The Killjoy of Office Culture

One of the latest things trending right now in business is the importance of office culture. When everyone in the office is working well together, productivity rises and efficiency increases. Naturally, the opposite is true when employees do not work well together and the corporate culture suffers. So, what are these barriers and what can you do to avoid them?

According to an article titled, “8 ways to ruin an office culture,” in Employee Benefit News, the ways to kill corporate culture may seem intuitive, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t happen. Here’s what organizations SHOULD do to improve their corporate culture.

Provide positive employee feedback. While it’s easy to criticize, and pointing out employees’ mistakes can often help them learn to not repeat them, it’s just as important to recognize success and praise an employee for a job well done. An “attaboy/attagirl” can really boost someone’s spirits and let them know their work is appreciated.

Give credit where credit is due. If an assistant had the bright idea, if a subordinate did all the work, or if a consultant discovered the solution to a problem, then he or she should be publicly acknowledged for it. It doesn’t matter who supervised these people, to the victor go the spoils. If someone had the guts to speak up, then he or she should get the glory. Theft is wrong, and it’s just as wrong when you take someone’s idea, or hard work, and claim it as your own.

Similarly, listen to all ideas from all levels within the company. Every employee, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, likes to feel that their contributions matter. From the C-suite, all the way down to the interns, a genuinely good idea is always worth investigating regardless of whether the person who submitted the idea has an Ivy League degree or not. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a different perspective – like one from an employee on a different management/subordinate level – to see the best way to resolve an issue.

Foster teamwork because many hands make light work. Or, as I like to say, competition breeds contempt. You compete to get your job, you compete externally against other companies, and you may even compete against your peers for an award. You shouldn’t have to compete with your own co-workers. The winner of that competition may not necessarily be the best person and it will often have negative consequences in terms of trust.

Get rid of unproductive employees. One way to stifle innovation and hurt morale is by having an employee who doesn’t do any work while everyone else is either picking up the slack, or covering for that person’s duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to prune the branches.

Let employees have their privacy – especially on social media. As long as an employee isn’t conducting personal business on company time, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with an employee updating their social media accounts when they’re “off the clock.” In addition, as long as employees aren’t divulging company secrets, or providing other corporate commentary that runs afoul of local, state, or federal laws, then there’s no reason to monitor what they post.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Yes, employees have families, they get sick, or they just need time away from the workplace to de-stress. And while there will always be times when extra hours are needed to finish a project, it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure at a company to insist that employees sacrifice their time.

 

 


Dear Brain, Please Let Me Sleep

There are alarms to help people wake up, but there isn’t anything similar to help people fall asleep. It seems that no matter how much you zone out just before going to bed, the minute your head hits the pillow your brain kicks into overdrive. Thoughts of every decision made that day, things that need to be done tomorrow, or that stupid song just heard continue to flood the brain with activity.

Often, when this happens to me, I’m reminded of the time Homer Simpson said, “Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip!” because I feel like the only way I’ll stop thinking about something is to kill my brain. Fortunately, there are other ways of dealing with this problem. An article onCNN’s website titled, “Busy brain not letting you sleep? 8 experts offer tips,” reveals a few clear tips to try and lull your brain to sleep.

A few that have worked for me are to think about a story I’ve read or heard, or to make one up. It may seem counterintuitive to think about something so that you’ll stop thinking, but the story tends to unravel as I slowly drift off to sleep. Another favorite is to get out of bed and force myself to stay awake. While the chore of getting out of bed, especially on a cold night, may seem daunting, there’s nothing quite like tricking your brain with a little reverse psychology. If that doesn’t work, write down what’s bothering you, take a few deep breaths, or even do some mild exercise. If all else fails, there’s always warm milk or an over-the-counter sleep aid, but really this should be used as a last resort and not your first “go to” item.

Ideally, your bedroom will be conducive to sleep anyway. Light and noise should be kept to an absolute minimum and calming, muted colors promote a more restful ambience. Also, make sure that the bedroom is your ideal temperature because it’s more difficult to sleep if you’re too hot or cold.

Don’t let your brain win the battle of sleep! Fight it on your own terms and equip yourself with as many tools as possible to win. Your brain will thank you in the morning by feeling refreshed.


Health Reform Expert: Here’s What HR Needs to Know About GOP Repeal Bill Passing

The House of Repersentives has just passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), new legislation to begin the repeal process of the ACA. Check out this great article from HR Morning and take a look how this new legislation will affect HR by Jared Bilski.

Virtually every major news outlet is covering the passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by the House. But amidst all the coverage, it’s tough to find an answer to a question that’s near and dear to HR: What does this GOP victory mean for employers? 

The AHCA bill, which passed in the House with 217 votes, is extremely close to the original version of the legislation that was introduced in March but pulled just before a vote could take place due to lack of support.

While the so-called “repeal-and-replace” bill would kill many of the ACA’s taxes (except the Cadillac Tax), much of the popular health-related provisions of Obamacare would remain intact.

Pre-existing conditions, essential benefits

However, the new bill does allow states to waive certain key requirements under the ACA. One of the major amendments centers on pre-existing conditions.

Under the ACA, health plans can’t base premium rates on health status factors, or pre-existing conditions; premiums had to be based on coverage tier, community rating, age (as long as the rates don’t vary by more than 3 to 1) and tobacco use. In other words, plans can’t charge participants with pre-existing conditions more than “healthy” individuals are charged.

Under the AHCA, individual states can apply for waivers to be exempt from this ACA provision and base premiums on health status factors.

Bottom line: Under this version of the AHCA, insurers would still be required to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions — but they’d be allowed to charge astronomical amounts for coverage.

To compensate for the individuals with prior health conditions who may not be able to afford insurance, applying states would have to establish high-risk pools that are federally funded. Critics argue these pools won’t be able to offer nearly as much coverage for individuals as the ACA did.

Under the AHCA, states could also apply for a waiver to receive an exemption — dubbed the “MacArthur amendment” — to ACA requirement on essential health benefits and create their own definition of these benefits.

Implications for HR

So what does all this mean for HR pros? HR Morning spoke to healthcare reform implementation and employee benefits attorney Garrett Fenton of Miller & Chevalier and asked him what’s next for the AHCA as well as what employers should do in response. Here’s a sampling of the Q&A:

HR Morning: What’s next for the AHCA?
Garrett Fenton: The Senate, which largely has stayed out of the ACA repeal and replacement process until now, will begin its process to develop, amend, and ultimately vote on a bill … many Republican Senators have publicly voiced concerns, and even opposition, to the version of the AHCA that passed the House.

One major bone of contention – even within the GOP – was that the House passed the bill without waiting for a forthcoming updated report from the Congressional Budget Office.  That report will take into account the latest amendments to the AHCA, and provide estimates of the legislation’s cost to the federal government and impact on the number of uninsured individuals …

… assuming the Senate does not simply rubber stamp the House bill, but rather passes its own ACA repeal and replacement legislation, either the Senate’s bill will need to go back to the House for another vote, or the House and Senate will “conference,” reconcile the differences between their respective bills, and produce a compromise piece of legislation that both chambers will then vote on.

Ultimately the same bill will need to pass both the House and Senate before going to the President for his signature.  In light of the House’s struggles to advance the AHCA, and the razor-thin margin by which it ultimately passed, it appears that we’re still in for a long road ahead.

HR Morning: What should employers be doing now?
Garrett Fenton: At this point, employers would be well-advised to stay the course on ACA compliance. The House’s passage of the AHCA is merely the first step in the legislative process, with the bill likely to undergo significant changes and an uncertain future in the Senate. The last few months have taught us nothing if not the impossibility of predicting precisely how and when the Republicans’ ACA repeal and replacement effort ultimately will unfold.  To be sure, the AHCA would have a potentially significant impact on employer-sponsored coverage.

However, any employer efforts to implement large-scale changes in reliance on the AHCA certainly would be premature at this stage.  The ACA remains the law of the land for the time being, and there’s still a long way to go toward even a partial repeal and replacement.  Employers certainly should stay on top of the legislative developments, and in the meantime, be on the lookout for possible changes to the current guidance at the regulatory level.

HR Morning: Specifically, how should employers proceed with their ACA compliance obligations in light of the House passage of the AHCA?Garrett Fenton: Again, employers should stay the course for the time being, and not assume that the AHCA’s provisions impacting employer-sponsored plans ultimately will be enacted.  The ACA remains the law of the land for now.  However, a number of ACA-related changes are likely to be made at the regulatory and “sub-regulatory” level – regardless of the legislative repeal and replacement efforts – thereby underscoring the importance of staying on top of the ever-changing guidance and landscape under the Trump administration.

Fenton also touched on how the “MacArthur amendment” and the direct impact it could have on employers by stating it:

“… could impact large group and self-funded employer plans, which separately are prohibited from imposing annual and lifetime dollar limits on those same essential health benefits.  So in theory, for example, a large group or self-funded employer plan might be able to use a “waiver” state’s definition of essential health benefits – which could be significantly more limited than the current federal definition, and exclude items like maternity, mental health, or substance abuse coverage – for purposes of the annual and lifetime limit rules.  Employers thus effectively could be permitted to begin imposing dollar caps on certain benefits that currently would be prohibited under the ACA.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 May 5). Health reform expert: here's what HR needs to know about GOP repeal bill passing [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/health-reform-expert-heres-what-hr-needs-to-know-about-gop-repeal-bill-passing/


Yes, Boss/HR/Your Honor, That's My Email

Ever hear of the acronym “CLEM”? That stands for career-limiting email and is a reminder to reconsider sending anything out in writing when a phone call may be the better option. If you have to think twice about hitting that send button, then you shouldn’t hit it.

In an article titled, “For God's Sake, Think Before You Email” on the website of Workforce, it says that unlike diamonds, email messages aren't forever, but they are pretty darn close. Remember that whatever you say in an email – and I mean anything in electronic text – could come back to haunt you because there’s always a trail. By electronic text, I mean email, mobile text, social media post, etc.

Everything from tasteless humor, opinions about a boss, employee, or the company, and definitely an angry reply or threat of violence should be an instant no-no. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle once it’s out and don’t assume that an email to a close friend or confidant is private because even if that person doesn’t forward it, there’s always a record somewhere of that email. Furthermore, you can’t always recall, or “unsend” an email.

You’d hate to have to explain to your boss, HR representative, or even a judge and jury why you sent that email or posted that message. You don’t just run the risk of losing your reputation, but also your job, and potentially being sued, or even going to jail. These are not pleasant prospects over a seemingly innocent email. Which is why you must review your electronic messages with a discerning eye.

Emails and social media posts have become commonplace and the norm for communications. Yet, despite the ease in which you can send them, you must be aware that the freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.


Discovery for Health and Welfare Benefit Plans: Required ERISA Reporting—Form 5500

Make sure you are aware of all the requirements for Form 5500 reporting. Take a look at this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) about how to properly file Form 5500 by Anne B. Vandeveer.

Most companies are fully aware of Form 5500 reporting requirements related to their 401(k) plans, but are less familiar with the Form 5500 reporting requirements for their health and welfare benefit plans.

Requirements: Most employer-sponsored health and welfare benefit plans, including, but not limited to, group health, dental, vision, life insurance, disability insurance, voluntary worksite benefits (typically, but not always), and health flexible spending account (FSA) plans are subject to the reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.

A Form 5500 is due to be filed with the Department of Labor (DOL) within seven months after the end of the plan year.

Exemptions: While there are a few common exceptions to filing for smaller plans and those sponsored by certain governmental and church plans, most employers who are filing Form 5500 for their retirement plans will also have Form 5500 reporting requirements for their health and welfare plans. Certain funding types (VEBAs, Trusts) may not be exempt based on size, however.

Normal Annual Filing: Once Schedule A information is available on the plan, from the carrier or third-party administrator (TPA), this information, along with some general participant enrollment information, is used to complete the filing. So long as company ownership, participation, and plans offered haven't changed from year to year, it's a fairly simply process.

It is worth reviewing the filing history of all plans subject to ERISA for all prior years to rule out any delinquencies in advance of filing for the current year. If all is in order, the filing deadline is the last day of the seventh month after the end of the plan year. Extensions, of up to 2.5 months, are available if the company applies prior to the initial deadline by filing Form 5558 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Failure to File and Remedy: If a Form 5500 filing is determined to be delinquent, the company is potentially subject to penalties imposed by the DOL (up to $1,100 per day) if the DOL discovers this before the return is filed electronically. The company can voluntarily "enter" the DOL's delinquent filer amnesty program. The program is formally named the Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP) and entering it will eliminate the risk of any future penalty associated with the delinquent Form 5500 returns. However, the DOL still imposes a lower, capped dollar penalty, which is assessed on a "per plan" basis.

The first step for a DFVCP filing is in defining the applicable plans and plan years along with the due date for each plan, historically. Correction is generally suggested as far back as the delinquency goes, or minimally as far back as documentation can be provided. That said, many companies choose to internally review all options and risks.

Preparation of Filings: The DOL mandates electronic filings under its EFAST2 system and it can be challenging for employers to prepare their own Form 5500 filings. Defining whether, and which of, your plans are subject to the ERISA reporting requirements is the best first step of the ERISA reporting process.

Because the forms resemble IRS tax forms, companies often assume that an accountant is needed for preparation. This is not necessarily the case and it is more common to rely on a benefits consultant with domain expertise. These consultants routinely determine filing requirements, have experience dealing directly with the DOL (not IRS), and transmit hundreds of filings annually.

That said, it is important to note that, regardless of who prepares the filing, it remains the sole responsibility of the employer, or Plan Sponsor, when it comes to Form 5500 transmissions or failures to file.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Vandeveer A. (2017 April 18). Discovery for health and welfare benefit plans: required ERISA reporting-form 5500[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/discovery-for-health-and-welfare-benefit-plans-required-erisa-reporting-form-5500


Don't Put Up with the Bull of Bullying

There’s no place for bullying and that’s especially true in the workplace, yet many employees bully their co-workers. So, how does this happen? It used to be that bullying was confined to the schoolyard, but now it’s spread to cyberbullying and workplace bullying. Now, if there’s a culture of bullying at an organization, often it’s repeated as people climb the corporate ladder even though they were bullied themselves when they held lower positions.

An article on the website Human Resource Executive Online titled, “How to Bully-proof the Workplace,” says that “80 percent of bullying is done by people who have a position of power over other people.” Let that number sink in. That means four out of five people in positions of power will bully their subordinates.

One possible reason for the high number is that bullying may be difficult to identify and the person doing the bullying may not even realize it. Either the bully, or the victim, could view the action as teasing, or workplace banter. However, when one person is continually picked on, then that person is being bullied. Likewise, if a manager picks on all of his or her subordinates, then that person is a bully.

It’s important for organizations to have policies in place to thwart bullying and not just for the toll it takes on employees. It also begins to affect productivity. Those being bullied often feel like their work doesn’t matter and their abilities are insufficient. Worse is that bullies tend to resent talented people as they’re perceived as a threat. So, bullies tend to manipulate opinions about that employee in order to keep them from being promoted.

Eventually, talented employees decide to work elsewhere, leaving the employer spending time and money to find a replacement. But the bully doesn’t care. It just means they get to apply their old tricks on someone who isn’t used to them.

At some point, someone will fight back. Not physically, of course, but through documentation. An employee who is being bullied should immediately document any and all occurrences of workplace bullying and then present those documents to someone in HR. Most likely, this will result in identification of the bullying, stoppage of it, counseling for both the bully and the victim, and, if not already enacted, policies to prevent it from happening again.


10 Things Your Employees Should Know About Social Security

Do you need help educating your employees on the importance of social security? Here is an interesting article form SHRM about the 10 things your employees should know about their social security by Irene Saccoccio.

Social Security is with you throughout life’s journey. Yet, most people don’t know about Social Security’s 80-plus-year legacy or all we have to offer. National Social Security Month is the perfect time to talk to your employees about some of the ways we help secure today and tomorrow.

1.     Social Security provides an inflation-protected benefit that lasts a lifetime. Social Security benefits are based on how long your employees have worked, how much they’ve earned, and when they start receiving benefits.

2.     Social Security touches the lives of nearly all Americans, often during times of personal hardship, transition, and uncertainty. It is important your employees understand the benefits we offer.

3.     We are more than just retirement. Social Security provides financial security to many children and adults before retirement, including the chronically ill, children of deceased parents, and wounded warriors.

4.     We put your employees in control by offering convenient services that fit their needs. For example, a personal my Social Security account is the fastest, most secure way for your employees to do business with us. They can verify their earnings, check their Social Security Statement, get a benefit verification letter, and more. They should open a my Social Security account today.

5.     Your employees can estimate their future retirement or disability benefits by using our Retirement Estimator. It gives estimates based on their actual earnings record, which can be invaluable as they plan for their future.

6.     Your employees can apply for benefits online by completing an application for retirementspousesMedicare, or disability benefits from the comfort of their home or preferred secure location.

7.     We offer veterans expedited disability claims processing. Benefits available through Social Security are different than those from the Department of Veterans Affairs and require a separate application.

8.     Medicare beneficiaries with low resources and income can qualify for Extra Help with their Medicare prescription drug plan costs. The Extra Help is estimated to be worth about $4,000 per year.

9.     Social Security is committed to making our information, programs, benefits, services, and facilities accessible to everyone. We will provide your employees, free of charge, with a reasonable accommodation to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, Social Security programs and activities.

10.Social Security is committed to protecting your employees’ identity and information and safeguarding their personally identifiable information. Our online services feature a robust verification and authentication process, and they remain safe and secure.

Invite your employees to visit www.socialsecurity.gov today and learn how we help secure today and tomorrow.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Saccoccio I. (2017 April 19). 10 things your employees should know about social security [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://blog.shrm.org/blog/10-things-your-employees-should-know-about-social-security


Healthcare Services: Employees Want to Find Less Costly Care, but Need HR’s Help

Have your employees been looking for new ways to reduce their healthcare cost? Check out this article from HR Morning on how HR can be a great tool for helping your employees find the best healthcare for their budget by Jared Bilski.

HR pros have been urging employees to ask questions and shop around for less-costly, high quality health care for years now — and it looks like many employees are finally heeding the call.

That’s the good news regarding healthcare cost transparency.

Step in the right direction

Specifically, 50% of individuals have tried to find out how their health care would cost before getting care, according to a recent report by the Public Agenda and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A little more than half (53%) of the individuals who compared the prices of common healthcare services did, in fact, save money.

The report also broke down the various places employees turned to for price info before getting medical care and found:

  • 55% went to a friend, relative or colleague
  • 48% went to their insurance company (by phone or online)
  • 46% went to their doctor
  • 45% asked a receptionist or other doctor’s office staffer
  • 31% went to the hospital billing department
  • 29% asked a nurse
  • 20% relied on the Internet (other than their insurance company’s website), and
  • 17% used a mobile phone app.

Another encouraging finding from the report: Employees don’t think saving money on healthcare services means receiving lower quality care. In fact, 70% of individuals said higher prices aren’t a sign of better quality healthcare.

The bad news

But the report wasn’t all good news.

For one thing, many employees are painfully unaware of the disparity in pricing for similar healthcare services. In fact, fewer than 50% of Americans are aware that hospitals and doctor’s prices can vary.

There are also problems when employees do inquire or shop around for less costly health care.

Sixty three percent of Americans say there isn’t enough information about how much medical services cost.

And when employees do at least inquire about cost before seeking treatment, most don’t think the next and most critical step: comparing multiple providers’ prices. Just 20% of the study respondents who asked about pricing went on to compare pricing.

Where HR comes in

Overall, the report is good news for employers, and firms should take the findings as evidence employees are finally ready to help find ways to lower the company’s overall health costs.

But it’s up to HR pros to help them succeed.

One way: Rolling out “how to” session on healthcare service comparison tools and finding providers — and this is especially important for small- and mid-sized companies. Employees at these firms are more likely to seek medical services based solely on location.

As Tibi Zohar, president and CEO of DoctorGlobe put it:

“The reality for most small to mid-size companies is that their health plan members tend to continue to seek health care at the nearest hospital or the one recommended by their doctors or friends.”

Another effective tactic: Adding incentives when employees use cost transparency tools in the form of premium discounts, contributions to HSAs or FSAs or even old-fashioned gift cards.

Remember, the transparency tools are those that employees can relate to personally and show exactly how much they will pay out-of-pocket for medical services.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 April 21). Healthcare services: employees want to find less costly care, but need HR's help [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/healthcare-services-employees-want-to-find-less-costly-care-but-need-hrs-help/


Here’s What You Need to Know About Preexisting Conditions in the GOP Health Plan

Has the repeal of the ACA left you worried about all the changes potential coming to your healthcare? Take a look at this article by Glenn Kessler from the Washington Posts and find out what AHCA means for you and your healthcare.

With House Republicans prepared to take a vote Thursday on yet another version of a plan to overhaul the 2010 Affordable Care Act, attention has been especially focused on whether Obamacare’s popular prohibition against denying coverage based on preexisting medical conditions will remain in place. Republicans, from President Trump to lawmakers pushing for the bill, insist that it remains intact, just in different form. Democrats and opponents of the bill say the guarantee is gone or greatly weakened.

The reality is more nuanced and complicated, as is often the case in Washington policy debates. Despite Ryan’s tweet that people with preexisting conditions are protected, there is no guarantee that they will not face higher costs than under current law. The impact of recent tweaks to the proposed legislation is especially unclear because lawmakers are rushing ahead without an assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So here’s The Fact Checker’s guide to the debate.

What’s the issue?

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could consider a person’s health status when determining premiums, sometimes making coverage unaffordable or even unavailable if a person was already sick with a problem that required expensive treatment. The ACA prohibited that, in part by requiring everyone to purchase insurance.

But that “individual mandate” was unpopular and Republicans would eliminate that requirement in their proposed American Health Care Act. As a replacement, the AHCA initially included a continuous coverage provision that boosted insurance rates by 30 percent for one year if he or she has a lapse in coverage. (We explored this interaction between the provisions earlier.)

As part of an effort to attract more votes, Republicans have added an amendment, crafted by Rep. Tom McArthur (R-N.J.), that instead allows states to seek individual waivers from the law. One possible waiver would replace the continuous coverage provision so that insurance companies for one year could consider a person’s health status when writing policies in the individual market. Another possible waiver would allow the state to replace a federal essential benefits package with a more narrowly tailored package of benefits, again limited to the individual and small-group markets.

The theory is that removing sicker people from the markets and allowing policies with skimpier options would result in lower overall premiums.

Who would be affected?

If the law passed, a person generally would not be affected unless they lived in a state that sought a waiver. Moreover, they would need to have a lapse in health coverage for longer than 63 days and they would need to have a preexisting condition. Finally, they would have to purchase insurance in the individual market – such as the health exchanges in Obamacare – that currently serves about 18 million Americans.

Someone who got their insurance from an employer – and that’s about half of Americans under 65 (155 million) – presumably would not be affected, though the CBO did project that under the initial version of the AHCA 7 million fewer people would be covered by employers than under current law by 2026.

Then, for a period of one year, a person who fell into this category would face insurance rates that could be based on their individual condition. But states that seek a waiver are required to operate a risk mitigation program or participate in what is called an invisible risk sharing program. Alaska currently has such a program that helps cover the bills for one of 33 conditions (such as HIV/AIDS or metastatic cancer). The individual with the condition still submits bills to the insurance company, which then turns around and bills the state. But then the insurance company does not consider the cost of this care as part of its calculation for premiums to other individuals in the state.

All told, the AHCA would allot $138 billion over 10 years for a variety of funds that would seek to keep premiums lower or to assist with cost-sharing. Just this week, $8 billion over five years was added to the pot to woo wavering lawmakers, with the idea that the additional funds could be used for so-called high-risk pools. Many states had such pools to help people with preexisting conditions before the ACA. But the proposal does not require a state with a waiver to set up such a pool.

What could go wrong then?

There are many uncertainties about this path. The health insurance market has a lot of churn, so many people may experience a gap in coverage of just a few months. One estimate, by the Commonwealth Fund, indicated that 30 million adults would have had such a gap in 2016, potentially exposing them to a surcharge or being placed in a high-risk pool. On top of that, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 27 percent of the people in the individual market have existing conditions that would have been uninsured before the ACA.

The AHCA eliminates cost sharing and offers a stingier tax credit to defray premium costs, likely resulting in higher overall health costs that may make insurance unaffordable for many people. (The CBO projected that 24 million more people would be without health insurance than under current law by 2026.)

Then, if people get sick, they may suddenly find themselves for a year being priced on their illness if they live in a state that sought a waiver. Depending on the approach taken by a state, some people might find it difficult to keep up their coverage for a full year before they qualify for prices at the community rate.

A big question is whether the funding to cover these folks is adequate. High-risk pools were big money losers and underfunded in the pre-Obamacare days, even though many had restrictions, high premiums and waiting lists. A $5 billion federal pool, established by the ACA as a bridge to the creation of the exchanges in 2013, covered about 100,000 people but was suspended when it ran out of money.

The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning group that opposes the AHCA, produced an analysis that indicated that even with the additional $8 billion, the maximum enrollment the AHCA’s funds would cover is about 700,000 people. If just 5 percent of the people currently in the individual market ended up in high-risk pools – and all states sought a waiver – that would overwhelm the proposed funding.

Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said in an analysis that $23 billion is specifically allocated in the bill for helping people with pre-existing conditions. That would cover about 110,000 people. If states allocated all of the other available funding, that would cover 600,00 people. “Approximately 2.2 million enrollees in the individual market today have some form of pre-existing chronic condition,” the analysis said.

When states had high-risk pools, people in those pools represented just 2 percent of the non-group health insurance participants. But given the limitations of those funds, that percentage may not be a good guide for what would happen under the AHCA.

Whenever health-care laws are changed, there are unknown and unintended consequences. The current system does not take into account a person’s health status when assessing premiums. But, as a Brookings Institution analysis suggested, under the AHCA’s provisions, healthy people might have an incentive to join plans based on health status. That would leave sicker people in the community rated plans, which in turn would face higher premiums. Over time, that could make the community rating meaningless. (Update: The CBO in its revised report on the AHCA said this was quite possible for states representing about one-sixth of the U.S. population. We explored that in detail in this article.)

Another possible outcome: If the pool of money is used to pay insurance companies for the difference in costs for patients with preexisting conditions, there may be little incentive for companies to keep their prices low; the difference would be made up by U.S. taxpayers.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to health care, readers should be wary about claims that important changes in health-care coverage are without consequences and that people are “protected” – or that the changes will result in massive dislocation and turmoil. There are always winners and losers in a bill of this size. In this case, if the bill ever became law, much would depend on unknown policy decisions by individual states – and then how those decisions are implemented.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kessler G. (2017 May 4). Here's what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/05/04/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-pre-existing-conditions-in-the-gop-health-plan/?utm_term=.bb8de3169f20


10 Things to Know about Medicaid: Setting the Facts Straight

Do you need help understanding all the aspects of Medicaid? Check out this informative article by Julia Paradise from Kaiser Family Foundation about the 10 most important things you must know when dealing with Medicaid.

Medicaid, the nation’s public health insurance program for low-income children, adults, seniors, and people with disabilities, covers 1 in 5 Americans, including many with complex and costly needs for medical care and long-term services. Most people covered by Medicaid would be uninsured or underinsured without it. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid to reach low-income adults previously excluded from the program and provided federal funding to states for the vast majority of the cost of newly eligible adults.

President Trump and other GOP leaders have called for far-reaching changes to Medicaid, including caps on federal funding for the program. In the debate about Medicaid’s future, some critics of the program have made statements that are at odds with data, research, and basic information about Medicaid. To inform policy decisions that may have significant implications for Medicaid, the low-income people it serves, and the states, this brief highlights 10 key Medicaid facts.

1.    Medicaid is a cost-effective program, providing health coverage for low-income Americans at a lower per-person cost than private insurance could.

Some say that Medicaid costs too much. Total Medicaid costs are high because Medicaid covers many people with complex needs for both health care and long-term care. Most Medicaid spending is for seniors and people with disabilities (Figure 1). Analysis shows that when the greater health needs of Medicaid enrollees are adjusted, costs per enrollee are lower in Medicaid relative to private insurance; spending per enrollee would be 25% higher if adult Medicaid beneficiaries were instead covered by employer-based insurance, largely because private insurers generally pay providers more than states do. Growth in Medicaid acute care spending per enrollee has also been low relative to other health spending benchmarks, and federal data show that Medicaid has constrained per capita spending growth more than Medicare and private insurance. States have strong financial incentives to manage Medicaid closely and ensure program integrity because they must pay a large share of Medicaid costs and must also balance their budgets. The ACA provided increased funding and new tools for both federal and state Medicaid program integrity efforts, and states continue to strengthen their operations, using data analytics and predictive modeling, expanding their program integrity activities to managed care, and making other investments.

2.    Medicaid bolsters the private insurance market by acting as a high-risk pool.

Some say that private insurance could do a better job of covering low-income people than Medicaid. Actually, Medicaid was established to provide health coverage for many uninsured people who were excluded from the private, largely employment-based health insurance system because of low income, poor health status, or disability. Over time, federal and state expansions of Medicaid have resulted in historic reductions in the share of children without coverage and, in the states adopting the ACA Medicaid expansion, sharp declines in the share of adults without coverage. Nearly 8 in 10 nonelderly, non-disabled adults are in working families and a majority are working themselves, but many work in small firms and types of industries that tend to have limited or no job-based coverage options. Among adult Medicaid enrollees who are not working, illness or disability is the main reason. By covering many of the poorest and sickest Americans, Medicaid effectively serves as a high-risk pool for the private health insurance market, taking out the highest-cost people, thereby helping to keep private insurance premiums more affordable.

Medicaid also bolsters the private insurance system by providing supplemental coverage for many privately insured children with special needs and children and adults with disabilities. Medicaid pays for therapies, dental and vision care, and other medical and long-term services and supports needed by many of these individuals but typically not covered by private insurance.

3.    Federal Medicaid matching funds support states’ ability to meet changing coverage needs, such as during economic downturns and public health emergencies.

Some argue that federal funding for Medicaid should be capped to remove states’ incentives to spend more. The availability of federal matching funds with no pre-set limit does not mean that states have no incentives to constrain spending. On the contrary, because they must spend their own dollars to claim federal matching payments, and are required by their constitutions to balance their budgets, states have a strong interest in running efficient and effective programs. State cost-cutting measures taken in hard economic times have led to lean Medicaid operations, and state Medicaid programs have been leaders in health care delivery and payment reform designed to control costs and improve care. Over 2007-2013, average annual growth in Medicaid spending per enrollee was  less than growth in private health insurance premiums – 3.1% compared to 4.6%.

The guarantee of federal matching funds at least dollar for dollar enlarges states’ financial capacity to respond to changing coverage needs. Because federal funds flow to states based on actual needs and costs, Medicaid can respond if there is an economic downturn, or medical costs rise, or there is a public health emergency such as the opioid epidemic or a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina. Federal payments to states adjust automatically to reflect the increased costs of the program. Capped federal funding for Medicaid would reduce federal spending, but the burden of the reductions would fall on states. The levers that states have to manage with reduced federal Medicaid funding are cuts in Medicaid eligibility and benefits, which could limit their ability to meet the health needs of their residents, respond to recessionary pressures and emerging health issues, and provide access to new but costly health care technologies, including life-saving drugs, to Medicaid beneficiaries. Federal caps would also lock in states’ historical spending patterns, constraining their flexibility to respond to changing resources and priorities.

4.    Medicaid is a major spending item in state budgets, but also the largest source of federal funds for states.

Some say that Medicaid is crowding out state spending on education and other state priorities. Medicaid is a major item in state budgets, but it is also the single largest source of federal funds for states. In FY 2015, Medicaid accounted for more than half (57%) of all federal funds states received. The federal government matches state Medicaid spending at least dollar for dollar and pays more in poorer states, and states receive an enhanced federal match – 95% in 2017 – for Medicaid expansion adults. In FY 2015, Medicaid accounted for 28% of total state spending (i.e., including state spending of federal dollars), but less than 16% of state spending of state funds – a distant second to state funds spending on K-12 education (almost 25%).

An analysis examining economic and fiscal trends in Medicaid expansion and non-expansion states found that Medicaid expansion states, which typically raise more tax revenues as a share of total taxable resources than non-expansion states, spend more per capita on both Medicaid and K-12 education. Research shows that the injection of federal Medicaid matching funds into state economies has a multiplier effect, directly benefiting the health care providers that serve Medicaid beneficiaries, and also indirectly supporting other businesses and industries (e.g., vendors), producing increased state economic activity and output as the funds flow through the system. More recent analyses find positive effects of the Medicaid expansion on multiple economic outcomes in states, including budget savings, revenue gains, and overall economic growth.

5.    States have broad discretion in designing key aspects of their Medicaid programs.

Some say that Medicaid is federally controlled and inflexible, leaving states little room to shape their own programs. In fact, beyond federal minimum requirements for Medicaid, states have and use extensive flexibility and options to design key dimensions of their Medicaid programs. For example, they can and do elect to cover many optional services and optional groups. State Medicaid programs vary widely in terms of who is eligible, which services are covered, premiums and cost-sharing requirements, the delivery systems in which beneficiaries get care, and provider payment methods and rates. The different program design choices that states make, reflecting their particular needs, preferences, and priorities, are a large underlying factor in the wide variation in state Medicaid spending per enrollees (Figure 5). In 2011, Medicaid spending per full-benefit enrollee ranged from $4,010 in Nevada to $11,091 in Massachusetts. In addition to the flexibilities and optional state authorities provided by federal Medicaid law, states can obtain Section 1115 demonstration waivers that permit them to test and implement approaches that deviate from federal Medicaid rules if the HHS Secretary determines they advance program objectives. As of January 2017, 37 states had a total of 50 approved Section 1115 waivers.

6.    Medicaid beneficiaries have robust access to care overall, although access to certain types of specialists is an ongoing challenge for Medicaid and all payers.

Some say that access to care in Medicaid is lacking because 30% of physicians do not accept new Medicaid patients (about 70% do accept new Medicaid patients versus about 85% who accept new privately insured and Medicare patients). Taken alone, physician participation rates are a weak measure of access to care. A large body of research shows that Medicaid beneficiaries have far better access to care than the uninsured and are far less likely to postpone or go without needed care due to cost. Moreover, rates of access to care and satisfaction with care among Medicaid enrollees are comparable to rates for people with private insurance (Figure 6). Gaps in access to certain providers, especially psychiatrists, some specialists, and dentists, are ongoing challenges in Medicaid and often in the health system more broadly. Contributing factors include provider shortages, geographic maldistribution of health care providers, low Medicaid payment rates, and lack of transportation. Managed care plans, which now serve most Medicaid beneficiaries, are responsible under their contracts with states for ensuring adequate provider networks. There is no evidence that physician participation in Medicaid is declining. In a 2015 survey, 4 in 10 PCPs who accepted Medicaid reported seeing an increased number of Medicaid patients since January 2014, when the coverage expansions in the ACA took full effect. A recent analysis found no consistent evidence that increases in the share of adults with insurance at the local-area level affected access to care for adults in those areas who were already insured, including Medicaid beneficiaries.

7.    Medicaid keeps coverage and care affordable for low-income Americans.

Some say that Medicaid enrollees should pay more for their health care and have more “skin in the game” to restrain utilization. Federal law limits Medicaid premiums and cost-sharing to minimize financial barriers to coverage and care for low-income people: total out-of-pocket costs for a family are limited to 5% of the family’s income. Research shows that average spending greatly exceeds average income in low-income households, suggesting that these households accrue debt even as they earn. Therefore, even small amounts of spending on health care can crowd out other necessities or push low-income families further into debt. A family of three living at 138% FPL (the eligibility threshold for adults in Medicaid expansion states) has income of $28,180. Out-of-pocket costs totaling just 3% of their income – about $845 – would leave this family with less than $27,500 to pay for housing, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, school supplies, and other necessities. The same family living in one of the non-expansion states, where the median eligibility limit for parents is 44% FPL, would be left with about $8,700 to meet these basic costs.

Numerous studies have shown significant declines in enrollment in coverage after the implementation of new or higher premiums, as well as shorter spells of enrollment and reduced rates of renewal (Figure 7). Many who lose coverage become uninsured. Cost-sharing has been shown to lead to significant reductions in use of services, including essential and effective services like screenings and preventive care, prescription drugs, inpatient care, and other care key to health outcomes. Cost-sharing can have a particularly large impact on people with lower income and significant health care needs, as small copays add up quickly. Medicaid providers frequently report difficulty collecting cost-sharing, which effectively reduces their reimbursement; states do not collect much revenue from premiums, and state savings are largely attributable to decreased enrollment and reduced use of services – often, needed services. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment (OHIE) showed that gaining Medicaid virtually eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical spending among previously uninsured adults and reduced financial hardship. Federal action to reduce financial protections in

Medicaid would run counter to the empirical evidence that premiums and cost-sharing impede coverage and access to care, and preempt waiver initiatives underway in numerous states to further test these policies.

8.    Evidence of Medicaid’s impact on health outcomes is growing.

Some say that having Medicaid is worse than being uninsured. In fact, research shows consistently that Medicaid improves access to care for both children and adults with low income. Access to screening and preventive care in Medicaid translates into well-child care, earlier detection of health and developmental problems in children, and earlier diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and other chronic conditions in people of all ages. Access to primary care providers and specialists, prescription drugs, and other services improves the likelihood that Medicaid enrollees will get treatment for both their acute and chronic conditions. Expansions of Medicaid pregnant women and children have led to improved birth outcomes and child health, and there is growing evidence that Medicaid expansions to adults are associated with increased use of screening services and preventive care, prescription drugs, inpatient care, and other services key to improving health outcomes (Figure 8). The OHIE, which used a uniquely rigorous study design, found that uninsured adults who gained Medicaid coverage through a state lottery reported improved self-rated mental health and had a 30% reduction in clinically observed rates of depression relative to the comparison group of adults who remained uninsured. Medicaid also increased diabetes detection and use of diabetes medication, though the effect on control of diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol was not statistically significant. Research has also found that Medicaid expansions for adults were associated with significant reductions in mortality. A new study shows meaningful impacts of the Medicaid expansion on mental health for low-income parents. Some Medicaid critics, citing a small sample of observational clinical studies, have asserted that Medicaid beneficiaries have worse outcomes than the uninsured. However, a group of distinguished health services researchers commenting in a leading medical journal wrote that these studies lack a causal model explaining the observed data and, outlining numerous analytic problems with the critics’ interpretation of the findings, effectively discredited their argument.

9.    Medicaid is the primary payer for long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities.

Some assume that Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities, covers long-term care. In fact, Medicare coverage of long-term care is extremely limited. Medicaid is essentially the only public or private insurance program that covers long-term care. Six in 10 nursing home residents are covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid’s role in providing access to community-based long-term services and supports (LTSS) for both seniors and people with disabilities is hard to overstate. The program is the largest single source of payment for long-term care, financing half of total spending in this sector, including both nursing home care and home and community-based services (HCBS) (Figure 9). Over time, states have been working to rebalance their LTSS systems by devoting a greater percentage of their long-term care spending to HCBS relative to nursing home care, and Medicaid has been instrumental in expanding access to community-based LTSS, advancing efforts to increase community integration of seniors and individuals with disabilities.

In addition to covering LTSS, Medicaid also makes Medicare work for nearly 10 million poor Medicare beneficiaries (1 in 5 of all Medicare beneficiaries), known as “dual eligibles,” by helping with their Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs and covering vision and dental care and other benefits that Medicare does not cover. In the debate about the ACA Medicaid expansion to low-income adults, some have argued that state choices to adopt the expansion come at the cost of Medicaid’s neediest beneficiaries, but the research does not bear this out. A recent study found no evidence for the claim that Medicaid expansion leads to longer waiting lists for Medicaid HCBS waivers for seniors and people with disabilities. The study found that waiting lists for these waivers pre-date the ACA Medicaid expansion, and that there appears to be no relationship between a state’s Medicaid expansion status and changes in its HCBS waiver waiting list.

10. Medicaid is popular with the American public as well as with enrollees themselves.

Some say that Medicaid is a poor and broken program. The majority of Americans say that Medicaid is a very important program. More than half (56%) report that they, a child of theirs, or another family member or friend has been enrolled in Medicaid; the same percentage say that Medicaid is important for them and their family (Figure 10). Most Medicaid enrollees say the program is working well for the low-income people it covers and the vast majority feel well-protected financially. Focus group research has shown high levels of satisfaction with Medicaid among parents with children in the program. Two-thirds of Americans do not support caps on federal funding for Medicaid, the vast majority (84%) say that continuing federal funding for Medicaid expansion is important, and few (12%) want decreased federal spending on Medicaid.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Paradise J. (2017 May 9). 10 things to know about medicaid: setting the facts straight [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/10-things-to-know-about-medicaid-setting-the-facts-straight/