Ready for sticker shock? Obamacare prices revealed

October 25, 2016

By  – Crain’s Chicago

Prepare for sticker shock. Window shopping for the Obamacare health insurance exchange is officially open.

While the online marketplace at HealthCare.gov doesn’t debut for its fourth year until Nov. 1, consumers and small businesses can now catch a glimpse of what they might pay in monthly premiums, deductibles and other components of health insurance.

In many cases, expect a hit to your wallet. Illinois is among the states where premium rate hikes are “significant,” the state insurance department cautioned two months ago.

In Cook County, for example, individuals can choose from 38 plans with varying degrees of coverage. For a 40-year-old, the cheapest monthly premium is $260.07 for a health plan from Cigna, which is new to the Illinois exchange this year, according to a Crain’s analysis. The most expensive? A $592.11 premium for a plan from Chicago-based giant Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois, which has dominated the exchange since its debut.

Deductibles range from $1,000 to $7,150.

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NEW LOBBYING GROUP TO GREASE WHEELS FOR CADILLAC TAX REPEAL

July 17, 2015

Big businesses and unions, traditionally foes at the bargaining table, have both voiced disdain for the health care reform law’s “Cadillac” tax on generous health plans. Now, they plan on turning up the heat to repeal it.

A coalition of large employers, business groups and unions — including the American Benefits Council, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Cigna Corp., Pfizer and Laborers International Union of North America — registered last week as a lobbying group. The group, called the Alliance to Fight the Forty, has the explicit goal of repealing the 40% excise tax.

But the lobbying organization’s members are tiptoeing around the popular Cadillac name attached to the tax. “We don’t call it the Cadillac tax anymore,” said Kathryn Spangler, senior vice president of health policy for the American Benefits Council and a top lobbyist for the group. “The way it’s structured, it’ll ultimately hit bicycles.”

President Barack Obama has criticized health plans with little cost-sharing and premium contributions as “fancy plans” that contribute to overconsumption of healthcare services. Many economists support the Cadillac tax as a way to manage the effects of the tax exemption for employer health insurance, which disproportionately benefits higher-income workers.

But business and labor groups have slammed such a tax as costly, burdensome and unfair to employee benefits.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, all employer-based health plans with annual benefit values more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families will be subject to a 40% tax for every dollar above those thresholds. Those limits will be tied to inflation after 2018. The average individual health plan costs about $6,000 in 2014, while the average family policy costs $16,800, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — both well below the Cadillac tax’s upper limits.

While the regulation is more than two years from going into effect, employers are ramping up pressure because they typically decide health benefits packages 18 months in advance, Ms. Spangler said.

Many prominent companies and organizations have recently upped copayments and deductibles for their employees in anticipation of the Cadillac tax. The tax is also becoming a factor in some unions’ upcoming collective bargaining talks. The United Auto Workers, for example, is getting ready to negotiate health benefits with Detroit’s three large automakers. Last month, UAW President Dennis Williams called the excise tax “unfair.”

“Employers have been making changes to their plans in anticipation of that tax for a couple years now,” Ms. Spangler said. “That’s only going to grow the closer we get to 2018.”

In addition, with King v. Burwell now a historical footnote and the ACA mostly cemented as the law of the land, stakeholders are looking to make more calculated adjustments where they can.

Similar to the medical-device tax, congressional support is swelling against the Cadillac tax. Two bills in the House have been introduced this year to repeal it — H.R. 879 and H.R. 2050. The latter, introduced in April, already has 120 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

What’s unclear is how Congress would pay for the lost revenue that the Cadillac tax would bring in. The tax is expected to generate $87 billion from 2016 through 2025, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Only about a quarter of that money would come from employers that have coverage above the thresholds. A higher amount of taxes from employee wages would comprise the remaining three-quarters, the CBO said.

Ms. Spangler said paying for an alternative would be difficult, but she mentioned how this year’s Medicare doc-fix moved forward without a full offset.

The Alliance to Fight the Forty will officially launch this month and will be active during Congress’ August recess, Ms. Spangler said.

Bob Herman writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.

 


Final Rule Issues Standards for Insurers and Marketplaces in 2016

March 24, 2015

By Linda Rowings, Mar 24, 2015 12:00:00 PM

Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a Final Rule with standards for insurers and Marketplaces in 2016, covering topics such as transparency in health insurance rate increases, formulary drug lists, drug mail order opt out provisions, determination of minimum value, and benefits discrimination. Open enrollment for the 2016 benefit year will begin on November 1, 2015, and end on January 31, 2016.

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House approves bill defining full-time employees as those working 40 hours

September 22, 2014

For the second time this year, the House of Representatives approved legislation to ease the health care reform law’s definition of a full-time employee by changing it to those working an average of at least 40 hours per week, shielding more employers from a stiff financial penalty imposed by the law.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 100 employees are required, effective in 2015, to offer qualified coverage to full-time employees — defined as those working an average of 30 hours per week — or be liable for an annual $2,000 penalty per employee.

The same requirement applies, effective in 2016, to employers with between 50 and 99 employees.

The provision, included in a broader measure, H.R. 4., introduced by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and approved Thursday by the House on a 253-163 vote, would change the act’s definition of full-time employees to those working an average of 40 hours per week.

“Returning to the industry standard of 40 hours would benefit employers and employees alike and lessen the burden Obamacare places on businesses and the economy,” Neil Trautwein, vice president of health care policy at the National Retail Federation in Washington, said in a statement

A similar measure, H.R. 2575, was passed earlier by the House, but the Senate has not acted on it.

The White House, which says the proposed change would reduce the number of people receiving employment-based coverage by about 1 million, says President Barack Obama would veto such a proposal if approved by Congress.


EEOC Files Suit Over Wellness Program

September 9, 2014

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued an employer because the penalty it applied for not participating in its wellness program was, in the eyes of the EEOC, so high that participation was not, as a practical matter, “voluntary.” Under EEOC rules, an employer may conduct medical examinations, which includes obtaining medical histories and blood draws, only in limited situations. One of those permitted situations is a voluntary wellness program. Because the program did not qualify as “voluntary,” the questions employees were asked about their health on a health risk assessment, a blood draw, and a range of motion assessment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to the EEOC’s Complaint.

This is the first lawsuit brought by the EEOC challenging the incentives of an employer’s wellness program. The situation that created the complaint is a bit unusual, because the employee was terminated shortly after complaining about the wellness program. However, the EEOC also seems disturbed by the terms of the program itself.

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Overcoming Employee Disengagement

August 28, 2014

By Peter Freska, CEBS, Advisor
The LBL Group
A United Benefit Advisors Partner Firm

I have sat with hundreds of employers that want to make a difference. They want to make a difference in how their teams work, how productive the employees are, and better yet…in how they, as an employer, can attract, retain and engage the best and brightest people for long-term sustainable (profitable) growth of the organization. But many companies fall short. And, while most employees are 100% engaged when they start a new job, a recent Dale Carnegie Training study indicated that only 29% are fully engaged. In another article entitled “Overcoming Employee Disengagement,” the author mentions that the “2013 RAND Health Study found that less than half of employees (46%) participate in health risk assessment (HRA) or clinical screenings, and out of those identified as needing a wellness program, less than one fifth chose to participate.” (August 2014, Benefits Magazine) The point of the article was simple, that people create their own barriers to success.

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The Affordable Care Act: Affordable… or just an Act?

August 25, 2014

No matter who you are, no matter where, the Affordable Care Act, one of the largest pieces of legislation in recent history, will affect you…and not always in ways you can foresee, and not always in ways that give creaence to what the ACA is meant to do. 

First, it is about access and not affordability – individual applicants will be able to get coverage without concern about existing medical conditions, nor waiting periods once they are covered.

Second, it is about insurance and not medical care – many of the rules imposed on carriers have changed, but not the rules on how health care will be provided.

Third, there is an act – played out in various scenarios and requiring action on everyone’s part: individuals who are required to have coverage, large employers who must provide coverage, carriers and the health care industry who pay new taxes, and taxes on the rich, taxes on the middle class, and the payment of higher costs in nearly all cases.

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