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/


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 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


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


Insurer Participation on ACA Marketplaces, 2014-2017

Have you wondered how the health insurance marketplace has fared since the passing of the ACA. Here is a really good article by Ashley Semanskee and Cynthia Cox highlighting the impact the ACA has had on insurance marketplaces across the country.

Since the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces opened in 2014, there have been a number of changes in insurance participation as companies entered and exited states and also changed their footprint within states. Our earlier analyses of insurer participation and some notable company exits can be found here.

In 2014, there were an average of 5.0 insurers participating in each state’s ACA marketplace, ranging from 1 company in New Hampshire and West Virginia to 16 companies in New York. 2015 saw a net increase in insurer participation, with an average of 6.0 insurers per state, ranging from 1 in West Virginia to 16 in New York. In 2016, insurer participation changed in a number of states due to a combination of some new entrants and the failure of a number of CO-OP plans. In 2016, the average number of companies per state was 5.6, ranging from 1 in Wyoming to 16 in Texas and Wisconsin.

In 2017, insurance company losses led to a number of high profile exits from the market. The average number of companies per state in 2017 was 4.3, ranging from 1 company in Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming to 15 companies in Wisconsin. In 2017, 58% of enrollees (living in about 30% of counties) had a choice of three or more insurers, compared to 85% of enrollees (living in about 63% of counties) in 2016.

Insurer participation varies greatly within states, and rural areas tend to have fewer insurers. On average, metro-area counties have 2.5 insurers participating in 2017, compared to 2.0 insurers in non-metro counties. In 2017, 87% of enrollees lived in metro counties.

There are a number of areas in the country with just one exchange insurer. In 2017, about 21% of enrollees (living in 33% of counties) have access to just one insurer on the marketplace (up from 2% of enrollees living in 7% of counties in 2016). Often, when there is only one insurer participating on the exchange, that company is a Blue Cross Blue Shield or Anthem plan. Before the ACA, many state individual markets were often dominated by Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Semanskee A., Cox C. (2017 June 1). Insurer participation on ACA marketplaces, 2014-2017 [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/insurer-participation-on-aca-marketplaces-2014-2017/


Compliance Recap May 2017

Make sure to stay up-to-date with the most recent rules and regulations from May regarding healthcare legislation thanks to our partners at United Benefit Advisors (UBA).

May was an active month in the employee benefits world. On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill titled the “American Health Care Act of 2017” (AHCA) to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Employer Shared Responsibility affordability percentage indexed for 2018. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued redesigned permanent resident cards and employment authorization documents. The USCIS also issued a warning about phone scams targeting immigrants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it will delay electronic submission of injury and illness records.

The IRS released dollar limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) for 2018. The IRS released guidance confirming that health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) cannot reimburse Medicare premiums. The IRS also released a memo regarding tax treatment of benefits paid under an arrangement that combines a self-funded fixed indemnity heath plan and wellness program.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will end the Federally Facilitated SHOP Exchange (FF-SHOP) at the end of 2017. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued an advisory opinion on an employee welfare benefit plan maintained by an association of employers. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take an opt-out arrangement case, leaving intact a lower court’s decision that opt-out payments must be included in overtime calculations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

UBA Updates

UBA released three new advisors in May: • House Passes AHCA Bill in

  • House Passes AHCA Bill in First Step to Repeal and Replace the ACA
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Employees’ Reduction in Hours
  • What Qualifying Events Trigger COBRA?

The House Passes AHCA Bill in First Step to Repeal and Replace the ACA

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1628, a reconciliation bill aimed at "repealing and replacing" the ACA. The AHCA will now be sent to the Senate for debate, where amendments can be made, prior to the Senate voting on the bill.

It is widely anticipated that in its current state the AHCA is unlikely to pass the Senate. Employers should continue to monitor the text of the bill and should refrain from implementing any changes to group health plans in response to the current version of the AHCA.

IRS Releases Employer Shared Responsibility Affordability Percentage Indexed for 2018

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released its Revenue Procedure 2017-36 that sets the required contribution percentage to determine whether employer-sponsored health coverage is affordable at 9.56 percent for calendar year 2018.

USCIS Issues Redesigned Green Cards and Employment Authorization Documents

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began issuing the new Permanent Resident Cards (also known as Green Cards) on May 1, 2017. The new cards incorporate enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant security features. These new cards are also part of an ongoing effort between USCIS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enhance document security and deter counterfeiting and fraud.

The new Green Cards and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs):

  • Display the individual’s photos on both sides • Show a unique graphic image and color palette:
    • Green Cards will have an image of the Statue of Liberty and a predominately green palette
    • EAD cards will have an image of a bald eagle and a predominately red palette
  • Have embedded holographic images
  • No longer display the individual’s signature

Also, Green Cards will no longer have an optical stripe on the back.

Some Green Cards and EADs issued after May 1, 2017, may still display the existing design format as USCIS will continue using existing card stock until current supplies are depleted. For more information about the Green Card application process, please visit USCIS.gov/greencard.

USCIS Issues a Warning on Phone Scam Targeting U.S. Immigrants

U.S. immigrants have been targeted by a phone scam that appears as if it is from the Canadian government’s Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) call center (1-888-242-2100). Recipients of these calls are advised to hang up immediately and check their status by:

  • Making an InfoPass appointment at http://infopass.uscis.gov, or
  • Using myUSCIS to find up-to-date information about their application, or
  • Calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Scam email or phone calls should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS. Suspicious emails may be forwarded to the USCIS webmaster at uscis.webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov. The USCIS will review the emails received and share them with law enforcement agencies as appropriate. Visit the Avoid Scams Initiative at www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams for more information on common scams and other important tips.

OSHA Proposes to Delay Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records

In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that certain high-risk employers of 20 or more employees and employers with 250 or more employees must electronically file Form 300A for workplace illnesses and injuries that occurred in calendar year 2016.

OSHA recently posted a notice on its website stating that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs at this time and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 form 300A electronically.” It should be noted that the requirement to keep records has not changed; only the method in which they are submitted is under scrutiny.

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

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. For

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.

IRS Releases Information Letter to Confirm that FSAs Cannot Reimburse Medicare Premiums

The IRS released its Information Letter Number 2017-0004 to confirmed that a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSAs) cannot reimburse Medicare premium expenses. The IRS cited its Publication 969 which states that an FSA cannot reimburse health insurance premium payments. Because Medicare premiums are premiums for other health coverage, Medicare premiums are not FSA-reimbursable expenses.

IRS Releases Memo Regarding Tax Treatment of Benefits Paid by Self-Funded Health Plans

On May 12, 2017, the IRS released a Memorandum to address the taxability of benefits paid under an arrangement that combines a self-funded fixed indemnity heath plan and wellness program. The IRS specifically refutes the claim that these arrangements provide nontaxable cash payments to employees and employment tax savings for the employer and employees.

The IRS concluded that benefits paid under a such an employer-provided self-funded health plan should be included in an employee’s income and wages if the average amounts received by the employee for participating in a health-related activity predictably exceed the employee’s after-tax contributions.

CMS Plans to End SHOP Exchange

On May 15, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will issue rules to essentially end the Federally Facilitated SHOP Exchange (FF-SHOP) at the end of 2017.

Under the rules that CMS intends to propose, HealthCare.gov will continue to make FF-SHOP participation eligibility decisions for small employers regarding the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, but the FF-SHOP will stop handling SHOP functions, such as processing premium payments or handling employer or employee enrollment, for SHOP plans taking effect on or after on January 1, 2018. CMS intends to allow employers to directly enroll with insurers offering SHOP plans or through FF-SHOPregistered brokers or agents.

DOL Issues Advisory Opinion on Employee Welfare Benefit Plan Sponsored by a Group of Employers

On May 16, 2017, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued its Advisory Opinion to address whether a membership-based organization could fall within ERISA’s definition of “group or association of employers” who sponsor an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan.

Based on the facts presented to the DOL, the DOL concluded that the organization’s membership is comprised of employers engaged in the same industry and that the employers have a genuine organizational relationship unrelated to the health plan through their membership in the organization. The DOL determined, based on the proposed arrangement’s facts, that the participating member employers would be a bona fide group or association of employers under ERISA and that the health plan would be an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan.

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Take Opt-Out Arrangement FLSA Case

Last year in court case Flores v. City of San Gabriel, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers several western states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) determined that when an employer pays cash to an employee for opting out of its health plan, the payment must be considered part of the employee’s “regular rate of pay” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This means that the adjusted rate of pay must be used in calculating compensation for overtime hours.

The City of San Gabriel appealed the 9th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 15, 2017, the Supreme Court declined to take the case, essentially leaving the decision intact.

Practically speaking, if an employer is in one of the states covered by the 9th Circuit and if the employer calculates compensation for overtime hours, then it should consider this additional FLSA aspect to offering cash in lieu of benefits.

To download the full compliance alert click Here.


What's Really at Stake in the Medicaid Spending Debate

Does the prospect of a $834 billion reduction in Medicaid spending have you worried. Then take a look at this article by Drew Altman of Kaiser Family Foundation and find out how cuts to Medicaid will impact more than just healthcare.

The $834 billion cut in federal Medicaid spending in the American Health Care Act would kick off budget battles in the states that go way beyond Medicaid. We could see cuts to higher education, school funding, corrections, environmental protection or other state priorities — or new taxes, depending on the state.

The bottom line: What began as a Medicaid spending reduction in Congress will end up as a battle of budget priorities.

A new analysis from long time state Medicaid expert Vern Smith at HMA suggests why. To offset the $834 billion in reductions in federal Medicaid spending in the AHCA, states would need to increase their own general fund spending by an average of one third beginning in 2022, and 37% in 2026. States will have to decide whether to eat the reductions and cut their Medicaid programs, raise taxes, or cut spending for other state priorities, or to do some combination of these things.

In the short term, most of the reductions come from curtailing the ACA's Medicaid expansion, and the 31 states plus the District of Columbia that have expanded will be the most affected.

The problem: It's possible that with more flexibility, states could absorb some of the reductions by operating their Medicaid programs more efficiently, but only at the margins.

Medicaid spending is already growing more slowly than Medicare and private insurance on a per capita basis. Virtually all states have already picked the low hanging fruit to rein in their Medicaid costs, and most have already deployed the full spectrum of delivery and payment reforms currently in the arsenal to control spending growth.

Cutting payments to providers is always the Medicaid cut of first resort, but payments to providers are already too low in many states to cut them further.

What to watch: The need to absorb large reductions in Medicaid will pit cabinet agencies, legislative committees and interest groups against one another in some states. Nothing receives more attention from governors, legislators and interest groups than the size of the annual increase in the state general fund and how the increase is divided each year.

The amount of the annual increase that goes to Medicaid is already a sore point in state budgets. Now the annual budget dance will start with a big hole to fill in Medicaid.

It does not seem to have dawned on folks with an interest in state funding for higher education, or corrections, or schools, or environmental protection that the debate about Medicaid could soon become a debate about their issues. But Medicaid is the largest source of federal revenues states receive, and once the proposed reductions trickle down to state budgets, it won't only be a Medicaid debate any longer.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Altman D. (2017 June 2). What's really at stake in the medicaid spending debate [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.axios.com/whats-really-at-stake-in-the-medicaid-spending-debate-2428102663.html


Ten Ways That the House American Health Care Act Could Affect Women

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) will bring a lot of changes to many people and their healthcare. Find out how women's healthcare will be affected by the new legislation in this great article by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Women have much at stake as the nation debates the future of coverage in the United States. Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made fundamental changes to women’s health coverage and benefits, changes to the law and the regulations that stem from it would have a direct impact on millions of women with private insurance and Medicaid. On May 4, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), to repeal and replace elements of the ACA (Appendix Table 1). It would eliminate individual and employer insurance mandates, effectively end the ACA Medicaid expansion, cap federal funds for the Medicaid program, make major changes to the federal tax subsidies available to assist individuals who purchase private insurance, and ban federal Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood. It would also allow states to waive the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits requirements and permit health status as a factor in insurance rating for individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage with the goal of reducing insurance costs.1 The Senate will now take up legislation to repeal and replace the ACA and may consider several elements that the House has approved in the AHCA. This brief reviews the implications of the AHCA for women’s access to care and coverage.

ACA’s Impact on Coverage and Access for Women

Since the ACA’s passage, the uninsured rate has declined to record low levels. Between 2013 and 2015, the uninsured rate among women ages 19 to 64 fell from 17% to 11% (Figure 1). This drop was due in large part to the Medicaid expansion that was adopted by 31 states and DC, and the availability of federal tax credits to subsidize premium costs for many low and modest-income women and men. In addition to coverage improvements, fewer women face affordability barriers since the ACA was enacted. Women have consistently been more likely than men to report that they delay or go without needed care because of costs. The ACA addressed some of these financial barriers by providing subsidies for premiums and cost sharing, eliminating out of pocket costs for preventive services, lifting the lifetime limits on expenses insurance will cover, and requiring minimum levels of coverage for ten Essential Health Benefit categories. Since its passage, the share of women who report that they delayed or went without care due to costs has fallen (Figure 2). This drop has been particularly marked among low-income women, although costs continue to be a greater challenge for this group as well.

1. MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY: EXPANSION AND WORK REQUIREMENTS

Medicaid has been the foundation of coverage gains under the ACA. Eliminating federal funds for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion could leave many of the nation’s poorest women without a pathway to coverage.

Women comprise the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries—before the passage of the ACA and today. Prior to the ACA, compared to men, women were more likely to qualify for Medicaid because of their lower incomes and because they were more likely to meet one of the program’s eligibility categories: pregnancy, parent of a dependent child, over 65, or disability. The ACA eliminates the program’s “categorical” requirements, allowing states to extend Medicaid eligibility to all individuals based solely on income. In the 31 states and DC that have chosen to expand Medicaid, individuals with household incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) qualify, and the federal government finances 95% of the costs.2

It is estimated that by 2015, 11 million adults had gained coverage as a result of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. This opened the door for continuous coverage to pregnant women who often became ineligible for coverage 60 days after the birth of their baby and had no other pathway to coverage as new mothers. The Medicaid expansion has also helped women who do not have children gain access to coverage, since before the expansion they were ineligible for coverage in most states. If passed, the AHCA bill would withdraw the enhanced federal funds for the Medicaid expansion except for beneficiaries enrolled as of December 31, 2019 who do not have a break in eligibility for more than 1 month. This loss of federal financing would leave states without the funds needed to continue supporting this expansion, potentially forcing some states to roll back eligibility for parents to the very low levels that were in place before the ACA (Figure 3). For example, a single mother of two living in Louisiana or Indiana would not have qualified for Medicaid if her income exceeded $4,687. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, under the House AHCA bill, some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would not continue that coverage (some states might also begin to reduce coverage prior to 2020), and that no new states will adopt the expansion.

The AHCA bill would also amend the federal Medicaid statute to allow states to require some beneficiaries, including parents of children 6 and older and adults without disabilities, to show proof of employment. States would have flexibility to design the details of the work requirement within federal guidelines and would receive additional federal support to help cover the administrative costs of this change.

2. CAPPING FEDERAL MEDICAID SPENDING

Medicaid provides health coverage to nearly one in five women in the U.S. Capping the program would limit the federal dollars that states would receive for a program that pays for half of births, three-quarters of all public family planning, and provides supplemental coverage for nearly 1 in 5 senior women on Medicare.

Since its inception in 1965, Medicaid has evolved to become a leading source of coverage for low-income women of all ages (Figure 4). The program provides health coverage to one in five women of reproductive age and one in four Latinas and African American women. Over the years, the program has also expanded to be the largest payor of maternity care and publicly-funded family planning in the U.S.

Medicaid is financed by a combination of federal and state dollars. For most beneficiaries, the federal government pays a percentage of costs, ranging between 50-75% depending on the state. Beginning in 2020, the AHCA would convert federal Medicaid funding from an open-ended matching system to an annual fixed amount of federal dollars. States could choose a “block grant” (for payment of services for children under 18 and poor parents of dependent children) or a “per capita cap” approach for five enrollment groups (the elderly, individuals with disabilities, children, newly eligible adults, and all other adults). While a capped approach would reduce federal spending, it would also shift more responsibility to states to pay more of their own dollars if they want to sustain the program at current levels.

While fixed federal financing would affect all individuals insured by Medicaid, one area that is particularly important for women is the program’s coverage of family planning services. Currently, the federal government requires coverage of family planning services and supplies and pays for 90% of the cost of these services, a higher match than for all other services.3 This higher federal payment rate provides states with an incentive to cover the full range of contraceptive methods. Under a per capita cap structure, states will still be required to cover family planning services, but there will no longer be an enhanced federal matching rate for family planning services provided to most beneficiaries. As a result, there may be less up-front financial incentive for states to cover the more expensive methods of contraception like IUDs, even though they are highly effective at preventing unintended pregnancies. Should states select a block grant option, family planning services would no longer be a mandatory benefit for non-disabled women on Medicaid.

If a state chooses a per capita cap structure, the AHCA would not change the financing structure for stand-alone family planning expansions that are currently in place in over half the states. These limited scope programs have allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage for family planning services to low-income women and men who do not have other family planning coverage. Since the AHCA’s per capita cap does not apply to these programs, states could continue to receive a 90% federal matching rate for them. These programs may become increasingly important to women because the CBO predicts that under this bill the number of uninsured would rise by 24 million over the next 10 years, and these Medicaid family planning programs are often an important source of reproductive care for uninsured women.

Both capped financing approaches would limit states’ ability to respond to rising costs, new and costly treatments, or public health emergencies such as the opioid epidemic or Zika. States may decide to make programmatic cuts such as cutting provider payments, particularly when facing fiscal pressures. For example, on average, Medicaid pays ob-gyns 76% of the Medicare rate4 and a smaller share of the commercial rate. If states were to make further cuts to provider payments or to plans, the pool of participating providers could shrink in response to reduced rates, which could make it harder for many women enrollees to find a participating ob-gyn or cause delays in scheduling appointments.
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3. MEDICAID AND PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services for many low-income women across the nation. Cutting off federal Medicaid payments to the organization could limit the availability of the most effective contraceptives, as well as STI and cancer screenings for many women on Medicaid.

Many low–income women obtain reproductive care at safety-net clinics that receive public funds to pay for the care they provide. The network includes a range of clinics that provide a broad range of primary care services, such as community health centers (CHCs) and health departments as well as specialized clinics that focus on providing family planning services. The largest organization of specialized family planning clinics is Planned Parenthood, which receives federal support through reimbursement for care delivered to women and men on Medicaid, as well as grant funds from the federal Title X family planning program. Despite comprising only 6% of the safety-net clinics that provided subsidized family planning services in 2015, Planned Parenthood clinics served 32% of women (nearly 2 million women) seeking contraceptive care at these centers (Figure 5).

Should it become law, the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year, even though federal law already prohibits federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions other than those to terminate pregnancies that are a result of rape, incest or a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. The AHCA bill would provide additional funds to CHCs, presumably to compensate for loss of a major provider of care to women, but there are no specifics in the bill that would require the health centers to use these funds to provide services to women. There is also concern that CHCs do not currently have the capacity to fill the gap in care that would arise if Planned Parenthood were no longer a participating Medicaid provider.5 Not all CHCs provide the same range of services as Planned Parenthood, and care at CHCs could be more costly than that provided by specialized family planning providers like Planned Parenthood.6 The CBO’s March 13, 2017 analysis of the AHCA stated that cutting off Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for one year would result in loss of access to services in some low-income communities because it is the only public provider in some regions. The report also stated that the policy would result in thousands of additional unintended pregnancies that would be financed by Medicaid.7

4. ABORTION COVERAGE

Private and public coverage of abortion is currently limited in many states through the federal Hyde Amendment and state laws. The AHCA would go further than the ACA to restrict the availability of abortion coverage through private insurance policies.

Since 1976, the federal Hyde Amendment has limited the use of federal funds for abortion only to cases when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or is a threat to the woman’s life. Since its first passage over 40 years ago, the amendment has dramatically limited coverage of abortion under Medicaid, as well as other federal programs.8

In private insurance, the ACA explicitly bars abortion from being included as part of the Essential Health Benefit package defined by states and allows states to ban all plans in their Marketplaces from covering abortion. States can also ban abortion coverage in all state regulated private plans.9 As of March 2017, 25 states have laws limiting or banning coverage of abortion in ACA Marketplaces, and of these, 10 states ban abortion coverage in both the Marketplaces and in the private insurance market.

To ensure no federal dollars are used to subsidize abortion coverage, the AHCA bill would no longer make this a state option, rather it would ban abortion coverage in all Marketplace plans as well as prohibit the use of federal tax credits to purchase any plans that cover abortion that are available outside the Marketplace. The bill would limit employer coverage of abortion by disqualifying small employers from receiving tax credits if their plans cover abortion beyond Hyde limitations.

This provision would be in direct conflict with existing state policies in California and New York that require plans to cover abortion. Furthermore, no off market plans in these states would be able to enroll individuals who receive tax credits. Therefore, if enacted, the AHCA’s abortion coverage ban would likely face legal challenges.

5. TAX CREDITS, PREMIUM AND COST-SHARING SUBSIDIES

The AHCA would set the level of tax credit assistance using primarily age, and would repeal the ACA’s cost-sharing protections for low-income individuals. Because women have a lower income than men at all ages, this approach could place women at a disadvantage compared to men.

Women comprise more than half (54%) of ACA marketplace enrollees in the 34 states that use the federally facilitated marketplace, healthcare.gov. Approximately eight in ten (81%) Marketplace beneficiaries receive a premium tax credit, which offsets premium costs and makes them more affordable. In 2015, more than one-third (37%) of women who purchased insurance on their own were low-income ($23,540 for a single person) compared to 31% of men. 10 The current subsidy structure under the ACA provides higher levels of subsidies to those who are low-income, older, and who live in areas with more expensive coverage.

The AHCA, in contrast, would take a very different approach and reduce the amount that the federal government would contribute to subsidies with the goal of reducing federal spending. The AHCA would provide a flat tax credit based on age only up until an income of $75,000 for a single individual, and phases out at higher incomes. This would result in a large decrease in tax subsidies to older Marketplace enrollees compared to what is available to them today.

The AHCA would set aside additional federal funds to assist older enrollees as well as services for pregnant women and newborns and individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, but how those funds would be allocated is still to be determined. Nonetheless, under the AHCA’s tax credit methodology, people with lower incomes would receive significantly less than they do under current law. A higher share of women is poor or low-income than men, because women are more likely than men to head single parent households, work part-year or part-time, are paid less than men for similar work, and take breaks from the workforce to stay home and care for children and aging parents. As a result, this approach could disproportionately disadvantage women. In addition, the AHCA proposes to repeal the cost-sharing subsides available today under the ACA that provide additional protection from the high costs of deductibles, cost-sharing, and co-insurance to individuals with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level.

6. INSURANCE REFORMS

The ACA banned many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women. While the AHCA maintains the gender-rating ban and the dependent coverage expansion, it could allow states to permit insurers to charge higher premiums to individuals with health problems if they have a lapse in coverage.
DEPENDENT COVERAGE

A popular element of the ACA is the provision that requires private health insurers that offer dependent coverage to children to allow young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance plans. This provision was the first in the ACA to take effect, and it increased the availability of insurance to an age group that historically had a high uninsured rate (Table 1). In 2015, 39% of women ages 19 to 25 reported that they were covered as a dependent.

GENDER RATING

Prior to the ACA, non-group insurers in many states charged women who purchase individual insurance more than men for the same coverage, a practice called gender rating.12 Yet, plans sold on the individual market often did not cover many important services for women, such as maternity care, mental health services, and prescription drugs.13 An estimated 6.5 million women purchased coverage on the individual insurance market in 2011, and many of these women paid higher rates than men. Prior to the ACA, most of the women in this market were of reproductive age, working, and had incomes below 250% FPL.14 The ACA bans gender rating and the AHCA would not change this.

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

One of the most popular provisions of the ACA has been the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions. In the years before the ACA was passed, insurance companies often denied or would not renew coverage to individuals with a “preexisting condition,” which included several conditions common among women such as pregnancy, breast cancer, or a prior C-section. The AHCA would not re-instate this practice, but individuals who do not maintain continuous coverage would be charged a penalty when they try to obtain health insurance after having a coverage gap. The penalty could be in the form of higher premium rates (30%) for one year. Alternatively, states could obtain a waiver to allow insurers to again engage in medical underwriting for one year, charging people with health problems higher rates. This would have the effect of raising premiums for people with pre-existing conditions such as pregnancy, prior C-section, or clinical depression.
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7. ESSENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS

The ACA instituted new rules that require all plans in the individual market as well as Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of benefits. Of particular importance to women has been the inclusion of maternity care, preventive services, and mental health.

The ACA requires all Marketplace plans and Medicaid expansion programs to cover ten categories of “essential health benefits” (EHB). Each state chooses a benchmark benefit plan, which sets the floor for services that plans in that state must cover within each EHB category.15
The AHCA would allow states to apply for a waiver to define their own EHBs beginning in 2020. Waivers would be automatically approved unless the HHS Secretary issues a denial within 60 days of submission. This means states could choose to exclude mental health or maternity care (see pregnancy-related care section below) from their EHB requirements. While the idea of choice sounds appealing to some, it is antithetical to how insurance operates ─ by spreading the costs and risks across the pool of insured individuals. Plans that include a broader range of benefits would be considerably more expensive than they are today. In addition to state-level waivers, the AHCA bill would rescind the EHB requirement for Medicaid expansion programs, meaning that beneficiaries in this group would not be entitled to coverage for all ten categories. Existing Medicaid rules require states to cover some of the categories, such as hospitalization and maternity and newborn care, but others such as substance abuse treatment and prescription drugs are optional and offered at state discretion.Prior to the ACA, there were few federal requirements on what private plans in the individual market had to cover. The ACA established a floor for benefits that individual market plans must cover with the goal of reducing variation and adverse selection by standardizing “meaningful coverage.” This is particularly important for women, as they are the exclusive users of maternity care and more frequent users of services in some other EHB categories, such as prescription drugs and mental health. Mental health services in particular were routinely excluded in individual plans prior to the ACA. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are all more common among women than men.

8. PREVENTIVE SERVICES

Currently, all private plans, Medicaid expansion programs, and Medicare must cover recommended preventive services without cost sharing. Important services for women include: breast and cervical cancer screening, osteoporosis screening, pregnancy related services, well woman visits, and contraception.

In addition to EHBs, the ACA included a related requirement that all private plans cover federally-recommended preventive services without charging cost-sharing. In contrast to EHBs, which apply to individually purchased plans and Medicaid expansion only, the preventive services requirement applies to all forms of private insurance, including employer-sponsored and individual market plans. Prior to the ACA, the only federal–level requirements that applied to group plans were for coverage of a minimum length of stay after a delivery, availability of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, and parity for mental health services. The preventive services coverage requirement also applies to the Medicaid expansion and Medicare programs. This means that most adults with some form of private or public insurance now have coverage without cost-sharing for all of the services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), immunizations recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and services for women recommended by the Health Resources and Services Administration.16

Among the slate of services covered, many are exclusively for women or address conditions that have a disproportionate impact on women (Figure 6). These services address some of the most common conditions for women, including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. For older women, the preventive services policy means that Medicare now covers the full cost of mammograms and bone density screenings, which were previously subject to 20% co-insurance before passage of the ACA.

The AHCA would maintain preventive services requirements for private plans, but would repeal the requirements for the Medicaid expansion population. Preventive services for adults are covered at state option for other Medicaid beneficiaries. States could opt to roll back coverage of preventive services for this group.

9. CONTRACEPTIVE COVERAGE

Today, the majority of women with private insurance have no cost contraceptive coverage. This preventive benefit has reduced women’s out-of-pocket spending on birth control and made the most effective, but often costly, contraceptive methods affordable for most insured women. This provision could be eliminated or modified through regulatory changes without the need for Congressional action.

Current law requires that most private plans include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods for women at no additional cost. Research has found that the requirement has had a large impact in a short amount of time. For example, in the first two years that the policy was in effect, the share of women with any out of pocket spending on oral contraceptives fell sharply to just 3.0% of women with employer-sponsored insurance (Figure 7).17 Similar effects have been documented for other contraceptives, including IUDs.18

The AHCA bill does not specifically address the contraceptive coverage requirement. However, President Trump and Secretary Price have expressed support for advancing “religious freedom,”19 and this provision has been at the heart of two cases that have reached the Supreme Court where employers have claimed that the requirement violates their religious beliefs. The contraceptive coverage requirement was implemented through a series of agency regulations that included contraception in the package of women’s preventive services, defined the religious exemption and accommodation available to houses of worship and faith-based nonprofits respectively, and clarified that plans must cover 18 contraceptive methods. Since these requirements are in regulations, the Trump Administration can issue new regulations and guidance to permit employers and insurers to cover fewer methods, or to exempt more employers with religious objections without the need for congressional action.20President Trump’s Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty specifically calls on the Secretaries of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services to amend regulations to protect conscience-based objections to the ACA’s preventive-care mandate.21 The goal of this is to exempt any employer with a religious or moral objection from the contraceptive coverage requirement, even though current regulations already relieve employers from paying for such coverage while assuring that women have coverage for contraceptives.

If the federal requirement is eliminated or scaled back, the scope of contraceptive coverage would again be shaped by employers, insurance plans, and state policy. More than half (28) of states have laws requiring plans in their states to cover contraceptives, but these are more limited than the ACA. Only five of the 28 states require coverage of the full range of contraceptives without cost sharing, but these state-level mandates do not apply to self-funded plans, which cover most insured workers.22

10. PREGNANCY-RELATED CARE

Today, pregnant and postpartum women have a greater range of protections and benefits than they did prior to the ACA. These range from mandatory maternity and newborn coverage, to no-cost prenatal screening, and breastfeeding supports. The AHCA would allow states to define the Essential Health Benefits requirements with a waiver, potentially excluding coverage for maternity care.

Before the ACA, pregnant women seeking insurance in the individual market were routinely turned away as having a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, many individual plans did not cover maternity services because it was not required in this market. Some individual plans offered separate maternity coverage as a rider which could be costly, ranging from roughly $15 to $1600 a month.23 Some plans also imposed a waiting period before the rider took effect. These discriminatory practices were limited to the individual market because coverage for maternity services has been required for decades both under Medicaid and in most employer-sponsored plans due to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The ACA changed this by including maternity and newborn care as part of the EHB package that must be included in individual private plans as well as under Medicaid expansion. While some states had required individual plans in their states to cover maternity services to varying degrees prior to the ACA, most did not.24 In addition, the ACA made other improvements through coverage of preventive services such as no-cost prenatal screenings and breastfeeding supports.

The AHCA would weaken some of the protections for pregnant women that are currently in place. By halting funds for Medicaid expansion, some new mothers would lose coverage once the 60-day postpartum period ends and become uninsured. Furthermore, it would permit states to waive the current federal EHB standards, potentially allowing states to remove or scale back maternity services as a required benefit. The bill would also allot funds to the Patient and State Stability Fund for pregnancy and newborn care, but there are no details on how it will be used.

Some have touted the benefits of excluding maternity coverage for those who will not need it such as men and older women as a way of giving policyholders more flexibility to choose their own coverage and purchase less expensive plans. However, this also means that the risk pool for plans that include maternity services would primarily be comprised of women who anticipate using maternity care, and would likely greatly increase costs for women who sought such coverage. Furthermore, given that nearly half of pregnancies are unintended some women would buy coverage that does not include maternity care thinking they won’t need it, only to find out their coverage falls short when they are pregnant.

Conclusion

Today, women’s health coverage levels are at an all-time high. In addition to the coverage gains in the Marketplaces and Medicaid, many of the long-standing discriminatory practices in the individual insurance market that translated into higher cost burdens for women have been banned. Minimum standards for benefits that individual plans must cover through the EHB and the preventive services requirements for all private plans have assured that most insured women have coverage for a broad range of recommended services that they need such as maternity care, mental health services, and preventive services such as mammograms, pap smears, and contraceptives. Recent polling shows that the American public values these protections, including those for poorer women (Figure 8). In addition, while the AHCA would prohibit federal Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood for one year, 75% of Americans say they favor continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

If enacted, the AHCA would alter subsidies for private insurance, eliminate the Medicaid expansion, ban Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, place a cap on Medicaid spending, and turn EHB standards over to the states. This legislation would have considerable impact on women, particularly low-income women who rely on subsidies and those who are on Medicaid. The Senate will now take up their own debate about the future of the ACA. In addition to legislation, many of the ACA’s other provisions could be amended through federal-level administrative actions. Given the gains that women have made in access to meaningful and affordable coverage, they have much at stake in the current debate over the future of our nation’s private and public insurance programs.

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Source:

Ranji U., Salganicoff A., Sobel L., Rosenzweig C. (2017 May 8). Ten ways that the house american health care act could affect women [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/ten-ways-that-the-house-american-health-care-act-could-affect-women/