ACA Mandate Penalty Eliminated

The ACA has required people to have what the government has classified as minimum essential coverage, or else pay a penalty which now amounts to 2.5% of modified adjusted gross income over the income tax filing threshold.

While the House version of tax reform did not change the penalty in any way, the Senate version cut the penalty to 0% and in joint conference debates, the reduction was kept in the bill that was just passed by both houses. The Senate provision is not a repeal of the penalty, but instead a reduction, which could be increased by Congress in the future. While lower corporate and personal tax rates will take effect this year, this reduction will not become effective until 2019.

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Commonsense Reporting Bill Introduced

commonsense-reportingIn October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.

While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.

12 Billion Workdays Lost

healthRecent findings reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) report that without a greater willingness to tackle anxiety and depression, a staggering 12 billion days will be lost between now and 2030. Put in financial terms, these disorders are costing the world nearly $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. It’s no wonder why a growing number of employers are considering on-site behavioral health clinics and other ways to tackle this growing problem.

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Self-Service Benefits Education

siriWhile it may not yet be widespread, some companies are looking for ways to use voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Emma to provide plan members with answers about annual contribution limits, account balances and other details regarding flexible spending accounts, HSAs, HRAs and more. Many hope that linking these intelligent assistants to a mobile app will make it easier than ever for members to get answers to questions when they need them.

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Questions for Your Doctor

doctor-questionsAccording to a Medscape survey of more than 19,000 physicians, the average patient spends between 13 and 16 minutes with their physician during an office visit. Given the short amount of time, it is probably best to focus on two or three things you want your doctor to address. It may also help to prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Here are a few you may want to consider.

  1. Which health websites do you trust?
  2. What is this medication I’m taking and why am I taking it?
  3. If you’re a smoker, how can I get help to stop?
  4. Are my screenings and vaccinations up to date?
  5. What is a healthy weight for me and how can I get to that?
  6. What do you do to stay in shape?
  7. If you’re taking a prescribed opioid painkiller, ask if it’s really necessary and what else you might take?
  8. What are some things I can do before my next appointment to make me healthier?
  9. If a test is ordered, ask what it is for and what are you trying to learn from it.
  10. When a specific treatment is recommended, don’t hesitate to ask about other alternatives

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Maybe You Should Eat Earlier

The old saying “timing is everything” may even apply to when you eat your meals, according to Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. Skipping breakfast or having an occasional late dinner is fine, but sticking to an earlier eating schedule may contribute to healthier living by helping you maintain a healthy weight. Findings were based on a small study implemented over an 8-week period in which adults had three meals and two snacks between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., followed by a two week break and eight weeks of a later schedule, which included three meals and two snacks eaten between noon and 11 p.m.

The later eating schedule resulted in weight gain and a negative impact on insulin levels, cholesterol and fat metabolism. The study also showed that when people ate earlier, they stayed satisfied longer, which helped them prevent overeating. Given our hectic schedules, eating later occasionally is hard to avoid. But it will help if you can make an effort to get back to an earlier schedule.

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So Much for Bundled Payments

bundled-paymentThe trend to value-based medical treatment took a significant hit recently when the Trump administration cut the number of hospitals required to participate in the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement model and canceled other bundled payment models slated to go into effect on January 1, 2018.

HHS Secretary Tom Price has been a consistent critic of the mandatory payment model created by CMS Director Patrick Conway. Price’s announcement came shortly after Conway announced he was leaving CMS to become CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, leaving many to question what the move means for the future of value-based payments. Still others believe that the value-based models were beginning to drive better outcomes and that more and more patients will be attracted to hospitals offering the highest quality of care. With the Medicare Trust Fund projected to run out of money in 2029, something needs to be done to repair or replace traditional fee-for-service reimbursement.

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