An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the ACA’s Strong Headwinds

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Michael Weiskirch.

One might describe the series of events leading to the death of the American Health Care Act (Congress’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act) as something like a ballistic missile exploding at launch. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal debate began nearly a decade ago with former President Barack Obama’s first day in office and reemerged as a serious topic during the 2016 presidential election. Even following the retraction of the House bill, repeal of the ACA remains a possibility as the politicians consider alternatives to the recent bill. The possibility of pending legislation has caused some clients to question the need to complete their obligation for ACA reporting on a timely basis this year. The legislative process has produced a great deal of uncertainty which is one thing employers do not like, especially during the busy year end.

While the “repeal and replace” activity is continuing, it is imperative that employers and their brokers put their noses to the grindstone to fulfill all required reporting requirements. To accomplish this, employers will need brokers that can effectively guide them through this tumultuous season. We recommend that employers ask their brokers about their strategies for

  • Implementing the employer shared responsibility reporting
  • Sending all necessary forms to the employer’s employees
  • Submitting the employer’s reporting to the IRS
  • Closing out the employer’s 2016 filing season

Employers should also inquire about any additional support that the broker provides. They should provide many of the services that we at Health Cost Manager provide to our clients: They should apprise their clients of the latest legislative updates through regular email communication and informational webinars. Brokers should also bring in experts in the field that have interacted with key stakeholders in Washington. And most important, they should remain available during this uncertain period to answer any questions or concerns from clients.

We know employers would prefer not to have to comply with these reporting obligations – many have directly told us so. We understand this requires additional work on their part to gather information for the reporting and increased compliance responsibility. Knowing how stressful the reporting season can be for employers, brokers should go out of their way to help their clients feel confident that they can steer through the reporting process smoothly. The broker’s role should be to take as much of the burden off the employer’s shoulders as possible to enable them to reach compliance in the most expedient manner possible. Sometimes this involves stepping in to solve data or other technical issues, or answering a compliance-related question that helps the client make important decisions. It’s all part of helping employers navigate through the ACA’s strong headwinds during these uncertain times.

Audit-proof your company with UBA’s latest white paper: Don’t Roll the Dice on Department of Labor Audits. This free resource offers valuable information about how to prepare for an audit, the best way to acclimate staff to the audit process, and the most important elements of complying with requests.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Weiskirch M. (2017 April 13). An employer's guide to navigating the ACA's strong headwinds [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/an-employers-guide-to-navigating-the-acas-strong-headwinds


Data Note: Medicaid’s Role in Providing Access to Preventive Care for Adults

Medicaid has played a large role in the life of many Americans. By using federal money low-income Americans are able to receive healthcare. Take a look at this article by Kaiser Family Foundation and see how Medicaid's dollars are spent to help provide low-income Americans with healthcare.

Medicaid, the nation’s public health insurance program for people with low income, covers 74 million Americans today, including millions of low-income adults. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid to nonelderly adults with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL), and, in the 32 states (including DC) that implemented the expansion, more than 11 million adults have gained Medicaid as a result. Chronic illness is prevalent in the adult Medicaid population. Preventive care, including immunizations and regular screenings that permit early detection and treatment of chronic conditions, improves the prospects for better health outcomes. This Data Note focuses on Medicaid’s role in providing access to preventive care for low-income adults.

WHY IS PREVENTIVE CARE FOR ADULT MEDICAID ENROLLEES IMPORTANT?

Adults in Medicaid have high rates of preventable and controllable conditions. Nearly one-third (30%) of non-elderly adult Medicaid beneficiaries report that they are in only fair or poor health – roughly double the percentage of low-income privately insured and uninsured adults who report fair or poor  health (Figure 1). Medicaid adults also have significantly higher rates of chronic conditions and risky health behaviors that may be amenable to preventive care. One in 10 adult enrollees has a diagnosed mental illness; 7 in 10 are overweight or obese, and almost 1 in 3 smoke tobacco.

Preventive care can reduce disease and avoidable use of high-cost services. Increased access to screening for diabetes, cancer, depression, and o ther chronic conditions, and counseling to address behavioral risk factors, have the potential to reduce disease and prevent exacerbations of conditions that can be medically managed. Improved health may reduce the use of avoidable hospital and other high-cost care, and reduce Medicaid spending. For example, smoking can cause heart disease and other chronic illnesses that one study estimated may be responsible for more than $75 billion in Medicaid costs. Medicaid coverage of smoking cessation services, including quit lines and medications, has the potential to mitigate both the health and cost impacts of smoking. Obesity, a major driver of preventable chronic illness and health care costs, affects about two-thirds of low-income adults. Findings from one study indicate that severe obesity in adults cost state Medicaid programs almost $8 billion in 2013, suggesting that “effective treatment for severe obesity should be part of each state’s strategy to mitigate rising obesity-related costs.”

WHAT PREVENTIVE SERVICES DOES MEDICAID COVER FOR ADULTS?

Coverage of most adult preventive services has historically been optional for states. Medicaid coverage of preventive services for children has long been strong, as states must cover comprehensive preventive services at no cost for children in Medicaid under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit. In contrast, historically, coverage of adult preventive care has been largely optional for states, with some exceptions – states must cover pregnancy-related care and family planning services without cost-sharing. In addition, within federal guidelines, states can charge adults cost-sharing for preventive services.

The ACA expanded coverage of adult preventive care. An important thrust of the ACA was an emphasis on preventive care. In particular, the ACA included recommended preventive services without patient cost-sharing as one of the 10 “essential health benefits” (EHBs) that most health plans are now required to cover. The required preventive services are based on the recommendations of independent, expert clinical panels and include, for adults: 1) screening and counseling services (e.g., cancer screening, diet counseling); 2) routine immunizations; and 3) preventive services for women. The EHB requirement applies to Medicaid benefits for adults who are newly eligible due to the ACA expansion, but not “traditional” Medicaid adults, for whom most preventive services are optional for states and can require cost-sharing within federal guidelines. To incentivize states to cover the EHB preventive services for all Medicaid adults, the ACA provided for a one percentage point increase in the federal Medicaid match rate for these services in states that opt to cover all of them without cost-sharing.

Selected EHB-required preventive services for adults:

All adults

  • Immunizations
  • Cancer screening
  • Diabetes screening
  • Depression screening
  • Obesity screening and counseling
  • Tobacco screening and smoking cessation services

Women

  • Well-woman visits to get recommended services for women
  • Breast and cervical cancer screening
  • Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling
  • Osteoporosis screening
  • Breastfeeding support, counseling, and supplies for pregnant and nursing women
  • Expanded tobacco intervention for pregnant women

Most state Medicaid programs covered many adult preventive services before the ACA took effect. A 2014 study found that most state Medicaid programs covered all EHB-required adult preventive services in 2013, although some had cost-sharing charges. At the same time, another study found that documented state coverage policies in effect prior to the ACA did not always correspond precisely with the EHB requirements for preventive care, indicating there was room for improvement. Eight states – California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and West Virginia – have opted to cover the recommended adult preventive services without cost-sharing for all Medicaid adults. Seven of these states implemented the Medicaid expansion to low-income adults.

HOW DO ADULTS WITH MEDICAID FARE IN ACCESSING PREVENTIVE CARE?

Nearly all adults with Medicaid have a usual place where they get routine or preventive care. One measure of Medicaid’s effectiveness is the extent to which beneficiaries have a usual source of care, which opens the door to the health care system, including preventive care. Over 90% of adults with Medicaid report having a usual place of care – the same as the percentage of low-income privately insured adults with a usual place, and significantly exceeding the share of low-income uninsured adults who do (Figure 2). Adults with Medicaid are also significantly more likely than adults in the other two groups to have had a primary care visit and a mental health visit in the past year. Research shows that people with a usual source of care have better outcomes and that having a primary care physician as the usual source of care increases the likelihood of receiving appropriate care.

Medicaid is as effective as private insurance at connecting low-income adults with recommended clinical preventive services. The percentage of Medicaid adults who report receiving recommended clinical preventive services is at least as high as the percentage of low-income privately insured adults receiving these services (Figure 3). In fact, Medicaid adults are significantly more likely than the privately insured to report a blood pressure check (84% versus 79%) and a cholesterol check (60% versus 56%). Medicaid adults do significantly better than the uninsured on every measure of preventive care. Notably, the share of low-income adults who report receiving recommended cancer screenings is no more than about half, pointing to a need for increased investment and effort to improve access to these services as well as public education about their importance.

The major health risks and costs posed by overweight/obesity and smoking point to a need for more focus on patient counseling, including in Medicaid. As mentioned earlier, 70% of Medicaid adults are overweight or obese and nearly one-third smoke, somewhat higher rates than those for low-income privately insured adults (65% and 18% respectively). Both obesity and smoking are risk factors for preventable chronic diseases, including cancer, that increase morbidity and mortality as well as health care costs. The share of overweight/obese adults and adult smokers in Medicaid who report being counseled by their provider on diet (38%) or smoking (63%), while similar to the share for privately insured adults, highlights an important gap in preventive care and a need for more investment and effort (Figure 4).

WHAT IMPACT HAS THE MEDICAID EXPANSION HAD ON ACCESS TO PREVENTIVE CARE FOR LOW-INCOME ADULTS?

A large and growing body of studies demonstrate that Medicaid eligibility expansions can improve access to primary and preventive care. Research shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with increased visits to primary care providers and increased diagnosis of diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as increased screening for diabetes, and reduced rates of skipped medication due to cost. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment provides strong evidence of increases in screening and medication use for depression and declines in self-reported and clinically observed depression among previously uninsured adults who randomly won a limited number of Medicaid “slots” through a state lottery. The expansion also led to increases in diabetes screening and medication use among the adults who gained Medicaid compared to those who remained uninsured. A focused study of health center patients in Oregon found increases in screening for obesity, blood pressure, smoking, and chlamydia, as well as increased rates of mammograms, Pap tests, and lipid testing for adults in the Medicaid group. The pre-ACA expansion of Medicaid in Massachusetts was associated with an increase in hospital utilization, as would be expected, but hospitalizations for preventable conditions fell.

LOOKING AHEAD

Because Medicaid plays a large role in covering low-income adults and adult Medicaid enrollees are at elevated risk for preventable or treatable chronic conditions, ensuring access to preventive care and boosting utilization of these services among Medicaid adults is important to the national goal of improving population health while lowering health care costs. Medicaid expansion states have put preventive care within affordable reach of millions of previously low-income adults. State coverage of recommended preventive services without cost-sharing for all Medicaid adults would lower financial barriers to these services for many more of the nation’s poorest and sickest adults, increasing early detection and treatment of health conditions and risky behaviors, a necessary step to improve health outcomes and long-term trends in Medicaid costs. The House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) would both terminate enhanced federal funding for the Medicaid expansion to low-income adults and repeal the federal EHB requirements for Medicaid adults, threatening large losses of Medicaid coverage for adults as well as retrenchment in covered benefits, including preventive care for adults.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Ku L., Paradise J., Thompson V. (2017 May 17). Data note: medicaid's role in providing access to preventive care for adults [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/data-note-medicaids-role-in-providing-access-to-preventive-care-for-adults/?utm_campaign=KFF-2016-The-Latest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=52163695&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_gq9UyDH_SyF_QUp6ExHuNpYp6ykLD7jGDmfelAPRlt4oaEFavzA8qUl9kjpfPDmmJd0VguBWPyhfkRGAzAiJl9iQmcA&_hsmi=52163695


Employers and the ACA – It’s Status Quo for Now

With the passing of the AHCA, the ACA is now the norm for employers' healthcare. Find out what employers need to know about ACA and how it will affect them in the future in this interesting article from Think Hr by Laura Kerekes.

The Trump administration’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through legislation failed last month when House Republicans were unable to push their proposal forward. The proposed bill, called the American Health Care Act, would have eliminated most of the ACA’s taxes and fees on health plans along with removing penalties on large employers that did not offer coverage to their full-time workers. It is unclear whether Congressional leaders will make another attempt to legislate major changes in the ACA this year. Meanwhile, federal agencies under President Trump’s direction may begin to take steps to revise regulations that do not require changes in law.

The situation certainly has caused some confusion among employers, so it is important to note that, as of now, nothing has changed. The ACA’s existing rules for group health plans, required notices, and employer reporting duties remain in effect. Applicable large employers (ALEs), generally entities that employed an average of 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees in the prior year, are still subject to the ACA’s employer mandate or so-called “play or pay” rules.

As a reminder, here is a brief summary of the key ACA provisions that require action by employers:

Notices:

  • Employer Exchange Notice: Provide to all employees within 14 days of hire.
  • Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC): For group medical plan, provide SBC to eligible employees at enrollment and upon request.

Health Plan Fees:

  • Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI): For self-funded group health plans, pay small annual fee by July 31 based on prior year’s average participant count.
  • Transitional Reinsurance Program (TRP): For self-funded plans that provided minimum value in 2016, annual fee was due by January 15, 2017 (or by January 15 and November 15, 2017 if paying in two installments).

Reporting:

  • W-2 Reporting: Report total cost of each employee’s health coverage on Form W-2 (box 12). This is informational only and has no tax consequences. (Employers that filed fewer than 250 Form W-2s for prior year are exempt.)
  • Forms 1094 and 1095: ALEs only: Report coverage offer information on all full-time employees. Self-funded employers only (regardless of size): Report enrollment information on all covered persons.

Employer Mandate (“Play or Pay”): ALEs only. To avoid the risk of penalties, determine whether each employee meets the ACA definition of full-time employee and, if so, offer affordable minimum value coverage on a timely basis.

In summary, employers are advised to continue to comply with all ACA requirements based on the current rules.

On a related note, the ACA imposes several requirements on group health plans, whether provided through insurance or self-funded by the employer. Insured plans also are subject to the insurance laws of the state in which the policy is issued. In many cases, provisions matching the ACA are now embedded in state insurance laws. So future changes in the ACA, if any, may not apply to group medical policies automatically. Depending on the state and the type of change, additional legislation at the state level may be needed to enact the change.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kerekes L. (2017 April 14). Employers and the ACA - it's status quo for now [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.thinkhr.com/blog/hr/employers-and-the-aca-its-status-quo-for-now/


Workers Might See Employer Health Coverage Disappear Under New GOP AHCA

Do you receive your healthcare through an employer? Then take a look at this article from Benefits Pro about how the passing of the AHCA will affect employees who get their healthcare through an employer by Marlene Y. Satter.

It’s not just individuals without employer health coverage who could lose big under the newly revised version of the Republicans’ American Health Care Act.

People who get health coverage from their jobs could be left swinging in the wind, too—in fact, as many as half of all such employees could be affected.

That’s according to an Alternet report that says an amendment added to the bill currently being considered by the House of Representatives would allow insurers in states that get waivers from regulations put in place by the Affordable Care Act to deny coverage for 10 types of health services—including maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health treatment and hospitalization.

An MSNBC report points out that “because the Republican-led House is scrambling to pass a bill without scrutiny or serious consideration,” the last-minute amendment’s full effects aren’t even known, since “[t]his is precisely the sort of detail that would’ve come to light much sooner if Republicans were following the American legislative process. In fact, this may not even be the intended goal of the GOP policy.”

While the ACA prohibits employer-based plans from imposing annual limits on coverage and bare lifetime caps on 10 essential benefits, the Obama administration did loosen those restrictions back in 2011, saying that employers could instead choose to follow another state’s required benefits.

What the new Republican take on the AHCA does is push that further—a lot further—by allowing large employers to pick the benefit requirements for any state. That would let them limit coverage on such costly types of care as mental health and substance abuse services.

In a Wall Street Journal report, Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama, is quoted saying, “It’s huge. They’re creating a backdoor way to gut employer plans, too.”

The changes to employer-based plans would hit anyone not insured by Medicare or by small-business plans, because the bill includes cuts to Medicaid and changes to the individual market as well.

A report from the Brookings Institution points out that “One of the core functions of health insurance is to protect people against financial ruin and ensure that they get the care they need if they get seriously ill.” The ACA pushed insurance plans to meet that standard, it says, by requiring them to “limit enrollees’ annual out-of-pocket spending and [bar] plans from placing annual or lifetime limits on the total amount of care they would cover.”

However, while those protections against catastrophic costs “apply to almost all private insurance plans, including the plans held by the roughly 156 million people who get their coverage through an employer,” the Brookings report says, the amendment to the Republican bill “could jeopardize those protections—not just for people with individual market plans, but also for those with employer coverage.”

How? By modifying “the ‘essential health benefit’ standards that govern what types of services must be covered by individual and small group market insurance plans. The intent of the amendment is reportedly to eliminate the federal benefit standards that currently exist and instead allow each state to define its own list of essential health benefits.”

And then, with employers allowed to pick and choose which state’s regulations they’d like to follow, a loophole the size of the Capitol building would not only allow “states will set essential health benefit standards that are considerably laxer than those that are in place under the ACA,” says the report, but “large employers may have the option to pick which state’s essential health benefits requirements they wish to abide by for the purposes of these provisions.”

The result? “[T]his would likely have the effect of virtually eliminating the catastrophic protections with respect to large employers since employers could choose to pick whichever state set the laxest standards. The same outcome would be likely to occur for all private insurance policies,” the report continues, “if insurers were permitted to sell plans across state lines, as the Administration has suggested enacting through separate legislation.”

While the actual effect of the amendment is unclear, the Brookings report concludes, “there is strong reason to believe that, in practice, the definition of essential health benefits that applied to the catastrophic protections would be far weaker under the House proposal than under current law, seriously undermining these protections. These potential adverse effects on people with employer coverage, in addition to the potentially damaging effects of such changes on the individual health insurance market, are thus an important reason that policymakers should be wary of the House proposal with respect to essential health benefits.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 May 4). Workers might see employer health coverage disappear under new GOP AHCA [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/05/04/workers-might-see-employer-health-coverage-disappe?page_all=1


3 Aspects of the GOP Healthcare Plan that Demand Employers’ Attention

The House of Representatives last week passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill to begin the process of repealing the ACA. Find out what this new legislation means for employers in the great article from Employee Benefits Adviser by Daniel N. Kuperstein.

The extremely emotional journey to repeal (more appropriately, to “change”) the Affordable Care Act reached a significant milestone this week: The Republican-led House of Representatives passed an updated version of the American Health Care Act. While more than 75% of the provisions of the ACA remain intact, the AHCA gutted or delayed several of the ACA’s taxes on employers, insurers and individuals.

So what does this mean for employers?

First off, it’s important to remember that this new bill is not law just yet. The House version of the bill now heads to the Senate, where there’s no guarantee that it will pass in its current form; the margin for victory is much slimmer there. Only three “no” votes by Senate Republicans could defeat the bill, and both moderate and conservative Republican lawmakers in the Senate have expressed concerns about the bill. In other words, employers don’t have to do anything just yet, but it’s still beneficial to understand the major changes that could be coming down the pike.

As employers know from working over the last seven years to implement provisions of the ACA, there will be a million tiny details to work through if the AHCA becomes law.

But for now, we see three major aspects that demand employers’ attention.

There will be more emphasis on health savings accounts
Under the AHCA, health savings accounts will likely become far more popular — and more useful. The HSA contribution limits for employers and individuals are essentially doubled. Additionally, HSAs will be able to reimburse over-the-counter medications and allow spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same HSA. Of course, with this added flexibility comes increased responsibility — there will be a greater need for employees to understand their insurance.

There will be more flexibility in choosing a benchmark plan
For larger employers not in the small group market, the AHCA creates an opportunity to choose a benchmark plan that offers a significantly lower level of benefits to employees.

Currently, the ACA provides that employer-sponsored self-insured health plans, fully-insured large group health plans, and grandfathered health plans are not required to offer EHBs. However, these plans are prohibited from imposing annual and lifetime dollar limits on any EHBs they do offer. For purposes of determining which benefits are EHBs subject to the annual and lifetime dollar limits, the ACA currently permits employers sponsoring these types of plans to define their EHBs using any state benchmark plan. In other words, employers are not bound by the essential health benefits mandated by their state and can pick from another state’s list of required benefits.

Under the AHCA, we may see a big change to how the rules on annual and lifetime limits work. Notably, nothing in the AHCA would prohibit employers from choosing a state benchmark plan from a state that had obtained an AHCA waiver, which would allow the state to put annual and lifetime limits on its EHBs. This means that, if one state decides to waive these EHB requirements, many employers could decide to use that lower-standard plan as their benchmark plan. Of course, while choosing such a benchmark plan may benefit an organization by lowering its costs, such a move may have a negative impact on its ability to recruit and retain the best talent.

There will be a greater need to help employees make smart benefits decisions
The most important aspect of this for employers is to understand the trend in health insurance, which is undeniably moving in the direction of consumerism.

The driving philosophy behind this new Republican plan is to place more responsibility on individuals. However, this doesn’t mean employers can throw a party and simply wish their workers “good luck” — employers need to think at a macro level about what’s good for business. In a tightening labor market in which so many talented people consider themselves free agents, smart employers will focus on helping employees to make smart decisions about their health insurance.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kuperstein D. (2017 May 5). 3 aspects of the GOP healthcare plan that demand employers attention [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-aspects-of-the-gop-healthcare-plan-that-demand-employers-attention


Section 105(h) Nondiscrimination Testing

Under Internal Revenue Code Section 105(h), a self-insured medical reimbursement plan must pass two nondiscrimination tests. Failure to pass either test means that the favorable tax treatment for highly compensated individuals who participate in the plan will be lost. The Section 105(h) rules only affect whether reimbursement (including payments to health care providers) under a self-insured plan is taxable.

When Section 105(h) was enacted, its nondiscrimination testing applied solely to self-insured plans. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), Section 105(h) also applies to fully-insured, non-grandfathered plans. However, in late 2010, the government delayed enforcement of Section 105(h) against fully-insured, non-grandfathered plans until the first plan year beginning after regulations are issued. To date, no regulations have been issued so there is currently no penalty for noncompliance.

Practically speaking, if a plan treats all employees the same, then it is unlikely that the plan will fail Section 105(h) nondiscrimination testing.

What Is a Self-Insured Medical Reimbursement Plan?

Section 105(h) applies to a “self-insured medical reimbursement plan,” which is an employer plan to reimburse employees for medical care expenses listed under Code Section 213(d) for which reimbursement is not provided under a policy of accident or health insurance.

Common self-insured medical reimbursement plans are self-funded major medical plans, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), and medical expense reimbursement plans (MERPs). Many employers who sponsor an insured plan may also have a self-insured plan; that self-insured plan is subject to the Section 105 non-discrimination rules. For example, many employers offer a fully insured major medical plan that is integrated with an HRA to reimburse expenses incurred before a participant meets the plan deductible.

What If the Self-Insured Medical Reimbursement Plan Is Offered Under a Cafeteria Plan?

A self-insured medical reimbursement plan (self-insured plan) can be offered outside of a cafeteria plan or under a cafeteria plan. Section 105(h) nondiscrimination testing applies in both cases.

Regardless of grandfathered status, if the self-insured plan is offered under a cafeteria plan and allows employees to pay premiums on a pre-tax basis, then the plan is still subject to the Section 125

nondiscrimination rules. The cafeteria plan rules affect whether contributions are taxable; if contributions are taxable, then the Section 105(h) rules do not apply.

What Is the Purpose of Nondiscrimination Testing?

Congress permits self-insured medical reimbursement plans to provide tax-free benefits. However, Congress wanted employers to provide these tax-free benefits to their regular employees, not just to their executives. Nondiscrimination testing is designed to encourage employers to provide benefits to their employees in a way that does not discriminate in favor of employees who are highly paid or high ranking.

If a plan fails the nondiscrimination testing, the regular employees will not lose the tax benefits of the self-insured medical reimbursement plan and the plan will not be invalidated. However, highly paid or high ranking employees may be adversely affected if the plan fails testing.

What Are the Two Nondiscrimination Tests?

The two nondiscrimination tests are the Eligibility Test and Benefits Test.

The Eligibility Test answers the basic question of whether there are enough regular employees benefitting from the plan. Section 105(h) provides three ways of passing the Eligibility Test:

  1. The 70% Test – 70 percent or more of all employees benefit under the plan.
  2. The 70% / 80% Test – At least 70% of employees are eligible under the plan and at least 80% or more of those eligible employees participate in the plan.
  3. The Nondiscriminatory Classification Test – Employees qualify for the plan under a classification set up by the employer that is found by the IRS not to be discriminatory in favor of highly compensated individuals.

The Benefits Test answers the basic question of whether all participants are eligible for the same benefits.

Definition of Terms in the Nondiscrimination Tests

A highly compensated individual (HCI) is an individual who is:

  • One of the five highest-paid officers
  • A shareholder who owns more than 10 percent of the value of stock of the employer’s stock
  • Among the highest-paid 25 percent of all employees (other than excludable employees who are not participants)

Under Section 105(h), an employee’s compensation level is determined based on the employee’s compensation for the plan year. Fiscal year plans may determine employee compensation based on the calendar year ending within the plan year. Only current year compensation may be used to determine compensation levels.

For shareholder stock ownership, Section 318 constructive ownership rules apply. Per the attribution rules, a spouse is deemed to own the interest held by the other spouse. Also, an employee is deemed to own the ownership interest of the employee’s parents, children, and grandchildren. Further, a person with an option to buy stock is considered to own the stock subject to that option and a shareholder who owns 50 percent of more of a corporation is deemed to own a proportionate share of stock owned by the corporation.

Section 105(h) also defines excludable employees. The following employees may be excluded from the highest-paid 25 percent of all employees, unless they are eligible to participate in the plan:

  • Employees who have less than three years of service
  • Employees who are not 25 years old
  • Part-time employees (defined as customary weekly employment of less than 35 hours) or seasonal employees (defined as customary annual employment of less than 9 months)
  • Collectively bargained employees
  • Nonresident aliens who receive no earned income from U.S. sources

Exclusions should be applied uniformly. Employees in excludable categories should not be excluded during testing if the employees are eligible under the plan.

How Are the Tests Applied?

The Eligibility Test

All three of the alternative eligibility tests discuss who benefits under the plan. Although the Eligibility Test’s name implies that it looks at eligibility, the more cautious interpretation is that an employee must have elected coverage or have been provided with free coverage by plan design for the employee to benefit under the plan. For purposes of Section 105(h), an employee benefits from the plan when the employee actually participates in the plan.

A self-insured plan must pass one of the following three tests to pass the Eligibility Test:

  1. 70% Test: A self-insured plan passes the Eligibility Test if 70 percent or more of all employees participate in the plan.
  2. 70% / 80% Test: A self-insured plan passes the Eligibility Test if at least 70 percent of employees are eligible under the plan and at least 80 percent or more of those eligible employees participate in the plan.
  3. Nondiscriminatory Classification Test: A self-insured plan passes the Eligibility Test if it demonstrates that the plan benefits employees who qualify under a classification set up by the employer and found by the IRS not to be discriminatory in favor of highly compensated individuals.

To determine whether a self-insured plan passes the Nondiscriminatory Classification Test, the IRS will look at the facts and circumstances of each case, applying the standards of Section 410(b)(1)(B) that apply to tax-preferred retirement plans. If an employer must rely on the Nondiscriminatory Classification Test to pass the Eligibility Test, then the employer should consult with its attorney or tax professional about running the nondiscriminatory classification test because it is complicated to apply.

then the employer should consult with its attorney or tax professional about running the nondiscriminatory classification test because it is complicated to apply.

Although Section 105(h) is not clear on the exact process for conducting the Nondiscriminatory Classification Test, the plan may rely on the Section 410(b) regulations’ current nondiscriminatory classification test. Under the test, a classification is not discriminatory if it satisfies either the Safe Harbor Percentage Test or the Facts and Circumstances Test.

Safe Harbor Percentage Test. To meet the Safe Harbor Percentage Test, a plan’s ratio percentage must be equal to or greater than the applicable safe harbor percentage. If the plan’s ratio percentage is 50 percent of more, then the plan passes the Safe Harbor Percentage Test. If the plan’s ratio percentage is less than 50 percent, the plan might pass if the ratio percentage exceeds the safe harbor percentage found in the IRS’ Nondiscriminatory Classification Table below.

The plan’s ratio percentage is determined by dividing the percentage of non-highly compensated individuals who benefit under the plan by the percentage of highly compensated individuals who benefit under the plan.

The plan’s non-highly compensated individuals concentration percentage is the percentage of all employees who are non-highly compensated individuals.

Nondiscriminatory Classification Table

Non-HCI Concentration Percentage Safe Harbor Percentage Unsafe Harbor Percentage Non-HCI Concentration Percentage Safe Harbor Percentage Unsafe Harbor Percentage
0-60 50.00 40.00 80 35.00 25.00
61 49.25 39.25 81 34.25 24.25
62 48.50 38.50 82 33.50 23.50
63 47.75 37.75 83 32.75 22.75
64 47.00 37.00 84 32.00 22.00
65 46.25 36.25 85 31.25 21.25
66 45.50 35.50 86 30.50 20.50
67 44.75 34.75 87 29.75 20.00
68 44.00 34.00 88 29.00 20.00
69 43.25 33.25 89 28.25 20.00
70 42.50 32.50 90 27.50 20.00
71 41.75 31.75 91 26.75 20.00
72 41.00 31.00 92 26.00 20.00
73 40.25 30.25 93 25.25 20.00
74 39.50 29.50 94 24.50 20.00
75 38.75 28.75 95 23.75 20.00
76 38.00 28.00 96 23.00 20.00
77 37.25 27.25 97 22.25 20.00
78 36.50 26.50 98 21.50 20.00
79 35.75 25.75 99 20.75 20.00

If the plan’s ratio percentage is equal or greater than the safe harbor percentage, then the plan’s employee classification meets the safe harbor and is nondiscriminatory.

Facts and Circumstances Test. If the plan fails the Safe Harbor Percentage Test, then the plan would apply the Facts and Circumstances Test. To pass the Facts and Circumstances Test, the plan’s ratio percentage must be greater than or equal to the corresponding unsafe harbor percentage in the chart above.

Also, the IRS must find the classification to be nondiscriminatory based on all the relevant facts and circumstances. No one single factor will be dispositive; here are some of the facts that the IRS will consider:

  • The underlying business reason for the classification.
  • The percentage of the employer’s employees benefiting under the plan.
  • Whether the number of employees benefitting under the plan in each salary range is representative of the number of employees in each salary range of the employer’s workforce.
  • The difference between the plan’s ratio percentage and the safe harbor percentage.

The Benefits Test

To pass the Benefits Test, all benefits provided to highly compensated individuals who are participating in the plan must be provided to all other participants. Also, all benefits available for highly compensated individuals’ dependents must also be available on the same basis for all non-highly compensated participants’ dependents.

Essentially, the Benefits Test requires a plan to have no facial discrimination and no discrimination in its operation.

To have no discriminatory benefits on its face, the plan must have the following features:

  • Required employee contributions must be identical for each benefit level.
  • The maximum benefit level cannot vary based on a participant’s age, years of service, or compensation.
  • All benefits provided for participants who are highly compensated individuals are provided for all other participants.
  • Disparate waiting periods cannot be imposed for highly compensated individuals and non-highly compensated participants.

To have no discriminatory benefits in operation, the plan must not discriminate in favor of highly compensated individuals in actual operation; this is a facts and circumstances determination that looks to see if “the duration of a particular benefit coincides with the period during which [a highly compensated individual] utilizes the benefit.”

When to Test

Section 105(h) and its regulations do not specify when nondiscrimination testing must be done. However, for highly compensated individuals to retain favorable tax treatment, the self-insured plan must satisfy the tests for a plan year.

As a best practice, the employer should test prior to the beginning of the plan year, several months before the end of the plan year, and after the close of the plan year. Testing before and during the plan year will allow the plan sponsor to potentially make election or plan design changes to correct testing problems. The nondiscrimination tests cannot be satisfied by corrections made after the end of the plan year. The employer should keep a record of its test results.

Consequences of Failing the Nondiscrimination Tests

If the plan fails the nondiscrimination tests, then highly compensated individuals’ excess reimbursements will be taxable. If the plan is discriminatory, then non-highly compensated individuals will not lose their tax benefits and the plan will not lose its status as a valid Section 105 plan.

Amounts that are excess reimbursement are includable in a highly compensated individual’s income; the excess reimbursement calculation varies based on whether the benefits were paid to highly compensated individuals due to either discriminatory coverage for failing to meet the Eligibility Test, or discriminatory benefits for failing to meet the Benefits Test.

If a self-insured plan fails to meet the Eligibility Test and provides discriminatory coverage, the amount of the excess reimbursement is calculated as:

Total amount of reimbursement to the highly compensated individual X Total benefits paid during the plan year for all highly compensated individuals = The dollar amount to be included in the highly compensated individual’s income
Total benefits paid during the plan year for all participants

If a self-insured plan fails to meet the Benefits Test and provides discriminatory benefits, the amount of the excess reimbursement is the amount reimbursed to that highly compensated individual for the discriminatory benefit.

If the benefit was only available to a highly compensated individual and not to other participants, then the total amount reimbursed to that highly compensated individual for that benefit will be included in that individual’s gross income.

If the benefit is available to non-highly compensated individuals but it is a lesser benefit, then the amount available to the highly compensated individual is offset by the amounts available to the non-highly compensated individuals.

A pro rata share of the discriminatory coverage or discriminatory benefit will be taxable when coverage is partially paid with employee after-tax contributions and partially paid with employer contributions.

If a self-insured plan fails to meet both the Eligibility Test and the Benefits Test, the excess reimbursement is calculated by first applying the Benefits Test. Then the amount of excess reimbursement under the Benefits Test is subtracted from the numerator and dominator when the Eligibility Test is calculated.

The regulations provide six excess reimbursement examples, found here in the Appendix to this Advisor.

Reporting Discriminatory Amounts

If a self-insured plan discriminates in favor of highly compensated individuals, the employer should include the excess reimbursement in the highly compensated individual’s gross income and report the income in Box 1 of Form W-2. The amounts should not be reported in Box 3 or Box 5 of Form W-2 because the amounts are not considered wages for FICA or FUTA withholding.

Plan Design Considerations

Plan sponsors should be cautious of plan designs that create separate plans for different employee groups or that do not cover all employees, create different eligibility requirements for different groups of employees, or base employer contributions or benefits on employees’ years of service or compensation level.

Appendix: Excess Reimbursement Examples

Example 1

Corporation M maintains a self-insured medical reimbursement plan which covers all employees. The plan provides the following maximum limits on the amount of benefits subject to reimbursement: $5,000 for officers and $1,000 for all other participants. During a plan year Employee A, one of the 5 highest paid officers, received reimbursements in the amount of $4,000. Because the amount of benefits provided for highly compensated individuals is not provided for all other participants, the plan benefits are discriminatory. Accordingly, Employee A received an excess reimbursement of $3,000 ($4,000−$1,000) which constitutes a benefit available to highly compensated individuals, but not to all other participants.

Example 2

Corporation N maintains a self-insured medical reimbursement plan which covers all employees. The plan provides a broad range of medical benefits subject to reimbursement for all participants. However, only the 5 highest paid officers are entitled to dental benefits. During the plan year Employee B, one of the 5 highest paid officers, received dental payments under the plan in the amount of $300. Because dental benefits are provided for highly compensated individuals, and not for all other participants, the plan discriminates as to benefits. Accordingly, Employee B received an excess reimbursement in the amount of $300.

Example 3

Corporation O maintains a self-insured medical reimbursement plan which discriminates as to eligibility by covering only the highest paid 40% of all employees. Benefits subject to reimbursement under the plan are the same for all participants. During a plan year Employee C, a highly compensated individual, received benefits in the amount of $1,000. The amount of excess reimbursement paid Employee C during the plan year will be calculated by multiplying the $1,000 by a fraction determined under subparagraph (3) [of 26 CFR 1.105-11].

Example 4

Corporation P maintains a self-insured medical reimbursement plan for its employees. Benefits subject to reimbursement under the plan are the same for all plan participants. However, the plan fails the eligibility tests of section 105(h)(3)(A) and thereby discriminates as to eligibility. During the 1980 plan year Employee D, a highly compensated individual, was hospitalized for surgery and incurred medical expenses of $4,500 which were reimbursed to D under the plan. During that plan year the Corporation P medical plan paid $50,000 in benefits under the plan, $30,000 of which constituted benefits paid to highly compensated individuals. The amount of excess reimbursement not excludable by D under section 105(b) is $2,700:

$4,500 x ($30,000 ¸ $50,000)

Example 5

Corporation Q maintains a self-insured medical reimbursement plan for its employees. The plan provides a broad range of medical benefits subject to reimbursement for participants. However, only the five highest paid officers are entitled to dental benefits. In addition, the plan fails the eligibility test of section 105(h)(3)(A) and thereby discriminates as to eligibility. During the calendar 1981 plan year, Employee E, a highly compensated individual, received dental benefits under the plan in the amount of $300, and no other employee received dental benefits. In addition, Employee E was hospitalized for surgery and incurred medical expenses, reimbursement for which was available to all participants, of $4,500 which were reimbursed to E under the plan. Because dental benefits are only provided for highly compensated individuals, Employee E received an excess reimbursement under paragraph (e)(2) above in the amount of $300. For the 1981 plan year, the Corporation Q medical plan paid $50,300 in total benefits under the plan, $30,300 of which constituted benefits paid to highly compensated individuals. In computing the fraction under paragraph (e)(3) [of 26 CFR 1.105-11], discriminatory benefits described in paragraph (e)(2) are not taken into account. Therefore, the amount of excess reimbursement not excludable to Employee E with respect to the $4,500 of medical expenses incurred is $2,700:

$4,500 x ($30,000 ¸ $50,000)

and the total amount of excess reimbursements includable in E's income for 1981 is $3,000.

Example 6

(i) Corporation R maintains a calendar year self-insured medical reimbursement plan which covers all employees. The type of benefits subject to reimbursement under the plan include all medical care expenses as defined in section 213(e). The amount of reimbursement available to any employee for any calendar year is limited to 5 percent of the compensation paid to each employee during the calendar year. The amount of compensation and reimbursement paid to Employees A-F for the calendar year is as follows:

Employee Compensation Reimbursable amount paid
A $100,000 $5,000
B 25,000 1,250
C 15,000 750
D 10,000 500
E 10,000 500
F 8,000 400
Total $8,400

 

(ii) Because the amount of benefits subject to reimbursement under the plan is in proportion to employee compensation the plan discriminates as to benefits. In addition, Employees A and B are highly compensated individuals. The amount of excess reimbursement paid Employees A and B during the plan year will be determined under paragraph (e)(2) [of 26 CFR 1.105-11]. Because benefits in excess of $400 (Employee F's maximum benefit) are provided for highly compensated individuals and not for all other participants, Employees A and B received, respectively, an excess reimbursement of $4,600 and $850.

To download the full compliance alert click Here.


Compliance Recap April 2017

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

In April, government agencies ramped up their activities by issuing a final rule, updating guidance, and announcing increased Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) enforcement.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) updated its webpage that summarizes employer shared responsibilities payments and their calculation. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its ACA Market Stabilization Final Rule and its 2018 Medicare Part D Benefit Parameters. The Treasury Inspector General released its report on the IRS' processing of Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.

The IRS released an information letter on HSA ineligibility due to Medicare entitlement. HHS' Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released guidance on electronic protected health information (ePHI) attacks. The Department of Labor (DOL) released its annual report on self-insured group health plans. The Congressional Research Services updated its Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Resources for FAQs.

UBA Updates

UBA released two new advisors in April:

·         ACA Market Stabilization Final Rule

·         Section 105(h) Nondiscrimination Testing

IRS Updates Its Webpage on Employer Payments and Calculations

On April 6, 2017, the IRS updated its webpage on Types of Employer Payments and How They are Calculated. It provides a summary of the employer shared responsibility provisions, the penalties amounts adjusted for calendar year 2017, examples of employer liability, and description of the IRS' process for assessing and collecting the employer shared responsibility payment.

CMS Releases Its ACA Market Stabilization Final Rule

On April 18, 2017, CMS issued its final rule regarding ACA market stabilization. The regulations are effective on June 17, 2017.

The rule amends standards relating to special enrollment periods, guaranteed availability, and the timing of the annual open enrollment period in the individual market for the 2018 plan year, standards related to network adequacy and essential community providers for qualified health plans, and the rules around actuarial value requirements.

The changes primarily affect the individual market. However, to the extent that employers have fully-insured plans, some of the changes will affect those employers' plans because the changes affect standards that apply to issuers.

Read more about the final rule.

CMS Releases Its 2018 Medicare Part D Benefit Parameters

On April 3, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2018 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter and Request for Information.

Most group health plan sponsors offering prescription drug coverage to Part D eligible individuals must disclose whether the plan is creditable or non-creditable. For coverage to be creditable, the coverage's actuarial value must equal or exceed the actuarial value of the standard Medicare prescription drug coverage. Practically speaking, coverage is creditable if it's at least as good as standard Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Group health plan sponsors will use the parameters below to determine whether their plans' prescription drug coverage is creditable for 2018:

Part D Benefit Parameters -- Standard Benefit 2017 2018
Deductible $400.00 $405.00
Initial Coverage Limit $3,700.00 $3,750.00
Out-of-Pocket Threshold $4,950.00 $5,000.00
Total Covered Part D Spending at Out-of-Pocket Threshold for Non-Applicable Beneficiaries $7,425.00 $7,508.75
Estimated Total Covered Part D Spending for Applicable Beneficiaries $8,071.16 $8,417.60
Minimum Cost-Sharing in Catastrophic Coverage Portion of the Benefit    
    Generic $3.30 $3.35
    Other $8.25 $8.35

Treasury Inspector General Releases Report on IRS' Processing of Forms 1094-C and 1095-C

On April 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury Inspector General released its Affordable Care Act: Efforts to Implement the Employer Shared Responsibility Provision that describes the results of its audit of the IRS' preparations for ensuring compliance with the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions and its related information reporting requirements.

The Inspector General determined that some of the IRS' processes and procedures do not function as intended. As a result, the IRS has been unable to accurately and completely identify noncompliant employers who are potentially subject to the employer shared responsibility payment, unable to process paper information returns timely and accurately, and unable to identify validation errors correctly. Further, the IRS' implementation of a post-filing compliance validation system is being delayed until May 2017.

IRS Releases Information Letter on HSA Ineligibility Due to Medicare Entitlement

The IRS issued Letter 2017-0003 that explains the consequences of health savings account (HSA) ineligibility due to Medicare entitlement. Under the facts, an employee retired and enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B. Later, the employee resumed working and enrolled in the employer's health plan and was provided with an HSA.

The IRS determined that the employee never had a valid HSA because the employee's Medicare enrollment disqualified him from establishing an HSA. Per the IRS, the employee must withdraw the funds from his account and include them in his income; the withdrawal is not subject to a fine.

HHS OCR Releases Guidance About Man-in-the-Middle Attacks on ePHI

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its Man-in-the Middle Attacks and "HTTPS Inspection Products"guidance. The OCR warns organizations that have implemented end-to-end connection security on their internet connections using Secure Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTPS) about using HTTPS interception products to detect malware over an HTTPS connection because the HTTPS interception products may leave the organization vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. In an MITM attack, a third party intercepts internet communications between two parties; in some instances, the third party may modify the information or alter the communication by injecting malicious code.

OCR provides a partial list of products that may be affected. Also, OCR provides a method that organizations can use to determine if their HTTPS interception product properly validates certificates and prevents connections to sites using weak cryptography.

OCR emphasized that covered entities and business associates must consider the risks presented to the electronic protected health information (ePHI) transmitted over HTTPS. Further, OCR encouraged covered entities and business associates to review OCR's recommendations for valid encryption processes to ensure that ePHI is not unsecured and the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team's recommendations on protecting internet communications and preventing MITM attacks.

DOL Releases Its Annual Report to Congress on Self-Insured Group Health Plans

The Department of Labor (DOL) released its Report to Congress - Annual Report on Self-Insured Group Health Plans. The report provides statistics on self-insured employee health benefit plans and financial status of employers that sponsor such plans. The report uses data from the Form 5500 that many self-insured health plans are required to file annually with the DOL.

Congressional Research Services Updates Its ACA Resources for FAQs

On April 3, 2017, the Congressional Research Service updated its Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): Resources for Frequently Asked Questions. The report lists contacts for questions about employer-based coverage and sources on taxes, congressional efforts to repeal or amend the ACA, ACA agency audits and investigations, insurance coverage statistics, and legal issues.

Question of the Month

Q. Under what circumstances do HIPAA's breach notification requirements not apply when a breach of protected health information (PHI) occurs?

A. Generally, breach notification must be provided when a breach of unsecuredPHI is discovered. HHS provides only two methods of creating "secured PHI" that would not be subject to the notification requirements if there is a breach:

·         Encryption

·         Destruction

This means that if PHI/ePHI is encrypted or destroyed and a breach occurs, HIPAA's notification requirements are not triggered.

To download the full compliance recap click Here.


Understanding the Evolution of Health Insurance in a Post-ACA World

With the fall of the AHCA, are you wondering where you are left standing with healthcare? Check out this great article from Benefits Pro on what the fall of the AHCA means for employers and how to proceed with healthcare from here by Eric Helman.

While much has been written about specific aspects of the ACA and how repeal, replace and repair will affect certain populations, the impact on employer-sponsored benefits is more convoluted.

In the world of employee benefits, to properly understand the post ACA world, we must reflect on the confluence of how five separate constituents react to the new health insurance landscape.

The issues and priorities of these five groups: government, carriers, employers, employees, and brokers/consultants, and how they relate to each other will dictate the evolution of health insurance in the post-ACA world.

These insights will illuminate what to expect in a post-ACA climate as the health insurance landscape continues to evolve under President Trump.

Government compliance issues ease

While we all may be a bit weary from the focus on Washington, the fact remains the federal government continues to be the single biggest catalyst for changes in the health insurance and benefits landscape.

For benefits professionals, it is important to recognize that for all the politicization around ACA, there is very little focus on the employer-provided benefits space, especially outside of the realm of small employers. The priority for government involvement in repeal-replace-repair is the individual market and Medicaid expansion.

Having said this, if the Republicans choose to use reconciliation to repeal the ACA with a simple majority, many aspects of the employer-provided system will be affected. Unfortunately, this will perpetuate the preoccupation with compliance in the employer space, continuing the trend of non-value add expenditure of resources that has plagued the industry for the last five years.

Carrier mandates relax

Perhaps surprisingly, the second area of significant change in the post-ACA era will be in the domain of the carriers. Against the backdrop of the Department of Justice opinions on the two proposed mega-mergers, we expect the greatest impact of repeal-replace-repair will manifest itself in the proliferation of new products which were “non-compliant” under the ACA.

Whether correct or not, one of the indictments of the ACA is increased mandates do more to destroy markets in terms of access and affordability than they do to advance these objectives.

Look for the relaxation of these mandates and the commensurate acceleration of new product development which will inevitably follow. Combined with the return of premium reimbursement plans in the small market, we expect the further commoditization of major medical insurance as low risk consumers choose less coverage for less premium.

Employers reallocate benefits compensation

Second only to the carriers, the employers have been the biggest victims of the ACA era. While many have applauded the decline in the rate of health care inflation, the reality is that benefits costs continue to grow more than inflation, placing an ever-increasing burden on total compensation planning.

Add to this the increased cost of compliance in an environment where employers are trying to reduce administrative costs in the face of a slow growth economy and you can understand the “ACA fatigue” many employers report.

Repeal-replace-repair, while it will bring uncertainty in the near term, is likely to lower the burden on employers and allow more strategic thinking about how they allocate compensation to benefits.

The increasing age diversity of their employees will force them to consider altering this allocation in favor of financial wellness (retirement and student debt) perhaps at the expense of traditional health benefits. The war for new talent precipitated by near full employment in skilled professions will only exacerbate this tension.

Employees wise up on benefit choices

For employees, the impact of the politicization of health care will continue to cloud their perception of their role in choosing and consuming the benefit programs offered by their employers.

While much has been written about the promise of “consumerism” to change the hyper-inflationary nature of fee-for-service health care, it is apparent that the deadly combination of employee illiteracy and entitlement about employer-provided health insurance is a greater impediment to real reform in the way health care is consumed in this country.

With the potential deregulation on mandated benefits and the increasing availability of retail health care alternatives, it will be incumbent on all the constituents to accelerate the employees’ education and appreciation for employee benefit choices customized to their informed perception of need and risk mitigation.

Brokers/consultants rise to the challenges

And now, the elephant in the room, the impact on brokers and consultants. One of my early mentors said, “There is profit in confusion.” For the skilled practitioners, I think they would agree that the net effect of the ACA was increased opportunity. It is important to note however, that this opportunity required focus on new disciplines.

No longer were the skills of customer relationship management, procurement management and vendor management sufficient to satisfy the needs of their clients. The best players were forced to develop expertise in compliance, regulatory impact, benefits technology and internal human resources processes that their predecessors could ignore. This, the low cost of money and the aging workforce of benefit producers has contributed to the continued wave of firm consolidation which changes the nature of competition.

Additionally, the widely publicized fall of market disruptors will have a chilling effect on innovation for the near term. In the post-ACA era, benefits professionals will be challenged to balance revenue, client retention and cost-of-service pressures in an environment where the future is uncertain.

The post-ACA era promises to be as exciting as the last five years. To paraphrase Richard Epstein on a separate topic, the real dilemma is that the people working on the problem lack the technical expertise and the political agnostic orientation necessary for real change.

In the meantime, successful participants in this marketplace will be forced to be both diplomats and opportunists, acutely aware of the issues and priorities facing all of the important constituents and balancing these to the most optimum outcome. I, personally, am comforted that we have some of the most creative people I know working on this challenge.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Helman E. (2017 April 7). Understanding the evolution of health insurance in a post-ACA world [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/04/07/understanding-the-evolution-of-health-insurance-in?t=core-group&page_all=1


What Marketplace Health Insurance Plans Cover

Do you know what is covered in your marketplace health insurance plan? Find out more about your health insurance plan and everything it covers in this article by HealthCare.Gov.

All plans offered in the Marketplace cover the same set of essential health benefits.

Every health plan must cover the following services:

  • Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization (like surgery and overnight stays)
  • Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth)
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services, including oral and vision care (but adult dental and vision coverage aren’t essential health benefits)

Additional benefits

Plans must also include the following benefits:

Essential health benefits are minimum requirements for all Marketplace plans. Specific services covered in each broad benefit category can vary based on your state’s requirements. Plans may offer additional benefits, including:

When comparing plans, you’ll see exactly what each plan offers.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Author (Date). What marketplace health insurance plans cover [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.healthcare.gov/coverage/what-marketplace-plans-cover/


Are Healthcare Cost-Shifting Efforts at a Tipping Point?

Are you having trouble controlling your healthcare cost? Take a look at this interesting article from Employee Benefits Advisor on how rising healthcare costs are affecting employers by Bruce Shutan.

With the fate of healthcare reform in limbo, new research suggests employers are moving forward with a host of incremental changes to their health and wellness plans in hopes of curtailing costs on their own.

Kim Buckey, VP of client services at DirectPath, an employee engagement and healthcare compliance technology company, has noticed a slowdown in adoption of high-deductible health plans and cost-shifting strategies that aren’t quite living up to expectations. DirectPath’s 2017 Medical Plan Trends and Observations Report, based on an analysis of about 975 employee benefit health plans, found employers applying creative methods for cost control.

Buckey noted greater use of health savings accounts, wellness incentives, price transparency tools and alternative care options.

Slightly more than half of the employers studied by DirectPath offer a price transparency tool, while another 18% plan to do so in the next three years. Price-comparison services were found to save employees and employers alike an average of $173 and $409, respectively, per procedure.

In an effort to reduce costs and the administrative burden of tracking coverage for dependents, surcharges on spouses who can elect coverage elsewhere soared more than 40% within the past year to $152 per month.

The number of plans that offer wellness incentives rose to 58% from 50% between 2016 and 2017. Rewards included paycheck contributions, plan premium discounts, contributions to HSAs and health reimbursement arrangements and reduced co-pays for office visits. HSAs were far more popular than employee-funded HRAs (67% vs. 15% of employers examined), while employer contributions to HSAs increased nearly 10%.

Barriers to care and cost containment
A separate survey conducted by CEB, a technology company that monitors corporate performance, noted that although as many as one-third of organizations offer telemedicine, more than 55% of employees aren’t even aware of their availability and nearly 60% believe they’re difficult to access.

DirectPath and CEB both found that the average cost of specialty drugs increased by more than 30%. This reflects research conducted by the National Business Group on Health. Nearly one-third of NBGH members said the category was their highest driver of healthcare costs last year.

The pursuit of a panacea for rising group health costs has been meandering. When Buckey’s career began, she recalls how indemnity plans gave way to HMOs and managed care, then HDHPs, consumer-directed plans and private exchanges. “There is no one silver bullet that’s going to solve this problem,” she explains, “and I think employers and their advisers are starting to understand that it’s got to be a combination of things.”

More employers are now realizing that cost-shifting isn’t a viable long-term solution and that “whatever changes are put in place will require a well thought-out, year-round and robust communication plan,” she says.

There’s also a serious need to improve healthcare literacy, with Buckey noting that many employees still struggle to understand basic concepts such as co-pays, deductibles and HSAs. Consequently, she says it’s no wonder why they often “just shut down and do whatever their doctor tells them.

“So I think anything that advisers and brokers can do to support their employers in explaining these plans, or whatever changes they choose to implement,” she continues, will help raise understanding and eventually have a positive influence on behavior change. This, in turn, will help lower employee healthcare costs.”

See the original article Here.

Source:

Shutan B. (2017 April 5). Are healthcare cost-shifting efforts at a tipping point? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/are-healthcare-cost-shifting-efforts-at-a-tipping-point