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.
In 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.
With time running out on an opportunity for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment season approaching, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses are likely bracing for another round of premium increases. A growing number of employers, however, will choose to avoid the uncertainty plaguing traditional group insurance markets by moving to a self-funded health plan – an option that provides an opportunity for savings and far more plan design flexibility.
Healthcare benefits continue to be perhaps the biggest obstacle facing small and mid-sized businesses. The Self Insurance Institute of America reports that between 2011 and 2016, the average annual deductible for employer-sponsored plans increased by 49% and the percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees still providing health benefits fell from 68% in 2010 to 55% in 2016.
Self-funding on the other hand, has proven to be a far more responsible alternative for employers, enabling thousands to not only use their health benefit plan to attract and retain high quality employees, but to do so at an affordable cost. While self-funding has long been a staple for the nation’s largest employers, nearly a third of companies with 200 or more employees now offer at least one self-funded option.
Everyone Benefits from Flexibility
There are many reasons for the growth of self-funding, with flexibility and access to valuable claims data high on the list. Since self-funded plans are governed by ERISA, they avoid many of the costly mandates governing fully insured plans. To manage risk, stop loss coverage is obtained to cover claims that exceed anticipated levels. If claims are below anticipated levels, the plan retains the savings that would have been paid to an insurance carrier in the form of non-refundable premiums. Benefits can be customized to meet the unique needs of the group. When an independent TPA is engaged to administer the plan, claims data can be analyzed to identify chronic conditions and other key cost drivers. Services such as telemedicine and mobile transparency tools can be added to make physician access more convenient and more affordable. From plan design to data analysis, everyone benefits from the flexibility that a self-funded plan can provide. It’s the biggest reason why more small and mid-sized companies continue to move to self-funding with help from an independent TPA.
In a previous newsletter, we discussed bundling introduced by Medicare which focuses on orthopedic and cardiac procedures. Through the mandatory initiative for comprehensive care for joint replacements (CJR), which became policy in 2016, some 800 hospitals are participating in the program.
While some sources report the results of bundling as mixed, Medicare reports that joint replacement payments increased by approximately 5% nationally, but decreased 8% for BPCI participants. One large health system achieved a 20.8% episode decrease and another reported a significantly shorter prolonged length of stay – a sign of fewer complications resulting from surgery.
Providers, both acute and post-acute, shared in the savings and indications are that post-acute savings were achieved because their care was bundled, placing these providers at risk. Even though efforts to repeal and replace or modify the Affordable Care Act are on hold, more healthcare providers and payers can be expected to embrace bundling going forward.
While it will take support from Republicans and Democrats to fully replace Obamacare, a simple majority of Republican senators could repeal parts of the law through reconciliation. Here are just a few:
- The individual and employer mandates can be reduced to zero
- The Cadillac tax, currently delayed to 2020, could be repealed
- Individual subsidies to purchase exchange coverage can be reduced to zero
Another welcome step requiring only a simple majority in the Senate would be increasing the limits on FSA and HSA contributions.
Press Release from Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwomen Virginia Foxx on April 5, 2017.
The House today passed the Self-Insurance Protection Act (H.R. 1304), legislation that would protect access to affordable health care options for workers and families. Introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the legislation would reaffirm long-standing policies to ensure workers can continue to receive flexible, affordable health care coverage through self-insured plans. The bill passed by a bipartisan vote of 400 to 16.
“By protecting access to self-insurance, we can help ensure employers have the tools they need to control health care costs for working families,” Rep. Roe said. “Millions of Americans rely on flexible self-insured plans and the benefits they provide. Federal bureaucrats should never have the opportunity to limit or threaten this popular health care option. This legislation prevents bureaucratic overreach and represents an important step toward promoting choice in health care.”
“This legislation provides certainty for working families who depend on self-insured health care plans,” Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said. “Workers and employers are already facing limited choices in health care, and the least we can do is preserve the choices they still have. I want to thank Representative Roe for championing this commonsense bill. While there’s more we can and should do to ensure access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage, this bill is a positive step for workers and their families.”
BACKGROUND: To ensure workers and employers continue to have access to affordable, flexible health plans through self-insurance, Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) introduced the Self-Insurance Protection Act (H.R. 1304). The legislation would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Public Health Service Act, and the Internal Revenue Code to clarify that federal regulators cannot redefine stop-loss insurance as traditional health insurance. H.R. 1304 would preserve self-insurance and:
- Reaffirm long-standing policies. Stop-loss insurance is not health insurance, and it has never been considered health insurance under federal law. H.R. 1304 would reaffirm this long-standing policy.
- Protect access to affordable health care coverage. By preserving self-insurance, workers and employers will continue to benefit from a health care plan model that has proven to lower costs and provide greater flexibility.
- Prevent bureaucratic overreach. Clarifying that regulators cannot redefine stop-loss insurance would prevent future administrations from limiting a popular health care option for workers and employers.
For a copy of the bill, click here.
For a fact sheet on the bill, click here.
According to a study by the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University shows that despite the Affordable Care Act taking effect, emergency room visits in Illinois increased by nearly 6% during 2014 and 2015. While the number of visits by uninsured people dropped after Obamacare took effect, the decrease was not sufficient to offset the increase in ER visits by those with Medicaid and private insurance. Some believe the increase is temporary and that it will drop as previously uninsured people learn how to use their health insurance.