Monday, October 15, 2012

Packaging Health Plan Fee Details for a Post-Election Launch

Self-insured employers have been waking up in recent weeks and months to the reality that they will soon be hit with new fees to finance a transitional reinsurance program provided for the in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  But they are likely going to have to wait on the details until after the November elections.

As a quick refresher, the fees will be earmarked to capitalize reinsurance facilities in each state that serve as financial backstops for health insurance companies which offer individual coverage plans through public health insurance exchanges slated to come on-line in 2014.  Health insurance companies will also be subject to this fee.

What has caused some confusion is that the statute and a pre-curser rule finalized earlier this year references that third party administrators on behalf of self-insured plans will be responsible for paying the fee.   In private meetings over the summer, regulators clarified that it was not the intent that TPAs be financially liable for these fee, but rather they will be expected to assist in the collection of these fees from their clients.  Those details, along with the specific fee amounts, are still under wraps.

This blog has learned that an increasing number of large self-insured employers have been complaining directly to senior White House officials that the fee is fundamentally unfair because it helps to support the profitability health insurance companies, with no direct benefit for employers.  Responses have ranged from “we hear you but there is nothing we can do” to “there should be no complaining now because you (the employer community) signed off on this ACA provision during the legislative process.”

The former response is expected, but the latter response deserves some fact checking.

According to a source directly involved with drafting this section of the ACA, there is an interesting back story that is not widely known.  When legislative language was being developed, Democratic drafters did not understand the difference between independent TPAs with insurance company owned ASOs and did not understand that ASOs are typically separate business entities from their insurance company parents.

The reason why this is important is because ACA legislative drafters recognized that it did not make sense to impose fees on self-insured plans to subsidize insurance companies but they figured by referencing TPAs they would exclusively tap the fully-insured marketplace on the assumption that all TPAs were owned by insurance companies.

Only later in the legislative drafting process did they come to understand that many self-insured employers had no insurance company connection.  But by that time there was no turning back and there was no alternative to collecting the necessary revenue – all self-insured employers were going to have to pay.  No wonder that that the regulators have been slow with details on how this is all going to work.

So this brings back to the timing of when these details will be published.  Clearly if the Administration thought that employer community was going to be happy with the new rules, they would be released prior to Election Day.  But the best intel suggests that the proposed are done and are sitting right now at the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) awaiting a green light for release, likely shortly after election day.

The one positive detail is that the rules will be coming out in proposed form, so there will be an opportunity for formal stakeholder input -- just another thing to look forward to as we enter the holiday season.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Michigan Health Care Claims Tax May Just Be The Opening Bid

This blog has previously reported about the one percent health care claims tax that the state of Michigan has imposed on all payers, including self-insured group health plans.  We have also commented on the refusal of most within the employer community to support a legal challenge to the law, which should be preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

While one prominent Michigan employer has privately been a big financial supporter of this self-insurance legal defense initiative, the state’s largest employer organizations, as well as at least one major national association focused on ERISA preemption issues have been on the sidelines.

Now, it’s probably unrealistic to expect that the average self-insured employer will take the time to think about the longer term implications of ERISA preemption erosions.  Significant as these implications are, those employers are more concerned about the immediate financial implications.

 Fair enough.  Let’s talk about this shorter term perspective. 

 We have just learned from a very reliable source that the revenue collected so far this from health claims tax is much lower than projected -- so much lower, in fact, that the state Legislature will likely consider a proposal to raise it early next year.

 For employers who ran the numbers and determined that they could absorb a one percent tax, they should get ready to do a new set of calculations, perhaps on a yearly basis going forward, should a federal appeals court not strike down the law.  At some point it would seem that this health care tax could become an important factor as employers consider whether self-insurance is as cost effective as it otherwise would be,

 And in case you think this issue is contained to Michigan, think again.  Other cash-strapped states are watching how things play out in Michigan and at least some are likely to follow-suit if they believe such action will go unchallenged.

 When a camel gets its nose under the tent the occupants should not be surprised that the damage often cannot be contained.  For self-insured employers with workers in Michigan, they may soon learn this important lesson.






Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stop-Loss Regulation and the Coming Zombie Apocalypse

Key regulatory officials made some interesting comments about their interest in self-insured health plans utilizing stop-loss insurance at an American Bar Association event last week in Washington, DC

 Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor, said her agency is working on two ACA-required studies, one on wellness that is due in 2014 and an annual report to Congress on self-insured plans.

 “To try and help get information on self-insured plans, a couple of things have happened. Probably most recently what we asked for was we put out a tri-agency request for information (RFI),” Borzi said.

 George Bostick, benefits tax counsel at the U.S Treasury Department, said the RFI “produced a number of paranoid responses,” but Borzi then assured the audience that there were no ulterior motives to the RFI.

 “It is what it is. We don't have enough information, we think.. It's not like we have some hidden agenda, pro- or anti-stop-loss; we just want to find out what's going on out there,” Borzi said.

 Another panelist, Amy Turner, senior adviser and special projects manager in EBSA's Office of Health Plan Standards and Compliance Assistance, echoed Ms. Borzi's comments about the departments needing more information on stop-loss insurance and wanted feedback from a “broad group of stakeholders.”

 The departments are sifting through the comment letters responding to the RFI, but Turner said not to expect any stop-loss guidance in the near future.

 “To the extent that some people maybe saw the RFI and thought, ‘Oh my goodness! Is something like the zombie apocalypse going to happen?' I think we're just working on the comment letters. I wouldn't expect any major guidance from the departments very quickly on this,” Turner said.

 This blog will give Ms. Turner the benefit of the doubt that a zombie apocalypse is probably not in the offing regardless of any further regulatory action that may be taken.

 That said, the regulators will have to forgive the “paranoia” expressed by self-insurance industry stakeholders.  After all, the current administration has proven to be very adept at sidestepping normal legislative procedures and inclined to give the green light to regulatory agencies to test the bounds of statutory authority when political needs arise.

 Speaking of political needs, it’s worth reminding everyone of how the regulators explained the reason for the RFI.  The following is an excerpt from the RFI introduction:

 It has been suggested that some small employers with healthier employees may self-insure and purchase stop-loss insurance with relatively low attachment points to avoid being subject to certain consumer protection requirements while exposing themselves to little risk.  This practice, if widespread, could worsen the risk pool and increase premiums in the fully-insured small group market, including the in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchanges that begin in the 2014.

 If, in fact, the regulars reach these same conclusions, is it reasonable to believe they will simply sit on their hands?  We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for zombies as these developments continue to play out just in case.