Compliance Alert: New Affordable Care Act FAQs Released

Original post

The U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) have jointly issued a new set of answers to frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). Below are some highlights from the FAQs.

Rescissions of Coverage

The FAQs provides some specific guidance regarding rescissions of coverage that is of interest for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Under the ACA, a plan generally cannot retroactively cancel coverage (referred to as a “rescission” of coverage) unless the participant commits fraud or makes an intentional misrepresentation of material fact prohibited by the terms of the plan. The FAQs answer a very specific question about rescissions, which may have broader application. The question raised by the FAQs is whether a school can retroactively cancel coverage for a teacher who was employed on a 10-month contract from August 1 to May 31 and gave notice of resignation on July 31. The plan attempted to terminate coverage retroactively to May 31. According to the FAQs, such a rescission violates the ACA’s restrictions.

Preventive Care Mandate

Under the ACA, non-grandfathered group health plans must cover certain preventive services without imposing any cost-sharing requirements.  In the new FAQs, the Departments issued the following guidance regarding preventive services:

  • Any required preparation for a preventive screening colonoscopy is an integral part of the procedure and must be covered without cost-sharing.
  • Plans and issuers that use reasonable medical management techniques for specific methods of contraception can develop a standard exception form and instructions for providers to use in prescribing a particular service or FDA-approved item based on medical necessity.  The Medicare Part D Coverage Determination Request Form can be used as a model in developing a standard exception form.

Additionally, the FAQs clarify that if a non-grandfathered plan pays a fixed amount (a “reference price”) for a particular procedure, the plan must either (1) ensure that participants have adequate access to quality providers that accept the reference price as payment in full or (2) count an individual’s out-of-pocket expenses for providers who do not accept the reference price toward the individual’s maximum out-of-pocket limit.

Out-of-Network Emergency Services Coverage

The ACA also prohibitsnon-grandfathered group health plans from imposing cost-sharing on out-of-network emergency services in an amount that is greater than that imposed for in-network emergency services. The statute does not specify whether “balance billing” is included in the definition of cost-sharing. “Balance billing” is the practice of providers billing a patient for the difference between the provider’s billed charges and the amount collected from the plan plus the amount collected from the patient in the form of a copay or coinsurance. To avoid circumvention of the ACA requirements, the Departments previously issued regulations requiring a plan or issuer to pay a reasonable amount before the patient becomes responsible for balance billing. Under this regulation, the plan or issuer must provide benefits at least equal to the greatest of: (1) the median amount negotiated with in-network providers for the emergency service; (2) the amount for the emergency service calculated using the same method the plan generally uses to determine payments for out-of-network services; or (3) the amount that would be paid under Medicare for the emergency service (collectively, the “Minimum Payment Standards”). The FAQs now make clear that plans that are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act must disclose the documentation and data they use to calculate the Minimum Payment Standards (1) upon request by a participant (or authorized representative) or (2) if relevant to an appeal of an adverse benefit determination.

Mental Health Parity

Lastly, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MHPAEA”) and underlying regulations generally prohibit group health plans from imposing more restrictions on financial requirements and treatment limitations provided for mental health/substance abuse disorder services than the “predominant” financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to “substantially all” medical/surgical services. “Substantially all” for this purpose is a requirement or limitations that apply to at least 2/3 of all medical/surgical benefits in a classification. If a limitation meets the substantially all requirement, then the “predominant” level that may apply to the mental health/substance abuse disorder benefits is the one that applies to more than half of the medical/surgical benefits within the classification. In the FAQs, the Departments clarify that when calculating the “substantially all” and “predominant” tests, a plan or issuer may not base its analysis on an issuer’s entire book of business for the year. Group health plan-specific data must be used where available. If not available, data from plans with similar structures and demographics can be used.

The FAQs also clarify that under MHPAEA, criteria for medical necessity determinations must be made available to any current or potential enrollee in a group health plan, not just active participants.

This is the 31st set of FAQs issued by the Departments on the ACA, which reflects the complexity of implementing the ACA’s many requirements.

Health Care Law to Cut Deficit, Says Budget Office

Copyright 2012 ProQuest Information and Learning

All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2012 Morning Sentinel

Morning Sentinel (Waterville, Maine)


Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's health care overhaul will shrink rather than increase the nation's huge federal deficits over the next decade, Congress' nonpartisan budget scorekeepers said Tuesday, supporting Obama's contention in a major election-year dispute with Republicans.

About 3 million fewer uninsured people will gain health coverage because of last month's Supreme Court ruling granting states more leeway, and that will cut the federal costs by $84 billion, the Congressional Budget Office said in the biggest changes from earlier estimates.

Republicans have insisted that Obamacare will actually raise deficits -- by "trillions," according to presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But that's not so, the budget office said.

The office gave no updated estimate for total deficit reductions from the law, approved by Congress and signed by Obama in 2010. But it did estimate that Republican legislation to repeal the overhaul -- passed recently by the House -- would itself boost the deficit by $109 billion from 2013 to 2022.

"Repealing the (health care law) will lead to an increase in budget deficits over the coming decade, though a smaller one than previously reported," budget office director Douglas Elmendorf said in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The law's mix of spending cuts and tax increases would more than offset new spending to cover uninsured people, Elmendorf explained.

Tuesday's budget projections were the first since the Supreme Court upheld most of the law last month but gave states the option of rejecting a planned expansion of Medicaid for their low-income residents. As a consequence, the budget office said the law will cover fewer uninsured people.

Thirty million uninsured people will be covered by 2022, or about 3 million fewer than projected this spring before the court ruling, the report said.

As a result, taxpayers will save about $84 billion from 2012 to 2022. That brings the total cost of expanding coverage down to $1.2 trillion, from about $1.3 trillion in the previous estimate.

The Congressional Budget Office has consistently projected that Obama's overhaul will reduce the deficit, although previous estimates aren't strictly comparable with Tuesday's report because of changes in the law and other factors.

At the time it was approved in 2010, CBO estimated the law would reduce the deficit by $143 billion from 2010 to 2019. And CBO estimated that last year's Republican repeal legislation would increase deficits by $210 billion from 2010 to 2021.

That may sound like a lot of money, but it's actually a hair-thin margin at a time when federal deficits are expected to average around $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.

When the law is fully in effect, 92 percent of citizens and legal residents are estimated to have coverage, as compared to 81 percent now.

Democrats hailed Tuesday's estimates as vindication for the president. "This confirms what we've been saying all along: theAffordable Care Act saves lots of money," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Actually, the government will spend more. It just won't go onto the national credit card because the health care law will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

GOP leaders sought to shift attention from claims about the deficit and focused instead on the additional spending. "What we know from today's CBO report ... is that the new health care law is dramatically increasing health care spending and costs," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans said they remain unswervingly committed to repealing what they dismiss as Obamacare. When combined with other budget-cutting measures, GOP leaders say that repeal will ultimately reduce deficits. Romney says if elected he will begin to dismantle the law his first day in office.

Medicaid has been one big question hanging over the future of Obama's law since the Supreme Court ruled.

Some GOP-led states, such as Texas and Florida, say they will not go forward with the expansion. Others are uncommitted, awaiting the voters' verdict on Obama in November.

Although the federal government would bear all of the initial cost of that expansion, many states would have to open their Medicaid programs to low-income childless adults for the first time.

CBO analysts did not try to predict which specific states would jump in and which would turn down the Medicaid expansion. Instead, they assumed that many states would eventually cut deals with the federal government to expand their programs to some degree.

As a result, the budget office estimates that more than 80 percent of the low-income uninsured people eligible under the law live in states that partially or fully expand their programs.

The big coverage expansion under the law doesn't start until 2014, with middle-class uninsured people signing up for subsidized private plans and more low-income people picked up through Medicaid.



States News Service
Source: Lexis Nexis

The following information was released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services:

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, over 5.2 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved over $3.9 billion on prescription drugs since the law was enacted. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also released data today showing that in the first half of 2012, over 1 million people with Medicare saved a total of $687 million on prescription drugs in donut hole coverage gap for an average of $629 in savings this year.

Millions of people with Medicare have been paying less for prescription drugs thanks to the health care law, said CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. Seniors and people with disabilities have already saved close to $4 billion. In 2020, the donut hole will be closed thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

These savings are automatically applied to prescription drugs that people with Medicare purchase, after they hit the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage gap or donut hole. Since the law was enacted, seniors and people with disabilities have had several opportunities to save on prescription drugs:

In 2010, people with Medicare who hit the donut hole received a one-time $250 rebate. These rebates totaled $946 million for 2010;

In 2011, people with Medicare began receiving a 50 percent discount on covered brand name drugs and 7 percent coverage of generic drugs in the donut hole. Last year, these discounts totaled over $2.3 billion in savings;

This year, Medicare coverage for generic drugs in the coverage gap has risen to 14 percent. For the first six months of the year, people with Medicare have saved $687 million.

Coverage for both brand name and generic drugs in the gap will continue to increase over time until 2020, when the coverage gap will be closed.

Employers Lack Confidence in PPACA Understanding

By Rebecca Moore

Just 40 percent of HR decision makers from large organizations are very confident about their understanding of employer requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), according to an ADP Research Institute survey.

Even fewer respondents in small companies (20 percent) and midsized companies (17 percent) expressed that same level of confidence.

Worries Grow as Health Care Companies Send Jobs Overseas

Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau
Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

WASHINGTON -- After years of shipping data-processing, accounting and other back-office work abroad, some health care companies are starting to shift clinical services and decision-making on medical care overseas, primarily to India and the Philippines.

Some of the jobs being sent abroad include so-called pre-service nursing, where nurses at insurance companies, for example, help assess patient needs and determine treatment methods.

Outsourcing such tasks goes beyond earlier steps by health care companies to farm out reading of X-rays and other diagnostic tests to health professionals overseas. Those previous efforts were often done out of necessity, to meet overnight demands, for instance.

But the latest outsourcing, which has contributed to the loss of hundreds of domestic health jobs, is done for financial reasons. And the outsourcing of nursing functions, in particular, may be the most novel - and possibly the most risky - of the jobs being shifted.

At the forefront of the trend is WellPoint Inc., one of the nation's largest health insurers and owner of Anthem Blue Cross, California's biggest for-profit medical insurer.

In 2010, WellPoint formed a separate business unit, Radiant Services, aimed at advancing outsourcing and other cost-saving strategies. WellPoint has eliminated hundreds of jobs in the U.S. over the last 18 months as it has moved jobs overseas, a company spokeswoman acknowledged.

The spokeswoman, Kristin Binns, said WellPoint's shifting of clinical jobs overseas was a small part of the outsourcing and being done through Radiant because it has the technical expertise and can ensure compliance with laws.

Nursing organizations, however, were cautious.

"It's obviously a very disturbing trend," said Chuck Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Assn. "There are serious questions if you're talking about utilization reviews ... and making recommendations on procedures."

Nursing experts said there also may be licensing issues as states generally require certification for those practicing and dispensing health information.

Current and former Radiant executives declined to comment or weren't available.

It's not clear how many other U.S. health care companies have contracted with Radiant or other outsourcing specialists, but industry experts said companies were increasingly looking at more healthcare tasks that could be outsourced globally as they face greater cost pressures and sweeping changes in how they do business.

Aetna Inc. has an arrangement with EXL Service, a U.S.-based company with operations in Manila, to provide "targeted care-management support," spokeswoman Cynthia Michener said.

Health Net Inc., which is laying off dozens of information technology and accounting workers whose jobs are being sent to India, said its outsourcing has generally been confined to administrative and IT functions. UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer, didn't respond to inquiries.

Outsourcing jobs out of the country has become a hot issue in the presidential campaign: President Barack Obama is pounding Republican challenger Mitt Romney for his private equity company's involvement with companies that sent jobs abroad.

Although such outsourcing has been going on for years, American manufacturers in recent years have brought some jobs back to the U.S. as labor costs have risen in China and elsewhere.

Some experts argued that sending jobs abroad could help U.S. companies by enabling them to tap global talent and efficiencies, making them more profitable. When U.S. companies are stronger, the thinking goes, it creates more opportunities for Americanworkers. Also, shifting operations to lower-wage countries can help consumers by holding down prices.

Outsourcing jobs to places such as the Philippines can save U.S. health care companies 30 percent in labor costs, according to experts. But the practice remains controversial, especially with the U.S. unemployment rate hovering above 8 percent.

Patient advocates worry about crucial decisions involving a patient's care being in the hands of foreign insurance adjusters. Analysts said there was another concern as well: patient privacy.

Even something as straightforward as medical transcription can raise questions, said Uwe Reinhardt, a healthcare economist at Princeton University. Over the last year, Iowa Health System and hospitals in Utah and Washington state have joined other medical centers that have outsourced the transcribing of doctors' notes and other records.

"Suppose I'm an AIDS patient," Reinhardt said. "That person in India would know - and (the information) could be valuable to someone.... For the U.S., there's nothing more personal than health care."

Dr. Kaveh Safavi, head of the North American health practice for Accenture, a major consulting and outsourcing company that has partnered with WellPoint's Radiant, said nearly all countries have laws for protecting patient privacy.

And to safeguard patients' records, he said, heath care companies store and maintain their records locally.

As for outsourcing services that are more clinical in nature, he said, "People are looking at all the tasks that can safely and responsibly be moved. It's still an emerging market. We're still trying to understand the market's tolerance for it."

In general, hospitals are moving more slowly than health insurers to send jobs overseas. But with financial pressures intensifying and the uptake of electronic record-keeping accelerating, analysts and industry people see more consolidation and outsourcing ahead.

"When you have people's medical, billing and other records kept electronically, then it opens it up to establishing a call center virtually anywhere," said Steve Trossman, a Los Angeles spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, which represents hospital workers. "There is no longer a reason for it to be physically in the same place as the paper records."

Moreover, the health care reform law could prod insurers to move more jobs to cheaper-wage countries. The new law requires companies to spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premiums on medical care, limiting the amount available for administrative expenses.

Few have been as aggressive as WellPoint, which made a profit of $2.65 billion last year on revenue of $60.7 billion. WellPoint's total employment at the end of last year was 37,700, down from 40,500 two years earlier.

In one of its recent efforts, WellPoint laid off pre-service nurses in Colorado and Nevada so the work could be done in Manila, according to a Labor Department filing by a WellPoint human resource manager in Denver. WellPoint spokeswoman Binns said none of the decisions that involve denial of procedures or treatment for patients is made overseas.


Overall, Binns said, fewer than 2.5 percent of the 37,000 employees, or at most 925 workers, had lost jobs in the last 18 months as a result of work sent overseas. Only about 50 of those positions involved clinical management of care, she said.

WellPoint's "sourcing strategies have enabled us to make our services more effective, accessible and affordable to our customers, while allowing us to expand our programs and maintain our service levels," she said.

WellPoint's offshoring covers a wide range of departments and tasks involving claims, enrollment, billing, post-service clinical claims review, utilization management and pre-service nursing, according to filings made by company managers and state government officials. Both were helping secure federal trade-assistance benefits for WellPoint workers who have lost jobs because of outsourcing or import competition.

Shannon Cunningham of Columbus, Ohio, who processed medical claims for WellPoint, was laid off last month after a colleague went to the Philippines to train people to do her job.

Cunningham, 43, said she received eight weeks of severance pay. She and others working in medical claims earned $30,000 to $40,000 a year with health benefits, she said.

"I know other countries need work," said Cunningham, a company employee for three years. But "I just felt like it wasn't fair. We're having a rough time too."


White House Tells States to Get On Board with Healthcare Reform

By Sam Baker


The Obama administration is aggressively pushing states to implement the healthcare reform law now that the Supreme Court has upheld it.

In the two weeks since the court issued its decision, the Health and Human Services Department has pushed out new grants, new policies and a new rhetorical standby: It’s time to get onboard.

“The volume of activity has certainly gone up,” said Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.

HHS has been steadfastly implementing the Affordable Care Act since President Obama signed it in 2010, and state outreach has always been part of that effort — the department has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in implementation grants.

But some Republican governors dug in their heels against implementing at least the biggest pieces of a law they thought the Supreme Court might strike down. With that possibility out of the way, HHS is making another big push to bring states onboard.

"Now that the Supreme Court has issued a decision, we want to work with you to achieve our ultimate shared goal of ensuring that every American has access to affordable, quality healthcare," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a letter to governors this past Tuesday.

She has echoed that message several times since the court issued its historic 5-4 decision upholding most of the Affordable Care Act, and Obama sounded a similar theme when the ruling was announced.

The administration has matched it’s “let’s move on” rhetoric with policy.

The day after the Supreme Court announced its decision, HHS unveiled new funding opportunities designed to help states plan for their insurance exchanges. HHS officials said they expected to receive funding requests from states that had previously resisted the idea of an exchange.

“I think there will be some renewed, ‘Let’s at least figure out what this will look like,’” Weil said.

Exchanges are new, centralized marketplaces where individuals and small businesses will buy private insurance. The ACA calls on each state to set up its own exchange and authorizes a federally run fallback in any state that doesn’t act. Exchanges have to be up and running by 2014, so HHS has to certify in 2013 whether each state will be able to build its own.

Some Republican governors who said they were waiting for the Supreme Court are now saying they won’t implement the law until they see how November’s elections shake out and whether Republicans pick up enough seats to try to repeal the law.

“Saying you’re going to wait is, in effect, making a decision,” Weil said. “If the calendar has made up your mind, then you have made up your mind.”

Although some red-state delays are pure politics, Weil said many states were legitimately leery of stepping up to such a massive undertaking when there seemed to be a good chance the Supreme Court would render all of that effort moot.

Waiting for the court “wasn’t a crazy thing to do,” he said. He expects some of those states to apply for new grant money and look more seriously at what a state-run exchange would entail.

“Gambling on the outcome of an election is a real gamble,” he said. “And so I think there are a lot of states that are realizing that with only one hurdle left, there’s a very real chance this law is going to be around. They are renewing their efforts to figure out what it means for them.”

HHS is trying to make that process easy. Federal officials made it abundantly clear at the outset that they want each state to set up its own exchange, which most policy experts agree would be better than a federal exchange.

The department said last year, in its first proposed rules on exchanges, that it would certify state-based exchanges after 2014, in case states weren’t ready on time but could get there eventually.

Weil was surprised by that policy at the time. But it’s consistent, he said, with HHS’s announcement after the Supreme Court ruling that states could receive exchange planning grants through the end of 2014. Many observers assumed planning grants would be cut off at the beginning of the year.

HHS also made a point last week to explicitly remind states that planning grants are for planning — states don’t have to set up an exchange just because they took federal planning money, and they don’t have to pay the money back if they ultimately decide to let the federal government handle their exchanges.

“We expect that, as states study their options, they will recognize that this is a good deal,” Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a letter to Republican governors.

While the Supreme Court cleared away one major area of uncertainty, it also raised a new question for states to answer: Do they want to participate in the healthcare law’s Medicaid expansion?

As written, states would have had to participate or give up all of their federal Medicaid funding. But the Supreme Court said that setup was unconstitutional and states must have the right to opt out of the expansion while keeping the rest of their programs intact.

The quickest decisions came from Republican governors with an eye for the national stage, including Texas’s Rick Perry and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, who lumped Medicaid and the exchanges together and said they wouldn’t do anything to implement “ObamaCare.”

The practical considerations between the two programs, though, are very different. (For example, there is no federal fallback for states that don’t accept the Medicaid expansion.) And though states had time to at least think about exchanges while they waited for the Supreme Court, the Medicaid decision is altogether new.

“On exchanges, states have been thinking about it and following this whole discussion. (Medicaid) was like dropped out of the sky,” Weil said. “No one has spent the last year thinking about whether or not they wanted to do the Medicaid expansion.”


PPACA Ruling Answers Some Questions, Leaves Others Hanging

The wait is over -- sort of.

Companies that had been delaying action on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) should now start making plans to comply, experts say. Yet while the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June preserved the law, the full impact of PPACA's regulations remains to be seen.

For now, employers should prepare to meet the most immediate requirements, according to the law firm Morgan Lewis. In a recent web posting, the firm notes that companies should pay attention to the provisions that apply in 2012 and 2013, including:

  • Reporting medical coverage value on 2012 W-2s
  • Preparing to receive and properly distribute any medical loss ratio rebates
  • Preparing to provide a summary of benefits and coverage in their 2013 enrollment packet
  • Finishing updates to their summary plan description for any plan design changes from PPACA in 2011 and 2012
  • Implementing an annual $2,500 cap on health care spending account contributions (beginning with 2013 plan years)
  • Preparing for the patient-centered outcomes fee due in July 2013 ($1 per covered life for 2012. Insurers will remit the fee for fully insured plans; self-insured plans will pay it directly.)

Some other requirements, however, are far from crystal clear, according to a report in Business Insurance. For instance, the "pay or play" provision in the law requires employers with 50 or more workers that don't offer coverage to full-time employees to pay a penalty of $2,000 per worker. But the government has yet to clarify if the full fee would apply if employers mistakenly misclassify employees. Current regulations also fail to explain how the law applies to employees whose hours fluctuate weekly or monthly.

The IRS and other agencies are expected to release more guidance in the coming months, which should clear up some questions for employers. Yet the federal government itself and many states likely won't be able to meet all the deadlines on actions required to actually implement many of the major provisions, which start in 2014, according to Kaiser Health News.

The biggest stumbling block will be setting up the health care exchanges -- online marketplaces where some businesses and consumers will shop for coverage.

"Except in a few states, it's impossible to do this in the time allowed -- it's going to have to slip," said Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute in the KHN report.

Even if some states are able to establish exchanges on time, the federal government's exchange -- which states can opt to use instead of creating their own -- likely won't be up and running anytime soon, said Cheryl Smith of Leavitt Partners.

"The 2014 start is untenable for federally compliant exchanges," Smith told KHN. "They have to verify income, they have to verify residency, they have to verify citizenship, and do all that through different federal agencies. Before [federal subsidies] can flow, every one of those things has to be done."

Some experts say that, barring a major political change in Washington, employers will be coping with PPACA in the years to come. Still, nothing can be ruled out until after the November elections, others note.

"Other chapters in the political front [regarding PPACA] have yet to be written," Dave Guilmette of Cigna Corp. told Business Insurance.


Companies Look to Pharmacy Benefits for Savings

Employers increasingly are putting prescription drugs -- specifically their plan designs and providers -- under the microscope in hopes of spotting more health care savings.

Following a trend among health care plans, more prescription drug plans are shifting to a "value-based" model, according to Lauren Flynn Kelly, a blogger with AIS Health. In a recent post, Kelly highlighted one particular eight-tier formula that assigned clinical and financial values to drugs on each tier and included only a few lower-cost generics on its first tier.

Ritu Malhotra of The Segal Co. noted that this type of plan design promotes the use of generics -- particularly the lower-cost generic options.

"I think the value part of the value-based plan design is that those drugs are effective and much more cost-effective and could potentially result in a savings on the medical side if patients are more adherent," Malhotra notes in the AIS Health post.

Patient adherence is a primary goal of value-based plans, Kelly wrote. Unfortunately for employers, it's an area where the statistics remain grim. A recent poll by Express Scripts Inc. found that non-adherence cost the nation about $317.4 billion in 2011 in treatment -- that's not counting lost productivity and other costs that can occur when patients don't follow their prescribed drug regimen, according to a report in Employee Benefit News.

While adherence remains a constant obstacle, recent moves in the pharmacy benefit marketplace may create alternative opportunities for lower costs and stronger benefits, an online Workforce report suggests.

Express Scripts' $29 billion purchase of Medco Health Solutions could shake up the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) landscape, potentially creating a polarization between big PBMs that offer the best costs and smaller PBMs that can offer more services, F. Randy Vogenberg of the Institute for Integrated Healthcare told Workforce.

Linda Cahn, founder of Pharmacy Benefits Consultants, suggests that the merger may prompt some employers to start shopping for better deals.

"I think people are aware that changing PBMs can save them large amounts of money, and they are also aware that marketplace developments create further incentives to conduct [request for proposals]," Cahn told Workforce.

Most employers, however, likely won't make any sudden moves with their PBMs at renewal time later this year.

"Change creates controversy, and employers are not looking for controversy," Vogenberg said.

Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Early Reaction to Supreme Court Decision on the ACA

This poll fielded following the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the heart of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finds a majority of Americans (56 percent) now say they would like to see the law’s detractors stop their efforts to block its implementation and move on to other national problems.

Democrats overwhelmingly say opponents should move on to other issues (82 percent), as do half (51 percent) of independents and a quarter (26 percent) of Republicans.  But, seven in ten Republicans (69 percent) say they want to see efforts to stop the law continue, a view shared by 41 percent of independents and 14 percent of Democrats.

The public is also divided in its emotional reaction to the decision, with similar shares reporting being angry (17 percent) and enthusiastic (18 percent).  Negative emotions run highest among Republicans who support the Tea Party movement, with 49 percent of this group saying they are angry at the decision.

Solid majorities of voters of every political stripe say the decision won’t impact whether or not they vote this November – though Republicans are more likely than Democrats (31 percent compared to 18 percent) to say the result makes them more likely to turn out.

The poll is the latest in a series designed and analyzed by the Foundation's public opinion research team.

[download id="37"]


[download id="38"]


[download id="39"]


Information provided by the Public Opinion and Survey Research Program
Publication Number: 8329
Publish Date: 20-07-0212

Some PPACA Compliance Tabled Until After Elections

July 10, 2012

Most employers waited for the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding health care reform before developing a strategy on provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA,) slated to take effect in 2014 and beyond, according to a new Mercer survey.

But some eyebrows will be raised at Mercer’s findings that the waiting game continues for 16% of the more than 4,000 respondents, who admitted no action will be taken on 2014 compliance until after the November elections. Forty percent said they will begin examining these parts of the law now that the court has ruled.

Although health care reform still faces a contentious political outlook, Mercer suggests that employers should stay on track in their efforts to comply with PPACA as enacted or else they may face penalties.

“Employers who prefer to continue in wait-and-see mode until after the November elections will have less time to prepare, should they ultimately decide to comply with the law’s 2014 requirements,” says Mercer partner Tracy Watts. “In the meantime, they still need to comply with all the requirements that have already gone into effect.”

Certainly, employers must act quickly to implement new requirements for 2012 and 2013, such as providing benefit summary disclosures, complying with new dollar limits on health care flexible spending arrangements, and increasing Medicare withholding for high earners. But the rules going into effect in 2014 that are aimed at expanding access will have broader implications for many employers.

More than a fourth of survey respondents (28%) said that compliance with the new requirement that employees working an average of 30 or more hours per week must be eligible for coverage will present a “significant challenge” for their organization.

“Employers with large part-time populations, such as retailers and health care organizations, are faced with the difficult choice of either increasing the number of employees eligible for coverage, or changing their workforce strategy so that employees work fewer hours,” said David Rahill, President of Mercer’s health and benefits business. “With the average cost of health coverage now exceeding $10,000 per employee, a big jump in enrollment is not economically feasible for many employers.”

The requirement to auto-enroll newly eligible employees in a health plan – which means that employees will automatically be covered unless they take action to opt out – is also expected to increase the rolls of the insured for many employers. Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents to the Mercer survey said this will be a significant challenge, especially because other provisions of PPACA will limit the amount of health plan costs employers can pass along to employees through higher premiums or deductibles.

Still, the provision that worries most employers – 47% of survey respondents – is the excise tax on high-cost plans, expected to go into effect in 2018.

“Employers already struggling with annual health care cost increases of double or triple general inflation are determined to avoid this tax,” said Sharon Cunninghis, U.S. leader of Mercer’s health and benefits business. “We’ve been seeing a lot more interest in cost-saving measures, such as consumer-directed health plans and employee health management, since the tax was proposed.”

When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “[The reform law] has provided the impetus for our organization to pursue more aggressive health benefit cost-management strategies,” more than half – 52% – agreed. Employer actions were one factor that helped to slow health benefit cost growth in 2011 relative to 2010.

Survey results suggest this trend will continue. Asked whether they planned to be more aggressive about managing plan costs going forward now that health reform has been confirmed, 54% said yes. And while 41% said no, it’s only because they were already taking aggressive action to manage expenses.

A Mercer webcast will be held on July 12 at noon EDT to provide a closer look at how the Supreme Court's decision will affect employers going forward.