Self-Funding: The Greatest Benefit is Compassion

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Ask an independent TPA what sets their business apart and you’ll likely hear something about customer service and a promise to always put their client’s health plan and its members first. Seldom have these qualities been more meaningful than during the uncertainty of the past few months.

Fortunately, self-funding provides the flexibility employers have needed throughout this crisis. By collaborating with broker partners and other colleagues, TPAs have worked to make plan design changes that lower costs while exploring ways to keep coverage in force for as many employees as possible. Unfortunately, most have been involved in the difficult decisions employers have had to make in order to sustain quarantines, stay-at-home orders and extended closures. Their team members have worked tirelessly to help members access non-emergency medical care while avoiding the risks related to the coronavirus.

Overcoming Challenges

In addition to addressing health benefit concerns, TPAs have demonstrated great empathy in encounters with employers, members and providers. While the majority of self-funded health plans offer a telehealth benefit, some groups have been slow to engage with this service. With many organizations working remotely during the pandemic, however, the number of virtual visits has increased significantly.

TPAs have helped many patients avoid visits to the ER by directing them to alternative care settings. Some in need of treatment for chronic illnesses have been directed to high-quality, lower-cost providers rather than traditional facilities and, in some cases, treatment has been administered in the home. Searching for solutions takes a tremendous amount of time and coordination but being an advocate for members is nothing new for TPAs.

Health benefits are complicated for everyone. In times of disruption, plan sponsors and members need every possible tool at their disposal. Self-funding offers manyvaluable tools. When backed by expert administration and open communication, these tools can help health plans build trust and take great care of employees.

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Self-Funding: More Than a Means to an End

self-fundingIn an effort to take control of their healthcare spend, more employers continue to move to self-funding. But as those who have used this funding mechanism for some time have learned, designing a self-funded health benefit plan is just the beginning. When a health plan is self-funded, the entire healthcare supply chain is unbundled, giving everyone a clear, unobstructed view of the healthcare spend. An experienced Third Party Administrator will help you identify exactly where your healthcare dollars are going. Providers can be evaluated. Opportunities to achieve quality outcomes and lower costs can be explored. Best of all, unlike fully-insured health plans that are carrier-based, employers who self-fund their health benefits have the flexibility to act.

Target Cost Transparency

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare costs have increased by more than 260% since 1999. One of the biggest problems is costs for the same service can vary drastically from one provider to the next, even when the providers are located in the same marketplace. One way to attack this problem is with Reference Based Pricing, which typically allows qualified self-funded health plans to pay for medical services based on a percentage of Medicare, rather than by applying a percentage discount to a facility’s billed charges. Using an accepted index such as Medicare has enabled a growing number of health plans to bring cost transparency and consistency to hospital billing, since Medicare sets prices for every procedure.

Communicate with Purpose

From mobile cost transparency tools to telemedicine, employers are doing more than ever to help plan members utilize their benefits. Engagement rates, however, often tell a disappointing story as many employees are reluctant to use these new features. Experience tells us that whether we’re talking about a published provider directory or an online member portal, most people are confused by healthcare coverage.

Whether your company decides to place colorful posters in gathering spots, hold employee meetings or distribute email newsletters, emphasizing the steps you’re taking to make healthcare more accessible and affordable is critical. In this time of full employment and intense competition, health benefits can play an extremely important role in attracting and retaining valued employees. Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your company culture and improve your employees’ quality of life.

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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.

Self-Funding Keeps Growing

self-funding-graphicWith 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.

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New Jersey Aids Stop-Loss

supreme-courtIn a recent legislative update from SIIA, it was noted that the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) approved regulations lowering minimum stop-loss attachment points for large groups of 51 lives and above, effective in late August.

This move allows the large group individual attachment points to be $20,000 per individual, reduced from $25,000 and sets the minimum aggregate attachment point at 110% of expected claims, down from 125%. These changes broaden the levels of stop-loss or excess risk coverage available to self-funded health plans and brings New Jersey’s definition in line with the NAIC Stop Loss Insurance Model Act.

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Responding to Growing Demand for Transparency

medical-iconsExperts agree that a lack of true price transparency has contributed significantly to the inefficiency in healthcare. Several websites compare the costs for certain procedures at varying hospitals, but it’s still very difficult, if not impossible, to make an informed choice when preparing for a non-emergency procedure. As a result, most people still go to doctors participating in a covered network and follow physician referrals when a specialist is required. In most cases, these choices are made without any knowledge of the cost.

Powerful Mobile Technology

Today, leading TPAs are providing self-funded health plan members with a variety of very powerful mobile transparency tools. One new mobile app enables members to identify fair pricing for more than 200 common procedures, including surgeries, imaging and diagnostic testing. By linking a rewards program, the app awards financial incentives when high quality, competitively priced providers are selected over those with lesser ratings.

Another software maker that describes a third of healthcare procedures as “shoppable”, has introduced a mobile app that enables plan members to search for physicians by procedure, location and price. This tool even goes beyond facts and figures to provide detailed descriptions of the procedure being searched. When members need further assistance, care navigators are available to provide online support via a live chat option.

Expert Administration Still Matters

While a totally open pricing system may never be possible in a business as complex as healthcare, TPAs are making self-funded health plans more transparent all the time. Strategies such as Reference Based Pricing and Concierge Health Advocacy are having a tremendous impact on cost and employee engagement. And while insurance carriers typically withhold claims data from fully insured groups, TPAs are experts at helping their clients put valuable claims data to work to identify cost drivers and manage chronic conditions in ways that help the plan avoid catastrophic claims in the future.

As the transition from volume to value-based healthcare continues, more responsibility will land in the hands of plan members. Smart employers know that a well-designed health plan can foster positive change and lower costs only if members understand their benefits. As long as self-funded plans, highly personal service and creative ideas are allowed to flourish, the number of engaged consumers capable of making economically wise healthcare decisions will continue to grow.

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Leveling the Self-Funding Field

The article below, titled Leveling the self-funded field, written by Robert Bull, was originally published by Employee Benefit Adviser on July 18, 2017.

Technology is changing every aspect of the way businesses operate — and that includes health plan self-funding.

It used to be that self-funding was limited to only the largest companies that could afford the manpower to either administer their own plans or develop their own proprietary administrative software. Today, new data technologies are leveling the playing field, making it affordable for virtually all employers to self-fund.

For too long HR teams have shied away from self-funding due to the perceived administrative burden. But technology has removed this barrier, making it easier to track eligibility and generate billing information. What used to be a painstaking manual process has been automated, and HR teams at self-funded companies can now provide richer benefits at a lower price. A good healthcare plan goes miles in attracting and keeping quality employees — and ensuring that they’re productive by minimizing absenteeism due to a lack of care for either themselves or their family members.

self-funding'Here’s what to look for when shopping for a top-notch self-funding solution:

1. The ability to consolidate information and manage all healthcare-related data from a single system. Most employers deal with multiple service providers — stop loss, vision, pharmacy, dental, medical, wellness, and third-party administrators, just to name a few. But they should insist that all of the relevant data is consolidated onto one system. For one thing, it’s much simpler and less time consuming to administer and pay all of their providers from a single source. For another, it takes much less time and effort to master a single application — as opposed to having to learn the ins and outs of each provider’s software.

When the data from multiple vendors are integrated onto a single platform, the time-consuming process of having to reconcile across providers every month is eliminated. The plan’s administrator can instantly determine counts and claims. Likewise, multiple payment processes can be eliminated in favor of a single, consistent payment method.

Best of all, HR can take all this data, which reflects employee behavior and everything related to treatment, and use it for predictive modeling. With that level of insight, the employer can develop a plan that truly meets its — and its employees — needs.

2. Data transparency. For an employer to take on the added risk of self-funding, it needs to be able to closely examine its data and determine the underlying trends. Without pricing and transaction transparency, it is impossible to perform a meaningful cost analysis.

As opposed to fully-insured plans, where the data is the property of the insurance carrier, with a self-funded plan the employer owns the plan’s data. And once the employer can access its claims, demographic and pricing information, it can make accurate decisions about what is best for the company and its employees.

The data can also be used to influence employee behavior. By educating a workforce about those behaviors that are wasteful and ineffective, the employer can reap significant savings for itself and its employees. And by analyzing the response rate to different messages and campaigns, HR can then determine what incentives would be useful to obtain even greater compliance.

3. Real-time data access. It’s not enough to have healthcare plan data; it needs to be timely or its utility is diminished. The best way for employers to be proactive is for them to be able to see what is happening with claims and cash flow on a monthly, weekly or even a daily basis. At a minimum, the employer should review its data at least quarterly. And the larger the employer, the greater the number of employees and claims, the more frequently the data needs to be examined.

Three years ago, it would have taken three weeks to scrub a mid-size employer’s claims data. Now it can take just two hours.

4. Safeguards. Data is power. That’s why an employer wants to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to healthcare plan data and analytics. There are legal and privacy considerations as well. That’s why it’s crucial to have robust security that maintains an audit trail of who touches what data and when. In case of an error or a breach, the event can be traced back to the people involved at the moment where it occurred.

Self-funding will continue to be transformed by technology. Cloud-based software is making it possible for ever smaller employers to implement and administer self-funded plans. Embracing and utilizing these tools can lead to lower premiums, greater access to health care and reduced costs for employer and employee alike.

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ACA Fee Moratorium and Self-Funding

sip-acaWhen Congress delayed the Cadillac Tax until 2020, the same law placed a one-year moratorium on the annual fee the ACA imposes on health insurance carriers. While the fee does not have a direct impact on TPAs or self-funded plans, it does sometimes impact stop loss premiums.

Since this fee applied to insurance carriers and not the majority of self-funded plan costs, some small group plans that moved to level funding may experience a slight cost increase in 2017. When the tax returns in 2018, the revenue targets are expected to increase. If the tax increases from its previous levels of 3% to 4%, the potential savings available to self-funded and level-funded plans will increase as well.

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Get More from Your Healthcare Spend

spendWith research showing that the average cost of healthcare surpassed $11,000 per employee in 2015, stretching every healthcare dollar is a must. Since self-funding is the foundation from which so many cost control strategies emerge, we encourage you to take this step if you haven’t already done so.

Understand the Needs of Your Group

Since every employer group is unique, it’s imperative that you look closely at demographics, prior claims and medical conditions. The availability of meaningful data is one of the biggest advantages of a self-funded plan, and key to making sure that those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension are receiving the treatment and attention they need. If your administrator isn’t helping in this critical area, you have the wrong administrator!

Coordination Matters

Self-funded health plans involve several parts that need to be working together. If you think healthcare is complex, put yourself in the shoes of your members and their families. Programs such as utilization review, hospital pre-certification, disease management and healthcare coaching can go a long way in managing costs. Services like patient advocacy and telemedicine can help members get the care they need in an efficient setting. For example, while office visits cost about $130, a telemedicine visit can be equally effective at a cost of about $40. With so many variables available today, it’s easy to see why customer service and care coordination are as important to your bottom line as they are to your employees.

Education and Wellness

Once a self-funded plan design and professional administration are in place, employee education and wellness integration must follow. Few factors influence healthcare costs more than lifestyle choices and the need to make informed buying decisions. And whether it involves understanding benefits or choosing a high quality, efficient provider, studies show that members need more support. To help in this area, many TPAs are integrating online access to comparative data on costs and providers.

When you consider that we can only manage what we can measure, delivering meaningful information to members, when they need to make a healthcare decision, should result in happier, healthier employees and lower costs for all.

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