Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

With the Senate's plan for the repeal and replacement of the ACA failing more Americans are hoping for Congress to move on to more pressing matters. Find out how Americans really feel about the ACA and healthcare reform in this great study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that the majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass the bill that would have repealed and replaced the ACA. Since then, President Trump has suggested Congress not take on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA, but six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with this approach, while one-third (34 percent) agree with it.
  • A majority of the public (57 percent) want to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law, while smaller shares say they want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). However, about half of Republicans and Trump supporters would like to see Republicans in Congress keep working on a plan to repeal the ACA.
  • A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Moving forward, a majority of the public (60 percent) says President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for any problems with the ACA.
  • Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces. The majority of the public are unaware that health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces or health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces only affect those who purchase their own insurance on these marketplaces (67 percent and 80 percent, respectively). In fact, the majority of Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.
  • A majority of the public disapprove of stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and disapprove of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of stopping outreach efforts, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.
  • The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating on a replacement plan. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support these negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).
  • This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability of nine percentage points since the 2016 presidential election as well as an increase of favorability among Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Attitudes Towards Recent “Repeal and Replace” Efforts

In the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate voted on their latest version of a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Known as “skinny repeal,” this plan was unable to garner majority support– thus temporarily halting Congress’ ACA repeal efforts. The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, fielded the week following the failed Senate vote, finds that a majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the U.S. Senate did not pass a bill aimed at repealing and replacing the ACA, while about one-third (35 percent) say this is a “bad thing.” However, views vary considerably by partisanship with a majority of Democrats (85 percent), independents (62 percent), and individuals who say they disapprove of President Trump (81 percent) saying it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill compared to a majority of Republicans (64 percent) and individuals who say they approve of President Trump (65 percent) saying it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill.

The majority of those who view the Senate not passing an ACA replacement bill as a “good thing” say they feel this way because they do not want the 2010 health care law repealed (34 percent of the public overall) while a smaller share (23 percent of the public overall) say they feel this way because, while they support efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, they had specific concerns about the particular bill the Senate was debating.

And while most Republicans and supporters of President Trump say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass ACA repeal legislation, for those that say it is a “good thing” more Republicans say they had concerns about the Senate’s particular legislation (21 percent) than say they do not want the ACA repealed (6 percent). This is also true among supporters of President Trump (19 percent vs. 6 percent).

WHO DO PEOPLE BLAME OR CREDIT FOR THE SENATE BILL FAILING TO PASS?

Among those who say it is a “good thing” that the Senate was unable to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, similar shares say the general public who voiced concerns about the bill (40 percent) and the Republicans in Congress who voted against the bill (35 percent) deserve most of the credit for the bill failing to pass. This is followed by a smaller share (14 percent) who say Democrats in Congress deserve the most credit.

On the other hand, among those who say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill to repeal the ACA, over a third place the blame on Democrats in Congress (37 percent). About three in ten (29 percent) place the blame on Republicans in Congress while fewer (15 percent) say President Trump deserves most of the blame for the bill failing to pass.

HALF OF THE PUBLIC ARE “RELIEVED” OR “HAPPY” THE SENATE DID NOT REPEAL AND REPLACE THE ACA

More Americans say they are “relieved” (51 percent) or “happy” (47 percent) that the Senate did not pass a bill repealing and replacing the ACA, than say they are “disappointed” (38 percent) or “angry” (19 percent).

Although two-thirds of Republicans and Trump supporters say they feel “disappointed” about the Senate failing to pass a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, smaller shares (30 percent and 37 percent, respectively) report feeling “angry” about the failure to pass the health care bill.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACA MOVING FORWARD

With the future of any other replacement plans uncertain, the majority (60 percent) of the public say that because President Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government, they are responsible for any problems with the ACA moving forward, compared to about three in ten Americans (28 percent) who say that because President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law, they are responsible for any problems with it. Partisan divisiveness continues with majorities of Republicans and supporters of President Trump who say President Obama and Democrats are responsible for any problems with it moving forward, while large shares of Democrats, independents, and those who do not approve of President Trump say President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for the law moving forward.

Moving Past Repealing The Affordable Care Act

This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability since Congress began debating ACA replacement plans and a nine percentage point shift since the 2016 presidential election.

The shift in attitudes since the 2016 presidential election is found regardless of party identification. For example, the share of Republicans who have a favorable view of the ACA has increased from 12 percent in November 2016 to 21 percent in August 2017. This is similar to the increase in favorability among independents (11 percentage points) and Democrats (7 percentage points) over the same time period.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE ACA

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that after the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a plan to repeal and replace the ACA, the majority of the public (57 percent) wants to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law but not repeal it. Far fewer want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). About half of Republicans (49 percent) and Trump supporters (46 percent) want Republicans in Congress to continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA, but about a third of each say they would like to see Republicans work with Democrats on improvements to the ACA.

Six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with President Trump’s strategy of Congress not taking on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA while one-third (34 percent) of the public agree with this approach. Republicans and Trump supporters are more divided in their opinion on this strategy with similar shares saying they agree and disagree with the approach.

MOST WANT TO SEE PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS MAKE THE CURRENT HEALTH CARE LAW WORK

Regardless of their opinions of the ACA, the majority of the public want to see the 2010 health care law work. Eight in ten (78 percent) Americans think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while fewer (17 percent) say President Trump and his adminstration should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

This month’s survey also includes questions about specific actions that the Trump administration can take to make the ACA fail and finds that the majority of the public disapproves of the Trump Administration stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and no longer enforcing the individual mandate, the requirement that all individuals have insurance or pay a fine (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of President Trump stopping outreach efforts so fewer people sign up for insurance, which experts say could weaken the marketplaces, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.

The Future of the ACA Marketplaces

About 10.3 million people have health insurance that they purchased through the ACA exchanges or marketplaces, where people who don’t get insurance through their employer can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits.1 Seven in ten (69 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans’ next steps on health care to include fixing the remaining problems with the ACA in order to help the marketplaces work better, compared to three in ten (29 percent) who say it is more important for them to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA.

The majority of Republicans (61 percent) and Trump supporters (63 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA, while the vast majority of Democrats (90 percent) and seven in ten independents (69 percent) want them to fix the ACA’s remaining problems to help the marketplaces work better.

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS ON WHO IS IMPACTED BY ISSUES IN THE ACA MARKETPLACES

Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces which has led some insurance companies to charge higher premiums in certain marketplaces.  Six in ten Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.

There has also been news about insurance companies no longer selling coverage in the individual insurance marketplaces and currently, it’s estimated that 17 counties (9,595 enrollees) are currently at risk to have no insurer on the ACA marketplaces in 2018.2 The majority of the public (54 percent) say health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have no impact on them and their family. Yet, despite the limited number of counties that may not have an insurer in their marketplaces as well as this not affecting those with employer sponsored insurance where most people obtain health insurance, about four in ten (38 percent) of the public believe that health insurance companies choosing to not sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their families.

The majority of the public think both of these ACA marketplace issues will affect everyone who has health insurance and not just those who purchase their insurance on these marketplaces. Six in ten think health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while about one-fourth (26 percent) correctly say it only affects those who buy health insurance on their own. In addition, three-fourths (76 percent) of the public say that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while fewer (17 percent) correctly say it will affect only those who buy health insurance on their own.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD NOT USE COST-SHARING REDUCTION PAYMENTS AS NEGOTIATING STRATEGY

Over the past several months President Trump has threatened to stop the payments to insurance companies that help cover the cost of health insurance for lower-income Americans (known commonly as CSR payments), in order to get Democrats to start working with Republicans on an ACA replacement plan.3 The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support President Trump using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kirzinger A., Dijulio B., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 Aug 11). Kaiser health tracking poll-august 2017: the politics of ACA repeal and replace efforts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-august-2017-the-politics-of-aca-repeal-and-replace-efforts/?utm_campaign=KFF-2017-August-Tracking-Poll&utm_medium=email&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9GaFJKrO9G3bL05k_i4GzC04eMAaSCDlmcsiYsfzAn-SeJdK_JnFvab4GydMfe_9iGiiKy5LR0iKxm6f0gDZGbwqh-bQ&_hsmi=55195408&utm_content=55195408&utm_source=hs_email&hsCtaTracking=4463482c-5ae1-4dfa-b489-f54b5dd97156%7Cd5849489-f587-49ad-ae35-3bd735545b28


What Could Happen If The Administration Stops Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments To Insurers?

Has the President's recent threat to slash Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments for insurers left you worried about your healthcare costs? Find out how the loss of Cost-Sharing Reduction Payments will impact your health insurance in this informative column by Timothy Jost from Health Affairs.

August 4 Update: Voluntary Insurer Reporting Of Catastrophic Coverage Offered Through Exchange Continued

On August 3, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service released Notice 2017-41  informing insurers that for 2017, as for 2015 and 2016, they would be encouraged but not required to report coverage under catastrophic plans in which individuals were enrolled through an exchange. Insurers and employers are generally required to file 1095-B or 1095-C forms with the IRS, and to provide these forms to individuals whom they cover, documenting that the individuals have minimum essential coverage as required by the individual mandate.

Insurers are not, however, required to report qualified health plan coverage provided through the exchanges, because the exchanges themselves file 1095-A forms documenting QHP coverage and provide these forms to enrollees. But catastrophic health plans are not QHPs, so exchanges do not report catastrophic coverage either.

The IRS proposed regulations in 2016 to require insurers to report catastrophic coverage issued through the exchange and thus to fill this gap.  These rules have not yet been finalized however.  In the meantime, the IRS has encouraged insurers to report catastrophic coverage issued through an exchange voluntarily. The guidance extends this policy for another year. Insurers that voluntarily report catastrophic coverage will not be subject to penalties with respect to returns and statements reporting this coverage.

Original Post

Although the decision of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to allow attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia to join the House v. Price cost-sharing reduction (CSR) litigation as parties complicates President Trump’s ability to simply stop the CSR payments, rumors continue that he is preparing to do so. The CSR payments are made monthly; the next installment is due on August 21, 2017. If the administration intends not to make the August payment, it must announce its decision soon.

Changes to qualified health plan (QHP) applications in the federally facilitated exchange (FFE) are due on August 16, 2017, as are final rates for single risk pool plans including QHPs. Final contracts with insurers for providing QHP coverage through the FFE must be signed by September 27. If the Trump administration is going to defund the CSRs, now is the time it will do it.

The back story on the CSR issue can be found in my post on July 31, while the intervention decision is analyzed in my post on August 1. This post focuses on issues that will need to be resolved going forward if the Trump administration decides to defund the CSRs.

The Choices Insurers Would Face If CSR Payments Were Ended

First, insurers would have to decide whether to continue to participate in the exchanges. Those in the FFE have a contractual right to drop participation for the rest of 2017, but how exactly they would do this would depend on state law, and would probably require 90 days notice. Insurers would also not be able to terminate the policies of individuals covered through the exchange, although once the insurers left the exchange premium tax credits would cease and many policyholders would drop coverage. Insurers that tried to leave immediately would likely suffer reputational damage, and those that could financially would likely try to hold on until the end of the year.

Some insurers might well decide that the government is an unreliable partner and give up on the exchanges for 2018. Indeed, some would conclude that the individual market is too risky to play in at all. The individual market makes up a small part of the business of large insurers; even though it has become more profitable in the recent past, some insurers might conclude that the premium increases that would be needed to make up for the loss of the CSRs would drive healthy enrollees out of the individual market. Rather than deal with a deteriorating risk pool, they might leave the individual market entirely (although they would probably have to give 180 days notice to do so.)

Insurers that decide to stay would have to charge rates that would allow them to survive without the $10 billion dollars the CSR payments would provide. They would need to raise premiums significantly to accomplish this. How they did so would depend on guidance that they got from their state department of insurance or possibly from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The California Experience

On August 1, 2017, Covered California announced its 2018 rates. The California state-based marketplace is an example of how the Affordable Care Act can work in a state that fully supports it and has a big enough market to form a balanced risk pool. For 2018, the average weighted rate increase in California is 12.5 percent, of which 2.8 percent is attributable to the end of the moratorium on the federal health insurance tax. Consumers can switch to plans that will limit their rate change to 3.3 percent in the same metal tier. All 11 health insurers in California are returning to the market for 2018 (although one insurer, Anthem, is leaving 16 of the 19 regions in which it participated for 2017) and 82 percent of consumers will be able to choose between three or more insurers. About 83 percent of hospitals in California participate in at least one plan.

Covered California instructed its insurers to file alternate rates that would go into effect if the Trump administration abandons the CSR payments. The insurers were instructed to load the extra cost onto their silver (70 percent actuarial value) plans, since the CSRs only apply to silver plans. The alternative rates filed by the insurers project that if the CSRs are not funded, they would have to essentially double their premium increases, hiking premiums by an additional 12.4 percent.

Virtually all of this increase would be absorbed by increased federal premium tax credits for those with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. As the premium of the benchmark second-lowest cost silver plan increased, so would the tax credits. A Covered California study concluded that the premium tax credit subsidy in California would increase by about a third if the CSR subsidies are defunded.

Bronze, gold, and platinum plan premiums would not be affected by the silver plan load. As the premium tax credits increased, many more enrollees might be able to get bronze plans for free, and gold plans would become competitive with silver plans in price. More people would likely be eligible for premium tax credits as people higher up the income scale found that premiums cost a higher percentage of their household income.

Consumers who are not eligible for premium tax credits would have to pay the full premium increase themselves. Covered California has suggested, however, that insurers load the premium increase only onto silver plans in the exchange, since CSRs are only available in the exchange. Insurers would likely encourage their enrollees who are in silver plans in the exchange to move to similar products off the exchange that are much more affordable. Bronze, gold, and platinum plans would cost more or less the same on or off the exchange.

Other States Would Likely Make Different Choices Than California’s

It is likely that not all states would follow California’s lead. If state departments of insurance do not allow insurers to increase their premiums, more insurers would leave the individual market. If state departments require insurers to load the CSR surcharge onto all metal-level plans, both on and off the exchange, bronze, gold, and platinum plans would be more expensive and individual insurance would become much more costly for all consumers who are not eligible for premium tax credits. If insurers leave the market or consumers drop coverage, more consumers would end up using care they cannot afford, increasing medical debt and the uncompensated care burden of providers, and of hospitals in particular.

Some insurers in other states have likely already loaded a substantial surcharge onto their 2018 premiums in anticipation of CSR defunding and of other problems, such as uncertainty about the Trump administration enforcing the individual mandate. If insurers in fact profit from excessive rates, consumers might eventually receive medical loss ratio rebates, but 2018 rebates would not be paid out until late in 2019, if the requirement is still on the books by then.

Other Ramifications Of Ending CSR Payments To Insurers

CSR defunding could have other effects as well. Insurers have been reimbursed each month for CSRs based on an estimation of what they are paying out to actually reduce cost sharing. Each year the insurers must reconcile the payments they have received with those they were actually due. Insurers were supposed to have filed their reconciliation data for 2016 by June 2, 2017, and were supposed to be paid any funds due them, or to refund overpayments, in August. Reconciliation payments may also be due in some situations for 2015. If the administration cuts off CSR payments, it could conceivably cut off reconciliation payments as well.

Finally, defunding of CSRs would likely have an effect on risk adjustment payments as well. The risk adjustment methodology has been set for 2018 in the 2018 payment rule. It would likely not be amended for 2018 in light of the CSR defunding. Defunding would increase the statewide average premium on which risk adjustment payments are based. This would generally exaggerate the effects that risk adjustment would otherwise have. In particular, insurers with heavy bronze plan enrollment would end up paying more in, while insurers with more gold or platinum plans might receive higher payments.

Looking Forward

President Trump claims to see the CSR payments as a “bailout” to insurers, which surely they are not. They are a payment for services rendered, much like a Medicare payment to a Medicare Advantage plan. The effects of defunding would reverberate throughout out health care system, likely causing problems far beyond those identified in this post.

Fortunately, Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Murray (D-WA), the chair and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, have announced that they will begin hearings on a bipartisan approach to health reform when the Senate returns in September, and funding of the CSR payments for at least a year seems to be at the top of their list. A bipartisan group of House members has also called for funding the CSRs. And pressure to fund the CSRs continues from the outside, with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners calling for it again last week. It is to be hoped that President Trump will not take steps that would sabotage the individual market and that a solution can quickly be found to the CSR issue that will bring stability to the market going forward.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jost T. (2017 August 2). What could happen if the administration stops cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/08/02/what-could-happen-if-the-administration-stops-cost-sharing-reduction-payments-to-insurers/


Revised GOP Healthcare Bill Still Good for Employers

Has the uncertainty surrounding the BCRA left you worried about your company's healthcare plan? Here is an interesting article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News illustrating all the positives the BCRA  will bring to employers and their company's healthcare program.

The latest version of the Senate Republican healthcare bill contains some significant changes, but provisions impacting employer-sponsored plans remained largely untouched.

The plan, unveiled on Thursday, retains a number of important changes for employers that were included in an earlier draft of the legislation made public last month. GOP lawmakers have been working for months on an effort to undo large swaths of the Affordable Care Act.

“Generally, the changes that were applied didn’t significantly change the dynamics of the Senate bill as it relates to large employers,” says Michael Thompson, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit network of business health coalitions.

Employer groups have been supportive of several major provisions highlighted in the earlier version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act that remain in the new proposal. Those include measures to remove the penalties associated with the employer mandate and a delay to the Cadillac tax for high-cost plans.

The latest Senate bill also retains important changes to health savings accounts that, for example, allow employees to allocate more funds into the accounts and that permit the money to be used on over-the-counter medications. It also reduces the penalty associated with redrawing funds from the account for non-qualified medical spending.

Providing more flexibility around the use of HSAs — tax-advantaged accounts that accompany high-deductible health plans — benefits employers and employees alike, says Chatrane Birbal, senior adviser for government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“As healthcare costs arise, more employers are embracing high-deductible plans and this is a good way for employees to plan ahead for their medical expenses,” she says.

There is one small fix related to health savings accounts that made it into the revised draft, explains James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy for the ERISA Industry Committee.

The updated language now permits out-of-pocket medical expenses for adult children up to 26-years-old who remain on a parent’s health plan to be paid for out of the primary account holder’s HSA. There were previously limitations on use of those funds for those over 18 who remained on a parent’s plan, based on Internal Revenue Service guidelines.

“One of the little tweaks they’ve put in to improve the bill is changing the IRS code to say, actually, yes, an adult dependent still counts and can use an HSA to help save on their healthcare costs,” he says.

Experts note, however, that a key change in the new bill related to HSAs — the ability to use the pre-tax money to pay insurance premiums — does not appear to apply to employer-based plans.

There are several other provisions in the revised legislation that are likely to be debated by the Senate in coming weeks, but that do not directly impact employers.

One controversial measure, developed by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, would allow insurers to offer lower priced, non-ACA-qualified plans in the individual market in addition to plans that meet Obamacare requirements. The latest bill also would provide more funding for the opioid epidemic.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., meanwhile, announced this week that they are developing an alternative proposal to the one unveiled by Republican leaders. Initial details for the alternative proposal were released on Thursday. The legislation is centered on a strategy to send more federal funding directly to the states through block grants.

“Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state’s healthcare needs,” Graham said in a statement on Thursday.

Those representing employer-based plans said they have reservations about the Graham and Cassidy proposal.

Gelfand notes that the alternative plan is expected to keep in place many of the taxes stemming from the ACA, such as the Cadillac tax and a tax on branded prescription drugs, and is unlikely to contain some of the BCRA revisions around the use of HSAs.

“It basically provides none of the relief that the BCRA would provide,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 July 16). Revised GOP healthcare bill still good for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/revised-gop-healthcare-bill-still-good-for-employers?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f024b50000


2018 Amounts for HSAs; Retroactive Medicare Coverage Effect on Contributions

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla.

IRS Releases 2018 Amounts for HSAs

The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2017-37 that sets the dollar limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2018.

For calendar year 2018, the annual contribution limit for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP is $3,450, and the annual contribution limit for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $6,900. How much should an employer contribute to an HSA? Read our latest news release for information on modest contribution strategies that are still driving enrollment in HSA and HRA plans.

For calendar year 2018, a "high deductible health plan" is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage, and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,650 for self-only coverage or $13,300 for family coverage.

Retroactive Medicare Coverage Effect on HSA Contributions

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released a letter regarding retroactive Medicare coverage and health savings account (HSA) contributions.

As background, Medicare Part A coverage begins the month an individual turns age 65, provided the individual files an application for Medicare Part A (or for Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits) within six months of the month in which the individual turns age 65. If the individual files an application more than six months after turning age 65, Medicare Part A coverage will be retroactive for six months.

Individuals who delayed applying for Medicare and were later covered by Medicare retroactively to the month they turned 65 (or six months, if later) cannot make contributions to the HSA for the period of retroactive coverage. There are no exceptions to this rule.

However, if they contributed to an HSA during the months that were retroactively covered by Medicare and, as a result, had contributions in excess of the annual limitation, they may withdraw the excess contributions (and any net income attributable to the excess contribution) from the HSA.

They can make the withdrawal without penalty if they do so by the due date for the return (with extensions). Further, an individual generally may withdraw amounts from an HSA after reaching Medicare eligibility age without penalty. (However, the individual must include both types of withdrawals in income for federal tax purposes to the extent the amounts were previously excluded from taxable income.)

If an excess contribution is not withdrawn by the due date of the federal tax return for the taxable year, it is subject to an excise tax under the Internal Revenue Code. This tax is intended to recapture the benefits of any tax-free earning on the excess contribution.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 June 8). 2018 amounts for HSAs; retroactive medicare coverage effect on contributions  [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/2018-amounts-for-hsas-retroactive-medicare-coverage-effect-on-contributions


Rising Healthcare Costs Hurting Retirement Contributions

The rising costs of healthcare are starting to have a negative impact on employees. Find out how employees are having trouble saving for their retirement thanks to the rise of healthcare costs in the interesting article by Paula Aven Gladych from Employee Benefit News.

Rising healthcare costs have had a dramatic impact on the ability of workers to save for retirement and other financial goals.

The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report finds that of the workers who have experienced rising healthcare costs, more than half say they are contributing less to their financial goals as a result, including more than six in 10 who say they are saving less for retirement.

What’s more, financial stress also is playing a big role in employee physical health with nearly six in 10 employees saying it has had a negative impact on their physical well-being. This stress weighs most heavily on millennials at 68%, compared with baby boomers at 51%, according to the research.

Because of these dire statistics, more and more employees are looking to their employer to help them through financial challenges.

“We spend a lot of our waking time working and a lot of our finances are made up of the compensation and benefits our employer provides,” says Sylvie Feast, director of financial guidance services for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “[Employer’s] healthcare and 401(k) plans are really valued by employees. I don’t think it’s surprising that they are looking to their employer that provides essential benefits to help provide access to ways to better manage their finances.”

And because employers offer healthcare and retirement benefits, it isn’t a stretch for workers to expect their employers to offer financial wellness as a benefit as well, Feast says.

“There’s no silver bullet, but a continuing evolution of trying new things to see what works and has an impact with the workforce,” Feast says. “Culture has something to do with it.”

Online tools, educational content, professional seminars in the workplace and personal consultations can be especially effective offerings, Feast says, adding that those options can help employees get more comfortable talking about their finances at work and at home with their family.

“People are pretty private about their finances,” Feast says. “I think there’s this access the employer needs to provide, but there also needs to be an arms-length distance so it is not the employer delivering it.”

Retirement savings is the area most workers want help with, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s survey. More than half of baby boomers (54% ), 53% of Generation X and 43% of millennials say they need help saving for retirement, with 50% of all respondents ranking it as their No. 1 financial issue.

For millennials, good general savings habits and paying down debt were their next most important financial priorities. For Generation X, paying down debt, good general savings habits and budgeting all tied for second, and for baby boomers, planning for healthcare costs and paying down debt were their next biggest financial priorities.

Eighty-six percent of employees surveyed say they would participate in a financial education program provided by their employer, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Financial education is a slow, but worthy process, Feast says.

“People don’t just automatically start to show an immediate impact to their behavior,” she says. But, “if [employees] take steps, [they] will start to gain control and get more confidence.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gladych P. (2017 June 7). Rising healthcare costs hurting retirement contributions [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/rising-healthcare-costs-hurting-retirement-contributions


Coverage Losses by State for the Senate Health Care Repeal Bill

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its score on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).  Find out how each state will be impacted by the implementation of BCRA  in this great article by Emily Gee from the Center for American Progress.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its score of the Senate’s health care repeal plan, showing that the bill would eliminate coverage for 15 million Americans next year and for 22 million by 2026. The CBO projects that the Senate bill would slash Medicaid funding by $772 billion over the next decade; increase individual market premiums by 20 percent next year; and make comprehensive coverage “extremely expensive” in some markets.

The score, released by Congress’ nonpartisan budget agency, comes amid an otherwise secretive process of drafting and dealmaking by Senate Republicans. Unlike the Senate’s consideration of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which involved dozens of public hearings and roundtables plus weeks of debate, Senate Republican leadership released the first public draft of its Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) just days before it hopes to hold a vote.

The Center for American Progress has estimated how many Americans would lose coverage by state and congressional district based on the CBO’s projections. By 2026, on average, about 50,500 fewer people will have coverage in each congressional district. Table 1 provides estimates by state, and a spreadsheet of estimates by state and district can be downloaded at the end of this column.

The coverage losses under the BCRA would be concentrated in the Medicaid program, but the level of private coverage would also drop compared to the current law. The CBO projects that, by 2026, there will be 15 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage and 7 million fewer with individual market coverage. Our Medicaid numbers reflect that states that have expanded their programs under the ACA would see federal funding drop starting in 2021 and that the bill would discourage expansion among states that would otherwise have done so in the future.

Like the House’s repeal bill, the Senate’s version contains a provision allowing states to waive the requirement that plans cover essential health benefits (EHB). The CBO predicts that half of the population would live in waiver states under the Senate bill. The CBO did not specify which states it believes are most likely to secure waivers; therefore, we did not impose any assumptions about which individual states would receive waivers in our estimates. Even though the demographic composition of coverage losses would differ among waiver and nonwaiver states, for this analysis we assume that all states’ individual markets would shrink.

CBO expects that state waivers could put coverage for maternity care, mental health care, and high-cost prescription drugs “at risk.” CBO projects that “all insurance in the nongroup market would become very expensive for at least a short period of time for a small fraction of the population residing in areas in which states’ implementation of waivers with major changes caused market disruption.” Note that health insurance experts have noted that in addition to directly lowering standards for individual market coverage, waivers would also indirectly subject people in employer coverage to annual and lifetime limits on benefits.

The CBO’s score lists multiple reasons why out-of-pocket costs for individual market enrollees would rise under the bill. One reason is that bill’s changes to premium subsidies means that most people would end up buying coverage resembling bronze-level plans, which today typically have annual deductibles of $6,000. In addition, EHB waivers would force enrollees who could not afford supplemental coverage for non-covered benefits out of pocket while also allowing issuers to set limits on coverage.

In summary, the CBO projects that the effects of the Senate bill would be largely similar to those of the house bill: tens of millions of people would no longer have coverage, and those who remained insured see the quality of their coverage erode substantially. In just a few days, the Senate will vote to turn these dire projections into reality.

Methodology

Our estimates of coverage reductions follow the same methodology we used previously for the House’s  health care repeal bill. We combine the CBO’s projected national net effects of the House-passed bill on coverage with state and local data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the American Community Survey from the U.S. Census, and administrative data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia redrew their district boundaries prior to the 2016 elections. While the rest of our data uses census estimates corresponding to congressional districts for the 114th Congress, we instead used county-level data from the 2015 five-year American Community Survey to determine the geographic distribution of the population by insurance type in these three states. We matched county data to congressional districts for the 115th Congress using a geographic crosswalk file provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Our estimates of reductions in Medicaid by district required a number of assumptions. CBO projected that a total 15 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage by 2026 under the Senate bill: 5 million fewer would be covered by additional Medicaid expansion in new states, and 10 million fewer would have Medicaid coverage in current expansion states and among pre-ACA eligibility groups in all states. The CBO projected that, under the ACA, additional Medicaid expansion would increase the proportion of the newly eligible population residing in expansion states from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2026. It projected that just 30 percent of the newly eligible population would be in expansion states. Extrapolating from the CBO’s numbers, we estimate the Senate bill results in a Medicaid coverage reduction of 3.3 million enrollees in current expansion states by 2026.

We then assume the remaining 6.7 million people who would lose Medicaid coverage are from the program’s pre-ACA eligibility categories: low-income adults, low-income children, the aged, and disabled individuals. We used enrollment tables published by the Medicaid and CHIP Payment Access Commission (MACPAC) to determine total state enrollment and each eligibility category’s share of the total, and we assumed that only some of the disabled were nonelderly. We then divided state totals among districts according to each’s Medicaid enrollment in the American Community Survey. Because each of the major nonexpansion categories is subject to per capita caps under the bill, we reduced enrollment in all by the same percentage.

Because we do not know which individual states would participate in Medicaid expansion in 2026 in either scenario, our estimates give nonexpansion states the average effect of forgone expansion and all expansion states the average effect of rolling back eligibility. We divided the 5 million enrollment reduction due to forgone expansion among nonexpansion states’ districts proportionally by the number of low-income uninsured. We made each expansion state’s share of that 3.3 million proportional to its Medicaid expansion enrollment in its most recent CMS report and then allocated state totals to districts proportional to the increase in nonelderly adult enrollment between 2013 and 2015. For Louisiana, which recently expanded Medicaid, we took our statewide total from state data and allocated to districts by the number of low-income uninsured adults.

Medicaid covers seniors who qualify as aged or disabled. Although the CBO did not specify the Medicaid coverage reduction that would occur among seniors under per capita caps, applying to elderly enrollees the same percentage reduction we calculated for nonexpansion Medicaid enrollees implies that 900,000 could lose Medicaid.

Lastly, our estimates of the reduction in exchange, the Basic Health Plan, and other nongroup coverage are proportional to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s estimates of exchange enrollment by congressional district. The House bill reduces enrollment in nongroup coverage, including the exchanges, by 7 million relative to the ACA. To apportion this coverage loss among congressional districts, we assumed that the coverage losses would be largest in areas with higher ACA exchange enrollment and in states where we estimated the average cost per enrollee would increase most under an earlier version of the AHCA.

The CBO projects that the net reduction in coverage for the two categories of employer-sponsored insurance and “other coverage” would be between zero and 500,000 people in 2026. We did not include these categories in our estimates.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Gee E. (2017 June 27). Coverage losses by state for the senate health care repeal bill [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2017/06/27/435112/coverage-losses-state-senate-health-care-repeal-bill/


Well-Being Strategies for a Diverse Workforce, Building Value at an Individual Level

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Lindsay Simpson.

Your organization has 312 employees, which means you have 312 different needs for well-being support. Well-being strategies should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Developing a set of flexible and responsive well-being strategies that meet changing individual needs throughout an employee’s tenure is a critical way to both attract and retain talent. A few case studies to illustrate:

Jordan is serving in an entry-level position. This single, gender fluid, 20-something is eager to learn and grow. In conversations with HR, Jordan has also indicated a high level of overall stress due to a burdensome education loan and is barely able to make loan payments on top of rent and other monthly expenses. Jordan’s outlook on saving for retirement is grim. At the same time, they are an active member of the local young professional network and keeps fit while playing in a competitive Ultimate league.

Anvi has been in an executive leadership role with the organization for seven years. She is a gifted and valued trailblazer who keeps the organization nimble in a climate of constant change. Despite spending long hours at work, her colleagues know little about Anvi’s family and personal life, as she is rather private. From time to time though, Anvi demonstrates affection for her team by sharing artfully created meals that illustrate her diverse cooking skills and interests.

Mark has been a dedicated, career-long, mid-level employee in accounting. Although lately he shows declining interest in his once-beloved work. Colleagues have noticed in Mark a new tendency to decline offers to share lunch or coffee breaks. Last year, Mark led the company volunteerism committee, but has recused himself from this duty, citing a conflict of interest with his role as a finance officer for a local non-profit organization.

Each of these individuals show up to the workplace with a unique set of values, talents, beliefs, interests, and resources. At the same time, all employees benefit from a workplace culture that attends to each person’s sense of purpose, plus physical, social, financial and community well-being. It can be a daunting challenge to meet such diverse needs and interests, which is why we must build programs and policies with employees, listening to what they want and seeking out ways to efficiently design a system of supports. The first step to any thoughtful program is to conduct a needs assessment. Turn up the volume on your curiosity and lead with the question: What do employees want? Consider gathering responses by survey, current HR data sources, and focus groups. Be sure to gather demographic information that will help segment the findings. The results may confirm your beliefs about employee wishes or reveal interesting surprises, as noted in this example.

In a 2015 survey of 1,647 folks across 11 diverse organizations, the American Institute of Preventative Medicine found the following:

  • Incentive strategies: Almost unanimously, employees favored reduced health insurance premium (34 percent) and cash (25 percent) as incentives to get healthier. However, 53 percent of those age 70 and older noted they do not need an incentive to be healthier.
  • Well-being topics of interest: Nutrition (78 percent) and physical activity (77 percent) topics were of highest interest by those age 18 to 69. These same age groups also favored stress management topics more than colleagues age 70 and older. Moderate interest in depression was common among all age groups, and all age groups showed the least interest in tobacco cessation. Compared with colleagues of older age groups, the youngest cohort (18 to 24) indicated high interest in sleep enhancement.
  • Program offerings: All age groups favored health risk assessments (26 percent) and health challenges (25 percent) over other well-being program offerings. Furthermore, older groups (50 to 69 and 70 and older) prefer in-person educational seminars, and younger employees (18 to 24) were more likely to engage in weight loss programs.
  • Fitness devices: The oldest individuals were more likely than all younger individuals to report owning a personal fitness tracking device such as a Fitbit or pedometer, 40 percent age 70 and older, 37 percent age 50 to 69, 31 percent age 33 to 49, 29 percent age 25 to 32, and 17 percent age 18 to 24.

A small-scale needs and interest study like this can challenge our biases about certain groups within our employee population and reveal key details about the value employees hold for well-being programs. Results should inform design of a well-being strategy that accurately and cost-effectively meets a range of needs in the workplace. After all, “research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with purpose,” said Zora Neale Hurston. The pursuit of growing a cost-effective culture of well-being and individual value for programmatic supports will be more beneficial to organizational health than a hard measure of return on investment.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Simpson L. (2017 May 30). Well-being strategies for a diverse workforce, building value at an individual level [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/well-being-strategies-for-a-diverse-workforce-building-value-at-an-individual-level


Senate Health Bill Would Revamp Medicaid, Alter ACA Guarantees, Cut Premium Support

The Senate has just released their version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  Here is a great article by Julie Rovner from Kaiser Health News detailing what the Senate's version of the AHCA legislation means for Americans.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Thursday unveiled a bill that would dramatically transform the nation’s Medicaid program, make significant changes to the federal health law’s tax credits that help lower-income people buy insurance and allow states to water down changes to some of the law’s coverage guarantees.

The bill also repeals the tax mechanism that funded the Affordable Care Act’s benefits, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy and health care industry.

Most senators got their first look at the bill as it was released Thursday morning. It had been crafted in secret over the past several weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seeking a vote on the bill before Congress leaves next week for its Fourth of July recess.

Senators had promised that their ACA replacement would be very different than the version that passed the House in May, but the bill instead follows the House’s lead in many ways.

At lightning speed and with a little over a week for wider review, the Republicans’ bill could influence health care and health insurance of every American. Reversing course on some of the more popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, it threatens to leave tens of millions of lower-income Americans without insurance and those with chronic or expensive medical conditions once again financially vulnerable.

Like the House measure, the Senate bill, which is being called a “discussion draft,” would not completely repeal the ACA but would roll back many of the law’s key provisions. Both bills would also — for the first time — cap federal funding for the Medicaid program, which covers more than 70 million low-income Americans. Since its inception in 1965, the federal government has matched state spending for Medicaid. The new bill would shift much of that burden back to states.

The bill would also reconfigure how Americans with slightly higher incomes who don’t qualify for Medicaid would get tax credits to help pay insurance premiums, eliminate penalties for those who fail to obtain insurance and employers who fail to provide it, and make it easier for states to waive consumer protections in the ACA that require insurance companies to charge the same premiums to sick and healthy people and to provide a specific set of benefits.

“We agreed on the need to free Americans from Obamacare’s mandates, and policies contained in the discussion draft will repeal the individual mandate so Americans are no longer forced to buy insurance they don’t need or can’t afford; will repeal the employer mandate so Americans no longer see their hours and take-home pay cut by employers because of it,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate after releasing the bill. He also noted that the bill would help “stabilize the insurance markets that are collapsing under Obamacare as well.”

It is not clear that the bill will make it through the Senate, however, or that all of it will even make it to the Senate floor. The Senate (like the House) is operating under a special set of budget rules that allow it to pass this measure with only a simple majority vote and block Democrats from dragging out the debate by using a filibuster. But the “budget reconciliation” process comes with strict rules, including the requirement that every provision of the bill primarily impact the federal budget, either adding to or subtracting from federal spending.

For example, the legislation as released includes a one-year ban on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. That is a key demand of anti-abortion groups and some congressional conservatives, because Planned Parenthood performs abortions with non-federal funding. But it is not yet clear that the Senate parliamentarian will allow that provision to be included in the bill.

Also still in question is a provision of the Senate bill that would allow states to waive insurance regulations in the Affordable Care Act. Many budget experts say that runs afoul of Senate budget rules because the federal funding impact is “merely incidental” to the policy.

Drafting the Senate bill has been a delicate dance for McConnell. With only 52 Republicans in the chamber and Democrats united in opposition to the unraveling of the health law, McConnell can afford to lose only two votes and still pass the bill with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. McConnell has been leading a small working group of senators — all men — but even some of those have complained they were not able to take part in much of the shaping of the measure, which seems to have been largely written by McConnell’s own staff.

So far, McConnell has been fielding complaints from the more moderate and more conservative wings of his party. And the draft that has emerged appears to try to placate both.

For example, as sought by moderates, the bill would phase down the Medicaid expansion from 2020 to 2024, somewhat more slowly than the House bill does. But it would still end eventually. The Senate bill also departs from the House bill’s flat tax credits to help pay for insurance, which would have added thousands of dollars to the premiums of poorer and older people not yet eligible for Medicare.

A Congressional Budget Office report estimating the Senate bill’s impact on individuals and the federal budget is expected early next week. The House bill, according to the CBO, would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance over 10 years.

For conservatives, however, the Senate bill would clamp down even harder on Medicaid in later years. The cap imposed by the House would grow more slowly than Medicaid spending has, but the Senate’s cap would grow even more slowly than the House’s. That would leave states with few options, other than raising taxes, cutting eligibility, or cutting benefits in order to maintain their programs.

Defenders of the health law were quick to react.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) complained about changes to coverage guarantees in the ACA.

“I also want to make special note of the state waiver provision. Republicans have twisted and abused a part of the Affordable Care Act I wrote to promote state innovation, and they’re using it to give insurance companies the power to run roughshod over individuals,” he said in a statement issued shortly after the bill was released. “This amounts to hiding an attack on basic health care guarantees behind state waivers, and I will fight it at every turn.”

“The heartless Senate health care repeal bill makes health care worse for everyone — it raises costs, cuts coverage, weakens protections and cuts even more from Medicaid than the mean House bill,” said a statement from Protect Our Care, an umbrella advocacy group opposing GOP changes to the health law. “They wrote their plan in secret and are rushing forward with a vote next week because they know how much harm their bill does to millions of people.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner J. (2017 June 22). Senate health bill would revamp medicaid, alter ACA guarantees, cut premium support [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/senate-health-bill-would-revamp-medicaid-alter-aca-guarantees-cut-premium-support/


GOP’s Health Bill Could Undercut Some Coverage In Job-Based Insurance

Thanks to the legislation passed by the House, healthcare is on the verge of changing as we know it. Check out this interesting article by Michelle Andrews from Kaiser Health News on how these changes will affect Americans who get their healthcare through an employer.

This week, I answer questions about how the Republican proposal to overhaul the health law could affect job-based insurance and what the penalties for not having continuous coverage mean. Perhaps anticipating a spell of uninsurance, another reader wondered if people can rely on the emergency department for routine care.

Q: Will employer-based health care be affected by the new Republican plan?

The American Health Care Act that recently passed the House would fundamentally change the individual insurance market, and it could significantly alter coverage for people who get coverage through their employers too.

The bill would allow states to opt out of some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including no longer requiring plans sold on the individual market to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization, drugs and maternity care.

Small businesses (generally companies with 50 or fewer employees) in those states would also be affected by the change.

Plans offered by large employers have never been required to cover the essential health benefits, so the bill wouldn’t change their obligations. Many of them, however, provide comprehensive coverage that includes many of these benefits.

But here’s where it gets tricky. The ACA placed caps on how much consumers can be required to pay out-of-pocket in deductibles, copays and coinsurance every year, and they apply to most plans, including large employer plans. In 2017, the spending limit is $7,150 for an individual plan and $14,300 for family coverage. Yet there’s a catch: The spending limits apply only to services covered by the essential health benefits. Insurers could charge people any amount for services deemed nonessential by the states.

Similarly, the law prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime or annual dollar limits on services — but only if those services are related to the essential health benefits.

In addition, if any single state weakened its essential health benefits requirements, it could affect large employer plans in every state, analysts say. That’s because these employers, who often operate in multiple states, are allowed to pick which state’s definition of essential health benefits they want to use in determining what counts toward consumer spending caps and annual and lifetime coverage limits.

“If you eliminate [the federal essential health benefits] requirement you could see a lot of state variation, and there could be an incentive for companies that are looking to save money to pick a state” with skimpier requirements, said Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Q: I keep hearing that nobody in the United States is ever refused medical care — that whether they can afford it or not a hospital can’t refuse them treatment. If this is the case, why couldn’t an uninsured person simply go to the front desk at the hospital and ask for treatment, which by law can’t be denied, such as, “I’m here for my annual physical, or for a screening colonoscopy”?

If you are having chest pains or you just sliced your hand open while carving a chicken, you can go to nearly any hospital with an emergency department, and — under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) — the staff is obligated to conduct a medical exam to see if you need emergency care. If so, they must try to stabilize your condition, whether or not you have insurance.

The key word here is “emergency.” If you’re due for a colonoscopy to screen for cancer, unless you have symptoms such as severe pain or rectal bleeding, emergency department personnel wouldn’t likely order the exam, said Dr. Jesse Pines, a professor of emergency medicine and health policy at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not the standard of care to do screening tests in the emergency department,” Pines said, noting in that situation the appropriate next step would be to refer you to a local gastroenterologist who could perform the exam.

Even though the law requires hospitals to evaluate anyone who comes in the door, being uninsured doesn’t let people off the hook financially. You’ll still likely get bills from the hospital and physicians for any care you receive, Pines said.

Q: The Republican proposal says people who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” would have to pay extra for their insurance. What does that mean? 

Under the bill passed by the House, people who have a break in their health insurance coverage of more than 63 days in a year would be hit with a 30 percent premium surcharge for a year after buying a new plan on the individual market.

In contrast, under the ACA’s “individual mandate,” people are required to have health insurance or pay a fine equal to the greater of 2.5 percent of their income or $695 per adult. They’re allowed a break of no more than two continuous months every year before the penalty kicks in for the months they were without coverage.

The continuous coverage requirement is the Republicans’ preferred strategy to encourage people to get health insurance. But some analysts have questioned how effective it would be. They point out that, whereas the ACA penalizes people for not having insurance on an ongoing basis, the AHCA penalty kicks in only when people try to buy coverage after a break. It could actually discourage healthy people from getting back into the market unless they’re sick.

In addition, the AHCA penalty, which is based on a plan’s premium, would likely have a greater impact on older people, whose premiums are relatively higher, and those with lower incomes, said Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, who authored an analysis of the impact of the penalties.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews M. (2017 May 23). GOP's health bill could undercut some coverage in job-based insurance[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/gops-health-bill-could-undercut-some-coverage-in-job-based-insurance/


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/