Cadillac tax may finally be running out of gas

The Cadillac tax, a part of the Affordable Care Act, may be in for a change. This tax was supposed to take effect in 2018 but has been delayed twice and recently, the House voted to repeal this tax entirely. Read this blog post to learn more about this potential change.

The politics of healthcare are changing. And one of the most controversial parts of the Affordable Care Act — the so-called Cadillac tax — may be about to change with it.

The Cadillac tax is a 40% tax on the most generous employer-provided health insurance plans — those that cost more than $11,200 for an individual policy or $30,150 for family coverage. It was supposed to take effect in 2018, but Congress has delayed it twice. And the House recently voted overwhelmingly — 419-6 — to repeal it entirely. A Senate companion bill has 61 co-sponsors — more than enough to ensure passage.

The tax was always an unpopular and controversial part of the 2010 health law because the expectation was that employers would cut benefits to avoid paying the tax. But ACA backers said it was necessary to help pay for the law’s nearly $1 trillion cost and help stem the use of what was seen as potentially unnecessary care. In the ensuing years, however, public opinion has shifted decisively, as premiums and out-of-pocket costs have soared. Now the biggest health issue is not how much the nation is spending on healthcare, but how much individuals are.

“Voters deeply care about healthcare still,” said Heather Meade, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Fight the 40, a coalition of business, labor and patient advocacy groups urging repeal of the Cadillac tax. “But it is about their own personal cost and their ability to afford healthcare.”

Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at Families USA, recently wrote in the journal Health Affairs that the backers of the ACA thought the tax was necessary to sell the law to people concerned about its price tag and to cut back on overly generous benefits that could drive up health costs. But transitions in healthcare, such as the increasing use of high-deductible plans, make that argument less compelling, he said.

“Nowadays, few observers would argue that [employer-sponsored insurance] gives most workers and their families’ excessive coverage,” he wrote.

The possibility of the tax has been “casting a statutory shadow over 180 million Americans’ health plans, which we know, from HR administrators and employee reps in real life, has added pressure to shift coverage into higher-deductible plans, which falls on the backs of working Americans,” said Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Support or opposition to the Cadillac tax has never broken down cleanly along party lines. For example, economists from across the ideological spectrum supported its inclusion in the ACA, and many continue to endorse it.

“If people have insurance that pays for too much, they don’t have enough skin in the game. They may be too quick to seek professional medical care. They may too easily accede when physicians recommend superfluous tests and treatments,” wrote N. Gregory Mankiw, an economics adviser in the George W. Bush administration, and Lawrence Summers, an economic aide to President Barack Obama, in a 2015 column. “Such behavior can drive national health spending beyond what is necessary and desirable.”

At the same time, however, the tax has been bitterly opposed by organized labor, a key constituency for Democrats. “Many unions have been unable to bargain for higher wages, but they have been taking more generous health benefits instead for years,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who studies health and public opinion.

Now, unions say, those benefits are disappearing, with premiums, deductibles and other cost sharing rising as employers scramble to stay under the threshold for the impending tax. “Employers are using the tax as justification to shift more costs to employees, raising costs for workers and their families,” said a letter to members of Congress from the Service Employees International Union.

Deductibles have been rising for a number of reasons, the possibility of the tax among them. According to a 2018 survey by the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics, nearly half of Americans under age 65 (47%) had high-deductible health plans. Those are plans that have deductibles of at least $1,350 for individual coverage or $2,700 for family coverage.

It’s not yet clear if the Senate will take up the House-passed bill, or one like it.

The senators leading the charge in that chamber — Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) — have already written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to urge him to bring the bill to the floor following the House’s overwhelming vote.

“At a time when healthcare expenses continue to go up, and Congress remains divided on many issues, the repeal of the Cadillac tax is something that has true bipartisan support,” the letter said.

Still, there is opposition. A letter to the Senate on July 29 from economists and other health experts argued that the tax “will help curtail the growth of private health insurance premiums by encouraging employers to limit the costs of plans to the tax-free amount.” The letter also pointed out that repealing the tax “would add directly to the federal budget deficit, an estimated $197 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.”

Still, if McConnell does bring the bill up, there is little doubt it would pass, despite support for the tax from economists and budget watchdogs.

“When employers and employees agree in lockstep that they hate it, there are not enough economists out there to outvote them,” said former Senate GOP aide Rodney Whitlock, now a healthcare consultant.

Harvard professor Blendon agrees. “Voters are saying, ‘We want you to lower our health costs,’” he said. The Cadillac tax, at least for those affected by it, would do the opposite.

SOURCE: Rovner, J. ( 19 August, 2019) "Cadillac tax may finally be running out of gas" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from 

Compliance Recap - May 2019

May was a busy month in the employee benefits world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released health savings account annual contribution limits and high deductible health plan minimum annual deductibles and annual out-of-pocket maximums for 2020.

The Department of Labor (DOL) released questions and answers (Q&As) to clarify its enforcement of the association health plan final rule. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a final rule that implements conscience rights protections contained in federal laws.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a proposed rule to revise its regulations implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557. The IRS released an information letter on how to determine whether an item is a Section 213 medical care expense.

The OCR released a fact sheet clarifying when business associates are directly liable for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The OCR also released frequently asked questions regarding HIPAA liability when an app uses or discloses protected health information.

UBA Updates

UBA updated or revised existing guidance:

IRS Releases 2020 HSA Contribution Limit and HDHP Deductible Minimum and OOP Maximum

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released the annual contribution limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and the high deductible health plan (HDHP) minimum annual deductibles and the HDHP annual out-of-pocket (OOP) maximums for the 2020 calendar year.

The HSA contribution limit will be $3,550 for self-only coverage and $7,100 for family coverage. The HDHP minimum annual deductible will be $1,400 for self-only coverage and $2,800 for family coverage. The HDHP OOP maximum will be $6,900 for self-only coverage and $13,800 for family coverage.

Update on DOL Enforcement Policy Regarding Association Health Plans

On March 28, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Court) found that the Department of Labor (DOL) association health plans (AHPs) final rule exceeded the statutory authority delegated by Congress under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and that the final rule unlawfully expands ERISA’s scope. In particular, the Court found the final rule’s provisions – defining “employer” to include associations of disparate employers and expanding membership in these associations to include working owners without employees – were unlawful and must be set aside.

On May 13, 2019, the DOL issued Questions and Answers – Part Two (Q&As) as follow up to the DOL’s April 2019 AHP enforcement statement. In the Q&As, the DOL clarifies two points.

First, although new AHPs formed under the DOL’s final rule cannot market to and sign up new employer members, existing AHPs can continue to enroll new employees upon HIPAA special enrollment events (for example, upon marriage, birth, adoption, placement for adoption, or loss of eligibility for other coverage) and consistent with the plan’s eligibility terms (for example, enrolling new hires) while the DOL’s enforcement relief remains in effect.

Second, although AHPs are not required to obtain an advisory opinion from the DOL, AHPs with questions about whether they meet the DOL’s pre-rule guidance for sponsoring an AHP can either request an official advisory opinion from the DOL or have an informal discussion with the DOL’s employee benefits law specialists by contacting the DOL.

In the upcoming months, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will consider the legal arguments in this case. Employers in AHPs should keep apprised of future developments in this case.

Read more about the DOL’s enforcement of the final rule.

HHS Publishes Conscience Rights Final Rule

On May 21, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a final rule and released a fact sheet to implement the conscience rights protection provisions contained in federal laws such as the Church Amendments, the Coats-Snowe Amendment, the Weldon Amendment, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Although the final rule does not create any new conscience rights protection, individuals, health care entities (including health plans and plan sponsors), and providers are protected from discrimination in health care (based on their religious belief or moral conviction) by government or government-funded entities. The final rule requires applicants for and recipients of federal financial assistance from HHS to attest that they will comply with conscience rights and anti-discrimination laws. The final rule implements enforcement tools, such as investigating complaints, compliance reviews, and withholding federal funds, similar to other civil rights laws, to ensure compliance with federal conscience rights protection laws.

OCR Releases Proposed Rule to Revise ACA Section 1557 Regulations

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a proposed rule and fact sheet to revise its regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557. The current Section 1557 regulations remain in effect until a final rule is published.

The proposed rule would eliminate:

  • Certain definitions, including the definition of “covered entity”
  • Specific nondiscrimination definitions based on sex and gender identity
  • Translated taglines in significant consumer communications, the requirement to post information about Section 1557 and nondiscrimination at a covered entity’s locations and website, use of language access plans, and certain video standards for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP)
  • Any reference to a private right of action to sue covered entities for violations of the proposed rule
  • The requirement to have a compliance coordinator and written grievance procedure to handle complaints about Section 1557 violations
  • Enforcement-related provisions

Public comment on this proposed rule will close 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. After considering public comments, OCR will issue a final rule. The final rule will be effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Read more about the proposed rule in our “Updated on Nondiscrimination Regulations Relating to Sex, Gender, Age, and More” Advisor and our “Update on Nondiscrimination Regulations Relating to Sex, Gender, Age, and More – for Health Care Providers” Advisor.

IRS Releases Information Letter on Section 213 Medical Care Expenses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released an information letter in response to a question of whether menstrual care products’ costs qualify as medical care expenses under Internal Revenue Code Section 213 for purposes of health savings accounts, health flexible spending accounts, and other tax-preferred accounts.

Although the IRS declined to specifically answer the question, it indicates that medical care expenses under Section 213 are limited to expenses paid primarily for the prevention or alleviation of a physical or mental defect or illness. Generally, an expense that benefits a person’s general health is a personal expense and not a medical care expense. A personal expense will only qualify as a medical care expense if the person would not have incurred the expense but for the person’s disease or illness.

The IRS lists some objective factors to use in determining whether an expense may qualify as a Section 213 medical care expense:

  • The motive or purpose for making the expenditure
  • A medical condition diagnosis and a physician’s recommendation of the item as treatment or mitigation
  • The relationship between the treatment and the illness
  • The treatment’s effectiveness
  • The proximity in time to the disease’s onset or recurrence.

OCR Releases Fact Sheet on Business Associate Liability

The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recently released a fact sheet listing ten HIPAA violations for which business associates are directly liable.

Read more about business associate liability.

OCR Releases FAQs on HIPAA Applicability to Health-Related Apps

The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released five Access Rights, Apps and APIs frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding covered entities’ liability under HIPAA and HITECH for an application’s (app) use or disclosure of an individual’s protected health information (PHI).

If the app is not provided by or on behalf of the covered entity, the covered entity will not be liable for a PHI breach experienced by the app. However, if the app was developed for or provided by or on behalf of the covered entity, the covered entity could be liable under HIPAA because the app developer would be a business associate. A covered entity will not be liable for a PHI breach that occurs due to a person’s request that unencrypted PHI be transmitted to an app.

Question of the Month

Q: Who must pay the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee and when is the fee due?

A: The fee must be determined and paid by:

  • The insurer for fully insured plans (although the fee likely will be passed on to the plan)
  • The plan sponsor of self-funded plans, including HRAs
    • The plan’s TPA may assist with the calculation, but the plan sponsor must file IRS Form 720 and pay the applicable fee
    • If multiple employers participate in the plan, each must file separately unless the plan document designates one as the plan sponsor

The fee is due by July 31, 2019 for the following plan/policy years:

Plan/Policy Year Year Fee Is Due

($2.39, indexed/person)

Feb. 1, 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
March 1, 2017 – Feb. 28, 2018 July 31, 2019
April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
May 1, 2017 – April 30, 2018 July 31, 2019
June 1, 2017 – May 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018 July 31, 2019
Aug. 1, 2017 – July 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
Sept. 1, 2017 – Aug. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
Oct. 1, 2017 – Sept. 30, 2018 July 31, 2019
Plan/Policy Year Year Fee Is Due

($2.45, indexed/person)

Nov. 1, 2017 – Oct. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019
Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018 July 31, 2019
Jan. 1, 2018 – Dec. 31, 2018 July 31, 2019



Trump proposes bigger role for skimpy insurance, undermining ACA

Are you an advocate of short-term insurance plans? Get some of the pros and cons in this article from Employee Benefit Advisor on the Trump administration.

The Trump administration is proposing to expand the availability of short-term insurance plans, offering a cheaper health coverage option for consumers, while taking another step to undercut Obamacare.

The Department of Health and Human Services proposed allowing short-term plans to be sold for coverage periods of up to a year, up from the current maximum of three months set by the Obama administration. The plans would also be allowed to offer far less comprehensive coverage than plans sold under the Affordable Care Act.

The short-term plans are likely to appeal to healthier individuals who don’t think they need full coverage, potentially drawing them out of Obamacare’s markets. Combined with earlier moves by the Trump administration -- such as ending the ACA requirement that all people buy health coverage or pay a fine -- the latest proposals could result in higher costs or fewer options for individuals who still want to buy the more comprehensive Obamacare plans.

The Administration said its goal is to give people more insurance options at a time when premiums have been rising.


“It’s one step in the direction of providing Americans with health insurance options that are both more affordable and more suited to individual and family circumstances,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on a conference call with reporters. “We need to be opening up more affordable alternatives to the all too often unaffordable Affordable Care Act health insurance policies.”

‘Young or Healthy’

The administration, in the proposed rule announced Tuesday, said the short-term plans may lack some Obamacare protections such as required coverage of pre-existing conditions, and coverage for a broad array of services such as maternity care, hospital stays and prescription drugs. But it anticipates that most of the individuals who switch to the plans will be “relatively young or healthy.”

The proposed rule builds on an executive order the president issued last year. The health insurance industry has been divided on the plans, with some insurers already offering them, while others worry they could undermine the ACA’s individual market.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the biggest U.S. health insurer, already offers short-term coverage, and has said it would explore expanding offerings. Two major industry lobby groups, America’s Health Insurance plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, have warned that the short-term plans could harm state insurance markets.

Read the original article.

Bloomberg News (20 February 2018). "Trump proposes bigger role for skimpy insurance, undermining ACA" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from address