Page 1 of 1
If you are feeling a sense that the rules around benefits haven’t changed enough in the last three months, this is a reminder of a change made during the long ago time of December 2019. We all thought the annual PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) was set to expire back in 2019 but the SECURE Act extended the PCORI fee for another 10 years, meaning the fee will be in effect until 2029 for most plans (2030 for others, depending on the plan’s year-end).
If your company had a self-insured group health plan in 2019, make sure you’ve set your calendar alerts to pay the PCORI fee for the 2019 plan year. As a reminder, the PCORI fee was put into place by the ACA to help fund the Patient Outcomes Research Institute and is based on the average number of covered lives under the plan. The fee and the related IRS Form 720 are due no later than July 31st.
For plan years ending before October 1, 2019, the fee is $2.45/person. The IRS has not announced the specific fee for plan years ending between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019; however, it is expected to be slightly higher than $2.45 per covered member. Remember, covered lives include spouses, dependents, retirees, and COBRA beneficiaries. If you have not been through this process before, or if you just need a quick refresher, the IRS has issued detailed guidance on the multiple methods you may use to calculate the PCORI fee, as well as instructions for completing the Form 720 and submitting your payment.
The IRS and the Treasury Department issued a notice on the so-called “Cadillac Tax”—a 40 percent excise tax to be imposed on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans beginning in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Notice 2015-16, released on Feb. 23, 2015, discusses a number of issues concerning the tax and requests comments on the possible approaches that ultimately could be incorporated in proposed regulations. Specifically, the guidance states that the agencies anticipate that pretax salary reduction contributions made by employees to health savings accounts (HSAs) will be subject to the Cadillac tax.
In 2018, the ACA provides that a nondeductible 40 percent excise tax be imposed on “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” in excess of statutory thresholds (in 2018, $10,200 for self-only, $27,500 for family). As 2018 approaches, the benefit community has long awaited guidance on this tax. While many employers have actively managed their plan offerings and costs in anticipation of the impact of the tax, those efforts have been hampered by the lack of guidance. Among other things, employers are uncertain what health coverage is subject to the tax and how the tax is calculated.
Particularly, Notice 2015-16 addresses:
The agencies are requesting comments on issues
discussed in this notice by May 15, 2015. They intend to issue another notice
that will address other areas of the excise tax and anticipates issuing
proposed regulations after considering public comments on both notices.
Of most immediate interest to plan sponsors is the specific type of coverage (i.e., “applicable coverage”) that will be subject to the excise tax, particularly where the statute is unclear.
Employee Pretax HSA
The ACA statute provides that employer contributions to an HSA are subject to the excise tax, but did not specifically address the treatment of employee pretax HSA contributions. The notice says that the agencies “anticipate that future proposed regulations will provide that (1) employer contributions to HSAs, including salary reduction contributions to HSAs, are included in applicable coverage, and (2) employee after-tax contributions to HSAs are excluded from applicable coverage.”
Note: This anticipated treatment of employee pretax contributions to HSAs will have a significant impact on HSA programs. If implemented as the agencies anticipate, it could mean many employer plans that provide for HSA contributions will be subject to the excise tax as early as 2018, unless the employer limits the amount an employee can contribute on a pretax basis.
and Vision Plans
The ACA statutory language specifically excludes fully insured dental and vision plans from the excise tax. The treatment of self-insured dental and vision plans was not clear. The notice states that the agencies will consider exercising their “regulatory authority” to exclude self-insured plans that qualify as excepted benefits from the excise tax.
The agencies are also considering whether to exclude excepted-benefit employee assistance programs (EAPs) from the excise tax.
Onsite Medical Clinics
The notice discusses the exclusion of certain onsite medical clinics that offer only de minimis care to employees, citing a provision in the COBRA regulations, and anticipates excluding such clinics from applicable coverage. Under the COBRA regulations an onsite clinic is not considered a group health plan if:
The agencies are also asking for comment on
the treatment of clinics that provide certain services in addition to first
With the release of this initial guidance, plan sponsors can gain some insight into the direction the government is likely to take in proposed regulations and can better address potential plan design strategie
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently updated the Code Set Rules. The Code Set rules are part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPPA’s) Administrative Simplification Provisions. These rules create uniform electronic standards for common health plan administrative processes. Requiring health care providers and other stakeholders to use the same data formats for common transactions simplifies certain administrative aspects of providing and paying for health care.
Under the latest rules, self funded employers will need to apply for a Health Plan Identifier (HPID). Most employers will have to apply by November 5, 2014. This number will be used to ensure employers comply with certain Code Set rules requirements.
The Code Set Rules have affected covered entities for a number of years. However, certain aspects of these rules were not enforced in the past. In order to promote efficient health coverage, health care reform includes provisions to ensure health care stakeholders are complying with specific transaction and code set requirements.
Review of the HIPAA Code Set Rules
The final HIPAA Transaction and Code regulations published in August 2000 applied to most health plans as of October 16, 2003. They require covered entities conducting certain transactions electronically to use specific standards and code sets. Covered entities include:
Most of the applicable transactions occur between the health plan and health care providers covering areas like claims submission and payment, eligibility, and authorizations/referrals, however the enrollment and disenrollment transaction process generally involves the employer and the health plan.
New Requirements for a HPID for Self Funded Plans
The Code Set rules require all parties involved in the health care system to use an identifying number. Large group health plans (plans with an annual cost of $5 million or more) need to register for their Health Plan Identifier (HPID) number by November 5, 2014. Small group health plans (plans with an annual cost of less than $5 million) will have an extra year to obtain an HPID. Annual cost is based on paid claims before stop loss recoveries and excluding administrative costs and stop loss premiums.
Insurance carriers will likely apply for the 10-digit HPID number for all of their fully- insured group health plans. Employers will have to apply for their 10-digit HPID for self-funded medical plans. The health plan needs to use the HPID number for any of the standard transactions the Code Set rules cover.
Every health plan considered a covered entity must obtain an HPID. The regulations include delineations of group health plans including Controlling Health Plans (a health plan that controls its own business activities, actions and policies) and Subhealth Plan (a health plan whose business activities, actions or policies are directed by a Controlling Health Plan).
Employers are not really sure how the relationship between controlling health plans and subhealth plans would apply to employer-sponsored health plans and are awaiting further clarification from HHS on this issue.
All health plans, regardless of size, must use their HPIDs in standard transactions by November 7, 2016. A “standard transaction” is a CMS menu of transactions, like a claim payment, that must be coded with an HPID.
Employer must provide information about their organizations and health plans when they register for the HPID electronically. More information on applying for an HPID is available here.
Certification Requirements for Compliance with Standard Transaction Rules
Health plans must also verify with HHS that they comply with the Code Set rules. Health plans have been subject to these rules for almost a decade, however there has been little to no oversight on compliance with the common formats. HHS is now requiring a certification showing that the plan is using the standard formats. Initially, the certification will only be done on a few of the required transactions.
The health plan must first certify that they meet the Code Set requirements for eligibility, claim status and EFT and remittance advice transactions. Plans have two different options to certify they are complying. Both involve having specific vendors certify the plan uses the proper transaction formats. The two options are as follows:
The HIPAA Credential option involves testing the required transactions with at least three trading partners. Those three partners have to represent at least 30% of transactions conducted with providers. If it does not constitute 30%, then the plan must confirm it has successfully traded with at least 25%.
The Phase III Core Seal will require the Controlling Health Plan to test transactions with an authorized testing vendor.
All certifications will be filed with HHS. The first one will be due by December 31, 2015. Health insurance carriers and Third Party Administrators will most likely provide the certifications for employer-sponsored health plans, but employers will still need more details on the filing.
The second certification applies to other transactions the Code Set rules cover. Specifically, the second certification applies to claims information, enrollment, premium payments, claims attachments, and authorizations or referrals. HHS has not issued any guidance on these certifications yet. These second certifications are also due by December 31, 2015. However, because of the lack of specific guidance, it is very likely this due date may be delayed.
To register for an HPID, employers need to take the following steps:
1. Determine when the plan must obtain an HPID
2. If your plan if fully insured, contact your insurance carrier. It appears most insurance carriers will apply for the HPID for fully insured plans.
3. If your plan is self-funded, schedule time over the next several months to register for an HPID for your health plan. The registration is a CMS-managed online application process. The regulations estimate that it will take 20 -30 minutes to complete the application. Sponsors will be directed to an online enumeration system titled: Health Plan and Other Entity Enumeration System (HPOES).
The IRS has released the 2014 Form 720 that plan sponsors of self-insured group health plans will use to report and pay the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee. The fee is due by July 31, 2014 for plan years ending in 2013.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a fee on health insurers and plan sponsors of self-insured group health plans to help fund the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute. PCORI is responsible for conducting research to evaluate and compare the health outcomes and clinical effectiveness, risks, and benefits of medical treatments, services, procedures, and drugs.
The PCORI fee is assessed for plan years ending after September 30, 2012. The initial fee is $1 times the average number of covered lives for the first plan year ending before October 1, 2013 and $2 per covered life for the plan year ending after October 1, 2013 and before October 1, 2014. Fees for subsequent years are subject to indexing. The PCORI fee will not be assessed for plan years ending after September 30, 2019, which means that for a calendar year plan, the last plan year for assessment is the 2018 calendar year.
Plan sponsors must pay the PCORI fee by July 31 of the calendar year immediately following the last day of that plan year. All plan sponsors of self-insured group health plans will pay the fee in 2014, but the amount of the fee varies depending on the plan year.
The IRS has released the 2014 Form 720 with instructions for plan sponsors to use to report and pay the PCORI fee. Although the Form 720 is a quarterly federal excise tax return, if the Form 720 is filled only to report the PCORI fee, no filing is required in other quarters unless other fees or taxes have to be reported.
Please contact our office for information on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it affects your business.
Can corporations shift targeted workers who have known high medical costs from the company health plan to public exchange (aka Marketplace/SHOP) based coverage created by the Affordable Care Act? Some employers are beginning to inquire about it and some consultants are advocating for it.
Health spending is driven largely by those patients with chronic illness, such as diabetes, or those who undergo expensive procedures such as an organ transplant. Since a large majority of big corporations are self-insured and many more smaller employers are beginning to research this as an option to help control their medical premiums, shifting even one high-cost member out of the company health plan could potentially save the employer hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by shifting the cost for the high-cost member claims to the Marketplace/SHOP plan(s).
It is unclear if the health law prohibits this type of action, which opens a door to the potential deterioration of employer-based medical coverage.
An employer “dumping strategy” can help promote the interests of both employers and employees by shifting health care expenses on to the public through the Marketplace.
It’s unclear how many companies, if any, have moved any of their sicker workers to exchange coverage yet, which just became available January 1, 2014, but even a few high-risk patients could add millions of dollars in claim costs to those Marketplace plans. The costs could be passed on to customers in the next year or two in the form of higher premiums and to taxpayers in the form of higher subsidy expenses.
A Possible Scenario
Here’s an example of how an employer “dumping-situation” it might work:
At renewal, an employer reduces the hospital/doctor network on their medical plan to make the company health plan unattractive to those with chronic illness or high cost medical claims. Or, the employer could raise the co-payments for drugs or physician visits needed by the chronically ill, also making the health plan unattractive and perhaps nudging high-cost workers to examine other options available to them.
At the same time, the employer offers to buy the targeted worker a high-benefit “platinum” plan in the Marketplace. The Marketplace/SHOP plan could cost $6,000 or more a year for an individual in premiums, but that’s still far less than the $300,000 a year in claim costs that a hemophilia patient might cost the company.
The employer could also give the worker a raise so they could buy the Marketplace/SHOP policy directly.
In the end, the employer saves money and the employee gets better coverage. And the Affordable Care Act marketplace plan, which is required to accept all applicants at a fixed price during open enrollment periods, takes over the costs for their chronic illness/condition.
Some consultants feel the concept sounds too easy to be true, but the ACA has set up the ability for employers and employees to voluntarily choose a better plan in the Individual Marketplace which could help save a significant amount of money for both.
Legal but ‘Gray’
The consensus among insurance and HR professionals is that even though the employer “dumping-strategy” is technically legal to date (as long as employees agree to the change and are not forced off the company medical plan), the action is still very gray. This is why many employers have decided this is not something they want to promote at this time.
Shifting high-risk workers out of employer medical plans is prohibited for other kinds of taxpayer-supported insurance. For example, it’s illegal to persuade an employee who is working and over 65 to drop company coverage and rely entirely on the government Medicare program. Similarly, employers who dumped high-cost patients into temporary high-risk pools established originally by the ACA health law are required to repay those workers’ claims back to the pools.
One would think there would be a similar type of provision under the Affordable Care Act for plans sold through the Marketplace portals, but there currently is not.
The act of moving high-cost workers to a Marketplace plan would not trigger penalties under ACA as long as an employer offers an affordable medical plan to all eligible employees that meets the requirements of minimum essential coverage, experts said. If workers are offered a medical plan by their employer that is affordable coverage and meets the minimum essential coverage requirements, workers cannot use tax credits to help pay for the Marketplace-plan premiums.
Many benefits experts say they are unaware of specific instances where employers are shifting high-cost workers to exchange plans and the spokespeople for AIDS United and the Hemophilia Federation of America, both advocating for patients with expensive, chronic conditions, said they didn’t know of any, either.
But employers are becoming increasingly interested in this option.
This practice, however, could raise concerns about discrimination and could cause decreased employee morale and even resentment among employees who are not offered a similar deal, which could end up causing the employer more headaches and even potential discrimination lawsuits.
Many believe that even though this strategy is currently an option for employers, in the end, it may not be a good idea. This type of strategy has to operate as an under-the-radar deal between the employer and targeted employee and these type of deals never work out. Most legal experts who focus on employee benefits do not recommend this strategy either as it just opens the door of discrimination claims from employees.
Please contact our office for assistance in reviewing all of the benefit options available to your company and employees under ACA.