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/


Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care

What will change about women's healthcare and what will stay the same? Danielle Kurtzleben explores the potential changes in the following article for NPR.

The Affordable Care Act changed women's health care in some big ways: It stopped insurance companies from charging women extra, forced insurers to cover maternity care and contraceptives and allowed many women to get those contraceptives (as well as a variety of preventive services, like Pap smears and mammograms) at zero cost.

Now Republicans have the opportunity to repeal that law, also known as Obamacare. But that doesn't mean all those things will go away. In fact, many will remain.

Confused? Here's a rundown of how this bill would change some women-specific areas of health care, what it wouldn't change, and what we don't know so far.

What would change:

Abortion coverage

There are restrictions on abortion under current law — the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal subsidies from being spent on abortions, except in the case of pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother. So while health care plans can cover abortions, those being paid for with subsidies "must follow particular administrative requirements to ensure that no federal funds go toward abortion," as the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, explains.

But the GOP bill tightens this. It says that the tax credits at the center of the plan cannot be spent at all on any health care plan that covers abortion (aside from the Hyde Amendment's exceptions).

So while health care plans can cover abortion, very few people may be able to purchase those sorts of plans, as they wouldn't be able to use their tax credits on them. That could make it much more expensive and difficult to obtain an abortion under this law than under current law.

Planned Parenthood funding

This bill partially "defunds" Planned Parenthood, meaning it would cut back on the federal funding that can be used for services at the clinics. Fully 43 percent of Planned Parenthood's revenue in fiscal year 2015 — more than $550 million — came from government grants and reimbursements.

Right now, under Obamacare, federal funds can be spent at Planned Parenthood, but they can't be used for abortion — again, a result of the Hyde Amendment and again, with the three Hyde Amendment exceptions. But this bill goes further, saying that people couldn't use Medicaid at Planned Parenthood.

To be clear, it's not that there's a funding stream going directly from the government to Planned Parenthood that Congress can just turn off. Rather, the program reimburses Planned Parenthood for the care it provides to Medicaid recipients. So this bill would mean that Medicaid recipients who currently receive care at an organization that provides abortions would have to find a new provider (whom Medicaid would then reimburse).

Abortion is a small part of what Planned Parenthood does: The organizations says it accounted for 3.4 percent of all services provided in the year ending in September 2014. (Of course, some patients receive more than one service; Planned Parenthood had around 2.5 million patients in that year. Assuming one abortion per patient, that's roughly 13 percent of all patients receiving abortions.)

Together, providing contraception and the testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases made up three-quarters of the services the organization provided in one year.

That means low-income women (that is, women on Medicaid) could be among the most heavily affected by this bill, as it may force them to find other providers for reproductive health services.

Of the other government money that goes to Planned Parenthood, most of it comes from Title X. That federal program, created under President Richard Nixon, provides family planning services to people beyond Medicaid, like low-income women who are not Medicaid-eligible. Earlier this year, Republicans started the process of stripping that funding.

What wouldn't change (yet):

Republicans have stressed that this bill was just one of three parts, so it's hard to say definitively what wouldn't change at all as a result of their plan. But thus far, here's what is holding steady:

Maternity and contraceptive coverage

Because this was a reconciliation bill, it could cover fiscal-related topics only. It couldn't get into many of the particulars of what people's coverage will look like, meaning some things won't change.

The essential health benefits set out in Obamacare — a list of 10 types of services that all plans must cover — do not change for other policies. Maternity care is included in those benefits, as is contraception, so plans will have to continue to cover those. The GOP bill also doesn't change the Obamacare policy that gave women access to free contraception, as Vox's Emily Crockett reported.

In addition, maternity and contraception are still both "mandatory benefits" under Medicaid. That doesn't change in the GOP bill. (Confusingly, the bill does sunset essential health benefits for Medicaid recipients. But because there is overlap and these particular benefits remain "mandatory," they aren't going away.)

However, all of this won't necessarily remain unchanged. In response to a question about defunding Planned Parenthood this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that he didn't want to "violate anybody's conscience." When a reporter asked how this relates to birth control, Price did not give a definite answer.

"We're working through all of those issues," he said. "As you know, many of those were through the rule-making process, and we're working through that. So that's not a part of this piece of legislation right here."

So this is something that could easily change in the second "phase" of the health care plan, when rules are changed.

"Preventative services [the category that includes contraception] hasn't been touched, but we expect those to be touched probably via regulation," said Laurie Sobel, associate director for women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The end of gender rating

Prior to Obamacare, women were often charged more for the same health plans as men. The rationale was that women tend to use more health care services than men.

However, Obamacare banned the practice, and that ban seems unlikely to change, as the GOP cites nondiscrimination as one of the bill's selling points:

"Our proposal specifically prohibits any gender discrimination. Women will have equal access to the same affordable, quality health care options as men do under our proposal."

See original article Here.

Source:

Kurtzleben, D. (10 March 2017). Here's What The GOP Bill Would (And Wouldn't) Change About Women's Health Care. [Web Blog Post] Retrieved from address http://www.npr.org/2017/03/10/519461271/heres-what-the-gop-bill-would-and-wouldnt-change-for-womens-healthcare


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/


10 Misconceptions About Saving for Medical Care in Retirement

Are you properly prepared for your medical costs during retirement? Take a look at this great article from Employee Benefits Advisors to find out what are the top misconceptions people have about medical costs when planning for their retirement by Marlene Y. Satter.

Retirement isn’t the only thing workers have trouble saving for; the other big gap in planning is health care.

According to a Voya Financial survey, Americans just aren’t ready to pay for the health care they might need in retirement. Their estimates of what they might need are low—when they estimate them at all, that is—and their savings are even lower.

With worries over money woes keeping people up at night—so says a CreditCards.com poll—the only worry that surpassed “having enough saved for retirement” was “health care and insurance.”

And consider, if you will, all the turmoil in the health insurance market these days, what with potential changes to—or an outright repeal of—the Affordable Care Act waiting in the wings, not to mention the skyrocketing costs of both care and coverage.

Americans seem to have a lot to worry about when it comes to their finances.

In light of all this uncertainty, it’s no wonder that the little matter of paying for health care is keeping people awake.

But, considering all that, it’s even more surprising that there are so many common misconceptions about health care, its cost and how to pay for it at large in the general population.

American workers are not just ill prepared for retirement, they’re even more ill prepared for any illness or infirmity that may come along with it.

According to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), a 65-year-old man would need $127,000 in savings while a 65-year-old woman would need $143,000—thanks to a longer projected lifespan—to give each of them a 90 percent chance of having enough savings to cover health care expenses in retirement.

But that doesn’t appear to have filtered its way down to U.S. workers, who are blissfully (well, maybe not so blissfully) ignorant of the mountain of bills that probably lies ahead.

While demographics play a role, there are smaller differences among some groups than one might otherwise expect. In addition, it’s also rather surprising where Americans plan to get the money to pay for whatever care they receive, and how far they think that money will stretch when it also has to pay for food, clothing, shelter and any activities or other necessities that come along with retirement.

Read on to see 10 misconceptions workers have about how and how much they think they’ll pay for medical care in retirement. As you’ll see, some generations are more prone to certain errors than others.

10. Workers just aren’t estimating how much health care will cost them in retirement.

Perhaps they’d rather not know—but according to the poll, 81 percent of Americans have not estimated the total amount health care will cost them in retirement; among them are 77 percent of boomers. Retirees haven’t estimated those costs, either; in fact, just 21 percent of them have. But that’s actually not that bad, when considering that among Americans overall, only 14 percent have actually done—or tried to do—the math.

And among those who have tried to calculate the cost, 66 percent put them at $100,000 or less while an astonishing 31 percent estimated just $25,000 or less.

9. People with just a high school education or less, and whites, are slightly more likely than those who went to college, and blacks, to have attempted to figure it out.

The great majority among all those demographic groups just aren’t looking at the numbers, with 88 percent of black respondents and 79 percent of white respondents saying they have not estimated how much money it will take to pay their medical costs throughout retirement.

And while 80 percent of those with a high school diploma or less say they haven’t run the numbers, those who spent more time in school have spent even less time doing the calculations—with 81 percent of those with some college and 82 percent of those who graduated college saying they have not estimated medical costs.

8. Millennials are the most likely to underestimate health care costs in retirement.

A whopping 74 percent of millennials are among those lowballing what they expect to spend on health care once they retire, figuring they won’t need more than $100,000—and possibly less.

Not that they really know; 85 percent haven’t actually tried to calculate their total health care expenses for retirement. But they must be believers in the amazing stretching dollar, with 42 percent planning to use general retirement savings as the primary means of paying for health expenses in retirement, excluding Medicare.

GenXers, by the way, were the most likely to guess correctly that the bill will probably be higher than $100,000—but even there, only 28 percent said so.

7. They have surprisingly unrealistic expectations about where they’ll get the money to pay for medical care.

Excluding Medicare, 34 percent intend to use their general retirement savings, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, pensions and IRAs, as the primary means of paying for care, while 25 percent are banking on their Social Security income, 7 percent would use health savings accounts (HSAs) and 6 percent would use emergency savings.

That last is particularly interesting, since so few people have successfully managed to set aside a sizeable emergency fund in the first place.

6. Despite their potential, HSAs just aren’t feasible for many because of their income.

HSAs do offer ways to set aside more money not just for medical bills in retirement but also to boost retirement savings overall, and come with fairly generous contribution limits. But people with lower incomes often can’t even hit the maximum for retirement accounts—so relying on an HSA might not be realistic for all but those with the highest incomes.

Yet people with lower incomes were more likely than those who made more to say HSAs would be the main way they’d pay for medical expenses. Among those who said they’d be relying on HSAs to pay for care in retirement, 5 percent of those with incomes less than $35,000 and 14 percent of those with incomes between $35,000–$50,000 said that would be the way they’d go.

Just 9 percent of those with incomes between $50,000–$75,000, 7 percent of those with incomes between $75,000–$100,000 and 9 percent of those with incomes above $100,000 chose them.

5. A few are planning on using an inheritance to pay for medical bills in retirement.

It’s probably not realistic, and there aren’t all that many, but some respondents are actually planning on an inheritance being the chief way they’ll pay for their medical expenses during retirement.

Millennials and GenXers were the most likely to say that, at 2 percent each—but they may not have considered that the money originally intended for an inheritance might end up going to pay for other things, such as caregiving or child care, and indeed much of their own retirement money could end up paying for care for elderly parents. A lot more people end up acting as caregivers—especially among the sandwich generation—and may find that relying on inheriting money from the people they’re caring for was not a realistic expectation.

4. Women don’t know, guess low.

Just 13 percent of women have gone to the trouble of estimating how much health care will cost them during retirement, but that didn’t stop 32 percent from putting that figure at $25,000 or less.

And that’s really bad news. It’s particularly important for women to be aware of the cost of health care, since not only do they not save enough for retirement to begin with—42 percent only contribute between 1–5 percent, the lowest level, compared with 34 percent of men, often thanks to lower salaries and absences from the workplace to raise children or act as caregivers—but their longer lifespans mean they’ll have more years in which to need health care and fewer options to obtain it other than by paying for it.

Men are frequently cared for by (predominantly female) caregivers at home, while women tend to outlive any family members who might be willing or able to do the same for them.

3. Men don’t know, but guess higher.

While the same percentage of women and men have not estimated their retirement health care expenses (81 percent), men were more likely than women (24 percent, compared with 15 percent) to come up with an estimate higher than $100,000.

2. The highest-income households are most likely to have tried to estimate medical cost needs during retirement.

Probably not surprisingly, households with an income of $100,000 or more were the most likely to have tried to pin a dollar figure to health care needs, with 21 percent saying they’d done so.

Households with incomes between $50,000–$75,000 were least likely to have done so, with just 11 percent of them trying to anticipate how much they’ll need.

And just because they have more money doesn’t mean their estimates were a whole lot more accurate—only 38 percent of those $100,000+ households thought they’d need more than $100,000 to see them through any needed medical care during retirement, while 59 percent—the great majority—figured they could get by on $100,000 or even less.

1. Where they live doesn’t seriously affect their estimates, although it will seriously affect their cost of care.

Among those who have tried to anticipate how much they’ll need in retirement for medical care, there’s not a huge difference among how many guessed too low—even though where they live can have a huge effect on how much they’ll end up paying, particularly for long-term care.

While the most expensive regions for LTC tend to be the northeast and the west coast, and the cheapest are the south and midwest, there’s not a great deal of variance among those who estimate they can get by on care for $100,000 or less—even if people live in one of the most expensive regions. Sixty-seven percent of those in the northeast said care wouldn’t cost more than that, while 63 percent of those in the midwest, 71 percent of those in the south and 61 percent of those in the west said the same thing.

When it came to those who said they’d need more than $100,000, 24 percent of those in the west thought they’d need that much; so did 20 percent of those in the midwest, just 18 percent of those in the northeast and 17 percent of those in the south.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2017 April 24). 10 misconceptions about saving for medical care in retirement [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/04/24/10-misconceptions-about-saving-for-medical-care-in?ref=hp-news&page_all=1


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

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

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

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

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

Pre-existing conditions, essential benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications for HR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


U.S Aftermath of WannaCry Ransomware Yet to be Seen

The WannaCry ransomware that has spread across 150 countries since Friday has appeared to slow down, but employees starting the workweek should be careful, as the effects in the United States are yet to be determined.

WannaCry locks users out of their computers by exploiting a vulnerability in outdated versions of Mircosoft Windows. It then demands money from users who want to regain control of their data. The ransomware initially requests around $300, and if no payment is made, threatens to double the amount after three days and delete files within seven days. Once it infects one computer, it can spread to every computer in that network within seconds.

According to Elliptic- a London startup that helps law enforcement agencies track criminals-around $50,000 worth of bitcoin payments have been made to the hackers as of Monday morning.

Countries Affected in First Few Hours of Cyber Attack

  • United States- Fedex
  • United Kingdom- The National Health Service
  • Russia- The Ministry of Internal Affairs
  • France- Renault
  • Spain- Telefonica
  • China- Universities and gas stations
  • Japan- Hitachi

Nobody knows who is behind the attack, but Europol is working on a decrypting tool. Many firms hired experts over the weekend to prevent new infections, which seems to have worked in Europe, so far.

After the initial discovery of the WannaCry ransomware, Mircosoft issued a warning to the U.S. government concerning its data-storing practices. Mircosoft claimed that the tool used in the WannaCry cyber attack was developed by the U.S. National Security Agency and was stolen by hackers. Microsoft released a Windows security update in March to tackle the problem exposed by the latest attack, but many users haven't run the update yet.

Precautions

Some experts recommend that you should not pay the ransomware if you've been hacked. Even if there is a way to determine if you've paid the ransom, there is no guarantee that the hackers will return the files to you unharmed, if returned at all. Experts also recommend you take the following precautions:

  • Update your network if you haven't yet.
  • Turn on auto-updaters, if available.
  • Don't click on links that you do not recognize.
  • Don't download files from people you don't know.
  • Back up your documents regularly.

Hierl Insurance Inc. will continue to monitor the situation. Contact us if you have any further questions regarding how you can avoid disruptive business interruptions from cyber attacks.


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


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