Viewpoint: How to Minimize the Risk of Retirement Plan Litigation

Many employers have paid millions to settle lawsuits brought to them based on their excessive fees in their retirement plans. It's the employer's responsibility to ensure that retirement plans are created for the most benefit for those who partake in it. Read this blog post to learn more.


What do Estee Lauder and Costco have in common? Both are defending themselves against lawsuits alleging mismanagement of 401(k) accounts, as retirement plan litigation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) proliferates.

LinkedIn was added to the list in August, when a class-action lawsuit was filed alleging the firm mismanaged its 401(k) plan. And, on Sept. 18, a federal judge rejected a petition by AutoZone Inc. to dismiss allegations of ERISA violations filed by 401(k) plan participants.

In recent years, employers as different as Princeton University and WalMart have paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by employees alleging excessive fees in their retirement plans.

At the heart of many of these cases are allegations that employers' retirement plan oversight committees tolerated high fees and poor investment performance. Retirement plan committee members are fiduciaries who, under ERISA, are responsible for ensuring that the plan operates in the best interest of its participants.

Attracting Lawsuits

Companies settling ERISA lawsuits are typically accused of failing to pay adequate attention to the retirement plan, such as by failing to remove or replace poor or overly expensive investment choices and allowing vendors to charge above-market fees. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is relevant here.

Law firms are combing through ERISA plan annual filings to identify worthwhile 401(k) targets, looking for expensive or poorly performing investments and high recordkeeping costs. ERISA complaints now include tables and charts comparing a targeted plan's investment performance and expenses with average or best-available practices, to persuade courts that a trial is in order.

Law firms comb through ERISA plan filings to identify worthwhile targets.

Adopting Best Practices

Plan sponsors can't completely eliminate the risk that they will be sued by current or former plan participants, but companies can minimize the risk by adopting best practices—such as those listed below—for making plan investment and management decisions.

FORM AN ACTIVE RETIREMENT PLAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE.

The committee should include interested employees, including representatives of HR, finance, legal and rank-and-file employees. A well-functioning committee has a range of talents and perspectives to help it make effective decisions.

The committee should operate under a written charter, setting out the responsibilities of the committee and its procedural rules for appointing members, holding meetings, voting, and hiring advisors and experts as needed, for example. The charter need not be overly rigid or specific but should be drafted to reflect how the committee will operate.

PROVIDE PERIODIC FIDUCIARY TRAINING FOR COMMITTEE MEMBERS.

ERISA is complicated, and committee decisions have direct impacts on employees' retirement income. Committee members must act solely in the interest of plan participants and make decisions as a "prudent expert." Ask vendors to have their top technical experts conduct training, and ensure that the training is tailored to plans of your size.

WRITE AND ADOPT AN INVESTMENT POLICY STATEMENT.

While having an investment policy statement (IPS) is not generally a requirement for 401(k) plans, it is an important document as it may help show that the committee acted prudently and in the plan's best interests in evaluating investments. The IPS should include specific language describing the process by which investments are selected, monitored and replaced when necessary.

It is not advisable to list the plan's current investments within the IPS, as this list may change over time and the IPS may not always be consistent with the website your participants visit to manage their accounts.

MINIMIZE INVESTMENT FUND EXPENSES.

Sponsors of 401(k) plans have spent millions of dollars settling allegations that they had overly expensive funds, in many cases retail-share classes rather than institutionally priced investments.

The expense ratios that 401(k) plan participants incur for investing in mutual funds have declined substantially since 2000, reports the Investment Company Institute, a trade association for financial services firms. In 2000, 401(k) plan participants incurred an average expense ratio of 77 basis points (0.77 percent) for investing in equity mutual funds. By 2019, that figure had fallen to 39 basis points (0.39 percent), which is a 49 percent decline.

For plan sponsors of all sizes, it is imperative to document efforts to maintain the lowest possible investment expenses.

COMPARE INVESTMENT PERFORMANCE.

How do your plan's funds compare to similar offerings? There is no shortage of high-performing, low-expense funds to choose from in each investment category. While the retirement committee can't forecast future investment performance, it can determine prudent funds based on their track record.

If investment evaluation isn't your forte, get expert help from an investment adviser that accepts fiduciary responsibility for investment recommendations.

DROP UNDERPERFORMING FUNDS.

If the menu needs to be revamped, just do it. The small inconvenience of explaining to employees why changes are being made is better than responding to document requests arising from litigation for failing to let go of underperforming funds.

MONITOR REVENUE-SHARING.

Many mutual funds share a small portion of their expense ratio fees with plan administrative firms, which may reduce the costs that plan sponsors pay administrative firms for services such as recordkeeping of participants' investments, providing statements and distributing literature. Fund share classes with no revenue-sharing, however, have lower expense ratios and slightly better investment performance.

If revenue-sharing is in place for any fund being offered through the plan, audit it periodically—at least annually—and ensure that it is reducing plan expenses that might otherwise be paid by participants.

PAY VENDORS WITH FLAT-DOLLAR FEES.

All plans should grill their recordkeepers and other vendors on whether they charge the very lowest administrative fees available. When plan sponsors don't pay administrative fees themselves, a best practice is to charge participants a flat recordkeeping fee (perhaps subsidizing small balances) rather than using revenue-sharing funds to pay the recordkeeper a fee based on the percentage of assets in plan accounts.

If plan sponsors engage an investment adviser, it's also preferable to pay them a flat-dollar fee rather than a fee that fluctuates based on plan assets. Advisers should not be thinking about how recommended changes in a fund lineup will affect their pay.

In all circumstances, evaluating fees on a flat-dollar amount or dollars per participant will provide useful comparisons to fees based on a percentage of assets under management in the plan.

MAINTAIN CONSTANT VIGILANCE ON ADMINISTRATIVE FEES.

Recordkeepers and other vendors negotiate best when they perceive that they may lose you as a customer. As a fiduciary, you and your team need to play hardball at times. Don't worry about hurting the feelings of the vendor's personnel—you're the fiduciary with potential liability, they're not. Benchmark your administrative fees and consider issuing a request for proposal (RFP) for administrative services every few years.

Even though plans may not have changed much, vendors have, and they should be able to lower costs or provide additional services.

DOCUMENT YOUR DECISIONS, BUT BE SMART ABOUT IT.

Maintaining good records is a must but understand that any and all plan-related documents can wind up in the hands of class-action attorneys. Meeting minutes and e-mails should be carefully written and demonstrate a prudent process, to avoid casting the plan or committee in a bad light.

GET IT IN WRITING.

Vendor contracts should be negotiated, not rubber-stamped. Keep track of promises made in RFP responses and finalist presentations. A vendor's oral promises should be documented within their service agreement. Insist on performance guarantees so your plan will be compensated for any service lapses.

DON'T ACCEPT FORCED ARBITRATION WITH ANY VENDORS.

Fiduciaries should not sign away their option to use federal courts to resolve conflicts with vendors. Plan sponsors can always choose to arbitrate a dispute, as vendors prefer this. Just don't sign any contracts agreeing to compulsory arbitration of any and all disputes.

PROTECT AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT.

Ensure that hackers don't steal your employees' account balances. Ask recordkeepers about their security practices, experiences in defeating hackers, and resources committed to maintaining strong cybersecurity.

Obtain a written commitment in the service agreement that the vendor will reimburse participants who followed account security guidelines and, through no fault of their own, had their accounts depleted.

Summing Up

There are several things a company can do to protect against 401(k) litigation. Have the retirement plan run by a committee of dedicated, knowledgeable employees. Hire independent expert advisers to help with investments, vendor oversight and training. Make sure that all fees are competitive, using benchmarking and RFPs as needed. Use an objective fund scoring methodology and replace underperforming investments. Document decisions and pay attention to process.

SOURCE: Scott, P. (22 September 2020) "Viewpoint: How to Minimize the Risk of Retirement Plan Litigation" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/minimize-risk-of-retirement-plan-litigation.aspx


Retirement accounts at ‘serious risk’ as COVID-19 spurs bankruptcies

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many things around the world, let it be the workplace, schools, everyday life habits, and it has even disrupted retirement accounts. In the nine months of COVID-19 hitting businesses, bankruptcies and lawsuits have risen and caused many questions. Read this blog post to learn more.


If there’s one thing clients have always relied on in troubled times, it’s that last bastion of savings, the retirement account — whether it be a 401(k) or an IRA.

But we’re now into the ninth month since COVID-19 hit our shores and nothing can be taken for granted. Business closures, bankruptcies and lawsuits from creditors have soared, calling into question even that formerly unassailable bulwark. That’s why it’s crucial that advisors know which accounts can be protected in bankruptcy and in non-bankruptcy lawsuits — and which cannot.

Make no mistake: Not all possess the same safeguards. Retirement accounts carry a number of different protections. These layers of defense shield IRA owners and company plan participants from bankruptcy and general (non-bankruptcy) creditors. In addition, levels of protection vary widely from state to state. In the current environment with so many small businesses on the brink of closing and struggling employees in limbo, increased bankruptcy filings are placing retirement savings at serious risk, especially when these might be the only funds available for a personal bailout.

ERISA plans: The gold standard
Most employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 guidelines and receive creditor protection at the federal level. ERISA offers the gold standard of protection up to an unlimited amount against both bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy general creditor claims.

To illustrate, let’s take the hypothetical example of “Mark,” a successful contractor who flips houses. He has a 401(k) plan set up for himself and the employees of his sole proprietorship. Mark’s current plan balance is $1,500,000.

Recently, however, there was an accident at one of his construction sites, and Mark is being sued personally. Even if Mark loses the lawsuit, the assets in his 401(k) remain protected by ERISA up to an unlimited amount. Additionally, if Mark were to declare bankruptcy, his 401(k) would be off limits to bankruptcy creditors.

Going solo = greater exposure
The same protections do not, however, hold for solo 401(k) plans.

Often, business owners worried about potential lawsuits keep their retirement funds in their so-called solo-K because they believe it to be fully creditor proof, as opposed to an IRA.

Butsolo 401(k) plans are not covered by ERISAand have no creditor (non-bankruptcy) protection under that law. Plan balances will only receive non-bankruptcy creditor protection available under applicable state law.

These plans do, however, receive full bankruptcy protection under the bankruptcy code. This is also the case with other non-ERISA company plans such as SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, non-ERISA 403(b) plans and 457(b) governmental plans.

Bankruptcy and IRAs
Traditional and Roth IRA contributions and earnings are protected from bankruptcy under federal law up to an inflation-adjusted cap — currently $1,362,800.

Is this a sufficient limit?

If the maximum amount was contributed to an IRA each year from 1975 to 2020, there would be $141,500 in contributions — $158,500 if the IRA owner qualified for age 50 catch-up contributions available beginning in 2002. It is unlikely that the earnings, even for those who contributed the maximum each year, would push an IRA balance over $1,362,800.

But what about rollovers from plans to IRAs? Do these dollars count against the $1,362,800 cap?

They do not. Former company plan assets (previously protected by ERISA while in the plan) rolled to an IRA will obtain unlimited bankruptcy protection under the bankruptcy code. As an added bonus, rollovers from SEP and SIMPLE plans also do not count against the $1,362,800 cap.

As an example, let’s conjure up “Sheila,” an attorney with a $2,000,000 balance in her company’s ERISA 401(k) plan and a $700,000 balance in her IRA, which is composed entirely of contributions and earnings.

In April, Sheila retired from her law firm and in May rolled her 401(k) into her IRA. Sheila’s IRA is completely shielded from bankruptcy. The bankruptcy code protects her $2 million 401(k) rollover up to an unlimited amount, and the $1,362,800 cap is enough to cover her original IRA balance.

Note that in this example, Sheila did not need to keep her 401(k) and IRA dollars separate to retain the maximum bankruptcy protections. However, from an administrative standpoint, it could make sense for some individuals to keep rollover assets separate via a conduit IRA to avoid confusion.

Lawsuits and IRAs (non-bankruptcy)
General creditor protection (e.g., when a person wins a judgment in court against the account owner) for IRAs, Roth IRAs and IRA-based company plans like SEPs and SIMPLEs is based on individual state law — and these state-level, non-bankruptcy protections vary widely.

As such, it is important to understand your client’s state coverage, especially before advising the client to roll over ERISA plan dollars into an IRA.

As mentioned, ERISA-covered plans enjoy full bankruptcy and general creditor protection. While all former plan dollars remain protected in bankruptcy by the bankruptcy code after a rollover to an IRA, these same dollars do not retain unlimited general creditor (non-bankruptcy) protection. Assets rolled from an ERISA plan to an IRA will now fall under the applicable state-level protections. These state safeguards may be comparable to ERISA levels, or they may be significantly less so.

For instance, the hypotheticalDr. Kapp” changed employers and is deciding what to do with his $400,000 401(k) plan. His profession exposes him to malpractice lawsuits. If Dr. Kapp rolls the assets from his work plan to an IRA, the $400,000 will be fully protected in bankruptcy. However, he will be limited to the general creditor (non-bankruptcy) protections offered under state law.

Instead, Dr. Kapp elects to roll his former plan assets into the 401(k) plan offered by his new employer. That way, he ensures the $400,000 will retain 100% ERISA protection from both bankruptcy claims and any malpractice judgments against him.

Inherited IRAs and bankruptcy
In a landmark decision released in 2014,Clark v. Rameker, the U.S. Supreme Courtruled unanimously that inherited IRAs are not protected in bankruptcy under federal law.

Since only "retirement funds" are protected under the bankruptcy code, the primary issue before the court was whether an inherited IRA is, in fact, a retirement account. The Supreme Court decided that inherited IRAs do not contain “retirement funds” because:

1. Beneficiaries cannot add money to inherited IRAs;

2. Beneficiaries of inherited IRAs must generally begin to take RMDs, regardless of how far away they are from retirement; and

3. Beneficiaries can take total distributions of their inherited accounts at any time and use the funds for any purpose without a 10% early distribution penalty.

As a result, the favorable bankruptcy protection afforded to such funds under the bankruptcy code does not extend to inherited RIAs.

Bankruptcy timing and rollovers in transit
IRAs and retirement accounts protected under the bankruptcy law are generally shielded only as long as the funds remain qualified. Creditors will sit patiently until retirement dollars are withdrawn to snatch them as unprotected assets.

However, these funds remain safeguardedas long as they are qualified dollars. If funds are withdrawn, the law protects these dollars while they are out of the IRA in transit to the new IRA or retirement account. This protection applies to 60-day rollovers as well as trustee-to-trustee transfers. An individual only receives this protection if bankruptcy paperwork was officially filed while the funds were still in the retirement account. Timing is key in such cases. Funds already out on rollover when bankruptcy is declared lose all protection.

IRAs and the LLC shield
IRAs enjoy specific levels of protection against “outside” claims, i.e., claims brought personally against the IRA owner.

But what happens when a claim is brought against an investment within the IRA? The answer is that such “inside” claims may not only devastate the IRA but could also put an IRA owner’s personal non-qualified assets at risk. Inside claims can be mitigated with the use of a limited liability company (LLC).

The imaginary “Blake” owns a self-directed IRA worth $500,000 that invests entirely in a local Jet Ski rental and watersports company. He did not use an LLC within the IRA to acquire the rental business. Blake has other personal assets worth $1.5 million.

Last summer, a Jet Ski renter had an accident and suffered a catastrophic injury. After almost a year of litigation, the renter won a $2 million judgment against the IRA.

All of Blake’s IRA assets could be reached because the claim arose from activities of the IRA investment. His personal assets could also be at risk. But if Blake’s IRA had been invested in an LLC that subsequently purchased the water sports company within the IRA, the LLC structure would have protected both the IRA assets and Blake’s personal assets against the $2 million judgment.

Be keenly aware of outside vs. inside claims and how to mitigate certain risks with an LLC.

Clear and present danger
Add the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak to our litigious society with the increasingly looming possibility of bankruptcies, all under the watchful eye of SEC Reg BI, and educating clients on available safeguards becomes increasingly vital.

That education holds even more true for financial advisors in whom clients have placed their trust and financial futures. Understanding the levels of bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy protections afforded to both workplace retirement plans and IRAs is now a must to safeguard the dreams of post-work life clients have worked so hard to achieve.

SOURCE: Slott, E. (10 September 2020) "Retirement accounts at ‘serious risk’ as COVID-19 spurs bankruptcies" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.financial-planning.com/news/retirement-accounts-at-risk-as-coronavirus-spurs-bankruptcies


Severance plans: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant

How can employers’ severance plans stay ERISA compliant? There are significant advantages associated with ERISA severance plans. Continue reading to learn more.


An employer’s promise to provide severance benefits may be written or oral, formal or informal, and individual or group. Determining whether an ERISA plan already exists, or whether an employer wants its severance arrangement to be subject to ERISA, is an important consideration in determining an employer’s obligation and liabilities associated with a severance arrangement.

There are significant advantages associated with a severance arrangement that is an ERISA plan as discussed in detail below. An employer, however, cannot unilaterally decide that the severance arrangement is an ERISA plan. Instead, an employer, when designing and administering a severance arrangement, can take definitive steps to ensure that the arrangement is treated as an ERISA plan.

Employers may assume that the first step to ensure the existence of an ERISA plan is to have a written plan document, which is required by ERISA. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily determinative as to whether an ERISA plan exists. Courts have held that ERISA plans can exist without a written plan document and vice versa.

Case law has provided the broad outlines of the nature of an ERISA-governed severance plan. An essential characteristic of ERISA severance plans is that, by their nature, they necessitate “an ongoing administrative scheme.” Courts have looked at the following indicators when determining what constitutes an ongoing administrative scheme:

  • The employer’s discretion in determining (1) eligibility for benefits or (2) available plan benefits
  • The form of payment such as lump sums versus periodic payments
  • Any ongoing demand on the employer’s assets such that there is an ongoing scheme to coordinate and control the distribution of benefits
  • Calculations based on certain factors such as job performance, length of service, reemployment prospects, and so forth.

Severance plans or arrangements that normally do not require an ongoing administrative scheme, and therefore, do not implicate ERISA, are plans that have lump-sum payments that are calculated under a formula and are mechanically triggered by a single event (such as termination). Where severance payments are made over time (through payroll, for example) and/or additional benefits (such as continuation of benefits or outplacement services) are provided, the severance arrangement is likely subject to ERISA.

As a practical matter, whether severance arrangements are ad hoc or recognized in a formal plan document, they may end up providing ERISA-covered benefits. In a dispute, an employer generally prefers that ERISA applies because of ERISA’s preemption of state laws. Preemption protects employers from state laws that may favor employees and generally limits the dispute to an ERISA claim for benefits, thereby avoiding the potential exposure to punitive, extra-contractual or special damages under state laws. In addition, ERISA’s claim procedure, which provides a pre-litigation administrative process for dispute resolution, will apply if proper plan language is provided. If employees with a severance claim fail to faithfully follow the ERISA claims procedure, their lawsuits may be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Typically, the plan document gives the employer, in its capacity as plan administrator, the discretionary authority to interpret the plan’s language and make decisions about the plan. If the employee follows the claim procedures and the claim is denied, the decision-making process of the employer (or its designee) if done properly, is given deferential treatment by a reviewing court. Moreover, in many cases, judicial review is limited to only those matters addressed in the administrative record of the claim. In other words, many federal courts would decline to consider factual matters that were not raised by the employee in the claim procedure process.

Another consideration for the savvy employer is that severance benefits are almost always considered to be “welfare” benefits. Welfare benefits, as opposed to pension benefits, are afforded an extremely low level of protection under ERISA. Essentially, the employer’s exposure as to promised severance benefits is only as broad as its express contractual commitment to them. By appropriately documenting the benefits with “best practices” language (such as specifying that the amendment or termination of benefits may be done with or without advance notice), employers can take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the relatively thin protections provided by ERISA. On the other hand, poor or no documentation of a severance arrangement may leave an employer with difficult-to-prove assertions as to what severance commitments were actually made.

In summary, an ERISA-governed plan provides an employer with significant advantages in litigation. In addition, a severance arrangement subject to ERISA will enjoy the powerful benefits of ERISA preemption and the ERISA claims procedures.

SOURCE: Rothman, J.; Ninneman, S. (3 October 2018) "Severance plans, Part 1: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-employers-can-stay-erisa-compliant-with-severance-plans


doctor and patient

Self-funding and Voluntary Benefits: The Dynamic Insurance Duo

Did you know that self-funded health insurance and voluntary benefits can be a dream team when used in conjunction with each other? Check out this great article by Steve Horvath and Dan Johnson from Benefits Pro and find out how you can make the most of this dynamic insurance duo.

In an era of health care reform, double-digit rising health care costs, and plenty of “unknowns,” many employers view their benefit plans as a challenging blend of cost containment strategies and employee retention.

But perhaps they need to better understand the value of a little caped crusader named voluntary benefits.

Employers of all sizes share common goals when it comes to their benefits. They seek affordable, and quality benefits for their employees.

Some companies achieve these goals by cutting costs and going with a high-deductible, self-funded approach. While many associate self-funding with larger employers, in the current marketplace, it has become a viable option for companies across the board.

Especially when paired with a voluntary benefits offering supported by one-on-one communication or a call center, employers are able to cut costs and offer additional insurance options tailored to their employees’ needs. But there’s more.

Voluntary enrollments can help employers meet many different challenges, all of which tie back to cost-containment, streamlined processes and employee understanding and engagement. But before we explore solutions, let’s first understand why so many employers are going the self-funded route.

For most large and small employers, the costs of providing health care to employees and their families are significant and rising.

For companies who may be tight on money and are seeing their fully-insured premiums increase every year with little justification, self-funding serves as a great solution to keep their medical expenses down.

Self-funding: An overview

Self-funding allows employers to:

  1. Control health plan costs with pre-determined claims funding amounts to a medical plan account, without paying the profit margin of the insurance company.
  2. Protect their plan from catastrophic claims with stop-loss insurance that helps to pay for claims that exceed the amount set by their self-funded plan.
  3. Pay for medical claims the plan actually incurs, not the margin a fully insured plan underwrites into their premium, while protecting the plan with catastrophic loss coverage when large expenses are incurred. Plans may offer to share favorable savings with their employees through programs like premium holidays. These programs allow employee contributions to be waived for a period of time selected by the employer to reward employees for low utilization and adequate funding of their claims accounts and reserves.
  4. Take advantage of current and future year plan management guidance.
  5. Save on plan costs by using predictive analysis for health and wellness offered by the third-party administrator (TPA).

Beyond these advantages,self-funded plans may not be subject to all of the Affordable Care Act regulations as fully-insured plans, which is one of the reasons they provide a solution for controlling costs. Without these requirements, the plans can be tailored much more precisely to meet the needs of a specific employee group.

Boosting value: Advantages of adding voluntary benefits to a self-funded plan

Based on an employer’s specific benefit plan, and what it offers, employers are able to select voluntary benefits that can complement the plan and properly meet employees’ needs without adding extra costs to the plan.

Employees are then able to customize their own, personal benefit options even further based on their unique needs and available voluntary benefits.

This provides employees a myriad of benefits while also allowing them to account for out-of-pocket costs due to high-deductibles or plan changes, as well as provide long-term protection if the product is portable.

Voluntary solutions are about more than the products

Aside from the common falsehood that voluntary benefits are only about adding ‘gap fillers’ to your plan, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that conducting a voluntary benefits enrollment can actually offer a number of services, solutions, and products, many of which may be currently unfamiliar to you.

Finding, and funding, a ben-admin solution

Some carriers offer the added bonus of helping employers install a benefits administration system in return for conducting a one-on-one or mandatory call center voluntary benefits enrollment.

The right benefits administration systems can help remove manual processes and allow HR to do what they do best—focus on employees and improving employee programs. No more headaches around changing coverage, change files to carriers, changing payroll-deductions or premiums.

Finding the benefits administration system that works best for your situation can make a big difference for your HR team.

Communication and engagement

Many employees are frustrated and scared about how changes to the insurance landscape will impact them. And with a recent survey noting that 95 percent of employees need someone to talk to for benefits information,they clearly are seeking ongoing communications and resources.

During the enrollment process, some carriers work with enrollment and communications companies who understand the employees’ benefit plan options and help guide them to the offerings that are best for them and their families.

At the same time, employers can enhance the communication and engagement efforts on other important corporate initiatives. For example, a client of ours increased employee participation in their high-deductible health plan (HDHP) via pre-communication.

Of the 90 percent of employees that went to the enrollment, nearly 70 percent said they were either likely or very likely to select the HDHP. Just a little bit of communication can go a long way toward employee understanding.

Providing education and engagement about both benefits and workplace initiatives increases the effectiveness of these programs and contributes to keeping costs down for employers. The more engagement employers generate, the healthier and better protected the employees.

Prioritizing health and wellness

Employers can also use the enrollment time with employees to remind them to get their annual exams. Many voluntary plans offer a wellness benefit (e.g. $50 or $100) to incentivize the employee and dependents.

The ROI for an employer’s health plan provides value as regular screenings can help detect health issues in the beginning stages so that proper health care management can begin and medical spend can be minimized.

Employers have also seized the opportunity of a benefits enrollment to implement a full-scale wellness program at reduced costs by aligning it with a voluntary benefits enrollment.

An effective wellness program will approach employee health from a whole-person view, recognizing its physical, social, emotional, financial and environmental dimensions. A properly implemented wellness program can ultimately make healthy actions possible for more of an employee population.

A formidable combination

What employers are seeking is simple -- quality benefits and a way to lower costs. With that in mind, offering a self-funded plan with complementary voluntary benefit products and solutions allows employers to take advantage of multiple opportunities while, at the same time, providing more options for their employees.

In today’s constantly changing landscape, self-funded plans paired with voluntary benefits is a formidable combination – a dynamic insurance duo.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Horvath S., Johnson D.  (2016 November 23). Self-funding and voluntary benefits: the dynamic insurance duo [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/11/23/self-funding-and-voluntary-benefits-the-dynamic-in?page_all=1


SELF-INSURED GROUP HEALTH PLANS

Are you looking to switch your company's healthcare plan to a self-funded option? Take a look at this informative column by the Self-Insurance Institute of America and find out everything you need know when researching the best self-funded plan for your company.

Q. What is a self-insured health plan?

A. A self-insured group health plan (or a 'self-funded' plan as it is also called) is one in which the employer assumes the financial risk for providing health care benefits to its employees. In practical terms, self-insured employers pay for each out of pocket claim as they are incurred instead of paying a fixed premium to an insurance carrier, which is known as a fully-insured plan. Typically, a self-insured employer will set up a special trust fund to earmark money (corporate and employee contributions) to pay incurred claims.

Q. How many people receive coverage through self-insured health plans?

A. According to a 2000 report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), approximately 50 million workers and their dependents receive benefits through self-insured group health plans sponsored by their employers. This represents 33% of the 150 million total participants in private employment-based plans nationwide.

Q. Why do employers self fund their health plans?

A. There are several reasons why employers choose the self-insurance option. The following are the most common reasons:

  1. The employer can customize the plan to meet the specific health care needs of its workforce, as opposed to purchasing a 'one-size-fits-all' insurance policy.
  2. The employer maintains control over the health plan reserves, enabling maximization of interest income - income that would be otherwise generated by an insurance carrier through the investment of premium dollars.
  3. The employer does not have to pre-pay for coverage, thereby providing for improved cash flow.
  4. The employer is not subject to conflicting state health insurance regulations/benefit mandates, as self-insured health plans are regulated under federal law (ERISA).
  5. The employer is not subject to state health insurance premium taxes, which are generally 2-3 percent of the premium's dollar value.
  6. The employer is free to contract with the providers or provider network best suited to meet the health care needs of its employees.

Q. Is self-insurance the best option for every employer?

A. No. Since a self-insured employer assumes the risk for paying the health care claim costs for its employees, it must have the financial resources (cash flow) to meet this obligation, which can be unpredictable. Therefore, small employers and other employers with poor cash flow may find that self-insurance is not a viable option. It should be noted, however, that there are companies with as few as 25 employees that do maintain viable self-insured health plans.

Q. Can self-insured employers protect themselves against unpredicted or catastrophic claims?

A. Yes. While the largest employers have sufficient financial reserves to cover virtually any amount of health care costs, most self-insured employers purchase what is known as stop-loss insurance to reimburse them for claims above a specified dollar level. This is an insurance contract between the stop-loss carrier and the employer, and is not deemed to be a health insurance policy covering individual plan participants.

Q. Who administers claims for self-insured group health plans?

A. Self-insured employers can either administer the claims in-house, or subcontract this service to a third party administrator (TPA). TPAs can also help employers set up their self-insured group health plans and coordinate stop-loss insurance coverage, provider network contracts and utilization review services.

Q. What about payroll deductions?

A. Any payments made by employees for their coverage are still handled through the employer' s payroll department. However, instead of being sent to an insurance company for premiums, the contributions are held by the employer until such time as claims become due and payable; or, if being used as reserves, put in a tax-free trust that is controlled by the employer.

Q. With what laws must self-insured group health plans comply?

A. Self-insured group health plans come under all applicable federal laws, including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Civil Rights Act, and various budget reconciliation acts such as Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA), Deficit Reduction Act (DEFRA), and Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Self-Insurance Institute of America (Date). Self-insured group health plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.siia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=4546


New House Healthcare Proposal a Mixed Bag for Employers

The House of Representatives has just introduced their new bipartiasn plan for healthcare reform. Find out how this new healthcare legislation will impact your employers' healthcare in this great article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News.

A new bipartisan healthcare plan in the House contains potential positives and negatives alike for employers.

The plan could provide much-sought relief to small and medium-sized businesses with respect to the employer mandate, but it could also institutionalize the mandate for larger firms and does little to reduce employer-reporting headaches. Critics say it also fails to endorse other employer-friendly reforms to the Affordable Care Act.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 40 Republicans and Democrats led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., unveiled their new plan last week to stabilize the individual markets, following the collapse of Senate talks that were focused on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month. The proposal would be separate from an earlier bill that passed the House to overhaul large swaths of the ACA. Congress is now on recess until after Labor Day, but talks around efforts to shore up the individual markets are likely to resume when lawmakers return to Washington this fall.

PaulThe House lawmakers introduced a broad set of bipartisan principles that they hope will guide future legislation, including several key tweaks to the employer mandate. This plan includes raising the threshold for when the mandate kicks in from firms with 50 or more employees to those with at least 500 workers. It also would up the definition of full-time work from those putting in 30 hours to those working 40 hours per week. Among changes focused on the individual markets, the proposal would bring cost-sharing reduction payments under the congressional appropriations process and ensure they have mandatory funding as well as establish a stability fund that states could tap to reduce premiums and other costs for some patients with expensive health needs.

Legislative talks focused on maintaining the Obamacare markets remain in early stages and it’s unclear whether the provisions targeting the employer mandate will gain long-term traction, though lawmakers in support of the plan said that their proposed measure would help unburden smaller companies.

“The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and acts as a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees,” the Problem Solvers Caucus said in their July 31 release.

Observers note that raising the mandate’s threshold would likely have few dramatic effects on coverage rates. But critics argued that while the plan would eliminate coverage requirements for mid-size employers — a boon for smaller companies — it could ultimately make it more difficult to restructure or remove the mandate altogether.

“It would provide relief to some people — however, it will enshrine the employer mandate forever,” says James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee. “You are exempting the most sympathetic characters and ensuring that large businesses will forever be subject to the mandate and its obscene reporting.”

The real-world impact of the change would likely be limited when it comes to coverage rates, as mid-sized and larger employers tend to use health benefits to help attract and retain their workforce. Nearly all firms with 50 or more full-time employees — about 96% — offered at least one plan that would meet the ACA’s minimum value and affordability requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Education Trust employer health benefits survey for 2016. Participation was even higher — 99% — among firms with at least 200 workers.

“At the 500 bar, realistically, virtually every employer is offering coverage to at least some employees,” says Matthew Rae, a senior policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gelfand notes that under the proposed measure, big businesses would still have to comply with time-consuming and costly reporting requirements under the ACA and would continue to face restrictions in plan design, because of requirements in place that, for example, mandate plans have an actuarial value of at least 60%.

“Prior to the ACA, big business already offered benefits — and they were good benefits that people liked and that were designed to keep people healthy and to make them productive workers,” he says. “[The ACA] forces us to waste a boatload of time and money proving that we offer the benefits that we offer and it constrains our ability to be flexible in designing those benefits.”

Susan Combs, founder of insurance brokerage Combs & Co., says that changing the definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours per week could have a bigger impact than raising the mandate threshold, because it would free up resources for employers who had laid off workers or cut back their hours when they began having to cover benefits for people working 30 or more hours.

“Some employers had to lay off employees or had they to cut back on different things, because they had to now cover benefits for people that were in essence really part-time people, not full-time people,” she says. “If you shifted from 30 to 40 hours, that might give employers additional remedies so they can expand their companies and employ more people eventually.”

Two percent of firms with 50-plus full-time workers surveyed by Kaiser in 2016 said that they changed or planned to change the job classifications of some employees from full-time to part-time so that the workers would not be eligible for health benefits under the mandate. Another 4% said that they reduced the number of full-time employees they intended to hire because of the cost of providing health benefits.

Gelfand calls the provision to raise the definition from 30 to 40 hours per week “an improvement,” though he said a better solution would be to remove the employer mandate entirely.

He added that he would like to see any market stabilization plan include more items employers had backed as part of the earlier repeal and replace debate. While the House plan would remove a tax on medical devices, it does not address the Cadillac tax on high-cost plans, one of the highest priority items that employer groups have been working to delay or repeal. It also doesn’t include language expanding the use of tax-advantaged health savings accounts detailed in earlier House and Senate proposals.

“There’s not likely to be another healthcare vehicle that’s focused on ACA reform, so if you have a reform vehicle that goes through and it doesn’t do anything to give us tax relief and it doesn’t do anything to improve consumer-driven health options, like HSAs, and it doesn’t do anything to improve healthcare costs — wow, what a missed opportunity,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 August 10). New house healthcare proposal a mixed bag for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/new-house-healthcare-proposal-a-mixed-bag-for-employers


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/


Workers Might See Employer Health Coverage Disappear Under New GOP AHCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


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

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

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

So what does this mean for employers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the original article Here.

Source:

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


How Employers Should Proceed After the AHCA’s Collapse

Take a look at the great article from Employee Benefits Advisor on what employers need to know about healthcare with the collapse of the AHCA by Alden J. Bianchi and Edward A. Lenz.

The stunning failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the American Health Care Act has political and policy implications that cannot be forecasted. Nor is it clear whether or when the Trump administration and Congress will make another effort to repeal and replace, or whether Republicans will seek Democratic support in an effort to “repair,” the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, we were unable to predict whether and to what extent the AHCA’s provisions can be achieved through executive rulemaking or policy guidance.

Here are some ways the AHCA’s failure could impact employers in the near term.

Immediate impact on employers
Employers were not a major focus of the architects of the ACA, nor were they a major focus of those who crafted the AHCA. This is not surprising. These laws address healthcare systems and structures, especially healthcare financing. Rightly or wrongly, employers have not been viewed by policymakers as major stakeholders on those issues.

In a blog post published at the end of 2014, we made the following observations:

The ACA sits atop a major tectonic plate of the U.S. economy, nearly 18% of which is healthcare-related. Healthcare providers, commercial insurance carriers, and the vast Medicare/Medicaid complex are the law’s primary stakeholders. They, and their local communities, have much to lose or gain depending on how healthcare financing is regulated. The ACA is the way it is largely because of them. Far more than any other circumstance, including which political party controls which branch of government, it is the interests of the ACA’s major stakeholders that determine the law’s future. And there is no indication whatsoever that, from the perspective of these entities, the calculus that drove the ACA’s enactment has changed. U.S. employers, even the largest employers among them, are bit players in this drama. They have little leverage, so they are relegated to complying and grumbling (not necessarily in that order).

With the AHCA’s collapse, the ACA remains the law of the land for the foreseeable future. The AHCA would have zeroed out the penalties on “applicable large” employers that fail to make qualified offers of health coverage, but the bill’s failure leaves the ACA’s “play or pay” rules in full force and effect. The ACA’s reporting rules, which the AHCA would not have changed, also remain in effect. This means, among other things, that many employers, especially those with large numbers of part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers that face unique compliance challenges, will continue to be in the position of “complying and grumbling.”

This does not mean that nothing has changed. The leadership of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury has changed, and these agencies are now likely to be more employer-friendly. Thus, even though the ACA is still the law, the regulatory tone and tenor may well be different. For example, although the current complex employer reporting rules will remain in effect, the Treasury and IRS might find administrative ways to simplify them. Similarly, any regulations issued under the ACA’s non-discrimination provisions applicable to insured health plans (assuming they are issued at all) likely will be more favorable to employers than those issued under the previous administration.

There are also unanticipated consequences of the AHCA’s failure that employers might applaud. We can think of at least two.
1. Stemming the anticipated tide of new state “play or pay” laws
The continuation of the ACA’s employer mandate likely will put on hold consideration by state and local governments of their own “play or pay” laws.

In anticipation of the repeal of the ACA’s employer mandate, the Governor of Massachusetts recently introduced a budget proposal that would reinstate mandated employer contributions to help cover the costs of increased enrollment in the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as MassHealth. Under the proposal, employers with 11 or more full-time equivalent employees would have to offer full-time employees a minimum of $4,950 toward the cost of an employer group health plan, or make an annual contribution in lieu of coverage of $2,000 per full-time equivalent employee. While the Governor’s proposal is not explicitly conditioned on repeal of the ACA’s employer mandate, the ACA’s survival may prompt a reconsideration of that approach.

California lawmakers were also considering ACA replacement proposals, including a single-payer bill introduced last month by Democratic state senators Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins. Had the ACA’s employer mandate been repealed, those proposals were likely just the tip of an iceberg. When the ACA was enacted in 2010, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and San Francisco were the only jurisdictions with their own healthcare mandates on the books. But in the prior two-year period, before President Obama was elected and made healthcare reform his top domestic priority, more than two dozen states had introduced various “fair share” health care reform bills aimed at employers.

Most of the state and local “play or pay” proposals would have required employers to pay a specified percentage of their payroll, or a specified dollar amount, for health care coverage. Some required employers to pay employees a supplemental hourly “health care” wage in addition to their regular wages or provide health benefits of at least equal value. California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin considered single-payer proposals.

To be sure, any state or local “play or pay” mandates would be subject to challenge based on Federal preemption under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). While some previous “play or pay” laws were invalidated under ERISA (e.g., Maryland), others (i.e., San Francisco) were not. In sum, given the failure of the AHCA, there would appear to be no rationale, at least for now, for any new state or local “play or pay” laws to go forward.

2. Avoiding upward pressure on employer premiums as a result of Medicaid reforms
The AHCA proposed to reform Medicaid by giving greater power to the states to administer the Medicaid program. Under an approach that caps Medicaid spending, the law would have provided for “per capita allotments” and “block grants.” Under either approach, the Congressional Budget Office, in its scoring of the AHCA, predicted that far fewer individuals would be eligible for Medicaid.

According to the CBO: CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the 2017 to 2026 periods. That total consists of $323 billion in on-budget savings and $13 billion in off-budget savings. Outlays would be reduced by $1.2 trillion over the period, and revenues would be reduced by $0.9 trillion. The largest savings would come from reductions in outlays for Medicaid and from the elimination of the ACA’s subsidies for non-group health insurance.

While employers rarely pay attention to Medicaid, the AHCA gave them a reason to do so. Fewer Medicaid-eligible individuals would mean more uncompensated care — a significant portion of the costs of which would likely be passed on to employers in the form of higher premiums. As long as the ACA’s expanded Medicaid coverage provisions remain in place, premium pressure on employers will to that extent be avoided.

Long-term impact on employers
As we conceded at the beginning, it’s not clear how the Republican Congress and the Administration will react to the AHCA’s failure. If the elected representatives of both political parties are inclined to try to make the current system work, however, we can think of no better place that the prescriptions contained in a report by the American Academy of Actuaries, entitled “An Evaluation of the Individual Health Insurance Market and Implications of Potential Changes.”

The actuaries’ report does not address, much less resolve, the major policy differences between the ACA and the AHCA over the role of government — in particular, the extent to which taxpayers should be called on to fund the health care costs of low-and moderate-income individuals, and whether U.S. citizens should be required to maintain health coverage or pay a penalty. And even if lawmakers can reach consensus on those contentious issues, they still would have to agree on the proper implementing mechanisms.

But whatever the outcome, employers are unlikely to play a major role.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bianchi A. & Lenz E. (2017 April 6). How employers should proceed after the AHCA's collapse [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-employers-should-proceed-after-the-ahcas-collapse