HRL - White - House

HHS Nominee Vows To Tackle High Drug Costs, Despite His Ties To Industry

What is President Trump’s solution for fighting high drug prices? From Kaiser Health News, check out this article on the new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee.


Senate Democrats on Tuesday pressed President Donald Trump’s nominee for the top health post to explain how he would fight skyrocketing drug prices — demanding to know why they should trust him to lower costs since he did not do so while running a major pharmaceutical company.

Alex M. Azar II, the former president of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Trump’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, presented himself as a “problem solver” eager to fix a poorly structured health care system during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Azar said addressing drug costs would be among his top priorities.

But armed with charts showing how some of Eli Lilly’s drug prices had doubled on Azar’s watch, Democrats argued Azar was part of the problem. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee’s top Democrat, said Azar had never authorized a decrease in a drug price as a pharmaceutical executive.

“The system is broken,” Wyden said. “Mr. Azar was a part of that system.”

Azar countered that the nation’s pharmaceutical drug system is structured to encourage companies to raise prices, a problem he said he would work to fix as head of HHS.

“I don’t know that there is any drug price of a brand-new product that has ever gone down from any company on any drug in the United States, because every incentive in this system is towards higher prices, and that is where we can do things together, working as the government to get at this,” he said. “No one company is going to fix that system.”

Azar’s confirmation hearing Tuesday was his second appearance before senators as the nominee to lead HHS. In November, he faced similar questions from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during a courtesy hearing.

If confirmed, Azar would succeed Tom Price, Trump’s first health secretary, who resigned in September amid criticism over his frequent use of taxpayer-paid charter flights. A former Republican congressman who was a dedicated opponent of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Price had a frosty relationship with Democrats in Congress as he worked with Republicans to try to undo the law.

Price and the Trump administration often turned to regulations and executive orders to undermine the Affordable Care Act, since Republicans in Congress repeatedly failed to enact a repeal. “Repeal and replace” has been the president’s mantra.

But at the hearing, Azar was circumspect about his approach, noting that his job would be to work under existing law. “The Affordable Care Act is there,” he said, adding that it would fall to him to make it work “as best as it possibly can.”

Senate Republicans touted Azar’s nearly six years working for the department under President George W. Bush, including two years as a deputy secretary. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) praised Azar’s “extraordinary résumé,” adding that, among HHS nominees, he was “probably the most qualified I’ve seen in my whole term in the United States Senate.” Hatch, who is the longest-serving Republican senator in history, has been a senator for more than 40 years.

In addition to drug costs, Azar vowed to focus on the nation’s growing opioid crisis, calling for “aggressive prevention, education, regulatory and enforcement efforts to stop overprescribing and overuse,” as well as “compassionate treatment” for those suffering from addiction.

Pressed about Republican plans to cut entitlement spending to compensate for budget shortfalls, Azar said he was “not aware” of support within the Trump administration for such cuts.

“The president has stated his opposition to cuts to Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security,” Azar said. “He said that in the campaign, and I believe he has remained steadfast in his views on that.”

But Democrats pushed back, pointing out that Trump had proposed Medicaid cuts in his budget request last year. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said such cuts would hurt those receiving treatment for opioid addiction.

“What happens to these people?” he said.

Despite such Democratic criticism, Azar is likely to be confirmed when the full Senate votes on his nomination. An HHS spokesman Tuesday pointed reporters to an editorial in STAT supporting Azar, written by former Senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle — a Republican and a Democrat. “We need a person of integrity and competence at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services,” they wrote. “The good news is that President Trump has nominated just such a person, Alex Azar.”

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HRL - Office - Collaboration - Write - Paper

Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market

What are level-funded plans, and why are they becoming so popular? Allow this article to break down the facts for you.


A brighter light is being cast on level-funded group health plans as benefits decision-makers tackle open-enrollment season. Several industry observers say the trend is more pronounced given that the Affordable Care Act remains largely intact — for now.

There has been an ebb and flow to these self-insured underwritten plans over the past 18 months, says Michael Levin, CEO and co-founder of the healthcare data services firm Vericred. But with a fixed monthly rate for more predictability, he says they can drive 25% to 35% savings relative to fully-insured ACA plans that must comply with the medical loss ratio for a certain segment of the market.


Level funding typically leverages an aggregate and/or specific stop-loss product to cap exposure to catastrophic claims. These plans are offered by an independent third-party administrator or health insurance carrier through an administrative-services-only contract.

It’s best suited for companies with a very low risk profile comprised of young or healthy populations, according to Levin. And with low attachment, stop-loss coverage in most states, he explains that the plans have “very little downside risk from the group’s perspective.” Two exceptions are California and New York whose constraints on the stop-loss attachment point “essentially preclude level-funded plans from being offered” there, he adds.

The arrangement is trickling down market. “We’ve heard from carriers that will go down to seven employees, plus dependents, while others cut it off at 20 or 25,” he says.

David Reid, CEO of EaseCentral, sees a “resurgence of level funding” across more than 38,000 employers with less than 500 lives that his SaaS platform targets through about 6,000 health insurance brokers and 1,000 agencies. His average group is about 30 employees.

He’s also seeing more customers using individual-market plans rather than group coverage through Hixme’s digital healthcare benefits consulting platform. Under this approach, health plans are bundled with other specific types of insurance and financing as a line of credit to fill coverage gaps. Employer contributions are earmarked for individual-market plans, which are purchased through payroll deduction.

Read further.

Source:
Shutan B. (17 November 2017). "Level-funded plan uptake trickling down market" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/level-funded-plan-uptake-trickling-down-market?feed=00000152-175e-d933-a573-ff5ef1df0000

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5 ways digital tools can help build a better benefits package

"...digital tools can be excellent motivators and are a popular option for keeping employees to their wellness objectives..." In this article from Employee Benefit Advisor, we get a fantastic look at some statistics and digital tools to create better employee engagement.


The American workforce has an employee engagement problem: Half of U.S. workers are disengaged, according to a recent Gallup poll. That not only has a detrimental effect on individual wellness, but on company culture and the bottom line. According to The Engagement Institute, disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion every year. In addition to being less productive, they’re also more likely to quit.

One of the most effective ways to improve employee engagement is to offer better benefits. In fact, research conducted by Willis Towers Watson found 75% of employees said they were more likely to stay with their employer because of their benefit program. This demonstrates the value of designing an employee benefits package that really works for your staff. And to even better engage workers with benefits, employers should utilize HR apps and employee wellness software.

They vary in functionality, device compatibility, and of course price, but they all share five considerable advantages:

They’re highly adaptable. Unlike programs that rely on in-person use or resources that are primarily stored in binders, digital content can be updated on the fly. This flexibility makes it very easy to keep the information current and relevant, and it even opens the door to personalized benefits. For instance, if each employee has their own login, they can bookmark the resources they find most useful and receive suggestions based on those picks. Seventy-two percent of employees in a MetLife survey say being able to customize their benefits would increase their loyalty to their current employer, which makes this perk doubly advantageous.

They’re fully integrative. One major complaint employees have is that their health information is so disjointed. Dental, physical, psychological and nutritional data is siloed, creating a cumbersome situation for employees when it comes to accessing and updating their records. Digital tools neatly solve this problem by collecting all these resources in one place. All employees have to do is sign into one account to view all their health-related resources, benefits, emergency phone numbers, enrolment information, health savings account balance and so on.

They’re constantly accessible. Have you noticed your staff using fewer and fewer benefits over time? It’s easy to assume they’ve lost interest, but chances are they’ve simply forgotten what’s available to them. Digital tools are a fantastic way of combating that attrition for a couple of reasons. First, they’re super easy to access because they can be used essentially anytime, anywhere. The second reason your staff is more likely to continue using their benefits with a digital platform is because it can serve them with notifications and reminders. They no longer have the excuse of being unaware when fresh content is added, or missing medical appointments.

They encourage employee goals. To add to the previous point, digital tools can be excellent motivators and are a popular option for keeping employees to their wellness objectives. Two of the most common goals are weight loss and smoking cessation, but your employees can use calendar, reminders, notes, fitness trackers and other features to push them toward any goal they like.

They’re easily scalable. Finally, digital tools are the most efficient way of reaching a large employee base, especially if they’re spread over a large geographical distance. It’s impossible to expect a thousand employees located in different states to attend a stress management seminar, for example, but it’s not unreasonable to ask them to watch a five minute video or listen to a podcast. Digital resources are changing the game when it comes to reaching all employees equally so that no one gets left behind.

Some things to keep in mind

Now that you’ve been convinced to digitize your employee wellness program, there are a couple of assurances you should make. The first is confidentiality. Your employees need to feel safe accessing your health resources, so guaranteeing the security and privacy of their information is a must. You should also make accommodations for various accessibility concerns. In other words, having all your resources in video format isn’t helpful for employees who are visually impaired. Also be aware of the different situations in which your staff might need access (at home, on the go, with or without an internet connection, etc) to ensure maximum ease of use.

Why is this all so important? As cool and cutting-edge as many of these digital tools are, at the end of the day your goal is to promote employee well-being and engagement. Anything that encourages your staff to come into work with a smile on their faces is worthwhile. Gallup studies have shown highly engaged organizations are 21% more profitable, 17% more productive, and achieve a 41% reduction in absenteeism. No matter how effective your current benefits package is, you can — and should — take it to the next level with a digital program.

 

Read the original article.

Source:
Mittag A. (17 November 2017). "5 ways digital tools can help build a better benefits package" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/5-ways-digital-tools-can-help-build-a-better-benefits-package?feed=00000152-1387-d1cc-a5fa-7fffaf8f0000

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UBA Survey: Weary Families Get a Break While Singles See Out-of-Pocket Cost Increases

Below, our partner, UBA Benefits, has provided some insight from their 2017 Health Plan Survey. If you are an employer seeking customized results from the survey, we can help you. Please visit our survey page here.


While the rate impact of the regulatory environment plays out, one thing is clear from the 2017 UBA Health Plan Survey: employers continue to shift a greater share of expenses to employees through out-of-pocket cost increases. While this is just one of 7 mega trends uncovered in the survey, it is particularly interesting this year because singles were hit more heavily than families as compared to years past.

While average annual total costs per employee increased from $9,727 to $9,934, employees’ share of total costs rose 5%, from $3,378 to $3,550, while employers’ share rose less than 1%, from $6,350 to $6,401. The good news for employees is that, for a second year in a row, median in-network deductibles for singles and families held steady at $2,000 and $4,000, respectively. Similarly, some out-of-network deductibles remained unchanged, with families’ median out-of-network deductible remaining at $8,000 in 2017. Conversely, singles, who had been holding steady in 2014 and 2015 at a $3,000 median out-of-network deductible, saw a 13.3% increase to $3,400 in 2016, and another jump in 2017 to $4,000. Since deductible increases help employers avoid premium increases, we will likely see this trend continue, especially as insurance carriers are required to meet the ACA metal levels.

Both singles and families also are seeing continued increases in median in-network out-of-pocket maximums, up to $5,000 and $10,000, respectively. Families bore the brunt of the increase in median out-of-network out-of-pocket maximums between 2014 and 2016, going from $16,000 in 2014 to $18,000 in 2015, to $20,000 in 2016, but then holding steady at $20,000 in 2017. The maximum for singles, which had remained steady at $9,000 in 2015 and 2016, increased in 2017 to $10,000.

Interestingly, out-of-network expenses are not subject to ACA limitations, so it was theorized that they’d likely continue to skyrocket with more plans eliminating out-of-pocket maximums for non-network services. Perhaps to offset that, more employers adopted plans with no deductible for out-of-network services, while employees saw a massive decrease in the number of employers offering no deductible for in-network services. Looking at deductibles and out-of-pocket costs just among the ever-dominant PPO plans, in-network and out-of-network deductibles for families and singles are generally below average. However, the median in-network single deductible for PPO plans has held steady at $1,500 in 2016 and 2017, along with the family deductible at $3,000. The increases were seen in the out-of-pocket maximums, which rose in 2017 to $4,500 for single (up from $4,000 in 2016), and to $10,000 for family coverage (up $1,000 from $9,000 in 2016).

Read the original article here.

Source:
Olson B. (21 November 2017). "UBA Survey: Weary Families Get a Break While Singles See Out-of-Pocket Cost Increases" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/uba-survey-weary-families-get-a-break-while-singles-see-out-of-pocket-cost-increases


Two Months After Hurricane Maria, A Growing Majority Of Americans Say Puerto Ricans are Not Yet Getting the Help They Need

Two months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, a growing majority of Americans say that Puerto Ricans affected by the devastating storm are not yet getting the help they need, the November Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll finds.

This month, 70 percent of the public say that people in Puerto Rico are not yet getting the help they need, up from 62 percent in October 2017. These perceptions vary by party, and half of Republicans (52%) now say Puerto Ricans aren’t yet getting needed help, up significantly from October (38%).

When asked whether the federal government is doing enough to restore electricity and access to food and water in Puerto Rico or not, a majority of the public (59%) says the federal government is not doing enough, up from 52 percent in October. Most Democrats (86%) and independents (59%) say the federal government is not doing enough, but most Republicans (63%) say it is doing enough.

In contrast, Americans see the recovery efforts in Texas following Hurricane Harvey in late August progressing more positively. Most (60%) of the public says Texans are getting the help they need, twice the share (31%) who say Texans aren’t yet getting needed help.

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The poll finds similar shares of Americans they are closely following news about recovery efforts in Puerto Rico (63%) and in Texas (58%).  Democrats are somewhat more likely to report closely following news about the Puerto Rico recovery (75%) than are independents (61%) and Republicans (54%). In contrast, there are no partisan differences for those following news about Texas.

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation, the poll was conducted from November 8 – 13, 2017 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,201 adults. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (415) and cell phone (786). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

 

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Kaiser Family Foundation (20 November 2017). "Two Months After Hurricane Maria, A Growing Majority Of Americans Say Puerto Ricans are Not Yet Getting the Help They Need" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/other/press-release/poll-two-months-after-hurricane-maria-a-growing-majority-of-americans-say-puerto-ricans-are-not-ye-getting-the-help-they-need/

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ANALYSIS: More than Half of Uninsured People Eligible for Marketplace Insurance Could Pay Less for Health Plan than Individual Mandate Penalty

Things are not looking up for the uninsured. Pay less and reach out to your health insurance professionals today. Want more facts? Check out this blog article from Kaiser Family Foundation.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that more than half (54% or 5.9 million) of the 10.7 million people who are uninsured and eligible to purchase an Affordable Care Act marketplace plan in 2018 could pay less in premiums for health insurance than they would owe as an individual mandate tax penalty for lacking coverage.

Within that 5.8 million, about 4.5 million (42% of the total) could obtain a bronze-level plan at no cost in 2018, after taking income-related premium tax credits into account, the analysis finds.

Most people without insurance who are eligible to buy marketplace coverage qualify for subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay premiums for marketplace plans (8.3 million out of 10.7 million). Among those eligible for premium subsidies, the analysis finds that 70 percent could pay less in premiums than what they’d owe as a tax penalty for lacking coverage, with 54 percent able to purchase a bronze plan at no cost and 16 percent contributing less to their health insurance premium than the tax penalty they owe.

Among the 2.4 million uninsured, marketplace-eligible people who do not qualify for a premium subsidy, 2 percent would be able to pay less for marketplace insurance than they’d owe for their 2018 penalty, the analysis finds.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requires that most people have health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty unless they qualify for certain exemptions. The individual mandate is still in effect, though Congress may consider repealing it as part of tax legislation.

Consumers can compare their estimated 2018 individual mandate penalty with the cost of marketplace insurance in their area with KFF’s new Individual Mandate Penalty Calculator.

The deadline for ACA open enrollment in most states is Dec. 15, 2017.

 

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Kaiser Family Foundation (9 November 2017). "ANALYSIS: More than Half of Uninsured People Eligible for Marketplace Insurance Could Pay Less for Health Plan than Individual Mandate Penalty" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.kff.org/health-reform/press-release/analysis-more-than-half-of-uninsured-people-eligible-for-marketplace-insurance-could-pay-less-for-health-plan-than-individual-mandate-penalty/


PPOs Dominate Despite Savings with HMOs and CDHPs

Are you searching for a detailed look at health care costs across all available health care plans? Fortunately, we have a survey that will help you gain this outlook. In this article, our partner, UBA Benefits, provides insight on the rise of health care costs and which health care plans are the most popular (costly or not).

Don't miss your chance to get your customized results.


The findings of our 2017 Health Plan Survey show a continuation of steady trends and some surprises. It’s no surprise, however, that costs continue to rise. The average annual health plan cost per employee for all plan types is $9,934, an increase from 2016, when the average cost was $9,727. There are significant cost differences when you look at the data by plan type.

Cost Detail by Plan Type

Health Plan Cost Detail by Plan Type

PPOs continue to cost more than the average plan, but despite this, PPOs still dominate the market in terms of plan distribution and employee enrollment. PPOs have seen an increase in total premiums for single coverage of 4.5% and for family coverage of 2.2% in 2017 alone.

HMOs have the lowest total annual cost at $8,877, as compared to the total cost of a PPO of $10,311. Conversely, CDHP plan costs have risen 2.2% from last year. However, CDHP prevalence and enrollment continues to grow in most regions, indicating interest among both employers and employees.

Across all plan types, employees’ share of total costs rose 5% while employers’ share stayed nearly the same. Employers are also further mitigating their costs by reducing prescription drug coverage, and raising out-of-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

More than half (54.8%) of all employers offer one health plan to employees, while 28.2% offer two plan options, and 17.1% offer three or more options. The percentage of employers now offering three or more plans decreased slightly in 2017, but still maintains an overall increase in the last five years as employers are working to offer expanded choices to employees either through private exchange solutions or by simply adding high, medium-, and low-cost options; a trend UBA Partners believe will continue. Not only do employees get more options, but employers also can introduce lower-cost plans that may attract enrollment, lower their costs, and meet ACA affordability requirements.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Olson B. (7 November 2017). "PPOs Dominate Despite Savings with HMOs and CDHPs" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/ppos-dominate-despite-savings-with-hmos-and-cdhps

 

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Understanding your Letter 226-J

Letter 226-J is the initial letter issued to Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) to notify them that they may be liable for an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP). The determination of whether an ALE may be liable for an ESRP and the amount of the proposed ESRP in Letter 226-J are based on information from Forms 1094-C and 1095-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns filed by the ALE’s employees.

What you need to do

  • Read your letter and attachments carefully. These documents explain the ESRP process and how the information received affects the computation.
  • The letter fully explains the steps to take if you agree or disagree with the proposed ESRP computation.
  • Complete the response form (Form 14764) indicating your agreement or disagreement with the letter.
  • If you disagree with the proposed ESRP liability, you must provide a full explanation of your disagreement and/or indicate changes needed on Form 14765 (PTC Listing). Return all documents as instructed in the letter by the response date.
  • If you agree with the proposed ESRP liability, follow the instructions to sign the response form and return with full payment in the envelope provided.

You may want to

  • Review the information reported on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the applicable year to confirm that the information filed with the IRS was accurate because the IRS uses that information to compute the ESRP.
  • Keep a copy of the letter and any documents you submit.
  • Contact us using the information provided in the letter if you have any questions or need additional time to respond.
  • Send us a Form 2848 (Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative) to allow someone to contact us on your behalf. Note that the Form 2848 must state specifically the year and that it is for the Section 4980H Shared Responsibility Payment.

Answers to Common Questions

Why did I receive this letter?
The IRS used the information you provided on Forms 1094/5-C and determined that you are potentially liable for an ESRP.

Where did the IRS get the information used to compute the ESRP?
The IRS used form 1094/5-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns of your full-time employees to identify if they were allowed a premium tax credit.

Is this letter a bill?
No, the letter is the initial proposal of the ESRP

What do I need to do?
Review the letter and attachments carefully and complete the response form by the date provided.

What do I do if the information is wrong or I disagree?
Follow the instructions in the letter to provide corrected information for consideration by the IRS. The IRS will reply with an acknowledgement letter informing you of their final determination.

Do I have appeal rights?
Yes, the acknowledgement letter that you receive will spell out all your rights, including your right to appeal.

General Information

For more info visit ACA information center for Applicable Large Employers

Here’s an excerpt from the 226J letter, and a link to the official sample.

 

Source:

IRS (9 November 2017). "Understanding your Letter 226-J" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.irs.gov/individuals/understanding-your-letter-226-j


Trump picks former Lilly drug executive as health secretary

We're sure you've seen it trending. Here is the latest on President Trump's new hire, Alex Azar of Eli Lilly & Co - the U.S.A.'s new head of the Department of Health and Human Services.


(Bloomberg) – President Donald Trump named former Eli Lilly & Co. executive Alex Azar to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after agency’s past chief resigned amid blowback over his taxpayer-funded private jet travel.

“Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted Monday.

If confirmed, Azar will take over the administration’s management of the Affordable Care Act. Trump and Congressional Republicans have called to repeal the health law, and the administration has taken steps to destabilize it, such as cutting funding for some programs and refusing to pay subsidies to health insurers. He’ll also be a key figure on drug costs.

Bloomberg/file photo

Trump has been highly critical of the drug industry, saying that pharmaceutical companies are “getting away with murder” and threatening to use the federal government’s buying power to bring down prices.

Drug Costs

However he’s taken no concrete action yet to do much on prices, and the former drug executive’s appointment may continue the trend of strong talk but little action, said Spencer Perlman, director of health-care research at Veda Partners, a policy analysis firm.

“It is very unlikely the administration will take aggressive regulatory actions to control prescription drug prices,” Perlman said in a note to clients Monday. “The administration’s tepid response to drug pricing has not matched the president’s heated rhetoric.”

Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, also didn’t think Azar represented a change in direction on pharmaceutical policy. “His appointment will not change the president’s rhetoric,” Mendelson said in a phone interview.

Before his time at Lilly, Azar served as deputy secretary at HHS under President George W. Bush. One former Obama administration official said that experience could help him at the agency.

“While we certainly differ in a number of important policy areas, I have reason to hope he would make a good HHS secretary,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the last administration and who has been a frequent critic of efforts to derail Obamacare. Slavitt said he hoped Azar would “avoid repeating this mistakes of his predecessor over-politicizing Americans’ access to health care.”

Running Obamacare

Azar, who ran Indianapolis-based Lilly’s U.S. operations until earlier this year, has been an advocate for more state flexibility under Obamacare. That matches up with what Republicans have pushed for, such as in a seemingly stalled bipartisan bill to fund insurer subsidies that help lower-income people with health costs.

As secretary, Azar would have broad authority over the program.

“I’m not one to say many good things about Obamacare, but one of the nice things in it is it does give a tremendous amount authority to the secretary,” Azar said during an interview with Bloomberg TV in June. “There are still changes that can be made to make it work a little better than it has been.”

There are signs that the law is gaining popular support despite the repeal efforts. In recent state elections in Virginia, Democrats won a competitive governors race that saw health care emerge as a top issue. In Maine, residents voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Early enrollment in Obamacare plans earlier this month was also up considerably compared to last year.

Trump’s first HHS secretary, Tom Price, resigned in September after his extensive use of private and military jets at taxpayer expense was revealed. Azar must be approved by the Senate.

Senate Confirmation

Senator Orrin Hatch, who heads the Senate Finance Committee that will review Azar’s nomination, called on Trump’s pick to help “right the wrongs of this deeply flawed law.”

“For too long, hardworking, middle-class families have been forced to bear the brunt of Obamacare’s failures in the form of higher premiums and fewer choices,” Hatch said in a statement.

Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the panel, said he would closely scrutinize Azar’s record.

“At every turn, the president has broken his promises to American families to lower health care costs, expand access, and bring down the high price of prescription drugs,” Wyden said in a statement.

Azar left Lilly in January, several months after another senior executive was named to succeed then-CEO John Lechleiter. A lawyer by training, Azar previously clerked for Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

You can read the original article here.

Source:

Employee Benefit Advisors (13 November 2017). "Trump picks former Lilly drug executive as health secretary" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/trump-picks-former-lilly-drug-executive-as-health-secretary?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f024b50000

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IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure

 Where does the IRS stand on ACA (Affordable Care Act)? It's time to know. Check out this article from Benefits Pro for more information.


The Internal Revenue Service has announced that for the first time, tax returns filed electronically in 2018 will be rejected if they do not contain the information about whether the filer has coverage, including whether the filer is exempt from the individual mandate or will pay the tax penalty imposed by the law on those who don’t buy coverage.

Tax returns filed on paper could have processing suspended and thus any possible refund delayed.

The New York Times reports that the IRS appears to be acting in contradiction to the first executive order issued by the Trump White House on inauguration day, in which Trump instructed agencies to “scale back” enforcement of regulations governing the ACA.

The move by the IRS reminds people that they can’t just ignore the ACA, despite the EO. Although only those lacking coverage have to pay the penalty, everyone has to indicate their insurance coverage status on their filing.

While the uninsured rate for all Americans dipped to a historic low of 8.6 percent in the first three months...5 states with lowest, highest uninsured rates

According to legal experts cited in the report, the IRS is indicating that although the administration may have leeway in how aggressively it enforces the mandate provision, it’s still in effect unless and until Congress specifically repeals it.

While many people thought they didn’t have to bother with reporting, and many insurers have raised rates anticipating that the lack of a mandate would lead to lower enrollments and higher costs for them, that’s not the case. Initially the IRS did not reject returns because the law was new.

The penalty is pretty steep; for those who don’t have coverage, it can range from $695 for an individual to a maximum of $2,085 for a family or 2.5 percent of AGI, whichever is higher. Not everyone without coverage would be penalized, though; if their income is too low or if the lowest-priced coverage costs more than 8.16 percent of their income, they’ll avoid the penalty.

That said, it’s not known how stringently the IRS will be in enforcing the mandate. But at least taxpayers will know whether they’re exempt from the penalty or whether they’re obligated to buy coverage.

 

 You can read the original article here.
Source:
Satter M. (23 October 2017). "IRS to reject returns lacking health coverage disclosure" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/10/23/irs-to-reject-returns-lacking-health-coverage-disc?ref=hp-top-stories&slreturn=1509378329