Originally posted February 05, 2014 by Thom Mangan on https://eba.benefitnews.com

Good, bad or indifferent by now most employers that offer benefits to their employees are feeling the changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act. With every day that passes, they move a step closer to having to make decisions regarding compliance with PPACA, but more importantly, they have to rein in health care costs in order to keep the bottom line above water. So how do they plan to do that?

I checked in with Peter Freska, CEBS, Benefits Advisor with UBA Partner Firm, The LBL Group, and asked him what he’s seeing in the employer-sponsored insurance marketplace. Peter specializes in the large employer market and emphasizes long-term strategic planning to his clients.

Thom: Peter, what are you seeing as the top questions on employers’ minds as they begin to plan (if they have not already) for how best to adapt to the changing health insurance market?

Peter: Healthcare.gov offers some interesting insight into what business owners are asking, with the following questions:

While these questions may be a good place to start, employers are still faced with rising insurance premiums and reduced benefits. Planning for next year has always been important, but unfortunately, many employers only look as far ahead as the next renewal. The health care landscape is rapidly changing. With the current insurance companies re-filing new plans and networks, and new companies trying to break into the health insurance market and the continued vertical and horizontal integration of health care delivery systems — well, the times they are a-changin’.

Thom: What, currently, is the most pressing aspect of health care reform in the eyes of many employers?

Peter: As it sits, the “Cadillac Tax” legislation that’s slated to take effect on January 1, 2018.

Employers who provide health plans that are too rich (“Cadillac plans”) must pay a non-deductible 40% excise tax on the value of health plan coverage that exceeds $10,200 (indexed) for individual coverage and $27,500 (indexed) for family coverage. Value is based on both employer and employee contributions for medical coverage, health FSAs, HRAs, onsite clinics and employer HSA contributions.

Thom: Yes, according to the most recent UBA Health Plan Survey, employers in the Northeast are particularly at risk of facing the “Cadillac Tax” because of their high annual cost per employee (total cost). The Northeast has the highest total cost in the country at $10,808 per employee, which also saw the largest increase in cost at 5.35% (mostly because they still offer low deductible plans). The Southeast, however, remains the lowest cost region at $7,846 per employee with a renewal of 1.98%. A combination of non-deductible plans in the Northeast with a prevalence of massive state-mandated benefits is what’s driving the high costs of the Northeast (if fully insured).

So this impending tax poses some interesting questions for employers. What are they doing to prepare for this event?

Peter: Good question, Thom. Some wonder if they even should plan for this event! Many feel that these limits are too low, as there are plans today that exceed these numbers. Others feel that the inflation rate that the health plan values are indexed to after 2018 (CPI-U + 1%) is too low, stating that it does not meet medical inflation rates (Health Policy Briefs – Excise Tax on ‘Cadillac’ Plans).
But ultimately, when coming face-to-face with this excise tax, businesses will have to get their costs under control in order to avoid it. The question is, how do they do that?

We’ll likely see more of the same that they have done for many years: more managed care and cost shifting through contribution and benefit changes. The question that remains is, “will this be enough?” As medical costs continue to rise and more minimum value plans are offered by employers, when will the wiggle room be gone?

Employers with a strategic viewpoint are working with their trusted advisor to review the possibilities. They are strategizing on options now so that they are prepared for what lies ahead. There might be changes to the “Cadillac Tax,” but this is only one of several taxes under PPACA. Additionally, there are employer reporting requirements going into effect. Employers have more to manage than ever before. It is more important than ever to partner with an advisor that understands these new responsibilities, and is able to work with an employer to meet their goals. Always review the scope of work from an advisor to make sure it can align with the strategic goals of the organization. With or without PPACA, this is how an employer can make a difference in how it provides benefits.

Thom: Yes, although challenging, it’s an exciting time to be a benefits advisor. Thank you, Peter, for sharing this information.