Ribeyes & Cocktails

Our June Dish is brought to you by our very own CEO, Mike HierlMike Hierl

Mike is the 3rd generation owner of Hierl Insurance, Inc. with a strong insurance background and a desire to help others. When he isn't in the office, you can find him on the golf course perfecting his swing or pheasant hunting with his 2 labs.

When it comes to eating out, Mike enjoys the classic combo of pizza and caesar salad and Gino's Italian Restaurant in Fond du Lac is the place to get it. Need directions?

At home, Mike enjoys ribeyes and cocktails! His cocktail of choice would be a Brandy Old Fashioned Sour with olives and mushrooms. Now he wouldn't part with his ribeye recipe which we're sure is amazing, but have no fear! We do have one for you courtesy of Certified Angus Beef and it's sure to make your mouth water!


Classic Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak

Here's what you need:

  • 1 16-ounce ribeye steak
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • 1 teaspoon peanut or canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3-4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 garlic cloves, partially crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter

What to do:

  1. Place skillet in over and preheat oven to 450° F. Brush both sides of steak with oil and season with salt and pepper. When over is heated, carefully remove pan and plan on stovetop over medium heat.
  2. Place steak in skillet and sear for 2 minutes. Flip, top with garlic and thyme and place skillet back in oven for 6-7 minutes
  3. Put skillet back on stovetop over low heat. Flip steak, top with butter and carefully tilt pan while scooping melted butter, garlic and thyme to continually coat steak for 1-3 minutes. Confirm doneness with an instant read thermometer and pull from skillet at 120-125° F for medium rare. Let rest 5 minutes and coat with browned butter before serving.

Ear To The Door: 5 Things Being Weighed In Secret Health Bill Also Weigh It Down

With Congress passing the American Health Care Act a few weeks, the legislation now shifts to the Senate for its final approval. Take a look at this article by Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News and find out where we are at on the healthcare repeal process and which aspects of the AHCA legislation the Senate is bound to change.

Anyone following the debate over the “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act knows the 13 Republican senators writing the bill are meeting behind closed doors.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to push for a vote before the July 4 Senate recess, Washington’s favorite parlor game has become guessing what is, or will be, in the Senate bill.

Spoiler: No one knows what the final Senate bill will look like — not even those writing it.

“It’s an iterative process,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Politico, adding that senators in the room are sending options to the Congressional Budget Office to try to figure out in general how much they would cost. Those conversations between senators and the CBO — common for lawmakers working on major, complex pieces of legislation — sometimes prompt members to press through and other times to change course.

Although specifics, to the extent there are any, have largely stayed secret, some of the policies under consideration have slipped out, and pressure points of the debate are fairly clear. Anything can happen, but here’s what we know so far:

1. Medicaid expansion

The Republicans are determined to roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The question is, how to do it. The ACA called for an expansion of the Medicaid program for those with low incomes to everyone who earns less than 133 percent of poverty (around $16,000 a year for an individual), with the federal government footing much of the bill. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the expansion was optional for states, but 31 have done so, providing new coverage to an estimated 14 million people.

The Republican bill passed by the House on May 4 would phase out the federal funding for those made eligible by the ACA over two years, beginning in 2020. But Republican moderates in the Senate want a much slower end to the additional federal aid. Several have suggested that they could accept a seven-year phaseout.

Keeping the federal expansion money flowing that long, however, would cut into the bill’s budget savings. That matters: In order to protect the Senate’s ability to pass the bill under budget rules that require only a simple majority rather than 60 votes, the bill’s savings must at least match those of the House version. Any extra money spent on Medicaid expansion would have to be cut elsewhere.

2. Medicaid caps

A related issue is whether and at what level to cap federal Medicaid spending. Medicaid currently covers more than 70 million low-income people. Medicaid covers half of all births and half of the nation’s bill for long-term care, including nursing home stays. Right now, the federal government matches whatever states spend at least 50-50, and provides more matching funds for less wealthy states.

The House bill would, for the first time, cap the amount the federal government provides to states for their Medicaid programs. The CBO estimated that the caps would put more of the financial burden for the program on states, who would respond by a combination of cutting payments to health care providers like doctors and hospitals, eliminating benefits for patients and restricting eligibility.

The Medicaid cap may or may not be included in the Senate bill, depending on whom you ask. However, sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations say the real sticking point is not whether or not to impose a cap — they want to do that. The hurdles: how to be fair to states that get less federal money and how fast the caps should rise.

Again, if the Senate proposal is more generous than the House’s version, it will be harder to meet the bill’s required budget targets.

3. Restrictions on abortion coverage and Planned Parenthood

The senators are actively considering two measures that would limit funding for abortions, though it is not clear if either would be allowed to remain in the bill according to the Senate’s rules. The Senate Parliamentarian, who must review the bill after the senators complete it but before it comes to the floor, will decide.

The House-passed bill would ban the use of federal tax credits to purchase private coverage that includes abortion as a benefit. This is a key demand for a large portion of the Republican base. But the Senate version of the bill must abide by strict rules that limit its content to provisions that directly impact the federal budget. In the past, abortion language in budget bills has been ruled out of order.

4. Reading between the lines

A related issue is whether House language to temporarily bar Planned Parenthood from participating in the Medicaid program will be allowed in the Senate.

While the Parliamentarian allowed identical language defunding Planned Parenthood to remain in a similar budget bill in 2015, it was not clear at the time that Planned Parenthood would have been the only provider affected by the language. Planned Parenthood backers say they will argue to the Parliamentarian that the budget impact of the language is “merely incidental” to the policy aim and therefore should not be allowed in the Senate bill.

5. Insurance market reforms

Senators are also struggling with provisions of the House-passed bill that would allow states to waive certain insurance requirements in the Affordable Care Act, including those laying out “essential” benefits that policies must cover, and those banning insurers from charging sicker people higher premiums. That language, as well as an amendment seeking to ensure more funding to help people with preexisting conditions, was instrumental in gaining enough votes for the bill to pass the House.

Eliminating insurance regulations imposed by the ACA are a top priority for conservatives. “Conservatives would like to clear the books of Obamacare’s most costly regulations and free the states to regulate their markets how they wish,” wrote Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is one of the 13 senators negotiating the details of the bill, in an op-ed in May.

However, budget experts suggest that none of the insurance market provisions is likely to clear the Parliamentarian hurdle as being primarily budget-related.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner J. (2017 June 16). Ear to the door: 5 things being weighed in secret health bill also weigh it down [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/ear-to-the-door-5-things-being-weighed-in-secret-health-bill-also-weigh-it-down/


The Employer Mandate: Essential or Dispensable?

Have you wondered how the passing of the AHCA will impact employers? Check out this article by David Blumenthal, M.D and David Squires from Commonwealth Fund and see how employers will affect by the passing of the most recent healthcare legislation.

The Commonwealth Fund’s Sara Collins has blogged that, “Employers are at the heart of the U.S. health insurance system and their ongoing commitment to it will be critical to its success and viability over time.” The point is undeniable. More than 150 million Americans under the age of 65 get their coverage through the workplace, and employer-sponsored insurance remains critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage plans.

Some may therefore be surprised by the growing talk of repealing the ACA’s requirement that employers cover their employees. To unpack this issue, let’s take a look at the ACA provision itself, why it was enacted, and the potential upside and downside of repeal.

The Employer Mandate

The ACA section under discussion is often called an employer mandate, but that’s an oversimplification. The law says that employers with 50 or more employees have a choice. They can offer health insurance that meets minimum standards for affordability and coverage to employees working 30 or more hours a week. Or they can pay the federal government a penalty if at least one of their employees receives a federal subsidy for a private insurance plan sold through one of the new ACA insurance marketplaces.

You can call this a mandate. Or you can call it a requirement that businesses share responsibility for the costs of covering all Americans, either by helping to buy insurance directly for their own employees, or helping the federal government do so.

The language here matters. The concept of shared responsibility reflects a political calculation and a statement of values. It asserts that for the ACA to be fair and politically viable, all Americans have to do their part. All U.S. citizens are required to have health insurance, and many will have to pay a penalty if they go without it (the individual mandate). Employers must cover workers or help the government financially to do so. Taxpayers have to support the expansion in Medicaid eligibility and marketplace subsidies. Hospitals have to take cuts in Medicare payments, medical device makers need to accept additional taxes, and so on. The most successful American social programs—such as Social Security and Medicare—rely on this concept of shared responsibility.

The Rationale

Whatever you label it, the employer coverage requirement has several rationales beyond the concept of shared sacrifice. Policymakers want to deter employers who now provide coverage to  their employees from dumping workers into the marketplaces, either by dropping coverage completely or limiting benefits to the point where workers will chose to buy insurance elsewhere. The requirement also attempts to nudge employers who don’t cover employees into offering health insurance. And on the assumption that some businesses will chose to pay rather than offer coverage, the employer provision provides an important source of revenue to cover the ACA’s expenses: an estimated $139 billion over 10 years.

The Rationale for Repeal

Several arguments are fueling the repeal push. First, implementation will be administratively complex and burdensome. For example, employers will have to report many new details about their workers, including what coverage they have been offered and whether they have received coverage elsewhere.

Second, some economists are concerned that the employer requirements will distort hiring decisions, leading companies to bring on fewer low-income employees who might be eligible for subsidized coverage in the marketplaces. Firms with payrolls near 50 workers might hire fewer workers altogether. Economists also believe that if employers incur penalties for not offering coverage, workers might contribute to the costs of insurance through reduced wages. Other economists, however, believe these effects will be modest.

Third, modeling from RAND and the Urban Institute suggests that when fully implemented in 2016, the employer provisions will increase the number of insured Americans by only a few hundred thousand. The overwhelming proportion of U.S. employers already provides insurance to their employees, and would continue to do so without the penalties in the ACA, the analysts contend.

Concerns About Repeal

Supporters of the employer requirement posit that projections that employers would stay in the health insurance business without the ACA requirements are just that—projections. Balanced against employers’ past record of providing coverage is an increasing tendency for businesses to reduce the generosity of coverage. In fact, the law’s requirements that workplace coverage be affordable and meaningful may be as important as the requirement that employers offer coverage at all.

Eliminating the employer provisions would also leave a big hole in funding for the ACA. The likelihood that supporters and opponents could reach agreement on how to raise the missing cash seems low, especially given the recent history of the congressional effort to replace the Medicare physician payment formula known as the SGR. This year, a bipartisan consensus on policy crashed and burned when Republicans and Democrats could not agree on new sources of revenue to pay for the legislation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, repealing the employer mandate would undermine the concept of shared responsibility and potentially add momentum—which could grow in a new Congress or under a new president—to the idea of eliminating the individual mandate as well. After all, why should individuals have to buy insurance when businesses don’t? Virtually all disinterested analysts agree that the individual mandate is critical to the stability of the new insurance marketplaces created under the ACA, and to reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

 Proceed with Caution

The full effects of repealing the employer provisions of the ACA remain speculative. A repeal seems unlikely in the short term, in part, because a repeal effort would open the floodgates to partisan warfare over undoing the ACA in its entirety, or to changing other elements of the law that could have more far-ranging consequences.

However, if serious bipartisan discussion of ACA improvement becomes possible, expect to see a repeal of employer coverage provisions front and center on the legislative agenda.  Under these circumstances, lawmakers should still proceed with caution. It may be wise to experiment with implementing the employer provisions and to reassess their comparative benefits and costs  at a later date. The philosophy of shared responsibility is foundational to the law’s political viability, and should not be discarded without compelling evidence that the employer requirements are not essential to the ACA’s success.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Blumenthal D., Squires D. (2017 June 4). The employer mandate: essential or dispensable [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2014/jun/the-employer-mandate


HSAs on the Rise, but Employees Need to Know More About Them

Are your employees aware of the many benefits and features associated with HSAs? Check out this great article by Marlene Y. Satter from Benefits Pro on why it is important employees are knowledgeable about HSAs, so they can prepare for their health care expenses while planning for retirement.

According to Fidelity Investments, health savings accounts — and the assets within them — are rising quickly, as both employers and employees try to find ways to pay for health care. Still, a number of the features of HSAs are still underutilized.

While Fidelity says that assets in its HSAs rose 50 percent in the past year, now topping $2 billion, and the number of individual account holders rose 46 percent during the same period to 657,000, it points out more work still needs to be done on showing employees the advantages of such accounts.

Since it’s estimated that couples retiring today could need $260,000 — perhaps even more — to cover their health care costs during retirement, the need for a way to save just for health care expenses, aside from other retirement expenses, is becoming more urgent.

HSAs offer a tax-advantaged way to set aside more money than a retirement account alone provides — and people who have both tend to save more overall, with 2016 statistics indicating that people who had both defined contribution and HSA accounts saved on average 10.7 percent of their annual income in the retirement account. Those with just a DC account saved on average 8.2 percent in it.

People are mostly satisfied with HSAs — 80 percent say they are, while 76 percent are satisfied with the ease of using it HSA for medical expenses, 77 percent with the quality of their health care coverage and 77 percent with how the plan helps them manage their health care costs.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve got all the ins and outs figured out yet; 39 percent mistakenly believe that they’ll lose unspent HSA contributions at the end of the year. Yet unlike contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSA), unspent contributions to HSAs roll over from year to year.

Still, employees are learning that HSAs can provide them a means of saving that’s not restricted to cash. While it’s still not common, more people are putting HSA money into investments that can then grow toward covering longer-term health expenses, but employers, says Fidelity, can do more to educate workers on such an option. Nationally, only 15 percent of all HSA assets are invested outside of cash.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 26). HSAs on the rise, but employees need to know more about them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/26/hsas-on-the-rise-but-employees-need-to-know-more-a?ref=hp-news


State Flexibility to Address Health Insurance Challenges under the American Health Care Act, H.R. 1628

Great article Kaiser Family Foundation about how states's health insurance markets will be impacted with the passing of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The American Health Care Act, as passed by the House, (HR 1628 or AHCA) would make significant changes to the insurance market provisions established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to the financial assistance provided to people who purchase non-group coverage.  The proposal would reduce the federal role in health coverage and devolve authority to states over key market rules and consumer protections affecting access and affordability, albeit with federal back-up provisions if states fail to take action.  This brief outlines the provisions in the AHCA providing flexibility for states and addresses some of the issues and tradeoffs they could face.

The AHCA would dramatically reduce federal spending on health coverage between 2018 and 2026, lowering federal contributions to Medicaid by $834 billion and subsidies for non-group health insurance by an additional $290 billion.1  The AHCA also would eliminate the tax penalty for people who do not have health insurance, replacing it with a premium surcharge (30% for up to one year) for non-group enrollees who have a gap of insurance of at least 63 days in the previous year. The tax penalty for employers that do not offer coverage to full-time workers also would be repealed.  Overall, CBO estimates that the AHCA changes would result in an additional 23 million people being uninsured in 2026.2

To offset a portion of the federal spending reductions, the AHCA would create a federal fund called the Patient and State Stability Fund (“Fund.”) The bill appropriates up to $123 billion between 2018 and 2026 that states could use for a number of designated purposes related to coverage and the costs of care, plus an additional $15 billion for a federal invisible risk sharing program that states would have the option to administer.  States also would have flexibility to modify important insurance provisions: through waivers, they could extend rate variation due to age, modify the essential health benefits, or permit insurers to use an applicant’s health as a rating factor for individuals applying for coverage if they have had a coverage gap in the year prior to their enrollment.

In the next sections, we describe the Fund and the waiver authority in the AHCA.  After that, we discuss some of the issues and tradeoffs that states would need to address with the flexibility and funds provided.

Patient and State Stability Fund

The AHCA creates a new grant program that makes up to $123 billion available to states between 2018 and 2026.  Of that, $100 billion ($15 billion for each of 2018 and 2019 and $10 billion each year from 2020 to 2026) would be available for a number of purposes described below, although in its estimate, CBO assumed that most of the funds would be used to reduce premiums or increase benefits in the non-group market.3  An additional $15 billion would be available in 2020 for maternity coverage and newborn care and prevention, treatment, or recovery support services for individuals with mental or substance use disorders.  An additional $8 billion would be available between 2018 and 2023 to reduce premiums and other out-of-pocket costs for individuals paying higher premiums due to a waiver permitting insurers to use health status in setting premiums (discussed below).

Funds would be allocated among states through a formula that considers the total medical claims incurred by health insurers in the state, the number of uninsured in the state with incomes under poverty, and the number of health insurers serving, for 2018 and 2019, the state’s exchange, and for 2020 to 2026, the state’s insurance market.

States could apply for funding for any of the permitted purposes under an expedited process, with applications automatically approved unless the federal government denies the application within 60 days for cause.  Starting in 2020, state matching funds would be required to draw down the allocated federal funds: states would be required to match 7% of the federal funds in 2020, phasing up to 50% in 2026.4  No funds would be appropriated for years after 2026.

States could seek funds for one or more of the specified purposes:

  • Providing financial assistance to high-risk individuals not eligible for employer-based coverage who enroll in the individual market.  The bill language is vague, but this provision appears to permit states to use their allocation to set up a high-risk pool or other mechanisms to provide or subsidize coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions without access to employer-sponsored coverage. By covering high-cost people in a separate pool, their costs are removed from the premium calculations of non-group insurers, lowering the premiums for other enrollees in private insurance.  The AHCA does not address how people with preexisting conditions might be encouraged or required to participate in separate high-risk pools in states without waivers, because people with preexisting conditions generally would have access to non-group coverage at a community rate during open and special enrollment periods.  A high-risk pool could be an option in states with a waiver to use health as a rating factor, where the pool could provide coverage to people with preexisting conditions who are offered coverage at very high premiums due to their health.
  • Providing incentives to entities (e.g., insurers) to enter into arrangements with the state to stabilize premiums in the individual market.  This provision appears to permit states to use their allocation for a reinsurance program. Reinsurance programs lower premiums in a market because they reimburse health insurers for a portion of the claims for people with high-costs, reducing the premiums they need to collect from enrollees.  A reinsurance program operated during the first three years of the ACA; the Congressional Budget Office  estimated that the reinsurance program ($10 billion in 2014) reduced non-group premiums by about 10% in 2014.
  • Reducing the cost of providing non-group or small-group coverage in markets to individuals facing high costs due to high rates of utilization or low population density. Premiums vary significantly across and within states.  This provision would allow states to use resources in higher cost or rural areas.
  • Promoting participation in the non-group and small-group markets and increasing options in these markets. In the past, for example, state based marketplaces that devote resources to outreach and enrollment assistance have been able to help more applicants during open enrollment periods.
  • Promoting access to preventive, dental and vision care services and to maternity coverage, newborn care, and prevention, treatment and recovery support services for people with mental health or substance disorders. This purpose was added to the bill as the House considered changes to the ACA essential health benefits standard.  Fifteen billion dollars in Fund resources are dedicated for spending on maternity, newborn, mental health, and substance abuse services in the year 2020.
  • Providing direct payments to providers for services identified by the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). For example, states might use Fund resources to expand services provided by public hospitals, free clinics, and other safety net providers that offer treatment to residents who are uninsured or under-insured.
  • Providing cost-sharing assistance for people enrolled in health insurance in the state. The AHCA would repeal current law cost sharing subsidies ($97 billion between 2020 and 2026), which pay insurers for the cost of providing reduced cost sharing to low-income marketplace enrollees.  States could use their fund allocation to offset some of this reduction or assist others with private health insurance (such as those with employer-based coverage) who have high out-of-pocket costs.

These categories are quite broadly specified, providing states with discretion about what policies they may want to pursue and how to how to design programs to address different health care needs in their state.  The options include ways to reduce premiums (through reinsurance, for example), to make direct payments to health care providers, or to help insurance enrollees with high out-of-pocket costs.  States could pursue one or more of these approaches, although they are constrained by the amount of funds available and by their need to match the federal funds after 2020.

CBO estimated that $102 billion of the $123 billion provided to states would be claimed by states by 2026. CBO assumed that states would use most of their Fund allocations to reduce premiums or increase benefits in the non-group market; it assumed $14 billion of the available $15 billion available for maternity coverage, newborn care, and mental health and substance abuse care would be used for direct payments for services.5

Federal default program.  In states without an approved application for monies from the Fund for a year, the bill would authorize the CMS administrator, in consultation with the insurance commissioner for the state, to operate a reinsurance program in the state for that year.  The program would reimburse insurers 75% of the cost of claims between $50,000 and $350,000 for years 2018 and 2019; the CMS Administrator would adjust these parameters for 2020 through 2026.  To receive funds through the default program, the state would be required to match the federal funds, with matching rates starting at 10% in 2018 and increasing to 50% by 2024, remaining at 50% through 2026.

Invisible risk sharing program.  The AHCA also would create a separate reinsurance program as part of the Fund, called the Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program (FIRSP).  The FIRSP is not a grant program, but would make payments to health insurers in every state to offset a portion of the claims for eligible individuals (e.g., enrollees with high claims or with specified conditions).  The CMS Administrator would determine the parameters of the program and would administer the program, although states would be authorized to assume operation of the program beginning in 2020.  The bill appropriates $15 billion to the FIRSP for 2018 through 2026.  Additionally, at the end of each year, any unallocated monies in the Fund (which could occur if a state did not agree to match the federal funds) would be reallocated to FIRSP as well.

The AHCA does not specify how FIRSP would be coordinated with states that adopt a reinsurance program or for which the CMS Administrator is operating a federal default program.  These issues could be addressed as the Administrator specifies the parameters of the FIRSP.  CBO assumed that all of the $15 billion in FIRSP funding would be used over the period.6

State Waiver Options

The AHCA would permits states to seek waivers to federal minimum standards for non-group and small-group coverage to (1) modify the limit for age rating,7 (2) modify the essential health benefit package, and (3) permit insurers to consider the health status of applicants for non-group coverage if they have had a coverage gap in the past year.

To obtain a waiver, state must show that the waiver would do one or more of the following: reduce average premiums, increase health insurance enrollment, stabilize the market for health insurance, stabilize premiums for people with preexisting conditions or increase choice of health plans. The waiver permitting health as a rating factor has an additional requirement, discussed below.

WAIVER TO PERMIT RATING BASED ON HEALTH

The AHCA generally would require non-group insurers to assess a premium surcharge of 30% to all applicants (regardless of their health) who have had a coverage gap of at least 63 consecutive days in the 12 months preceding enrollment. The surcharge would apply during an enforcement period (which ends at the end of a calendar year).

In lieu of the 30% premium surcharge, the bill also authorizes states to seek a waiver that would permit insurers to consider an applicant’s health in determining premiums.  Health status rating could apply for people with a coverage gap in the year preceding enrollment.  States could seek a waiver for enrollments during special enrollment periods for 2018 and beyond, and for signups during open enrollment periods for 2019 and beyond.  Insurers would not be permitted to deny coverage to an applicant based on their health, but the bill does not limit the additional amount that an applicant can be charged based on their health (the state could limit the amount of the health surcharge but is not required to do so).  Similar to the rules regarding the 30% surcharge, insurers would be able to apply the health status rating through December 31 of the plan year for which the individual enrolled.

To be eligible for a community-rating waiver, in addition to the general waiver requirements, the state must have in place a program that either provides financial assistance to high risk individuals (e.g., a high risk pool) or provide incentives to help stabilize premiums in the individual health insurance market (e.g., reinsurance payments to insurers) or it must participate in the FIRSP.  Because the FIRSP would operate in all states, with no requirement for state matching funds, it would appear that all states would be eligible for the community-rating waiver without having to set up a separate high-risk pool or reinsurance program.  The bill imposes no additional requirements for the state programs. The bill would provide $8 billion to the Fund over five years (2018 through 2022) for states with these waivers to help reduce the premiums out-of-pocket costs for people who have higher premiums due to waiver.  State matching funds would seem to be required to draw down funds starting in 2020. CBO estimates that $6 billion of the $8 billion would be used.

Because there is no limit on the amounts by which insurers could vary premiums based on health, a premium surcharge for people with pre-existing conditions who have had gaps in coverage could provide a stronger incentive for people to maintain continuous coverage than the 30% surcharge that would otherwise apply. Before passage of the ACA, insurers declined applicants frequently, even when they could have charged a higher premium instead, suggesting that insurers would likely assess very high health premium surcharges for people with potentially costly preexisting conditions.  While not an actual denial, very high surcharges would likely have in practice the same effect for many people subject to surcharges based on their health.

Under the bill, states with a waiver could also permit insurers to use health rating to charge healthy applicants with a coverage gap a lower than standard premium available to people with continuous coverage.  Under this approach, healthy applicants would have an incentive to submit to health rating, even if they had continuous coverage.  This could have a destabilizing effect on the market because healthy people could have an incentive to switch to new coverage at renewal, without submitting proof of continuous coverage, in hopes of finding a lower premium based on their good health, which would cause the standard rates generally available for people with continuous coverage to increase.

As a condition of receiving a community-rating waiver, the AHCA does not require that a state must assure access to non-group coverage or make an alternative source of coverage available to people subject to health rating if the rate they are offered is very high.  For example, a state participating in the FIRSP is eligible for this waiver, and that program reimburses health insurers for people that become enrollees; a person offered a very high health status rate might never become covered.  It is unclear how much authority the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) would have to address this issue in the waiver process, given the expedited waiver approval provisions in the bill.

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS PACKAGE

Under current law, insurance policies offered in the non-group and small-group markets must cover a fairly comprehensive list of defined essential health benefits: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.  The essential health benefits are a minimum that must be offered; insurers may offer additional benefits as well.

In addition to the list of essential health benefit categories, a number of constraints and consumer protections apply to their definition by the Secretary of HHS, including:

  • that the scope of the essential health benefits offered in these markets is equal to the scope of benefits provided under a typical employer plan;
  • that coverage decisions, determination of reimbursement rates, establishment of incentive programs, and design benefits cannot be made in ways that discriminate against individuals because of their age, disability, or expected length of life;
  • that essential health benefits take into account the needs of diverse segments of the population, including women, children, and people with disabilities;
  • that essential health benefits not be subject to denial to individuals against their wishes on the basis of the individuals’ age or expected length of life or of the individuals’ present or predicted disability, degree of medical dependency, or quality of life;
  • that emergency services provided by out-of-network providers would be provided without prior authorization or other limits on coverage, and would be subject to in-network cost sharing requirements;

Current law also prohibits insurers from applying annual or lifetime dollar limits to essential health benefits.

The AHCA would authorize states, for years 2020 and beyond, to seek a waiver to modify the essential health benefits that insurers would need to offer in the non-group and small group markets.  States also could seek to modify the provisions relating to the scope of the benefits and to their definition.  There are no limits or parameters in the AHCA regarding the changes a state could make to the essential health benefit list or its definitions, although several provisions of current law could limit their discretion.  For example, the current prohibition on applying annual and lifetime maximum dollar limits to essential health benefits may prevent states from using dollar limits in defining the scope of benefits they include as essential health benefits, and the application of mental health parity rules to qualified health plans may prohibit a state that includes mental health or substance abuse services as an essential health benefit from applying limits to the scope of those benefits that are not applicable to other benefits.

The waiver authority gives states wide latitude in defining essential health benefits that would be required in non-group and small group coverage.  A state could remove one or more benefits from the list, which would mean that insurers could offer plans without those benefits or could offer them as an option in some policies or with limits.  Maternity benefits, for example, were often not included in non-group policies prior to the ACA.  A state also could limit the scope of a benefit; for example, determine that only generic drugs were essential health benefits or limit the scope of hospitalization to 60 days per year.  Insurers would then be required to offer at least the limited scope of the benefit, with the option to cover a broader scope of the benefit (in our example, hospital coverage without no day limit) in some or all of their policies in the state.  A state could also eliminate the standard, defining essential benefits to mean whatever insurers in a competitive market offer.  As discussed below, however, adverse selection concerns would make it difficult for insurers to offer coverage that is much more comprehensive than the defined minimum at a reasonable premium.

WAIVER TO MODIFY THE LIMIT ON AGE RATING

The AHCA would generally amend current law to expand the permissible premium variation due to age from 3 to 1 to 5 to 1, or any other ratio a State might elect.  States also would be authorized to seek a waiver, for years 2018 and beyond, to put in place a higher rate permissible ratio. There are no limits in the AHCA on the ratio that a state could permit insurers to use.  The waiver authority here appears to be redundant, as the underlying bill would authorize states to elect different ratios without seeking a waiver.

Issues and Tradeoffs that States May Need to Resolve

The AHCA would reduce the federal role and resources in providing health insurance coverage, particularly for people who are lower and moderate income and are covered though the Medicaid coverage expansion or through the non-group market.  States would assume an expanded role, both financially and in making key decisions about the access and scope of benefits available to these people.

States would undertake this role facing some significant challenges.

COMPETING DEMANDS FOR REDUCED FEDERAL FUNDING

The AHCA, by reducing the overall amount of federal premium tax credits, eliminating cost-sharing subsidies, and reducing federal contributions for the Medicaid expansion population and overall, would significantly reduce federal health care payments received by insurers, providers and people, leaving fewer people covered and more people with higher out-of-pocket costs.  CBO estimates that, between 2018 and 2026, the AHCA would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $834 billion and federal spending on subsidies for non-group health insurance by $290 billion (Figure 1).8 By 2026, 23 million fewer people would have health insurance.  States would have access to grant money through the Fund to try to address some of the issues, but the resources available through the Fund would be far less than the spending reductions. CBO estimates that states would use $102 billion from the Fund, with an additional $15 billion being spent by the FIRSP.9 States would be faced with a number of competing demands for the federal grant money, including lowering premiums, helping people with high cost sharing, and helping people and providers address access and financial issues resulting from the greater number of people without insurance.

CHALLENGES IN REDUCING PREMIUMS AND MAINTAINING COVERAGE

A second challenge for states relates to the cost of non-group health insurance premiums.  Proponents of the AHCA have identified lowering the cost of non-group health insurance as a significant goal of the proposed law, but the underlying federal portions of the bill do not really do that.  In fact, replacing the individual requirement to have health coverage with the continuous coverage provision would initially increase premium rates as compared with current law.10 A few provisions, including the elimination of the health insurance and the medical device taxes, the FIRSP, and the elimination of standard cost-sharing tiers would offset some of the increase from repealing the individual coverage requirement. The most significant tools to potentially lower premiums, however, would be under state discretion: using Fund dollars for reinsurance to offset premiums and seeking waivers to modify the essential health benefits and to permit the insurers to use health as a rate factor for applicants with a coverage gap.  Each of these options, however, would involve significant policy and political tradeoffs.

Applying the grant dollars from the Fund could have a significant additional impact on premium rates, particularly because fewer people would likely be covered than under current law. CBO has assumed in its cost estimates of the AHCA that states would use most of their grants from the Fund to reduce non-group premiums or increase benefits.11 Based on a previous CBO cost estimate for the AHCA, researchers at the Brookings Institution estimated that the AHCA increased average premiums by about four percent when age is held constant (see box below). This suggests that states would need to use most of their grant Funds to bring premiums back to current levels. As just discussed, however, applying all or a large percentage of the grant funds to reduce premiums would mean that other potential needs might remain unaddressed.

Measuring Premium Change

Determining how much premiums would change due to changes in law is complicated because a number of factors affect what people pay and who would actually buy coverage.  There are a few ways to look at this.  One is the change in the average premium; this is the change in the average amount that people are expected to pay under current law and under the change.  This is a good measure of how overall costs will change, but not a very good measure of how a particular person might see their premium change.  Because premiums vary by things, such as where people live and what age they are, the average can change just because the distribution of enrollees changes; for example, if more young people enroll, the average premium goes down, but the premium that a person at any given age sees might remain the same.  Looking at changes for people in certain rating classes, such as by age, comes closer to looking at what particular people may see, although the changes still may vary by location or by health status if insurers can use them in rating.  Premiums for a person of a particular age or health also could vary due to changes in benefits or to the cost sharing they face.

WAIVING ESSENTIAL BENEFITS COULD REDUCE PREMIUMS BUT ALSO LIMIT AVAILABILITY

The waiver options would also pose difficult decisions for states.  For example, a state could lower premium rates by using an essential health benefits waiver to reduce the required benefits in non-group or small-group policies.  The argument for this approach is that some people could choose policies that cost less because they cover less, and others who want additional benefits could pay more for policies that covered those benefits.  There are several difficulties with this, however.

One is that most claims costs fall into the basic insurance categories that would be hard to exclude.  A recent report from Milliman based on their commercial claims database, found that claims from hospital care, outpatient care including physician costs, and prescription drugs accounted for around 70% of claims costs; adding emergency care and laboratory services brings that to over 80%.  Redefining essential health benefits to meaningfully lower premiums would require either placing meaningful limits on these categories (for example, only including generic drugs as an essential benefit) or eliminating whole other categories.  Looking at some of the categories that were sometimes excluded prior to the ACA: maternity coverage accounts for 3.4% of claims, mental health and substance abuse accounts for 4.2% of claims and preventive benefits account for 5.6% of claims.12 To obtain policies with lower premiums, people would need to choose policies with important limitations.  CBO also notes that, should such categories be dropped from the definition of essential health benefits, non-group enrollees who need such care could see their out-of-pocket medical care spending increase by thousands of dollars in any given year.

A second difficulty is that this approach would lead to significant adverse selection against plans with benefits that were more comprehensive than the minimum required.  Because market rules permit applicants to choose any policy at initial enrollment, and change their level of coverage annually at renewal, people who have or develop higher needs for a benefit that is not a defined essential health benefit can enroll or switch a plan that covers it without any impediment.  For example, if a state were to determine that prescription drugs were not an essential health benefit, people without current drug needs would be more likely to take policies that did not provide drug coverage while people with current needs would be more likely to take policies that did.  This would increase premiums for policies covering prescriptions to relatively high levels, discouraging people without drug needs from purchasing them, which would lead to even higher premiums. While the risk adjustment program could offset some of the impacts of selection, developing a risk adjustment methodology where there is substantial benefit variation is difficult.13  This dynamic would discourage insurers from offering coverage for important benefits not defined as essential health benefits, or if they were to offer it, they would do so at high premiums.  People at average risk would likely not have reasonable options if they wanted to purchase coverage with significant benefits beyond those that were required for all policies.  CBO also estimates that insurers generally would not want to sell policies that include benefits that were not required by state law.

The AHCA requires that $15 billion of the money in the Fund be used for maternity coverage, newborn care, and prevention, treatment and recovery support services for mental health and substance abuse disorders.  States that chose not to include any of these services as essential health benefits could use these funds to make these services available, for example, by subsidizing optional coverage or providing direct services.  The funds would only be available in 2020, although it might be possible for a state to use them over a longer period.  The $15 billion was added to the Fund along with the authority to waive essential health benefits, which suggests that the sponsors may be anticipating that these services are at risk of not being defined as essential health benefits by states.

The second significant waiver option for states in the AHCA, allowing insurers to use health as a rating factor for applicants with a coverage gap within the previous year, would put states in the middle of one of the most contentious issues in this debate: how to provide access to coverage for people with preexisting health conditions.  There are few specifics in the bill, but generally, as discussed above, a state could seek a waiver to allow insurers to use health in rating applicants with a coverage gap and to apply the health rate until the end of the calendar year (their enforcement period).

WAIVING COMMUNITY RATING VS. PROTECTING ACCESS FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE SICK

This provision has the potential to reduce non-group premiums overall because permitting health-based rates that exceed 30% penalty that otherwise would apply to applicants with a coverage gap rating would make it more expensive for them to buy non-group plans, either generating more premiums from them or, more likely, diverting them from enrolling in the non-group market. If the permitted health surcharges were sufficiently high, the effect would be very close to a denial.  As noted above, the AHCA does not require states seeking this waiver to have any alternative method of access for people facing very high premiums based on their health.  The state would at least have to participate in the FIRSP (and it appears that the program operates in all states), but that mechanism only assists insurers when high-risk or high-cost people enroll, and people assessed a very high premium might not have an opportunity to enroll.

States electing this waiver would have tools to protect access for people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions.  One option that has been mentioned by supporters would be to create a high-risk pool that could offer coverage to people facing a high health surcharge.  The bill would permit states to use monies from the Fund to support a high-risk pool, and the bill would appropriate an additional $8 billion for 2018 through 2023 that could be used to reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for people assessed a higher premium because of the waiver to use health status as a factor.  States could use their share of the $8 billion to reduce premiums for high-risk pool coverage as an alternative for people who could not afford the health status surcharge for non-group coverage, and could use their general allocation from the Fund to support the costs of the pool if the $8 billion were to be insufficient or when it ends in 2023.

For states, the tradeoff would be balancing providing reasonable access to people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions against the goal of lowering premiums for others.  A state could have the biggest impact on premiums for non-group coverage by permitting insurers to assess a health surcharge without limits and not providing an alternative means of access.  This would result in many people with coverage gaps and preexisting conditions being priced out of the market, which would not only lower claims costs immediately, but would also prevent them from establishing continuous coverage and migrating to non-group plans at regular rates after their enforcement periods end.  Possibly more likely is that states would take some steps to assist people subject to health rating from being effectively declined through high premiums.  Options could include establishing a high-risk pool with premiums that are more affordable than the health adjusted premiums people would be assessed under the waiver, limiting the health surcharges that insurers could assess, or using a portion of their share of the $8 billion to reduce premium costs to a more affordable level.  For states weighing these choices, as they improve access and affordability for people who would be subject to the health adjusted rates, they generally lessen the impact that the waiver would have on premiums overall.

Likely, the high-risk pool option would have the largest impact on non-group premiums of these options, because it would move the claims for some high-risk people outside of the non-group market, at least until the people established continuous coverage and moved to non-group plans with premiums not adjusted for their health.  The bill does not establish any parameters for a high-risk pool, such as the premiums that could be charged, what the coverage and cost sharing would be, and whether there would be any limits on coverage.  For example, it is not clear if a high-risk pool would need to offer essential health benefits, would be subject to provisions prohibiting dollar limits, or would be considered coverage for which people could receive a premium tax credit.  States would need to establish parameters in all of these areas.

CBO estimated that about one-half of people live in states that would seek a waiver to modify the essential health benefits, use health as a rating factor, or both.  About two-thirds of these people would live in states that would choose to make moderate changes to market regulations, which would result in a modest reduction in premiums. One-third of these people live in states that CBO assumed would choose to substantially modify the essential health benefits and allow health status rating in their non-group markets.14  In these states, CBO estimated that people in good health would face significantly lower premiums while people less healthy people would be unable to purchase comprehensive coverage at premiums similar to current law and might not be able to purchase coverage at all.15  Although the additional grant funds for states with waivers to use health status rating would lower premiums and out-of-pocket premiums, CBO found that the premium effects would be small because “. . . the funding would not be sufficient to substantially reduce the large increases in premiums for high-cost enrollees”16 .  CBO did not produce illustrative premiums for this scenario.

ADDRESSING FUNDING LIMITATIONS OVER TIME

A third challenge for states is that the annual appropriations to the Fund do not grow over time and end entirely after 2026, even though the underlying health care needs continue to grow.  For example, the cost of health care would continue to increase over the period, while the number of uninsured would also increase.  Adding to the increasing cost burden, the federal premium tax credits would grow more slowly than premium over time, shifting more costs to enrollees and reducing their impact on affordability.  The appropriations for the Fund also end in 2023 (for the $8 billion) and 2026 for the rest of the Fund.  At the same time, the state matching requirements for money from the Fund grow over time, from 7% in 2020 to 50% in 2026.  This means that states would need to invest an increasing amount of resources on policies and programs for which federal funds may end, perhaps abruptly, in the foreseeable future. Unless the federal government would agree to commit to appropriate funds several years in advance, states might be reluctant to make budget or program commits to programs that they may be unable to maintain without significant federal assistance.

Discussion

Overall, the AHCA would present states with a number of difficult problems and choices, and with limited resources with which to address them.  The bill would reduce federal contributions for Medicaid and federal payments to subsidize non-group insurance by about $1 trillion dollars, while repealing the federal tax penalty for not having health insurance would increase non-group premiums significantly above current levels.  These provisions would disproportionately affect the affordability of coverage and care for lower income and older people, and would cause millions of people to become uninsured.

States would be eligible for $123 billion in grant funds to help offset these impacts, but would face difficult tradeoffs. If states use most of their grant funds to reduce premiums, as CBO has assumed, there would not be funds left to address other needs, such as helping lower income and older people facing higher premium and out-of-pocket costs and health care providers who would be serving a growing number of uninsured people.  States also would have the options of reducing covered benefits or allowing insurers to increase premiums for applicants with pre-existing conditions, each of which would lower premiums but would raise out-of-pocket costs for people with health problems.

State also would need to find an increasing amount of matching state funds to be eligible for the federal grant fund, and could face uncertainty if federal funds are not appropriated in advance.  States choosing not to participate (by not providing matching funds) would be left without resources to address the higher premiums and affordability issues that would arise.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Claxton G., Pollitz K., Levitt L. (2017 June 5). State flexibility to address health insurance challenges under the american health care act, h.r. 1628 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/state-flexibility-to-address-health-insurance-challenges-under-the-american-health-care-act-h-r-1628/


HSAs vs. HRAs: Things Employers Should Consider

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bob Bentley on what employers should know about choosing between HSAs and HRAs.

With health care costs and insurance premiums continuing to rise, employers are looking for ways to reduce their insurance expenses. That usually means increasing medical plan deductibles. According to the latest UBA Health Plan Survey, the average in-network single medical plan deductible increased from $2,031 in 2015 to $2,127 in 2016. But shifting costs to employees can be detrimental to an employer’s efforts to attract and retain top talent. Employers are looking for solutions that reduce their costs while minimizing the impact on employees.

One way employers can mitigate increasing deductibles is by packaging a high-deductible health plan with either a health savings account (HSA) contribution or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). Either can be used to bridge some or all of the gap between a lower deductible and a higher deductible while reducing insurance premiums, and both offer tax benefits for employers and employees. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach that employers need to consider.

Health Savings Account (HSA) General Attributes

  • The employee owns the account and can take it when changing jobs.
  • HSA contributions can be made by the employer or employee, subject to a maximum contribution established by the government.
  • Triple tax advantage – funds go in tax-free, accounts grow tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are for qualified expenses (see IRS publication 502).
  • Funds may accumulate for years and be used during retirement.
  • The HSA must be paired with an IRS qualified high-deductible health plan (QHDHP); not just any plan with a deductible of $1,300 or more will qualify.

HSA Advantages

  • Costs are more predictable as they are not related to actual expenses, which can vary from year to year; contributions may also be spread out through the year to improve cash flow.
  • Employees become better consumers since there is an incentive to not spend the money and let it accumulate. This can result in an immediate reduction in claims costs for a self-funded plan.
  • HSAs can be set up with fewer administration costs; usually no administrator is needed, and no ERISA summary plan description (SPD) is needed.
  • The employer is not held responsible by the IRS for ensuring that the employee is eligible and that the contribution maximums are not exceeded.

HSA Disadvantages

  • Employees cannot participate if they’re also covered under a non-qualified health plan, which includes Tricare, Medicare, or even a spouse’s flexible spending account (FSA).
  • Employees accustomed to copays for office visits or prescriptions may be unhappy with the benefits of the QHDHP.
  • IRS rules can be confusing; IRS penalties may apply if the employee is ineligible for a contribution or other mistakes are made, which might intimidate employees.
  • Employees may forgo treatment to avoid spending their HSA balance or if they have no HSA funds available.

Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) General Attributes

  • Only an employer can contribute to an HRA; employees cannot.
  • The employer controls the cash until a claim is filed by the employee for reimbursement.
  • HRA contributions are tax deductible to the employer and tax-free to the employee.
  • To comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), an HRA must be combined with a group medical insurance plan that meets ACA requirements.

HRA Advantages

  • HRAs offer more employer control and flexibility on the design of the HRA and the health plan does not need to be HSA qualified.
  • The employer can set it up as “use it or lose it” each year, thus reducing funding costs.
  • An HRA is compatible with an FSA (not just limited-purpose FSA).
  • Depending on the employer group, HRAs can sometimes be less confusing for employees, particularly if the plan design is simple.
  • HRA funds revert to the employer when an employee leaves – which might increase employee retention.

HRA Disadvantages

  • Self-employed individuals cannot participate in HRA funding.
  • There is little or no incentive for employees to control utilization since funds may not accumulate from year to year.
  • More administration may be necessary – HRAs are subject to ERISA and COBRA laws.
  • HRAs could raise HIPAA privacy concerns and create the need for policies and testing.

Both HSAs and HRAs can be of tremendous value to employers and employees. As shown, there are, however, a number of considerations to determine the best program and design for each situation. In some cases, employers may consider offering both, allowing employees to choose between an HSA contribution and a comparable HRA contribution, according to their individual circumstances.

For a comprehensive chart that compares eligibility criteria, contribution rules, reimbursement rules, reporting requirements, privacy requirements, applicable fees, non-discrimination rules and other characteristics of account-based plans, request UBA’s Compliance Advisor,  “HRAs, HSAs, and Health FSAs – What’s the Difference?”.

For information on modest contribution strategies that are still driving enrollment in HSA and HRA plans, read our breaking news release.

For a detailed look at the prevalence and enrollment rates among HSA and HRA plans by industry, region and group size, view UBA’s "Special Report: How Health Savings Accounts Measure Up", to understand which aspects of these accounts are most successful, and least successful.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bentley B. (2017 May 12). HSAs vs. HRAs: things employers should consider[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/hsas-vs.-hras-things-employers-should-consider


Employees Look to Employers for Financial Stability

Do your employees depend on their pay and benefits for their financial security? Find out in this great article by Nick Otto from Employee Benefit News on what employees depend on from their employers to support their financial well-being.

As the American dream of financial security continues to slip out of reach for many U.S. workers, employers — seen as trusted partners by employees — will need to step up to restore faith in retirement readiness.

Only 22% of individuals described themselves as feeling financially secure, Prudential says in its new research paper, and there is growing acceptance among employers that there is significant value in improving employees’ financial wellness.

Aspirations are modest, says Clint Key, a research officer in financial security and mobility at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Between economic mobility or financial stability, an overwhelming 92% of workers say they want stability.

“Four in 10 don’t have the resources to pay for a $2,000 expense,” he said Tuesday, at a joint financial wellness roundtable sponsored by Prudential Financial and the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. More alarmingly, employees don’t have the income to last a month if they were to lose their job.

Still, Key adds, it isn’t so much the number of dollars in the bank, but the peace of minds that savings buy them.

And employers are feeling the repercussions of the growing stressors in the workplace.

“People who are stressed about finances are five times more likely to take time off from work to deal with personal finances,” added Diane Winland, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Three to four hours every week go to handling personal finances, and these employees are more likely to call out sick from work.”

The security levers once in place, such as home equity, are going away and it’s becoming much more difficult for workers to handle a financial emergency, she added.

The good news, however, is employers get it, she said. “They understand employee financial wellness is tied to the bottom line and it behooves them to invest in their employees,” said Winland. “The conundrum is how to deploy and what to deploy in their programs. Is it counseling? Coaching? Is it a new snazzy app that comes out. The key is there is no silver bullet.”

So, what is there to do?

Each employer has a unique business model and employee base, and, therefore, faces different challenges when implementing a financial wellness approach, Prudential’s paper notes. “Employers should design financial wellness programs that are informed by insights into the unique financial needs of their employees, successfully educate and engage employees, and help employees take concrete actions to improve their financial health. We encourage employers to discuss financial wellness with their benefit consultants or advisers.”

And, added Robert Levy, managing director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, just talk to your employees. “They’re open to discussing their financial challenges,” he said, and employers can engage these conversations through numerous ways: surveys, one-on-one talks, focus groups.

Prudential stepping up

To try to change the current unease in financial security, Prudential Tuesday also announced its expansion of worksite tools for employers to enable them to analyze the financial needs of their workforce and offer the employees a personalized interactive experience that includes videos, tools, webinars and articles that empower them to manage their financial challenges.

In addition, Prudential has launched a $5 million, three-year program in partnership with the Aspen Institute — a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan educational and policy studies organization — to promote employees’ financial security.

“The investment highlights the need to increase the national discourse about greater economic access for employees as they bear increasing risk and responsibility for their short-term and long-term financial security,” said Prudential.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Otto N. (2017 May 18). employees look to employers for financial stability [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-look-to-employers-for-financial-stability


HSAs and Employer Responsibilities

Do you know all the responsibilities an employer will face when dealing with HSAs? If not, take a look at this great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Vicki Randall and find out about all the HSA responsibilities facing employers.

It’s no secret that one of the primary agenda items of the new Republican administration is to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to sign into law a plan that they feel will be more effective in managing health care costs. Their initial attempt at a new plan, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), included an increased focus on leveraging health savings accounts (HSAs) to accomplish this goal. As the plan gets debated and modified in Congress, we do not know whether the role of HSAs will be expanded or not, but they will continue to be a part of the landscape in some shape or form.

HSAs first came into existence in 2003 and they have been gaining momentum as a way to deal with increasing health care costs ever since. If you, as a plan sponsor, do not already offer a health plan compatible with an HSA, chances are you’ve at least discussed them during your annual plan reviews. So, what exactly is an HSA and what is an employer’s responsibility relating to one?

An HSA is a tax-favored account established by an individual to pay for certain medical expenses incurred by account holders and their spouses and tax dependents. Anyone can make a contribution to an eligible Individual’s HSA. This includes the individual’s employer. However, if employers contribute to participant HSAs, employers must:

  1. Ensure their health plan meets high-deductible health plan (HDHP) requirements,
  2. Determine eligibility,
  3. Establish contribution method,
  4. Provide W-2 reporting, and
  5. Confirm employer involvement in the HSA does not create an ERISA plan, or cause a prohibited transaction.

High-Deductible Health Plan Requirements

Plan sponsors should make sure their plan meets certain HDHP requirements before making contributions to participants’ HSAs.

Characteristics of an HDHP

An HDHP is a health plan that has statutorily prescribed minimum deductible and maximum out-of-pocket limits. The limits are adjusted annually for inflation.

For example, for 2017, the limits for self-only coverage are:

  • Minimum Deductible: $1,300
  • Maximum Out-of-Pocket: $6,550

The limits for family coverage (i.e., any coverage other than self-only coverage) are twice the applicable amounts for self-only coverage. The limits are adjusted annually for inflation and, for a given year, are published by the IRS no later than June 1 of the preceding year. In addition, an HDHP cannot pay any benefits until the deductible is met. The only exception to this rule is benefits for preventive care.

Eligibility

Eligible Individuals can make or receive contributions to their HSAs. A person is an eligible individual if he or she is covered by an HDHP and is not covered by any other plan that pays medical benefits, subject to certain exceptions.

Employer Contribution Methods

Employers that contribute to the HSAs of their employees may do so inside or outside of a cafeteria (Section 125) plan. The contribution rules are different for each option.

Contributions Outside of a Cafeteria Plan

When contributing to any employee’s HSA outside of a cafeteria plan, an employer must make comparable contributions to the HSAs of all comparable participating employees.

Contributions Made Through a Cafeteria Plan

HSA contributions made through a cafeteria plan do not have to satisfy the comparability rules, but are subject to the Section 125 non-discrimination rules for cafeteria plans. HSA employer contributions will be treated as being made through a cafeteria plan if the cafeteria plan permits employees to make pre-tax salary reduction contributions.

Employer HSA Contribution Amounts

Contributions from all sources cannot exceed certain annual limits prescribed by the IRS. Although employer contributions cannot exceed the applicable limits, employers are only responsible for determining the following with respect to an employee’s eligibility and maximum annual contribution limit on HSA contributions:

  • Whether the employee is covered under an HDHP or low-deductible health plan, or plans (including health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) sponsored by that employer; and
  • The employee’s age (for catch-up contributions). The employer may rely on the employee’s representation as to his or her date of birth.

When employers contribute to the HSAs of their employees and retirees, the amount of the contribution is excludable from the eligible individual’s income and is deductible by the employer provided they do not exceed the applicable limit. Withholding for income tax, FICA, FUTA, or RRTA taxes is not required if, at the time of the contribution, the employer reasonably believes that contribution will be excludable from the employee’s income.

Employer Reporting Requirements

An employer must report the amount of its contribution to an employee’s HSA in Box 12 of the employee’s W-2 using code W.

Design and Operational Considerations

Employers should make sure that their involvement in the HSA does not create an ERISA plan, or cause them to become involved in a prohibited transaction. To ensure that contributions will not cause the health plan to become subject to ERISA, certain restrictions exist that employers should be aware of and follow. Employer contributions to an HSA will not cause the employer to have established a health plan subject to ERISA provided:

  • The establishment of the HSA is completely voluntary on the part of the employees; and
  • The employer does not:
    • limit the ability of eligible individuals to move their funds to another HSA or impose conditions on utilization of HSA funds beyond those permitted under the code;
    • make or influence the investment decisions with respect to funds contributed to an HSA;
    • represent that the HSA is an employee welfare benefit plan established or maintained by the employer;
    • or receive any payment or compensation in connection with an HSA.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Randall V. (2017 May 25). HSAs and employer responsibilities [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/hsas-and-employer-responsibilities


CenterStage...The Experts Weigh In

5 Main Benefits of Self-Funding

Simply put, a Partially Self-Funded health plan is just an alternative, and often times more effective way of financing your employer sponsored health plan. Outside of “How does it work?” the questions that are most frequently asked are regarding the risks involved with this strategy and limiting the employer’s exposure. It was once thought that partially self-funding your health plan was reserved for only large employers. Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI.org) reported that in 2015 there was a 36.8% increase in private sector employers moving to partially self-funding. We don’t see the use of this strategy slowing down any time soon. It’s all about building the self-funded plan the right way in order to reduce the risk, while at the same time creating opportunity for savings.

A well designed self-funded plan built by a knowledgeable advisor will result in healthier employees and money saved over time. The opportunity for nearly all size employers is substantial. Whether your company is large enough to be completely self-funded, or are mid-size and need stop loss, or are smaller and can take advantage of a level-funding type plan, there are self-funding opportunities for all size employers.

In this article, Scott Smeaton shares his insights on what makes self-funded plans beneficial and what Hierl can do to help.

Scott Smeaton, Executive Vice President

“My advice to anyone who is considering moving to a self funded plan from a traditionally funded plan is that it’s not a one year strategy,” said Scott Smeaton, Executive Vice President of Hierl. “Take the time to find a knowledgeable advisor who will help you understand the risks and opportunities with self-funding, and commit to it for at least three years."

1. Financial Control

The most significant benefit of self-funding is the resulting increased financial control. Self-funded plans often times improve cash flow as funds that would otherwise be held by the insurance carrier for unreported or pending claims are free for use. With a self-funded plan, employers have access to detailed reports and documentation of how every health plan dollar is spent. “We’ve all heard the phrase, we can’t manage what we can’t measure”. Self-funded plans provide access to information that we otherwise would not have.

2. Lower Costs

While traditional fully insured plans allow for a guaranteed monthly cost, meaning the premium stays the same month to month, self-funded plans provide greater flexibility where you only pay for what you use. The disadvantage of a traditional plan is that in a year that the claims and administrative expenses are less than the premium an employer paid – none of that money will be refunded back.

With a partially self-funded plan, you will have administrative and stop loss insurance expenses that will be about 20% of your total budget. The other 80% is purely claims. If at the end of the year your claims were lower than expected, the employer realizes the savings. In a year when claims exceed what is expected, we have stop loss insurance to protect the employer and its employees.

“Wellness efforts and self-funded benefit plans can often work hand in hand in reducing your annual health plan costs,” explained Scott. “I often tell employers who are currently fully insured and have experienced low claims cost that if you believe you can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of your employees, then a self-funded plan will be perfect for you because you will be rewarded for wellness efforts and initiatives.”

3. Increased Flexibility

Self-funded plans provide employers the flexibility to design a health benefit plan that addresses specific employee needs as well as company objectives. When compared to traditional plans, self-funded plans allow you to choose your own partners and plan designs. Whether it’s the provider network, the prescription benefit manager, utilization management or centers of excellence manager, vendors can be hand selected from national provider networks to incorporate in the program.

A fully insured plan is required to meet state mandates, state premiums taxes, and ACA taxes among other expenses. Self-funded plans are not subject to the state mandates and either avoids or minimizes many of the taxes.

4. Control Over Plan Design

A downside of traditional plans is being required to select an off-the-shelf plan that your insurance carrier offers.

“One of the things we are doing with our self-funded plans is designing our plans in a way that drives employees to seek out the highest quality but lowest cost providers within their provider network. Provider discounts are great, but there’s even more savings to be gained by creating incentives to seek care from these highest quality, lowest cost providers within that network. Employees are beginning to understand the importance of being better healthcare consumers and it’s paying off. When this happens, it’s only in a self-funded environment that you see the maximum savings from these efforts,” said Scott.

5. Information Management

Self-funded plans provide convenient, secure access to all the necessary information needed to effectively manage plan structure. With a self-funded plan, you can:

  • Track and report data regularly: tracking data allows monthly or quarterly patterns to be detected and acted upon accordingly. Proactive data tracking helps employers stay on top of what is coming next.
  • Utilize predictive plan modeling: past and current claim data can be used to analyze risks and forecast costs allowing for spending waste to be eliminated.

How can Hierl help?

If an employer is moving to a self-funded plan for the first time, Hierl walks clients through a simple process beginning with a risk tolerance analysis to be sure that the plan design keeps the client within their comfort level. From there, Hierl assists with finding a product and design that meets a client’s specific needs. Whether this is a level-funded plan, a captive self-funded plan that limits exposure, or a stop-loss plan that will refund any excess premium at the end of the year, an expert will help determine the best plan for the employer and their employees.

Hierl’s Self-Funded Renewal 101

Here’s an example of the process Hierl guides fully insured clients through as they transition to selffunding. For more information or assistance reach out to an expert at Hierl today.

  • 9-6 months before renewal - Hierl walks clients through all the components of how self-funding works (Self-Funding 101).
  • 6-7 months before the renewal - Hierl facilitates interviews with TPA (Third Party Administrators) in order to select the TPA that best meets the client’s goals and objectives.
  • 5-6 months before renewal - Hierl provides benefit modeling to illustrate self-funding plan design and financial projections in order to compare it to the current fully insured plan.
  • 2-4 months before renewal – Implementation and enrollment is completed.

To download the full article click Here.


Local Innovation in Health Insurance Brings Affordability and Unique Plan Design

Innovative insurance plan exclusive to Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Dodge counties incorporates competitive rates and unique plan design.

MENASHA, WI (June 14, 2017) – A recent partnership between Network Health, Hierl Insurance and Agnesian HealthCare is bringing a new health insurance option to employer groups in Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Dodge counties. This new insurance plan, Assure Elite, allows businesses with two to 100 enrolled employees to offer quality health insurance coverage to their employees at a competitive, business-friendly rate.

Assure Elite is a hybrid level-funded health insurance plan. Level-funding is a cost-effective health plan funding solution that allows companies to benefit from the predictable, fixed monthly rates of a fully insured plan, while only paying for health care that employees receive. Assure Elite eliminates some of the cost concerns usually associated with self-funded plans, making them available to smaller, local businesses. The new plan offers an opportunity for an extended two-year (24 month) rate.

“Network Health is based right here in Wisconsin -  we’re local and we’ve been the go-to community health plan for 35 years,” said Coreen Dicus-Johnson, Network Health president and CEO. “This partnership with Hierl Insurance and Agnesian HealthCare provides affordable, high quality, local coverage to our communities, and it’s perfectly aligned with our mission to enhance the life, health and wellness of the communities we serve."

Headquartered in the Fox Valley, Network Health covers more than 129,000 people throughout Wisconsin on its commercial, Medicare Advantage and individual health insurance plans. Network Health currently insures nearly 14,000 people throughout Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Dodge counties.

Employers in Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Dodge counties with two to 100 enrolled employees may contact Hierl Insurance to purchase Assure Elite plans from Network Health. Coverage under Assure Elite plans can begin as soon as August 1. Please contact Hierl Insurance at 920-921-5921 or hierlquotes@hierl.com for more information or to begin your quote. Network Health and Hierl Insurance also have plan options available for larger employer groups.

“Hierl Insurance has been offering high value employee benefit solutions to the greater Fond du Lac area for close to 100 years,” said Mike Hierl, president of Hierl Insurance. “We’ve been around for 100 years because we believe in taking proactive measures to stay ahead of market trends, and offer our clients dynamic, cost effective solutions to the challenges presented by the ever changing health care and benefit environment. Assure Elite is another step forward in that direction – a partnership with Agnesian HealthCare and Network Health that allows us to provide employers with a solution for quality, cost-effective care close to home. We’re excited to be able to bring this new product to market.”

Agnesian’s Know & Go program will serve as the wellness benefit for Assure Elite plans. The program provides tools, education and incentives to help plan participants live healthier.

“Agnesian HealthCare is excited to partner with Network Health and Hierl Insurance to offer an employer-sponsored health plan that provides cost certainty and improves the well-being of the citizens in the communities we serve,” according to Steve Little, Agnesian HealthCare president and chief executive officer.

“Network Health is always looking for innovative ways to serve our community and provide exceptional service to our members,” said Network Health’s Coreen Dicus-Johnson. “Health insurance affordability is a nationwide problem. Assure Elite is the local solution.”

To Download our Group Health Plan Form Click Here.

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About Network Health
About Network Health Founded in 1982, Network Health offers customized commercial and Medicare health insurance services to employers, individuals and families in more than 23 counties throughout Wisconsin. Through its strong reputation for quality health care coverage and superior customer service, Network Health has grown to serve more than 129,000 members and 32,000 wellness participants. Learn more at networkhealth.com. Visit our blog at copilotwi.com.

About Hierl Insurance Inc.
A third-generation family owned business, Hierl’s goal is for you to “Expect More and Demand Better.” Since 1919, Hierl has earned the trust of Wisconsin employers by using insight and innovative technology to create unique strategies that protect business owners, their employees and their budgets. Hierl’s mission is to provide clients with the wisdom and tools necessary to build a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce. With locations in Fond du Lac and Appleton, Hierl’s expertise in employee benefits, commercial insurance, human resources and wellness creates a great business team. Learn more at hierl.com.

About Agnesian HealthCare
For more than 120 years, Agnesian HealthCare has been a cornerstone within the Fond du Lac region, and it continues its mission to offer high quality services with compassionate care. A total of 10 ministries offer a wide array of quality health and wellness services for individuals and families, including Agnesian Pharmacy/Prescription Centers and Agnesian Health Shoppe, Christian Home & Rehabilitation Center, Consultants Laboratory, Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, Ripon Medical Center, St. Agnes Hospital, St. Francis Home, Villa Loretto & Villa Rosa, and Waupun Memorial Hospital.

With hospitals in Fond du Lac, Ripon and Waupun, and 18 Fond du Lac Regional Clinic offices, the care of more than 100 primary and specialty care physicians is available. A staff of more than 3,500 associates and physicians are the backbone of Agnesian HealthCare, which is sponsored by the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes. To learn more, visit agnesian.com.