How the Supreme Court Could Rule on the Affordable Care Act

On Nov. 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional, in whole or in part. The court is expected to rule on the matter before its term ends in June 2021.

Only those justices sitting on the court when the case is heard will vote, and it is not yet known if a new Supreme Court justice will be confirmed when the case is argued. A vacancy on the nine-justice court was created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18.

In the meantime, "the health care law remains fully in effect during the litigation, including all employer coverage obligations and reporting requirements," said Chatrane Birbal, vice president of public policy at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Complex Case History

The Supreme Court's options for deciding this case are shaped by the complicated history of litigation over the ACA.

The origins of the case go back to 2012, when the court upheld the constitutionality of the ACA's penalty on individuals who lack health coverage—the so-called individual coverage mandate—as a justifiable exercise of Congress' power to tax.

In December 2017, however, President Donald Trump signed into law a tax bill that eliminated the ACA's penalty on individuals who lack health coverage. Afterward, several Republican state attorneys general, led by the state of Texas, filed a lawsuit arguing that the health care statute itself, or at least the parts of the act closely linked to the individual mandate, were no longer valid. Democratic states and the House of Representatives, led by Democrats, stepped in to defend the statute.

In December 2018, a Texas district court struck down the ACA but stayed its ruling pending appeal, concluding that the individual mandate is so connected to the law that Congress would not have passed the ACA without it.

On appeal, in Texas v. United Statesa split panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but the panel instructed the district court to rehear the matter and "to employ a finer-toothed comb on remand and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the mandate."

However, on March 2, 2019, before the district court could carry out the appellate court's directive, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case in its term beginning in the fall of 2020, blocking the lower courts from taking further action.

5th Circuit Ruling Was Narrowly Focused

When the 5th Circuit instructed the district court to rehear the matter and to focus on those ACA provisions that Congress intended to be "inseverable from the individual mandate," this suggested, legal analysts said, that the appellate court was unlikely to overturn the ACA in full.

"Only the individual mandate was declared unconstitutional, and the portion of the lower court's decision invalidating the rest of the Affordable Care Act [was] vacated," according to an analysis of the appellate ruling by Segal, an HR consultancy. As a result, "plan sponsors know that the entire Affordable Care Act will not be overturned."

Had the case proceeded at the appellate level, the 5th Circuit might have struck down those parts of the law directly related to the individual mandate. The appellate decision noted, for instance, that community rating, which prevents insurers from varying premiums within a geographic area based on age, gender, health status or other factors, might be among the provisions determined to be "inseverable" from the individual mandate, because the increase in revenue to insurers from the mandate was meant to offset the decrease from these restrictions.

The ACA's guaranteed-issue provisions, which ban insurers from rejecting coverage based on a person's pre-existing conditions, might also be inseverable, the appellate decision noted.

Supreme Court's Options

The Supreme Court has the following options when it decides the caseThe Washington Post and other sources have reported:

  • To dismiss the case on technical grounds, leaving the statute in place. The court could decide, for instance, that Texas and the individual plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.
  • To affirmatively uphold the ACA.
  • To uphold the statute while finding the individual mandate to be void without its penalty, essentially maintaining the status quo.
  • To uphold the statute but void both the individual mandate and other provisions closely linked to the mandate.
  • To strike down the law in full, although that option has been viewed as unlikely by legal analysts. Should it happen, however, the effect of the ruling would likely be delayed, giving Congress the opportunity to correct the statute's constitutional defects or to pass a replacement health care law.

According to an analysis by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, "If the Supreme Court adopts the position that the federal government took during the trial court proceedings and invalidates the individual mandate as well as the protections for people with pre-existing conditions, then federal funding for premium subsidies and the Medicaid expansion would stand, and it would be up to states whether to reinstate the insurance protections."

If that were to happen, Congress also could reinstate protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has voiced his support for the ACA, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, pointing out how it safeguards people who might not otherwise qualify for coverage. His campaign website says, "Because of Obamacare, over 100 million people no longer have to worry that an insurance company will deny coverage or charge higher premiums just because they have a pre-existing condition—whether cancer or diabetes or heart disease or a mental health challenge."

President Trump has also pledged to maintain these protections even as his administration supports the lawsuit that seeks to overturn the act. During his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump said, "We will always, and very strongly, protect patients with pre-existing conditions, and that is a pledge from the entire Republican Party."

In Case of a Tie Vote

"If the case is heard by the current eight justices and results in a 4-4 vote, the justices could reschedule oral argument or delay consideration until [Texas vs. United States] can be reheard by a full Court," wrote Katie Keith, a former research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms and a contributor to the Health Affairs blog. "This might mean Texas would be reheard later in the spring depending on the timing of confirmation."

Alternatively, "the Court could issue a 4-4 ruling, which would maintain the status quo and leaves the appellate decision intact. In this instance, the 5th Circuit's ruling would stand and the case would be remanded back to the district court," she noted.

If that is the outcome, "the ACA would remain in effect while the district court undertook a provision-by-provision severability analysis," Keith noted. "The litigation would continue for years as we await a new district court decision, another appeal to the 5th Circuit, and most likely a return to the Supreme Court."

 

Thinking Ahead

"Employers will be wise to give some thought to how they might react to different outcomes, Mercer, an HR consultancy, advised. "For example, if some common provisions eliminated by the ACA like annual/lifetime dollar limits on essential health benefits, ending dependent coverage at age 19/23, or the previously mentioned pre-existing condition exclusions were permitted again, would an employer reshape their plan design to curb costs? If the employer 'play-or-pay' mandate (the 30-hour rule) were struck down, would an employer move full-time eligibility back to 40 hours?"

Concluded Mercer's consultants, "There is much to consider with these possible ACA changes," should they come to pass.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (23 September 2020) "How the Supreme Court Could Rule on the Affordable Care Act" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/how-the-supreme-court-could-rule-on-the-affordable-care-act.aspx


Developing guidance could free employers from ACA mandate

A future path for employers to avoid ACA employer mandate penalties was outlined in a recent IRS notice. Read this blog post from Employee Benefits News to learn more.


A recent IRS notice provides a future path for employers to avoid ACA employer mandate penalties by reimbursing employees for a portion of the cost of individual insurance coverage through an employer-sponsored health reimbursement arrangement.

While the notice is not binding and at this stage is essentially a discussion of relevant issues, it does represent a significant departure from the IRS’s current position that an employer can only avoid ACA employer mandate penalties by offering a major medical plan.

Here is everything employers need to know.

Background: As described in more detail in a previous update, the ACA currently prohibits (except in limited circumstances) an employer from maintaining an HRA that reimburses the cost of premiums for individual health insurance policies purchased by employees in the individual market.

Proposed regulations issued by the IRS and other governmental agencies would eliminate this prohibition, allowing an HRA to reimburse the cost of premiums for individual health insurance policies (individual coverage HRA) provided that the employer satisfies certain conditions.

The preamble of the proposed regulations noted that the IRS would issue future guidance describing special rules that would permit employers who sponsor individual coverage HRAs to be in full compliance with the ACA’s employer mandate. As follow up, the IRS recently issued Notice 2018-88, which is intended to begin the process of developing guidance on this issue.

On a high level, the ACA’s employer mandate imposes two requirements in order to avoid potential tax penalties: offer health coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees (and dependents); and offer “affordable” health coverage that provides “minimum value” to each full-time employee (the terms are defined by the ACA and are discussed further in these previous updates).

Offering health coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees: Both the proposed regulations and notice provide that an individual coverage HRA plan constitutes an employer-sponsored health plan for employer mandate purposes. As a result, the proposed regulations and notice provide that an employer can satisfy the 95% offer-of-coverage test by making its full-time employees (and dependents) eligible for the individual coverage HRA plan.

Affordability: The notice indicates that an employer can satisfy the affordability requirement if the employer contributes a sufficient amount of funds into each full-time employee’s individual coverage HRA account. Generally, the employer would have to contribute an amount into each individual coverage HRA account such that any remaining premium costs (for self-only coverage) that would have to be paid by the employee (after exhausting HRA funds) would not exceed 9.86% (for 2019, as adjusted) of the employee’s household income.

Because employers are not likely to know the household income of their employees, the notice describes that employers would be able to apply the already-available affordability safe harbors to determine affordability as it relates to individual coverage HRAs. The notice also describes new safe harbors for employers that are specific to individual coverage HRAs, intending to further reduce administrative burdens.

Minimum value requirement: The notice explains that an individual coverage HRA that is affordable will be treated as providing minimum value for employer mandate purposes.

Next steps: Nothing is finalized yet. Employers are not permitted to rely on the proposed regulations or the notice at this time. The proposed regulations are aimed to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, if finalized in a timely matter. The final regulations will likely incorporate the special rules contemplated by the notice (perhaps with even more detail). Stay tuned.

This article originally appeared on the Foley & Lardner website. The information in this legal alert is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as specific legal advice.

SOURCE: Simons, J.; Welle, N. (17 January 2019) "Developing guidance could free employers from ACA mandate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/developing-guidance-could-free-employers-from-aca-mandate?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001

 


The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2

In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 Affordable Care Act premium tax. Then in 2015 Congress introduced a one-year moratorium on the premium tax that would take place in 2017. This past January, Congress placed another moratorium for the ACA premium tax in 2019. Continue reading to learn more.


In 2010, Congress scheduled the 2014 introduction of the Affordable Care Act premium tax (aka the health insurer fee). Then, via the PACE Act of October 2015, Congress placed a one-year moratorium on this 4% or so premium tax for calendar year 2017. You might recall our ensuing discussion a couple of years ago about how employers sponsoring fully insured medical, dental and/or vision plans could leverage this 2017 moratorium to their advantage.

See also: ACA: 4 things employers should focus on this fall

Meanwhile, did you notice back in January that Congress placed another moratorium on this tax, this time for 2019? To review:

  • 2014-2016 – Tax applies
  • 2017 – Under moratorium
  • 2018 – Tax applies
  • 2019 – Under moratorium
  • 2020 – Tax scheduled to return

Fortunately, in moratorium years, fully insured medical, dental and vision premiums should be about 4% lower than they would have been otherwise, with these savings passed along proportionately by most employers to their plan participants.

Unfortunately, the budgetary challenge of this on-again-off-again Congressional approach is that when the tax returns, fully insured renewals naturally go up about 4% more than they would have otherwise. For example, an 8% premium increase becomes 12%.

See also: Proposals for Insurance Options That Don’t Comply with ACA Rules: Trade-offs In Cost and Regulation

Another complication occurs as employers annually compare the expected and maximum costs of self-funding their plans versus fully insuring the plans. Because this tax generally does not apply to self-funded plans, in “tax applies” years, any expected savings from self-funding will show about 4% higher than in moratorium years. This math especially complicates the financial comparison of level funding contracts to fully insured contracts (almost all level funding products are self-funded contracts).

With the Jan. 1 fully insured medical, dental and vision renewals beginning to cross our desks, what should employers do?

First, they should review the renewal’s rating methodology page and ensure that this tax was not included in the proposed 2019 premiums. If the rating methodology page was not provided, request it. If this request fails, ask for written confirmation that this tax is not included in your plan’s 2019 premiums.

Second, when comparing 2019 expected and maximum mature self-funded plan costs to 2019 fully insured premiums, extend the analysis to 2020 and project what will happen when this 4% fully insured tax tide returns.

See also: Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA

Finally, complicating matters, several states, including Maryland, introduced new or higher state premium taxes for 2019. Ask your benefits consultant if these actions will impact your plans. For Maryland employers sponsoring fully insured plans, for example, the new additional one-year premium tax will essentially cancel out the 2019 ACA premium tax moratorium.

SOURCE: Pace, Z (27 September 2018) "The approaching ACA premium tax moratorium – take 2" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/the-approaching-obamacare-premium-tax-moratorium?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


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.


Health Law Sleepers: Six Surprising Health Items That Could Disappear With ACA Repeal

Does ACA repeal have you worried? Look into this great article from Kaiser Health News about some of things that could disappear with ACA repeal by Julie Appleby and Mary Agnes Carey

The Affordable Care Act of course affected premiums and insurance purchasing. It guaranteed people with pre-existing conditions could buy health coverage and allowed children to stay on parents’ plans until age 26. But the roughly 2,000-page bill also included a host of other provisions that affect the health-related choices of nearly every American.

Some of these measures are evident every day. Some enjoy broad support, even though people often don’t always realize they spring from the statute.

In other words, the outcome of the repeal-and-replace debate could affect more than you might think, depending on exactly how the GOP congressional majority pursues its goal to do away with Obamacare.

No one knows how far the effort will reach, but here’s a sampling of sleeper provisions that could land on the cutting-room floor:

CALORIE COUNTS AT RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD CHAINS

Feeling hungry? The law tries to give you more information about what that burger or muffin will cost you in terms of calories, part of an effort to combat the ongoing obesity epidemic. Under the ACA, most restaurants and fast food chains with at least 20 stores must post calorie counts of their menu items. Several states, including New York, already had similar rules before the law. Although there was some pushback, the rule had industry support, possibly because posting calories was seen as less onerous than such things as taxes on sugary foods or beverages. The final rule went into effect in December after a one-year delay. One thing that is still unclear: Does simply seeing that a particular muffin has more than 400 calories cause consumers to choose carrot sticks instead?  Results are mixed. One large meta-analysis done before the law went into effect didn’t show a significant reduction in calorie consumption, although the authors concluded that menu labeling is “a relatively low-cost education strategy that may lead consumers to purchase slightly fewer calories.”

PRIVACY PLEASE: WORKPLACE REQUIREMENTS FOR BREAST-FEEDING ROOMS

Breast feeding, but going back to work? The law requires employers to provide women break time to express milk for up to a year after giving birth and provide someplace — other than a bathroom — to do so in private. In addition, most health plans must offerbreastfeeding support and equipment, such as pumps, without a patient co-payment.

LIMITS ON SURPRISE MEDICAL COSTS FROM HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM VISITS

If you find yourself in an emergency room, short on cash, uninsured or not sure if your insurance covers costs at that hospital, the law provides some limited assistance. If you are in a hospital that is not part of your insurer’s network, the Affordable Care Act requires all health plans to charge consumers the same co-payments or co-insurance for out-of-network emergency care as they do for hospitals within their networks. Still, the hospital could “balance bill” you for its costs — including ER care — that exceed what your insurer reimburses it.

If it’s a non-profit hospital — and about 78 percent of all hospitals are — the law requires it to post online a written financial assistance policy, spelling out whether it offers free or discounted care and the eligibility requirements for such programs. While not prescribing any particular set of eligibility requirements, the law requires hospitals to charge lower rates to patients who are eligible for their financial assistance programs. That’s compared with their gross charges, also known as chargemaster rates.

NONPROFIT HOSPITALS’ COMMUNITY HEALTH ASSESSMENTS

The health law also requires non-profit hospitals to justify the billions of dollars in tax exemptions they receive by demonstrating how they go about trying to improve the health of the community around them.

Every three years, these hospitals have to perform a community needs assessment for the area the hospital serves. They also have to develop — and update annually — strategies to meet these needs. The hospitals then must provide documentation as part of their annual reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Failure to comply could leave them liable for a $50,000 penalty.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE … HER OB/GYN

Most insurance plans must allow women to seek care from an obstetrician/gynecologist without having to get a referral from a primary care physician. While the majority of states already had such protections in place, those laws did not apply to self-insured plans, which are often offered by large employers. The health law extended the rules to all new plans. Proponents say direct access makes it easier for women to seek not only reproductive health care, but also related screenings for such things as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE THERAPY COVERAGE ASSURANCES FOR FAMILIES WHO HAVE KIDS WITH AUTISM?

Advocates for children with autism and people with degenerative diseases argued that many insurance plans did not provide care their families needed. That’s because insurers would cover rehabilitation to help people regain functions they had lost, such as walking again after a stroke, but not care needed to either gain functions patients never had, such speech therapy for a child who never learned how to talk, or to maintain a patient’s current level of function. The law requires plans to offer coverage for such treatments, dubbed habilitative care, as part of the essential health benefits in plans sold to individuals and small groups.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Appleby J., Carey M. (2017 January 12). Health law sleepers: six surprising health items that could disappear with ACA repeal [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/health-law-sleepers-six-surprising-health-items-that-could-disappear-with-aca-repeal/?utm_campaign=KHN%3A+Daily+Health+Policy+Report&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=40532225&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8vl0H_K8CNgaURbqgYS5m3isu1NUGrj0FRIdsUX8JCwcifTDRV-UvKdu6lZGvB06FTyhENvPFLaOMOsIrr2IBVBTNWQg&_hsmi=40532225


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Health Care Priorities for 2017

Great article from the Kaiser Family Foundation about Americans thoughts on ACA repeal by Ashley Kirzinger, Bryan Wu, and Mollyann Brodie

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that health care is among the top issues, with the economy and jobs and immigration, Americans want President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress to address in 2017. When asked about a series of health care priorities for President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on, repealing the ACA falls behind other health care priorities including lowering the amount individuals pay for health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and dealing with the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic.
  • When presented with two general approaches to the future of health care in the U.S., six in ten (62 percent) Americans prefer “guaranteeing a certain level of health coverage and financial help for seniors and lower-income Americans, even if it means more federal health spending and a larger role for the federal government” while three in ten (31 percent) prefer the approach of “limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving state governments and individuals more control over health insurance, even if this means some seniors and lower-income Americans would get less financial help than they do today.”
  • As Congressional lawmakers make plans for the future of the ACA, the latest survey finds the public is divided on what they would like lawmakers to do when it comes to the 2010 health care law. Forty-nine percent of the public think the next Congress should vote to repeal the law compared to 47 percent who say they should not vote to repeal it. Of those who want to see Congress vote to repeal the law, a larger share say they want lawmakers to wait to vote to repeal the law until the details of a replacement plan have been announced (28 percent) than say Congress should vote to repeal the law immediately and work out the details of a replacement plan later (20 percent). However, the survey also finds malleability of attitudes towards Congress repealing the health care law with both supporters and opponents being persuaded after hearing counter-messages.

Top Issues for President-elect Trump and Congress

The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds health care among the top issues Americans want President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress to address in 2017. When asked which issue they would most like the next administration to act on in 2017, one-fourth of the public mention the economy and jobs (24 percent), followed by immigration (20 percent), and health care (19 percent). Among Democrats and independents, the economy and jobs is the top issue (23 percent and 24 percent, respectively) while the top issues for Republicans are immigration (30 percent) and economy and jobs (29 percent). Among all partisans, health care ranks among the top three issues that the public wants the next administration to act on in 2017.

The top issue for voters who supported President-elect Donald Trump are similar to those among Republicans: economy and jobs (31 percent) and immigration (31 percent), followed closely by health care (27 percent).

When asked to mention which health care issue they would most like President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on in 2017, about one-third of the public mention the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but attitudes are mixed between wanting the next administration to act on repealing the 2010 health care law (14 percent), improving/fixing the law (11 percent), or keeping/expanding the law (8 percent).

LOWERING OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR AMERICANS

When asked about a series of health care priorities for President-elect Trump and the next Congress to act on, repealing the ACA falls behind other health care priorities. Two-thirds of the public (67 percent) say lowering the amount individuals pay for health care should be a “top priority” for President-elect Trump and the next Congress. This is followed by six in ten (61 percent) who say lowering the cost of prescription drugs should be a “top priority,” and nearly half (45 percent) who say dealing with the prescription pain killer addiction epidemic should be a “top priority.”

Smaller shares say repealing the 2010 health care law (37 percent), decreasing how much the federal government spends on health care over time (35 percent), and decreasing the role of the federal government in health care (35 percent) should be top priorities.

LOWERING OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS TOPS PRIORITIES REGARDLESS OF PARTISANSHIP

While about two-thirds of Democrats, Republicans, and independents say lowering the amount individuals pay for health care should be a “top priority,” partisans differ in how they prioritize other health care issues. Most notably, while 63 percent of Republicans say repealing the 2010 health care law should be a top priority – this view is shared by much smaller shares of independents (32 percent) and Democrats (21 percent). Similarly, Republicans (50 percent) are more likely than independents (34 percent) or Democrats (26 percent) to place a top priority on decreasing the role of the federal government in health care. By contrast, Democrats and independents are somewhat more likely than Republicans to place a top priority on lowering the cost of prescription drugs (67 percent, 61 percent, and 55 percent, respectively) and on dealing with the epidemic of prescription painkiller addiction (51 percent, 46 percent, and 39 percent, respectively).

CONFIDENCE IN PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP’S ABILITY TO REDUCE HEALTH CARE COSTS

Lowering out-of-pocket health care costs is a top priority for Americans, and this was also a campaign promise from Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. When asked how confident they are in President-elect Trump’s ability to deliver on this campaign promise that Americans will get better health care at a lower cost than they pay now, Americans are split with similar shares saying they are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” (51 percent) as saying they are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” (47 percent).

Confidence in President-elect Trump’s promise that Americans will get better health care at a lower cost is largely divided by party identification and 2016 vote choice with nearly nine in ten Republicans (85 percent) and Trump voters (86 percent) saying they are either “very” or “somewhat” confident in the next administration’s ability to deliver on this campaign promise. This is compared to 81 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Clinton voters who say they are either “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the next president will deliver on this promise.

Americans’ Attitudes on the Future of Health Care in the U.S.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, it became clear that the two major political parties in the U.S. have competing views on the future of health care. When given two competing approaches to the future of health care, six in ten Americans (62 percent) prefer “guaranteeing a certain level of health coverage and financial help for seniors and lower-income Americans, even if it means more federal health spending and a larger role for the federal government” while about one-third (31 percent) prefer “limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving state governments and individuals more control over health insurance, even if this means some seniors and lower-income Americans would get less financial help than they do today.”

There are also partisan differences, with about half of Republicans (53 percent) preferring the approach that Republican leaders have coalesced around – limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving states and individuals more control; this approach is preferred by much smaller shares of independents (27 percent) and Democrats (15 percent). The majority of Democrats (79 percent) and independents (65 percent) prefer guaranteeing a certain level of coverage for seniors and lower-income Americans – even if it means a larger role for the federal government and increased federal spending.

ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE FUTURE OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

The future of the Affordable Care Act has been at the forefront of the political agenda since the 2016 election with President-elect Trump and Republican lawmakers in Congress saying they will quickly move to repeal the health care law in 2017. The latest survey finds public opinion towards the law is divided with similar shares of the public saying they have an unfavorable opinion (46 percent) as say they have a favorable opinion (43 percent) of the law, which is largely stable from previous months.

REPEALING AND REPLACING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

As Congressional lawmakers make plans for the future of the ACA, the latest Kaiser Health Tracking survey finds that – similar to overall attitudes towards the law – the public is also divided on what they would like lawmakers to do when it comes to the 2010 health care law.

Overall, 49 percent of the public think the next Congress should vote to repeal the law and 47 percent say they should not vote to repeal it. Of those who want to see Congress vote to repeal the law, a larger share say they want lawmakers to wait to vote on repeal until the details of a replacement plan have been announced (28 percent) than say Congress should vote to repeal the law immediately and work out the details of a replacement plan later (20 percent).

HOW FLEXIBLE ARE AMERICANS’ OPINIONS OF REPEALING THE ACA?

The survey examines the malleability of attitudes towards Congress repealing the health care law and finds that both supporters and opponents of Congress voting to repeal the law can be persuaded after hearing counter-messages. After hearing pro-repeal arguments, the share of the public supporting repeal can grow to as large as 60 percent, while counter-messages against repeal can decrease support to 27 percent.

Among those who originally said Congress should not vote to repeal the 2010 health care law, about one-fifth (22 percent) change their opinion after hearing that some consumers around the country have seen large increases in the cost of their health insurance – which is similar to the share who shifted their opinion after hearing that the country cannot afford the cost of providing financial help to individuals to purchase health insurance.

On the other side of the debate, some of those who originally said they support Congress voting to repeal the health care law are also persuaded by hearing arguments often made by opponents of the repeal efforts. The survey finds that a share shifts their opinion after hearing that some people with pre-existing conditions would no longer be able to get health coverage and after hearing that some of the roughly 20 million Americans who got health insurance as a result of the law would lose their coverage.

PERCEIVED EFFECTS OF CHANGES TO HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

Overall, large shares of Americans say their own health care will “stay about the same” if lawmakers vote to repeal the 2010 health care law. More than half of Americans say the quality of their own health care (57 percent) and their own ability to get and keep health insurance (55 percent) will stay about the same if the law is repealed. Fewer (43 percent) say the cost of health care for them and their family will stay about the same if the law is repealed. In each of these cases, about equal shares believe their own situation will get better as say it will get worse.

INDIVIDUALS WITH A PRE-EXISTING CONDITION

After being read a definition of “pre-existing condition,” just over half (56 percent) of U.S. adults say that they or someone in their household would be considered to have such a condition. Overall, these individuals are more likely than those without a pre-existing condition to say their access, quality, and cost of health care will get “worse” if the ACA is repealed. However, about one in five of these individuals say their access, quality, and cost of health care will get “better” if the ACA is repealed.

One-third of individuals who have someone in their household with a pre-existing condition say the cost of health care for them and their family will get worse if the ACA is repealed, compared to about one in five of those living in a household without someone with a pre-existing condition. Larger shares of those with a pre-existing condition also say their ability to get and keep health insurance will get worse than those without a pre-existing condition (24 percent vs. 17 percent), and the quality of their own health care will get worse (21 percent vs. 15 percent).

In addition, individuals with a pre-existing condition in their household also report being more worried about health-care related issues than those without a pre-existing condition. Slightly more than half (54 percent) of those with a pre-existing condition say they are either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about not being able to afford the health care services they need, compared to 43 percent of those without a pre-existing condition. Similarly, 43 percent of those with a pre-existing condition are worried (either “very” or “somewhat”) about losing their health insurance compared to 30 percent of those without a pre-existing condition.

Kaiser Health Policy News Index

The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds President-elect Donald Trump’s transition and cabinet appointments was the most closely followed news story during the past month with seven in ten (68 percent) Americans closely following news about his transition. Other stories that captured the attention of Americans include the conflict involving ISIS in Mosul, Iraq (64 percent), the CIA’s report of Russia interfering in the 2016 presidential election (64 percent), and the top health policy story this month – Republican plans to repeal the ACA (63 percent). Other health policy stories followed by Americans this month include the ongoing heroin and prescription painkiller addiction epidemic in the U.S. (57 percent), Republican plans for the future of Medicare (51 percent), and the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act (37 percent).

See the original article and charts  Here.

Source:

Krizinger A., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 January 06). Kaiser health tracking poll: health care priorities [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://kff.org/health-costs/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-health-care-priorities-for-2017/


Concerned About Losing Your Marketplace Plan? ACA Repeal May Take Awhile

Worried about your healthcare plan? Check out this interesting article from Kaiser Health News, by Michelle Andrews

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he’ll ask Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Day One of his administration. If you’re shopping for coverage on the health insurance marketplace, should you even bother signing up? If everything’s going to change shortly after your new coverage starts in January anyway, what’s the point?

While it’s impossible to know exactly what changes are coming to the individual market and how soon they’ll arrive, one thing is virtually certain: Nothing will happen immediately. Here are answers to questions you may have.

Q. How soon after Trump takes office could my marketplace coverage change?

It’s unlikely that much, if anything, will change in 2017.

“It’s a complex process to alter a law as complicated as the ACA,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University. It seems unlikely that congressional Republicans could force through a repeal of the law since Democrats have enough votes to sustain a filibuster blocking that move. So Congress might opt to use a budget procedure, called “reconciliation,” that allows revenue-related changes, such as eliminating the premium tax credits,  with simple majority votes. Yet even that process could take months.

And it wouldn’t address the other parts of the health law that reformed the insurance market, such as the prohibition on denying people coverage if they’re sick. How some of those provisions of the law will be affected is still quite unclear.

“It will likely be January 2019 before any new program would be completely in place,” said Robert Laszewski, a health care industry consultant and long-time critic of the law.

The current open enrollment period runs through January 2017. Shop for a plan, use it and don’t focus on what Congress may do several months from now, Rosenbaum advised.

Q. Will my subsidy end next year if the new administration repeals or changes the health law?

Probably not. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, said on the campaign trail that any changes will allow time for consumers receiving premium subsidies to adjust.

Timothy Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia who is an expert on the health law, also predicts a reasonable transition period.

Congress and the new administration are “not eager to have a bunch of angry, uninsured voters,” Jost said.

Theoretical conversations about changing the health law are one thing, but “I think that Congress may be less willing to just wipe the subsidies out if a lot of people are using them,” Rosenbaum said. More than 9 million people receive subsidies on the marketplace, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Q. Can my insurer drop out once the new administration takes over, even if the law hasn’t been repealed?

No, insurers are generally locked in contractually for 2017, according to experts. But 2018 could be a whole different story, said Laszewski.

Many insurers are already losing money on their marketplace offerings. If they know that the health insurance marketplaces are being eliminated and replaced by something else in 2019, why would they stick with a sinking ship?

“The Trump administration could be left with a situation where Obamacare is still alive, the subsidies are still alive, but not the insurers,” said Laszewski. To prevent that, the Trump administration might have to subsidize insurers’ losses during a 2018 transition year, he said.

Q. My state expanded Medicaid to adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,000). Is that going to end if Obamacare is repealed?

It may. Trump has advocated giving block grants to finance the entire Medicaid program on the theory that it provides an incentive for states to make their programs more cost-effective. But that strategy could threaten the coverage of millions of Americans if the block grants don’t keep pace with costs, Jost said.

So far, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the health law. Republican governors in these states may play a key role in arguing against taking the expansion money away, Rosenbaum said.

Q. I have a heart condition. Does this mean I’m going to have a hard time finding coverage?

It’s possible. The health law prohibits insurers from turning people away because they’re sick and may be expensive to insure.

Republicans have generally promised to maintain that guaranteed insurability, but what that would look like is unclear. Some of their plans would require people to remain continuously insured in order to maintain that guarantee, said Laszewski.

“I would advise people who are sick to get good coverage now and hang onto it,” said Jost.

Q. Since Republicans have pledged to repeal the law, can I ignore the law’s requirement that I have health insurance?

The individual mandate, as it’s called, is one of the least popular elements of Obamacare. As long as it’s the law, you should follow it, experts said.

Insurers have argued that the requirement that they take all comers who apply for health insurance only works if there’s a coverage mandate or other mechanism that strongly encourages people to have insurance. Otherwise why would they bother unless they were sick?

For the past few years, Republicans have been pushing hard to eliminate the mandate, Laszewski noted.

“One of the easy things they could do is just not enforce it,” he said.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Andrews, M. (2016 November 10). Concerned about losing your marketplace plan? ACA repeal may take awhile [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/concerned-about-losing-your-marketplace-plan-aca-repeal-may-take-awhile/


Key deliverables in ACA implementation

As the slow march continues to implement the ACA, we should all be reminded that there are key deliverables for clients and their advisers to focus on. But while focused on the ACA, let’s not forget that there are additional bills being implemented or introduced — not just at the federal level — that impact a business in how it pays its employees, how their jobs are classified, and how an employer may consider managing its workforce.

With respect to the ACA, the recently delivered 1094 and 1095 tax reports require attention now be directed at preparing for the 2016 reporting year. Specifically, clients and advisers should:

  • clean up data sources so the process is efficient and forms are accurate this upcoming year;
  • address evolving rules / requirements for reporting and be sure the client is ready;
  • advisers and clients should be prepared to deliver within the timeframes communicated, while clients should not assume that filing extensions will be available this upcoming year.

Other legislation
Also, as a client focuses on the ACA, they should direct their attention to the new rules related to white collar exemption status under the Fair Labor Standards Act wage and overtime rules, assuming it applies to them. For some clients this may represent a significant adjustment in how they classify an employee including a review of benefit eligibility for any re-classifications, write a job description, pay or compensate an employee, and manage their workforce. For most employers these rules apply starting this upcoming Dec. 1, 2016.

In some states and cities, bills addressing mandatory paid leave policies are continuing to be introduced and passed to compensate employees for time away. Not all states are focused on this. At the federal level, proposed bills have been considered and are currently in committees but are stalled. It is clear the trend to introduce and put these rules and regulations into place is growing. It would be prudent to monitor the situation.

Lastly, clients will still require advice and guidance on how to manage their employee benefit costs to a budget and to have a plan that attracts and retains employees while remaining cost competitive in a competitive marketplace.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Braun, P. (2016 October 25). Key deliverables in ACA implementation. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/key-deliverables-in-aca-implementation


ACA premiums to rise 25 percent in biggest jump yet

Zachary Tracer clarifies on ACA premiums rising yet again.

Originally posted on BenefitsPRO.com

Posted October 25, 2016

 

 

Premiums for mid-level Obamacare health plans sold on the federal exchanges will see their biggest jump yet next year, another speed bump in the administration’s push for enrollment in the final months of the U.S. president’s term.

Monthly premiums for benchmark silver-level plans are going up by an average of 25 percent in the 38 states using the federal HealthCare.gov website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a report today. Last year, premiums for the second-lowest-cost silver plans went up by 7.5 percent on average across 37 states.

Individuals signing up for plans this year are facing not only rising premiums, but also fewer options to choose from after several big insurers pulled out from some of the markets created under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. While the ACA has brought uninsured numbers to record lows in the U.S., millions remain uninsured. To attract more people, the government has emphasized that subsidies are available for many people to help cushion the premium increases.

Protecting consumers

About 77 percent of current enrollees would still be able to find ACA plans for less than $100 a month, once subsidies are taken into account, according to the report. Subsidies are calculated based on the cost of the second-lowest-premium silver plan in a given area. Silver plans typically cover about 70 percent of an individual’s medical expenses, though additional subsidies can help make the coverage more generous for lower-income individuals.

“Even in places of high rate increases this year, consumers will be protected,” Kathryn Martin, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the health department, said on a conference call with reporters. Her message to consumers is to check if they are entitled to subsidies and shop for options: “The odds are good you’ll find plans more affordable than what the public debate about the ACA might lead you to expect.”

Changes in the cost of the benchmark silver plans varied widely among regions, and the median benchmark premium increase was 16 percent. Premiums actually declined about 3 percent in Indiana, to $229 a month. In Arizona, on the other hand, the benchmark premium more than doubled, from $196 a month to $422, the report shows.

The data released Monday confirm reports based on state regulatory filings that have been accumulating for months, showing much higher premiums for 2017. ACASignups.net, which tracks the health law, had also estimated a 25 percent rise in premiums on average, weighted by membership.

Silver plans are mid-level on Obamacare’s marketplaces, with other plans including bronze, gold and platinum.

The government data show that some people may be able to find lower-cost plans by switching from their current coverage. The U.S. said that if all people who currently have ACA plans switched into the cheapest option of the same “metal” level, they could cut their premiums by 20 percent. Some people will have to switch because their plan will no longer be offered.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Tracer, Z. (2016 October 25). ACA Premiums to rise 25 percent in biggest jump yet. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/10/25/aca-premiums-to-rise-25-percent-in-biggest-jump-ye?kw=ACA%20premiums%20to%20rise%2025%20percent%20in%20biggest%20jump%20yet&et=editorial&bu=BenefitsPRO&cn=20161025&src=EMC-Email_editorial&pt=News%20Alert

 


Number Of Uninsured Falls Again In 2015

Interesting article from Kaiser Health News about decreasing uninsured rates by Julie Rovner

The federal health overhaul may still be experiencing implementation problems. But new federal data show it is achieving its main goal — to increase the number of Americans with health insurance coverage.

According to the annual report on health insurance coverage from the Census Bureau, the uninsured rate dropped to 9.1 percent, down from 10.4 percent in 2014. The number of Americans without insurance also dropped, to 29 million from 33 million the year before.

The Census numbers are considered the gold standard for tracking who has insurance and who does not, because its survey samples are so large. It does change methodology from time to time, however (most recently in 2013), so years-long comparisons are not necessarily accurate.

Still, between 2013 and 2015, the first two full years the health law was in effect, the uninsured rate dropped by more than 4 percentage points. The total number of uninsured fell by 12.8 million. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans with insurance for at least some part of the year climbed to 90.9 percent, by far the highest in recent memory.

“I don’t remember it ever being in the 90s before,” said Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, who has been tracking insurance statistics since the early 1990s.

The Obama administration was quick to take credit for the insurance improvements. “The cumulative coverage gains since 2013 have put the uninsured rate at its lowest level ever,” said members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers in a statement.

The 2015 report shows insurance gains across all income levels, ages and types of employment, although some groups did better than others. Young adults — specifically 26-year-olds — remain the most likely to lack coverage. Although the Affordable Care Act guaranteed that young adults could stay on their parents’ plans longer than in the past, that protection ends when they turn 26.

Among states, those that took the health law’s option to expand the Medicaid program for the poor saw greater gains in coverage than those that did not. “The overall decrease in the uninsured rate of 2.4 percentage points in expansion states, compared with 2.1 percentage points in no-expansion states,” said the report. The state with the highest percentage of uninsured residents remained Texas at 17.1 percent; the state with the fewest uninsured remained Massachusetts with an uninsurance rate of 2.8 percent.

The single largest source of health insurance remains plans provided by employers. An estimated 177.5 million Americans had employment-based coverage in 2015, which was up more than 3 million from 2013.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Rovner, J. (2016 September 13). Number of uninsured falls again in 2015. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://khn.org/news/number-of-uninsured-falls-again-in-2015/


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