient.

CMS further explains that it is currently reviewing the concerns addressed in the comments, and is considering ways to further improve the accessibility and usability of the information disclosed by the hospitals.

SOURCE: Goldman, M; Grushkin, J; Fierro, C (16 August 2018) "New rule pushes for hospital price transparency" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved by https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/cms-rule-pushes-for-hospital-price-transparency


Assure Elite: Small Employers' New Favorite Healthcare Program

Employers of multi-generational employees often fret about the delicate and difficult balance of offering health coverage. The typical generalization is that younger employees tend to cost less to insure, while older employees cost more. The truth is, not every young employee is going to require less health coverage because they are presumed to be young and healthy. Likewise, not all older employees are going to cost an arm and a leg to insure. With each employer comes unique employees, and therefore, there is a need to have options to benefit and reward small employers and their employees alike – enter the Assure Elite program. In this installment of CenterStage, Tonya Bahr, a Benefits Advisor at Hierl Insurance, has highlighted the game-changing aspects of this unique healthcare program.

What Exactly is Assure Elite?

Assure Elite is a small employer focused healthcare program aimed at offering the best options for small employers who want to take control of their healthcare spending. “As a partnership between Hierl Insurance, Network Health and Agnesian Healthcare (SSM Health), employers can have peace of mind knowing their healthcare options are backed by three local companies who know healthcare expenses are out of hand in our community,” explained Tonya. Through this partnership, Hierl creates unique plan designs with deep discounts reflected in the premium costs, placing money back in the pockets of employers and employees. 

What sets Assure Elite apart is actualization, not generalization. Among other issues facing the modern healthcare scene, age of employees plays a large factor in coverage pricing. The tendency is to believe older employees will cost an employer more to insure due to a greater prone to injury, sickness and other ailments. On the other hand, younger employees are in better shape and theoretically removed from any costly health issues.

However, not always is this the case. By working with a partnership established around the goal of providing the most cost-effective and honest coverage for small employers, Assure Elite bases pricing on the overall health of the employee. Taking age out of the equation and replacing it with health ensures the proper coverage is received.

How Does the Program Work?

Assure Elite is a level-funded program, meaning premium is based on actual healthcare utilization rather than age. Healthier overall groups will pay less than a group who is unhealthy (or high users of healthcare). Being a level funded program, Assure Elite is a hybrid between a traditional, fully-insured medical plan and a partially self-funded plan. With a fully-insured plan, employers are paying a fixed monthly premium for coverage, meaning the amount only fluctuates when the number of employees on the plan changes. Often, employers are unaware they are overpaying in premium due to claims paid out by the insurance carrier are less than the premium paid in by the employer. With a partially self-funded plan, an employer still faces fixed costs, (much lower than a fully-insured plan), but also pays for medical claims as the employees incur expenses. Therefore, groups don’t overpay like they do on fully-insured plans because the cost of the claim is what the group’s actual expense is. Cash flow fluctuation can arise from this, and many smaller employers do not prefer this risk. A level funded plan like Assure Elite offers the best of both worlds: providing the fixed monthly premium costs of a fully-insured plan, but at the end of the year, offering the employer 50% of the balance back if the amount paid in is less than the amount paid out by the carrier. Many different options are available to choose from; both EPO and POS, as well as traditional and HDHPs. Employers can dual choice up to 4 plan options. Adherence generic prescriptions are $0 copay and office visits are only $10. Low cost, convenient virtual visits are available, as well. All plan options come with a wellness component offered through Agnesian’s Know & Go program, which includes health risk assessment questionnaires, biometric screenings, coaching, and an employee portal with educational materials, food and exercise trackers, online workshops, a blog, a mobile site and more – all at no additional charge.

How Do I Go About Getting a Quote?

The application process is completely pain-free. Base rates for Assure Elite are released after a current census statement, billing statement and wage and tax statement are received. Employers wishing to move forward with the process would go through medical underwriting to obtain final rates. This includes the completion of a three-page application covering basic demographic information and a brief medical questionnaire. Some groups choose to go through underwriting immediately rather than receiving base rates first, but each decision is unique to each employer. Despite remaining largely competitive for groups having 2 to 49 employees, discounts are still acquirable for group sizes up to 100.

To begin your journey toward optimal employee healthcare coverage, speak with Tonya at Hierl Insurance, Inc. With a passion for educating employees who may not understand their insurance, misuse their coverage and spend more than they need, Tonya is ready to assist in discovering cost-effective care without any missteps. You can reach her at 920.921.5921 or at tbahr@hierl.com.


How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs

Since the 90's, the number of specialty medications, not to mention their costs, has grown exponentially. Continue reading to learn what employers can do to manage these costs.


In the past two decades, the number of specialty medications — which treat rare and complex diseases such as multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, hepatitis C, HIV, cystic fibrosis, some types of cancer and hemophilia — has grown exponentially. In 1990, there were only 10 specialty drugs on the market. By 2015, that number had increased to 300 medications, and by the end of 2016 there were approximately 700 more specialty drugs in development.

These medications are usually very high cost, with some new biologic medications costing more than $750,000 a year. Why are the costs so high? There are a number of factors, including the facts that distribution networks are limited, these medications are complicated to develop and distribute, and there are few, if any, generic alternatives for these drugs.

See also: A Look at Drug Spending in the U.S.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that although only 1% to 2% of Americans use specialty medications, they account for approximately 38% of total drug spending in the U.S.

So, how can employers better gain control over the cost of specialty medications? Because there are hundreds of specialty medications, there’s no single strategy for cost management that can be applied universally. To build an effective cost management strategy, employers need to first analyze employee use of specialty medications. The best strategy will approach specialty medication management by disease class and drug by drug.

However, there are key building blocks of a strategy that will both manage costs and ensure that employees have access to the medications they need. Here are six things employers can do.

Assess benefit plan design structure. Employers should consider how they are incenting employees to spend their benefit dollars appropriately and wisely. A multi-tiered medication formulary where employees pay less out of pocket for generic drugs and lower cost medications and more for costly medications is one approach that’s proven effective. To help employees afford these higher out-of-pocket costs, employers can promote manufacturer copay savings programs, which many drug makers offer.

Think about utilization management. This can include requiring prior authorization for high-cost specialty medications and step therapies (employees must start with lower cost therapies and can move up to more costly ones if those are not effective).

Consider a custom pharmacy network design. By narrowing the network of pharmacies that fill specialty medication prescriptions, employers can negotiate a better unit price. A freestanding specialty pharmacy or a pharmacy benefits manager can provide savings by optimizing discounts for both employers and employees.

Offer second opinion and other support services for rare and complex diseases. A newly diagnosed rare or complex disease patient will see, on average, seven different specialists over the course of eight years before getting a true diagnosis and appropriate treatment path. These programs aim to reduce that burden and ensure success with that treatment once it’s identified. A second opinion from a top specialist in the field provides an expert assessment of the diagnosis and recommendations on the most effective treatment protocol. This not only helps manage costs, it lowers the risk of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment. Additional case management services can include one-to-one counseling and, when the drug regimen requires, in-home nursing services to help patients better manage their disease and improve outcomes.

See also: Specialty Drugs and Health Care Costs

Offer site of care choices. Where specialty drugs are administered can have a significant impact on what they cost. Medications administered in an outpatient clinic at a hospital can cost five times as much as those that are injected or infused in a physician’s office or at the patient’s home. Offering services such as home infusion or injection delivered by nurses or incenting patients with lower copays when they receive their medications at their physician’s office can lower overall specialty drug costs.

Educate employees. When an employee or covered family member is diagnosed with a rare or complex condition that will require a higher level of care and the use of specialty medications, employers can connect employees with case managers or similar services that provide education about the condition and the medication, such as how to manage side effects or what alternative medications are available, which can increase employee adherence with the medication regimen.

SOURCE: Varn, M (8 August 2018) "How employers can manage the skyrocketing cost of specialty drugs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/specialty-pharmaceuticals-and-how-employers-can-manage-cost


Lack Of Insurance Exposes Blind Spots In Vision Care

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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