Employers shouldn’t fear expansion of Medicare

A new survey from the National Business Group on Health found that only 23 percent of large employers believe Medicare eligibility should drop to age 50. Read this article from Employee Benefits Advisor to learn more about the potential expansion of Medicare.


Like a significant chunk of American voters, a majority of large employers want to expand Medicare. Just not too much.

A new survey of 147 large employers from the National Business Group on Health found that 55% of them support a Medicare expansion that’s limited to older Americans. Only 23% think eligibility should drop to age 50, however, and 45% don’t think it should expand at all. A majority believe that a broader “Medicare for All” plan would increase health costs.

The same survey also highlights why employers should consider coming around on health reform that reduces their role in the system. The growth in health costs has outpaced inflation and wage growth for years, and the surveyed businesses expect it to rise 5% to $15,375 for each employee next year.

About 70% of those costs will fall on the companies, which plan to try everything from boosting virtual health services to investing in health concierges to rein them in, according to the survey.

History suggests that their best efforts might not amount to much.

Employer-sponsored insurance is America’s single largest source of health coverage. That’s mostly true because the IRS exempted employer health benefits from taxes in 1943, a move that created the federal government’s single biggest tax expenditure. Large companies derive some benefit from the current system because they can provide a significant tax-free benefit that helps them compete for talent and pay people less. But it comes with significant drawbacks. Employers have to devote substantial resources to providing healthcare and controlling costs. Many of them have no particular expertise or advantage in doing so.

The results are mixed. Yes, individuals with private insurance are generally satisfied with the quality of their coverage. They’re not nearly as happy about the cost as deductibles rise. The U.S. pays more than any other developed country for healthcare and medicines and receives worse results on a variety of metrics.

Employers pay particularly high prices and spend heavily on plans that have higher overhead than public alternatives. A recent RAND study found that employer-sponsored plans paid hospitals at 241% of Medicare rates in 2017. Employers are already effectively subsidizing public programs, not to mention the profitability of insurers, health care providers and drugmakers.

It’s not entirely their fault. The American system inherently fragments negotiating power, which gives providers a significant advantage and makes it difficult for even the largest employers to get a good deal. Turning a larger piece of healthcare over to the government would free companies to focus more time and resources on their actual business instead of on navigating the world’s most expensive and convoluted healthcare market.

Big businesses most likely fear big Medicare expansion in large part because it would lead to a significant tax increase. But looking at any tax increase as an enemy is a mistake. Those taxes represent a trade-off; they would replace some or all of the billions of dollars that employers are currently spending on care. Depending on what taxes are imposed and whether the public plan is able to control costs better than the current system — and it could hardly do worse — many employers could come out ahead.

There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to Medicare for All and plans that move the country in that direction. Employers are right to be skeptical until they know more, but the results could well shake out in their favor, and they shouldn’t be so quick to discount the approach.

SOURCE: Nisen, M. (15 August 2019)"Employers shouldn’t fear expansion of Medicare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/employers-shouldnt-fear-expansion-of-medicare


Cadillac Tax May Finally Be Running Out of Gas

The Cadillac tax - a 40 percent tax on the most generous employer-provided health insurance plans - may be about to change. The Cadillac 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 https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/obamacare-excise-tax-may-be-at-an-end


PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans

The annual fee for the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019. Plans with terms ending after September 30, 2012, and before October 1, 2019, are required to pay an annual PCORI fee. Read this article from SHRM to learn more.


An earlier version of this article was posted on November 6, 2018

The next annual fee that sponsors of self-insured health plans must pay to fund the federal Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is due July 31, 2019.

The Affordable Care Act mandated payment of an annual PCORI fee by plans with terms ending after Sept. 30, 2012, and before Oct. 1, 2019, to provide initial funding for the Washington, D.C.-based institute, which funds research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments. Self-insured plans pay the fee themselves, while insurance companies pay the fee for fully insured plans but may pass the cost along to employers through higher premiums.

The IRS treats the fee like an excise tax.

The PCORI fee is due by the July 31 following the last day of the plan year. The final PCORI payment for sponsors of 2018 calendar-year plans is due by July 31, 2019. The final PCORI fee for plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2019, will be due by July 31, 2020.

In Notice 2018-85, the IRS set the amount used to calculate the PCORI fee at $2.45 per person covered by plan years ending Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019.

The chart below shows the fees to be paid in 2019, which are slightly higher than the fees owed in 2018. The per-enrollee amount depends on when the plan year ended, as in previous years.

Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2019
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2018, through Sept. 30, 2019. $2.45
Fee per Plan Enrollee for Payment Due
July 31, 2018
Plan years ending from Oct. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2017, including calendar-year plans. $2.39
Plan years ending from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2017 $2.26
Source: IRS.

Nearing the End

The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2019, "which means that for a calendar-year plan, the last year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year," wrote Richard Stover, a New York City-based principal at HR consultancy Buck Global, and Amy Dunn, a principal in Buck's Knowledge Resource Center.

For noncalendar-year plans that end between Jan. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30, 3019, however, there will be one last PCORI payment due by July 31, 2020.

"There will not be any PCORI fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later," according to 360 Corporate Benefit Advisors.

The PCORI fee was first assessed for plan years ending after Sept. 30, 2012. The fee for the first plan year was $1 per plan enrollee, which increased to $2 per enrollee in the second year and was then indexed in subsequent years based on the increase in national health expenditures.

FSAs and HRAs

In addition to self-insured medical plans, health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that fail to qualify as “excepted benefits” would be required to pay the per-enrollee fee, wrote Gary Kushner, president and CEO of Kushner & Co., a benefits advisory firm based in Portage, Mich.

As set forth in the Department of Labor's Technical Release 2013-03:

  • health FSA is an excepted benefit if the employer does not contribute more than $500 a year to any employee accounts and also offers a group health plan with nonexcepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted benefit if it only reimburses for limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage and is not integrated with a group health plan.

Kushner explained that:

  • If the employer sponsors a fully insured group health plan for which the insurance carrier is filing and paying the PCORI fee and the same employer sponsors an employer-funded health care FSA or an HRA not exempted from the fee, employers should only count the employees participating in the FSA or HRA, and not spouses or dependents, when paying the fee.
  • If the employer sponsors a self-funded group health plan, then the employer needs to file the form and pay the PCORI fee only on the number of individuals enrolled in the group health plan, and not in the employer-funded health care FSA or HRA.

An employer that sponsors a self-insured HRA along with a fully insured medical plan "must pay PCORI fees based on the number of employees (dependents are not included in this count) participating in the HRA, while the insurer pays the PCORI fee on the individuals (including dependents) covered under the insured plan," wrote Mark Holloway, senior vice president and director of compliance services at Lockton Companies, a benefits broker and services firm based in Kansas City, Mo. Where an employer maintains an HRA along with a self-funded medical plan and both have the same plan year, "the employer pays a single PCORI fee based on the number of covered lives in the self-funded medical plan (the HRA is disregarded)."

Paying PCORI Fees

Self-insured employers are responsible for submitting the fee and accompanying paperwork to the IRS, as "third-party reporting and payment of the fee is not permitted for self-funded plans," Holloway noted.

For the coming year, self-insured health plan sponsors should use Form 720 for the second calendar quarter to report and pay the PCORI fee by July 31, 2019.

"On p. 2 of Form 720, under Part II, the employer needs to designate the average number of covered lives under its applicable self-insured plan," Holloway explained. The number of covered lives will be multiplied by $2.45 for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2018, to determine the total fee owed to the IRS next July.

To calculate "the average number of lives covered" or plan enrollees, employers should use one of three methods listed on pages 8 and 9 of the Instructions for Form 720. A white paper by Keller Benefit Services describes these methods in greater detail.

Although the fee is paid annually, employers should indicate on the Payment Voucher (720-V), located at the end of Form 720, that the tax period for the fee is the second quarter of the year. "Failure to properly designate 'second quarter' on the voucher will result in the IRS's software generating a tardy filing notice, with all the incumbent aggravation on the employer to correct the matter with the IRS," Holloway warned.

A few other points to keep in mind: "The U.S. Department of Labor believes the fee cannot be paid from plan assets," he said. In other words, for self-insured health plans, "the PCORI fee must be paid by the plan sponsor. It is not a permissible expense of a self-funded plan and cannot be paid in whole or part by participant contributions."

In addition, PCORI fees "should not be included in the plan's cost when computing the plan's COBRA premium," Holloway noted. But "the IRS has indicated the fee is, however, a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-funded plans," he added, citing a May 2013 IRS memorandum.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (2 July 2019) "PCORI Fee Is Due by July 31 for Self-Insured Health Plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/2019-pcori-fees.aspx


Trump picks former Lilly drug executive as health secretary

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


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

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

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

Bloomberg/file photo

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

Drug Costs

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

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

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

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

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

Running Obamacare

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Confirmation

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the original article here.

Source:

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

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4 Main Impacts of Yesterday's Executive Order

Yesterday, President Trump used his pen to set his sights on healthcare having completed the signing of an executive order after Congress failed to repeal ObamaCare.

Here’s a quick dig into some of what this order means and who might be impacted from yesterday's signing.

A Focus On Small Businesses

The executive order eases rules on small businesses banding together to buy health insurance, through what are known as association health plans, and lifts limits on short-term health insurance plans, according to an administration source. This includes directing the Department of Labor to "modernize" rules to allow small employers to create association health plans, the source said. Small businesses will be able to band together if they are within the same state, in the same "line of business," or are in the same trade association.

Skinny Plans

The executive order expands the availability of short-term insurance policies, which offer limited benefits meant as a bridge for people between jobs or young adults no longer eligible for their parents’ health plans. This extends the limited three-month rule under the Obama administration to now nearly a year.

Pretax Dollars

This executive order also targets widening employers’ ability to use pretax dollars in “health reimbursement arrangements”, such as HSAs and HRAs, to help workers pay for any medical expenses, not just for health policies that meet ACA rules. This is a complete reversal of the original provisions of the Obama policy.

Research and Get Creative

The executive order additionally seeks to lead a federal study on ways to limit consolidation within the insurance and hospital industries, looking for new and creative ways to increase competition and choice in health care to improve quality and lower cost.


us capitol

ACA Revamp Odds Slip as Senate Gets New Expiration Date

Timeframe to repeal and replace has just shortened. Find out how this new timeline for the repeal of ACA will impact Senate and their plan for healthcare in this informative column by Laura Litvan from Think Advisor.

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Affordable Care Act change bill with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only overhaul of the health care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a "major victory" for those who oppose Affordable Care Act de-funding.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their ACA de-funding and change bill in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

At the same time, some senators are discussing a scaled-back, bipartisan health measure. It takes 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and Democrats are united against de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, or the kinds of Affordable Care Act program changes proposed in the bills that have reached the House or Senate floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled four hearings this month to examine bolstering the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, have pledged a bipartisan effort to shore up the exchanges, which provide consumers a place to purchase individual coverage with help from Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Affordable Care Act change effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for consideration under the budget reconciliation rules, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

Republicans can still try to use the budget reconciliation process to get an Affordable Care Act change bill through the Senate with just a 51-vote majority, rather than a 60-vote majority, during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The House Budget Committee has drafted a fiscal 2018 budget that could be used for both de-funding the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. That budget may come to the floor in mid-September, and the Senate Budget Committee hopes to release its version of the budget in the coming weeks. Still, putting a tax overhaul and Affordable Care Act de-funding in the same legislation would be time-consuming and unlikely.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Litvan L. (2017 September 1). ACA revamp odds slip as senate gets new expiration date [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2017/09/01/aca-revamp-odds-slip-as-senate-gets-new-expiration?t=health-insurance?ref=channel-top-news


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


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

With the Senate's plan for the repeal and replacement of the ACA failing more Americans are hoping for Congress to move on to more pressing matters. Find out how Americans really feel about the ACA and healthcare reform in this great study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that the majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass the bill that would have repealed and replaced the ACA. Since then, President Trump has suggested Congress not take on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA, but six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with this approach, while one-third (34 percent) agree with it.
  • A majority of the public (57 percent) want to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law, while smaller shares say they want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). However, about half of Republicans and Trump supporters would like to see Republicans in Congress keep working on a plan to repeal the ACA.
  • A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Moving forward, a majority of the public (60 percent) says President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for any problems with the ACA.
  • Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces. The majority of the public are unaware that health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces or health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces only affect those who purchase their own insurance on these marketplaces (67 percent and 80 percent, respectively). In fact, the majority of Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.
  • A majority of the public disapprove of stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and disapprove of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of stopping outreach efforts, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.
  • The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating on a replacement plan. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support these negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).
  • This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability of nine percentage points since the 2016 presidential election as well as an increase of favorability among Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Attitudes Towards Recent “Repeal and Replace” Efforts

In the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate voted on their latest version of a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Known as “skinny repeal,” this plan was unable to garner majority support– thus temporarily halting Congress’ ACA repeal efforts. The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, fielded the week following the failed Senate vote, finds that a majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the U.S. Senate did not pass a bill aimed at repealing and replacing the ACA, while about one-third (35 percent) say this is a “bad thing.” However, views vary considerably by partisanship with a majority of Democrats (85 percent), independents (62 percent), and individuals who say they disapprove of President Trump (81 percent) saying it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill compared to a majority of Republicans (64 percent) and individuals who say they approve of President Trump (65 percent) saying it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill.

The majority of those who view the Senate not passing an ACA replacement bill as a “good thing” say they feel this way because they do not want the 2010 health care law repealed (34 percent of the public overall) while a smaller share (23 percent of the public overall) say they feel this way because, while they support efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, they had specific concerns about the particular bill the Senate was debating.

And while most Republicans and supporters of President Trump say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass ACA repeal legislation, for those that say it is a “good thing” more Republicans say they had concerns about the Senate’s particular legislation (21 percent) than say they do not want the ACA repealed (6 percent). This is also true among supporters of President Trump (19 percent vs. 6 percent).

WHO DO PEOPLE BLAME OR CREDIT FOR THE SENATE BILL FAILING TO PASS?

Among those who say it is a “good thing” that the Senate was unable to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, similar shares say the general public who voiced concerns about the bill (40 percent) and the Republicans in Congress who voted against the bill (35 percent) deserve most of the credit for the bill failing to pass. This is followed by a smaller share (14 percent) who say Democrats in Congress deserve the most credit.

On the other hand, among those who say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill to repeal the ACA, over a third place the blame on Democrats in Congress (37 percent). About three in ten (29 percent) place the blame on Republicans in Congress while fewer (15 percent) say President Trump deserves most of the blame for the bill failing to pass.

HALF OF THE PUBLIC ARE “RELIEVED” OR “HAPPY” THE SENATE DID NOT REPEAL AND REPLACE THE ACA

More Americans say they are “relieved” (51 percent) or “happy” (47 percent) that the Senate did not pass a bill repealing and replacing the ACA, than say they are “disappointed” (38 percent) or “angry” (19 percent).

Although two-thirds of Republicans and Trump supporters say they feel “disappointed” about the Senate failing to pass a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, smaller shares (30 percent and 37 percent, respectively) report feeling “angry” about the failure to pass the health care bill.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACA MOVING FORWARD

With the future of any other replacement plans uncertain, the majority (60 percent) of the public say that because President Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government, they are responsible for any problems with the ACA moving forward, compared to about three in ten Americans (28 percent) who say that because President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law, they are responsible for any problems with it. Partisan divisiveness continues with majorities of Republicans and supporters of President Trump who say President Obama and Democrats are responsible for any problems with it moving forward, while large shares of Democrats, independents, and those who do not approve of President Trump say President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for the law moving forward.

Moving Past Repealing The Affordable Care Act

This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability since Congress began debating ACA replacement plans and a nine percentage point shift since the 2016 presidential election.

The shift in attitudes since the 2016 presidential election is found regardless of party identification. For example, the share of Republicans who have a favorable view of the ACA has increased from 12 percent in November 2016 to 21 percent in August 2017. This is similar to the increase in favorability among independents (11 percentage points) and Democrats (7 percentage points) over the same time period.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE ACA

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that after the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a plan to repeal and replace the ACA, the majority of the public (57 percent) wants to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law but not repeal it. Far fewer want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). About half of Republicans (49 percent) and Trump supporters (46 percent) want Republicans in Congress to continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA, but about a third of each say they would like to see Republicans work with Democrats on improvements to the ACA.

Six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with President Trump’s strategy of Congress not taking on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA while one-third (34 percent) of the public agree with this approach. Republicans and Trump supporters are more divided in their opinion on this strategy with similar shares saying they agree and disagree with the approach.

MOST WANT TO SEE PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS MAKE THE CURRENT HEALTH CARE LAW WORK

Regardless of their opinions of the ACA, the majority of the public want to see the 2010 health care law work. Eight in ten (78 percent) Americans think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while fewer (17 percent) say President Trump and his adminstration should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

This month’s survey also includes questions about specific actions that the Trump administration can take to make the ACA fail and finds that the majority of the public disapproves of the Trump Administration stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and no longer enforcing the individual mandate, the requirement that all individuals have insurance or pay a fine (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of President Trump stopping outreach efforts so fewer people sign up for insurance, which experts say could weaken the marketplaces, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.

The Future of the ACA Marketplaces

About 10.3 million people have health insurance that they purchased through the ACA exchanges or marketplaces, where people who don’t get insurance through their employer can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits.1 Seven in ten (69 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans’ next steps on health care to include fixing the remaining problems with the ACA in order to help the marketplaces work better, compared to three in ten (29 percent) who say it is more important for them to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA.

The majority of Republicans (61 percent) and Trump supporters (63 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA, while the vast majority of Democrats (90 percent) and seven in ten independents (69 percent) want them to fix the ACA’s remaining problems to help the marketplaces work better.

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS ON WHO IS IMPACTED BY ISSUES IN THE ACA MARKETPLACES

Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces which has led some insurance companies to charge higher premiums in certain marketplaces.  Six in ten Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.

There has also been news about insurance companies no longer selling coverage in the individual insurance marketplaces and currently, it’s estimated that 17 counties (9,595 enrollees) are currently at risk to have no insurer on the ACA marketplaces in 2018.2 The majority of the public (54 percent) say health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have no impact on them and their family. Yet, despite the limited number of counties that may not have an insurer in their marketplaces as well as this not affecting those with employer sponsored insurance where most people obtain health insurance, about four in ten (38 percent) of the public believe that health insurance companies choosing to not sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their families.

The majority of the public think both of these ACA marketplace issues will affect everyone who has health insurance and not just those who purchase their insurance on these marketplaces. Six in ten think health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while about one-fourth (26 percent) correctly say it only affects those who buy health insurance on their own. In addition, three-fourths (76 percent) of the public say that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while fewer (17 percent) correctly say it will affect only those who buy health insurance on their own.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD NOT USE COST-SHARING REDUCTION PAYMENTS AS NEGOTIATING STRATEGY

Over the past several months President Trump has threatened to stop the payments to insurance companies that help cover the cost of health insurance for lower-income Americans (known commonly as CSR payments), in order to get Democrats to start working with Republicans on an ACA replacement plan.3 The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support President Trump using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kirzinger A., Dijulio B., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 Aug 11). Kaiser health tracking poll-august 2017: the politics of ACA repeal and replace efforts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-august-2017-the-politics-of-aca-repeal-and-replace-efforts/?utm_campaign=KFF-2017-August-Tracking-Poll&utm_medium=email&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9GaFJKrO9G3bL05k_i4GzC04eMAaSCDlmcsiYsfzAn-SeJdK_JnFvab4GydMfe_9iGiiKy5LR0iKxm6f0gDZGbwqh-bQ&_hsmi=55195408&utm_content=55195408&utm_source=hs_email&hsCtaTracking=4463482c-5ae1-4dfa-b489-f54b5dd97156%7Cd5849489-f587-49ad-ae35-3bd735545b28


Revised GOP Healthcare Bill Still Good for Employers

Has the uncertainty surrounding the BCRA left you worried about your company's healthcare plan? Here is an interesting article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News illustrating all the positives the BCRA  will bring to employers and their company's healthcare program.

The latest version of the Senate Republican healthcare bill contains some significant changes, but provisions impacting employer-sponsored plans remained largely untouched.

The plan, unveiled on Thursday, retains a number of important changes for employers that were included in an earlier draft of the legislation made public last month. GOP lawmakers have been working for months on an effort to undo large swaths of the Affordable Care Act.

“Generally, the changes that were applied didn’t significantly change the dynamics of the Senate bill as it relates to large employers,” says Michael Thompson, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit network of business health coalitions.

Employer groups have been supportive of several major provisions highlighted in the earlier version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act that remain in the new proposal. Those include measures to remove the penalties associated with the employer mandate and a delay to the Cadillac tax for high-cost plans.

The latest Senate bill also retains important changes to health savings accounts that, for example, allow employees to allocate more funds into the accounts and that permit the money to be used on over-the-counter medications. It also reduces the penalty associated with redrawing funds from the account for non-qualified medical spending.

Providing more flexibility around the use of HSAs — tax-advantaged accounts that accompany high-deductible health plans — benefits employers and employees alike, says Chatrane Birbal, senior adviser for government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“As healthcare costs arise, more employers are embracing high-deductible plans and this is a good way for employees to plan ahead for their medical expenses,” she says.

There is one small fix related to health savings accounts that made it into the revised draft, explains James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy for the ERISA Industry Committee.

The updated language now permits out-of-pocket medical expenses for adult children up to 26-years-old who remain on a parent’s health plan to be paid for out of the primary account holder’s HSA. There were previously limitations on use of those funds for those over 18 who remained on a parent’s plan, based on Internal Revenue Service guidelines.

“One of the little tweaks they’ve put in to improve the bill is changing the IRS code to say, actually, yes, an adult dependent still counts and can use an HSA to help save on their healthcare costs,” he says.

Experts note, however, that a key change in the new bill related to HSAs — the ability to use the pre-tax money to pay insurance premiums — does not appear to apply to employer-based plans.

There are several other provisions in the revised legislation that are likely to be debated by the Senate in coming weeks, but that do not directly impact employers.

One controversial measure, developed by Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, would allow insurers to offer lower priced, non-ACA-qualified plans in the individual market in addition to plans that meet Obamacare requirements. The latest bill also would provide more funding for the opioid epidemic.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., meanwhile, announced this week that they are developing an alternative proposal to the one unveiled by Republican leaders. Initial details for the alternative proposal were released on Thursday. The legislation is centered on a strategy to send more federal funding directly to the states through block grants.

“Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state’s healthcare needs,” Graham said in a statement on Thursday.

Those representing employer-based plans said they have reservations about the Graham and Cassidy proposal.

Gelfand notes that the alternative plan is expected to keep in place many of the taxes stemming from the ACA, such as the Cadillac tax and a tax on branded prescription drugs, and is unlikely to contain some of the BCRA revisions around the use of HSAs.

“It basically provides none of the relief that the BCRA would provide,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 July 16). Revised GOP healthcare bill still good for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/revised-gop-healthcare-bill-still-good-for-employers?tag=00000151-16d0-def7-a1db-97f024b50000


Senate’s Revised Obamacare Repeal Bill: What’s Different and is it Enough?

Do you know how the Senate's health care bill differs from Congress' bill? Check out this great article by Jared Bilski from HR Morning and find out the 6 key differences that separate the BCRA from the AHCA.

After failing to garner enough support for a vote before the July 4th recess for the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 — aka the ACA repeal bill — the Senate went back to the lab and made some changes. Now the revised bill is out, and HR pros are anxiously waiting to see what happens next.

Although the Senate did leave many of provisions in the original bill intact, it did make some notable changes geared toward appeasing right-leaning Senators who didn’t feel the bill went far enough to repeal and replace the current health reform law.

6 key differences

Those changes:

1. Pared-down benefit requirements

Where the ACA requires insurers to meet minimum requirements that include coverage for 10 essential health benefits, the revised bill would allow insurers to offer cheaper, slimmed-down coverage if the insurers offer at least one plan which meets the ACA standards.

)Note: Healthcare experts warn this change would severely threaten access to coverage for sick patients.)

2. Opioid-crisis funding

The revised bill would provide $45 billion to states to help combat the national opioid crisis. While this is well short of what experts say is needed to address the issue, it’s still more than the $2 billion the original Senate bill had earmarked for opioid-crisis funding.

3. Controversial tax cuts removed

Although the new Senate bill would keep some of the ACA taxes, it would kill two tax cuts that benefited the wealthy and do away with a tax break for high-earning health insurance execs. Both the cuts and the tax breaks were highly criticized aspects of the original Senate bill.

4. Catastrophic health plans

Under the Senate bill revision, people eligible for subsidies to receive tax credits would be able to purchase catastrophic health plans. Plus, anyone would be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage.

The ACA does allow young adult and some additional individuals to buy high-deductible, catastrophic plans featuring low premiums. But federal subsidies aren’t available for these plans — an attractive incentive for healthy individuals with fewer healthcare needs.

5. HSA-premium payments

The bill would allow individuals to use HSA funds to pay for healthcare insurance premiums.

6. Market stabilization

In an effort to help states reduce premiums in order to stabilize their insurance marketplaces, the revised Senate bill provides $182 billion in funding, an $112 billion increase from the $70 billion set aside in the first draft of the bill.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 July 14). Senate's revised obamacare repeal bill: what's different and is it enough [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/senates-revised-obamacare-repeal-bill-whats-different-and-is-it-enough/