NEXT PAGE

Page 1 of 2

Transparency in Coverage Enforcement

June 15 - Posted at 10:00 AM Tagged: , , ,

On April 19, 2022, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury issued additional guidance under the Transparency in Coverage Final Rules issued in 2020.  The guidance, FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation Part 53, provides a safe harbor for disclosing in-network healthcare costs that cannot be expressed as a dollar amount.  They also serve as a timely reminder of the pending July 1, 2022, deadline to begin enforcing the Final Rules.

Background

The Final Rules require non-grandfathered health plans and health insurance issuers to post information about the cost to participants, beneficiaries, and enrollees for in-network and out-of-network healthcare services through machine-readable files posted on a public website.  The Final Rules for this requirement are effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022 (an additional requirement for disclosing information about pharmacy benefits and drug costs is delayed pending further guidance).   The Final Rules require that all costs be expressed as a dollar amount.  After the Final Rules were published, plans and issuers pointed out that under some alternative reimbursement arrangements in-network costs are calculated as a percentage of billed charges.  In those cases, dollar amounts cannot be determined in advance.

FAQ Safe Harbor

The FAQs provide a safe harbor for disclosing costs under a contractual arrangement where the plan or issuer agrees to pay an in-network provider a percentage of billed charges and cannot assign a dollar amount before delivering services.  Under this kind of arrangement, they may report the percentage number instead of a dollar amount.  The FAQs also provide that where the nature of the contractual arrangement requires the submission of additional information to describe the nature of the negotiated rate, plans and issuers may describe the formula, variables, methodology, or other information necessary to understand the arrangement in an open text field.  This is only permitted if the current technical specifications do not support the disclosure via the machine-readable files.

Public Website Requirement

This guidance is pretty narrow and of most interest to plans, issuers, and third-party administrators responsible for the technical aspects of the disclosure.  Still, it is a helpful reminder to plan sponsors that the July 1st enforcement deadline for these requirements is rapidly approaching.  As a reminder, for fully insured plans the plan sponsor is considered the insurance carrier. However, for self or level funded medical plans the plan sponsor is the employer so they will be the one responsible making sure they are meeting the transparency disclosure requirements. Plans sponsors should remember that these machine-readable files must be posted on a public website.  The Final Rules clearly state that the files must be accessible for free, without having to establish a user account, password, or other credentials and without submitting any personal identifying information such as a name, email address, or telephone number.  If a third-party website hosts the files, the plan or issuer must post a link to the file’s location on its own public website.  Simply posting the files on an individual plan website or the Plan Sponsor’s company intranet falls short of these requirements.  Regardless of how a plan opts to comply, The July 1st deadline is right around the corner.

 

DOL Issues Guidance on Outbreak Period Extensions

March 01 - Posted at 1:41 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

The COVID-19 extensions that the DOL and IRS had issued last year as part of their “Joint Notice” were set to expire at midnight on February 28th.  For weeks, many have been asking the DOL and IRS for guidance on how to handle the statutorily-mandated expiration, and as a result of the lack of guidance, most plans, TPAs, insurers, and COBRA administrators had to make a judgment call as to how to proceed.

But – with 2 days to spare – DOL finally issued Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01  on February 26th.

Notice 2021-01 sets forth the DOL and IRS’ position that the COVID-19 extensions will continue past February 28th, and that all such extensions must be measured on a person-by-person basis – which was not clear from the prior guidance.  Plans, TPAs, insurers, and COBRA administrators may have to reconsider their administrative practices in light of this new direction.

Short Background

The original Joint Notice (85 Fed. Reg. 26351 (May 4, 2020) required that health and retirement plans toll a number of deadlines for individuals during the COVID-19 National Emergency, plus a 60-day period (the “Outbreak Period”) starting March 1, 2020.

But, as described in Footnote 4 of the Joint Notice, ERISA and the Code limit DOL and Treasury’s ability to toll deadlines to one year (“Tolling Period”).

The deadlines impacted in the Joint Notice are:

  • Deadline to elect COBRA;
  • Deadline to pay COBRA premiums;
  • Deadline to elect HIPAA special enrollment;
  • Deadlines to file claims, appeals, and requests for external review; and
  • Deadline for plan to provide COBRA election notice


When there has been disaster relief guidance in the past, these periods have not bumped up against the statutorily-imposed one-year limit, so this COVID-19 extension is new territory – hence all the requests for the agencies to issue guidance regarding the expiration date.

Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01

In this late-breaking Notice 2021-01, DOL says it coordinated with HHS and IRS, and the agencies are interpreting the Tolling Period to be read on a person-by-person basis.

Specifically, DOL says that the Tolling Period ends the earlier of:

  1. One year from the date the deadline would have begun running for that individual; or
  2. 60 days from the end of the National Emergency (which is still ongoing).

This means that each individual has his or her own Tolling Period!

For example, a COBRA Qualified Beneficiary (QB) has 60 days to elect COBRA, counted from the later of their loss of coverage or the date their COBRA election notice is provided.  Under the Joint Notice, a QB’s 60-day deadline was tolled as of March 1, 2020, until the end of the Outbreak Period (that is, until the end of the National Emergency + 60 days).

At the end of the Outbreak Period, the deadlines would start running again, and the QB would have their normal 60-day COBRA election period (or the balance of their election period if it started before March 1, 2020).

BUT – with the 1-year expiration, DOL’s new Notice 2021-01 says that the one-year period does not end on February 28, 2021 for all individuals, but rather each individual has his/her own one-year Tolling Period.

Examples:

  • If QB A’s election period started 2/1/20, her election deadline was tolled as of 3/1/20. Her one-year Tolling Period would end 2/28/21, so her election period would start 3/1/21, and she would have the balance of her 60-day election period.
  • If QB B’s election period started 3/1/20, her election deadline was tolled as of 3/1/20. Her one-year Tolling Period would end 2/28/21, so her 60-day election period would start 3/1/21.
  • If QB C’s election period started 6/1/20, her election deadline was tolled right away, as of 6/1/20. Her one-year Outbreak Period would end 5/31/21, so her 60-day Tolling period would start 6/1/21.
  • If QB D’s election period starts 4/1/21, her election deadline also will be tolled right away on 4/1/21, as long as we are still in the National Emergency. Her one-year Tolling Period would end 3/31/22, so her 60-day election period would start 4/1/22.

For all of these examples, the tolling would end earlier if the National Emergency ends.  In that case, the election period would end 60 days after the end of the National Emergency.

Reasonable Accommodation Requirement

Notice 2021-01 also says that DOL recognizes that enrollees may continue to encounter COVID issues, even after the one-year Tolling Period expiration.  DOL says that the “guiding principle” is for plans to act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families.  DOL says that plan fiduciaries should make “reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of or undue delay in payment of benefits . . . and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established time frames.”

Notice 2021-01 does not provide any direction regarding what would constitute a “reasonable accommodation.”  It sounds like plans may need a process to consider whether to continue to waive deadlines on a case-by-case basis, but without any guidance as to what parameters to apply.  And DOL suggests that failure to do so could be a fiduciary issue.


Notices

Regarding communicating these changes to enrollees, DOL says:

  • The plan administrator or fiduciary “should consider” affirmatively sending a notice regarding the end of the one-year relief period (presumably to each person based on her own customized extension period).
  • Plans “may need” to reissue or amend prior disclosures if they failed to provide accurate information regarding these new extension deadlines.
  • Plans “should consider” making enrollees aware of other coverage options, such as the Special Enrollment Period under the Health Insurance Marketplace.

DOL seems to be saying that plans may need to notify each individual when his or her one-year extension is about to be up and should include information about the Health Insurance Marketplace.  In addition, plans may need to update prior communications that did not anticipate this new DOL interpretation.

Enforcement

DOL says it acknowledges that there may be instances when plans or service providers themselves may not be able to fully and timely comply with pre-established timeframes and disclosure requirements.  DOL says that where fiduciaries have acted in “good faith and with reasonable diligence under the circumstances,” DOL’s approach to enforcement will be “marked by an emphasis on compliance assistance,” including grace periods or other relief.

Last week the Department of Health and Human Services, DOL and the IRS extended deadlines for multiple items related to health plan administration.  We don’t expect a huge influx of issues from the changes.  However, you should be aware so you don’t inadvertently misinform your employees.    

There were changes made regarding COBRA premium payments and election timeframes but since we have addressed those in a previous post, we won’t address it here.  COBRA administration is outsourced and those impacted are no longer employees so you can direct their questions to your COBRA administrator or to our office.  We’ll also skip the changes made to claims and appeals as that won’t apply to everyone.  That leaves the changes to your benefit program. 

As you are aware, most of the carriers have reduced or even eliminated the minimum number of hours a previously full-time employee must work to be covered by your plan.  Meaning, we can offer coverage to furloughed employees or those that have otherwise reduced hours to below the full-time requirements. 

In addition, the agencies, have decided to disregard the Outbreak Period (the time period between March 1st and at least 60 days after the announced end of the COVID 19 National Emergency) when establishing a deadline to request enrollment in coverage for certain qualifying events.  Meaning, the agencies, added a “pause” to the time frame required for employees to notify you about special enrollment periods, such as marriage or birth of a child.  We are not able to determine the exact end date of the Outbreak Period yet as that is based on an end to the National Emergency (and that had yet to be determined). 

For our examples, we’ll assume the COVID 19 National Emergency ends for the country on June 30th.  This would make the Outbreak Period March 1st to August 29th (60 days following June 30). 

Example 1 – Sally has a baby on March 3rd.  Normally, she would have 30 days to notify us that she would like to add the baby.  However, you are being instructed to disregard the Outbreak Period, therefore she has until September 28th (30 days from the end of the Outbreak Period) to let us know her desire to add her child.

Example 2 – Tom gets married June 1st.  He will have until September 28th to let us know if he intends to enroll his spouse. 

Under these examples, the dependents would be enrolled back to their original eligibility date and the employee would owe those back premiums.  I don’t expect this to become a big issue, however, depending on the employees circumstances it could.  The drawback to employers, other than the inconvenience, is this could have an impact on the group claims.  Normally Tom and Sally would only have 30 days to enroll their dependents.  With the extensions, employees have information about any issues or medical expenditures that have already happened along the way.  Carriers will be responsible to back up, enroll the dependent, and pay any claims incurred. 

Please let us know of any questions you have. 

Proposed Rule Would Require Health Plans to Disclose Out-of-Pocket Costs by Providers

November 26 - Posted at 1:32 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

In a proposed regulation, federal agencies suggest a rule that would require employer-sponsored group health plans to provide plan enrollees with estimates of their out-of-pocket expenses for services from different health care providers. Plans would make this information available through an online self-service tool so enrollees could shop and compare costs for services before receiving care.

Comments are due by Jan. 14, 2020, on the transparency-in-coverage rule issued by the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury. The unpublished rule was released on Nov. 15, when the agencies also posted a fact sheet summarizing the proposal.

Some feel that the rule, if finalized, would be the most dramatic expansion of disclosure obligations for group health plans since the ERISA was passed in 1974.

The proposal is part of the Trump administration’s attempt to create price competition in the health care marketplace. It follows the November release of a final rule requiring hospitals to publish their prices online for standard charges, including negotiated rates with providers. That rule, to take effect Jan. 1, 2021, is expected to be challenged in court by hospital industry groups.

Key Requirements

The new proposal would apply to all health plans except those that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act. Among other obligations, group health plans and health insurance carriers would be required to do the following:

  • Make out-of-pocket costs for all covered health care items and services available to plan enrollees through a self-service website. The information would be available in paper form on request and presented in a format similar to an explanation of benefits notice.
  • Make in-network rates negotiated with the plan’s network providers, as well as past payments made to out-of-network providers, publicly available. This information would be updated monthly.

 

A Step Further

Information about employees’ out-of-pocket expenses and cost-sharing under employer plans is already disclosed in pre-service and post-service benefit claim determinations. However, “the proposed rules would take these disclosure requirements a step further by requiring individually tailored cost estimates prior to the receipt of services,” noted Susan Nash, a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn in Chicago.

While transparency in health care pricing is generally welcomed by employers, she observed, “employers may balk at the cost of preparing the online or mobile app-based cost-estimator tools, or purchasing such tools from vendors.”

In addition, because much of the information required to be disclosed is specific to the participant and the benefit option in which the participant is enrolled, the disclosures “will require greater coordination among employers and third-party administrators, pharmacy benefit managers, [and] disease management, behavioral health, utilization review, and other specialty vendors and will require amendments to existing agreements,” Nash explained.

The rules around public disclosure will likely be opposed by health insurance carriers who view their price negotiation as confidential and part of the service that they provide as carriers, and insurers are likely to challenge them in court, as hospital systems are expected to do with the final rule on disclosing their prices.

New Rule Will Let Employees Use HRAs to Buy Health Insurance in 2020

June 14 - Posted at 4:33 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Advocates claim a newly issued regulation could transform how employers pay for employee health care coverage.

On June 13, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury issued a final rule allowing employers of all sizes that do not offer a group coverage plan to fund a new kind of health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), known as an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA). The departments also posted FAQs on the new rule.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, employees will be able to use employer-funded ICHRAs to buy individual-market insurance, including insurance purchased on the public exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Under IRS guidance from the Obama administration (IRS Notice 2013-54), employers were effectively prevented from offering stand-alone HRAs that allow employees to purchase coverage on the individual market.

“Using an individual coverage HRA, employers will be able to provide their workers and their workers’ families with tax-preferred funds to pay all or a portion of the cost of coverage that workers purchase in the individual market,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “The departments estimate that once employers fully adjust to the new rules, roughly 800,000 employers will offer individual coverage HRAs to pay for insurance for more than 11 million employees and their family members, providing them with more options for selecting health insurance coverage that better meets their needs.”

The new rule “is primarily about increasing employer flexibility and worker choice of coverage,” said Brian Blase, special assistant to the president for health care policy. “We expect this rule to particularly benefit small employers and make it easier for them to compete with larger businesses by creating another option for financing worker health insurance coverage.”

The final rule is in response to the Trump administration’s October 2017 executive order on health care choice and competition, which resulted in an earlier final rule on association health plans that is now being challenged in the courts, and a final rule allowing low-cost short-term insurance that provides less coverage than a standard ACA plan.

New Types of HRAs

Existing HRAs are employer-funded accounts that employees can use to pay out-of-pocket health care expenses but may not use to pay insurance premiums. Unlike health savings accounts (HSAs), all HRAs, including the new ICHRA, are exclusively employer-funded, and, when employees leave the organization, their HRA funds go back to the employer. This differs from HSAs, which are employee-owned and portable when employees leave.

The proposed regulations keep the kinds of HRAs currently permitted (such as HRAs integrated with group health plans and retiree-only HRAs) and would recognize two new types of HRAs:

  • Individual coverage HRAs. Employers would be allowed to fund ICHRAs only for employees not offered a group health plan. 
  • Excepted-benefit HRAs. These would be limited to paying premiums for vision and dental coverage or similar benefits exempt from ACA and other legal requirements. These HRAs are only permitted if employees are offered coverage under a group health plan sponsored by the employer.

What ICHRAs Can Do

Under the new HRA rule:

  • Employers may either offer an ICHRA or a traditional group health plan but may not offer employees a choice between the two.
  • Employers can create classes of employees around certain employment distinctions, such as salaried workers versus hourly workers, full-time workers versus part-time workers, and workers in certain geographic areas, and then offer an ICHRA on a class by class basis.
  • Employers that offer an ICHRA must do so on the same terms for all employees in a class of employees, but they may increase the ICHRA amount for older workers and for workers with more dependents.
  • Employers can maintain their traditional group health plan for existing enrollees, with new hires offered only an ICHRA.

The rule also includes a disclosure provision to help ensure that employees understand the type of HRA being offered by their employer and how the ICHRA offer may make them ineligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy when buying an ACA exchange-based plan. To help satisfy the notice requirements, the IRS issued an Individual Coverage HRA Model Notice.

QSEHRAs and ICHRAs

Currently, qualified small-employer HRAs (QSEHRAs), created by Congress in December 2016, allow small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees to use pretax dollars to reimburse employees who buy nongroup health coverage. The new rule goes farther and:

  • Allows all employers, regardless of size, to pay premiums for individual policies through a premium-reimbursement ICHRA.
  • Clarifies that when employers fund an ICHRA or a QSEHRA paired with individual-market insurance, this will not cause the individual-market coverage to become part of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan if certain requirements are met (for instance, employers may not select or endorse a particular individual-market plan).
  • Creates a special enrollment period in the ACA’s individual market for those who gain access to an ICHRA or a QSEHRA to purchase individual-market health insurance coverage.

The legislation creating QSEHRAs set a maximum annual contribution limit with inflation-based adjustments. In 2019, annual employer contributions to QSEHRAs are capped at $5,150 for a single employee and $10,450 for an employee with a family.

The new rule, however, doesn’t cap contributions for ICHRAs.

As a result, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees will have two choices—QSEHRAs or ICHRAs—with some regulatory differences between the two. For example:

  • QSEHRA participants who obtain health insurance from an ACA exchange and who are eligible for a tax credit/subsidy must report to the exchange that they are participants in a QSEHRA. The amount of the tax credit/subsidy is reduced by the available QSEHRA benefit.
  • ICHRA participants, however, will not be able to receive any premium tax credit/subsidy for exchange-based coverage.

“QSEHRAs have a special rule that allows employees to qualify for both their employer’s subsidy and the difference between that amount and any premium tax credit for which they’re eligible,” said John Barkett, director of policy affairs at consultancy Willis Towers Watson.

While the ability of employees to couple QSEHRAs with a premium tax credit is appealing, the downside is QSEHRA’s annual contribution limits, Barkett said. “QSEHRA’s are limited in their ability to fully subsidize coverage for older employees and employees with families, because employers could run through those caps fairly quickly,” he noted.

For older employees, the least expensive plan available on the individual market could easily cost $700 a month or $8,400 a year, Barkett pointed out, and “with a QSEHRA, an employer could only put in around $429 per month to stay under the $5,150 annual limit for self-only coverage.”

Similarly, for employees with many dependents, premiums could easily exceed the QSEHRA’s family coverage maximum of $10,450, whereas “all those dollars could be contributed pretax through an ICHRA,” Barkett said.

An Excepted-Benefit HRA

In addition to allowing ICHRAs, the final rule creates a new excepted-benefit HRA that lets employers that offer traditional group health plans provide an additional pretax $1,800 per year (indexed to inflation after 2020) to reimburse employees for certain qualified medical expenses, including premiums for vision, dental, and short-term, limited-duration insurance.

The new excepted-benefit HRAs can be used by employees whether or not they enroll in a traditional group health plan, and can be used to reimburse employees’ COBRA continuation coverage premiums and short-term insurance coverage plan premiums.

Safe Harbor Coming

With ICHRAs, employers still must satisfy the ACA’s affordability and minimum value requirements, just as they must do when offering a group health plan. However, “the IRS has signaled it will come out with a safe harbor that should make it straightforward for employers to determine whether their ICHRA offering would comply with ACA coverage requirements,” Barkett said.

Last year, the IRS issued Notice 2018-88, which outlined proposed safe harbor methods for determining whether individual coverage HRAs meet the ACA’s affordability threshold for employees, and which stated that ICHRAs that meet the affordability standard will be deemed to offer at least minimum value.

The IRS indicated that further rulemaking on these safe harbor methods is on its agenda for later this year.

Proposal Announced To Expand Access to Affordable Health Coverage

October 23 - Posted at 7:21 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

The Trump administration announced a proposed rule today that would allow businesses to give employees money to purchase health insurance on the individual marketplace, a move senior officials say will expand choices for employees that work at small businesses.

The proposed rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Treasury, would restructure Obama-era regulations that limited the use of employer-funded accounts known as health reimbursement arrangements (HRA). The proposal is part of President Donald Trump’s “Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition” executive order issued last year, which tasked the agencies with expanding the use of HRAs.

Senior administration officials said the proposed change would bring more competition to the individual marketplace by giving employees the chance to purchase health coverage on their own. The rule includes “carefully constructed guardrails” to prevent employers from keeping healthy employees on their company plans and incentivizing high-cost employees to seek coverage elsewhere.

That issue was a primary concern under the Obama administration, which barred the use of HRAs for premium assistance. The 21st Century Cures Act established Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Accounts (QSEHRA), but those are subject to stringent limitations.

Under the new rule, HRA money would remain exempt from federal and payroll income taxes for employers and employees. Additionally, employers with traditional coverage would be permitted to reserve $1,800 for supplemental benefits like vision, dental and short-term health plans.

Officials estimate 10 million people would purchase insurance through HRAs, including 1 million people that were not previously insured. Most of those people would be concentrated in small and mid-sized businesses.

The proposed change would “unleash consumerism” and “spur innovation among providers and insurers that directly compete for consumer dollars,” one senior official said. Officials expect 7 million people will be added to the individual marketplace over the next 10 years.

The rule does not change the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer coverage to 95% of full-time employees. Administration officials expect the proposal will have the biggest impact on small businesses with less than 50 employees.

However, the rule could scale back the use of premium subsidies. If the HRA is considered “affordable” based on the amount provided by the employer, the employee would not be eligible for a premium tax credit. If the HRA fails to meet those minimum requirements, the employee could choose between a premium tax credit and the HRA.

Overall, the rule will “create a greater degree of value in healthcare and the health benefits marketplace than we would otherwise see,” one official said.

The regulation, if finalized, is proposed to be effective for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2020.

 

The next ACA compliance hurdle employers are set to face is managing subsidy notifications and appeals. Many exchanges recently began mailing out notifications this summer and it’s important for employers to make sure they’re prepared to manage the process. Why? Well, subsidies—also referred to as Advanced Premium Tax Credits, are a trigger for employer penalties. If you fail to offer coverage to an eligible employee and the employee receives a subsidy, you may be liable for a fine. 


Step 1


If an employee receives a subsidy, you’ll receive a notice. This is where things can get complicated. You need to ensure that the notifications go directly to the correct person or department as soon as possible, because you (the employer) only have 90 days from the date on the notification to respond. And rounding up these notices may not be so easy. For example, your employee may not have put the right employer address on their exchange /  marketplace application. Most often, employees will list the address of the location where they work, not necessarily the address where the notification should go, like your headquarters or HR department. If the employee is receiving a subsidy but put a wrong address or did not put any address for their employer, you will not even receive a notice about that employee.  

Step 2


Once you receive the notification, you must decide whether or not you want to appeal the subsidy. If you offered minimum essential coverage (MEC) to the employee who received a subsidy and it met both the affordability and minimum value requirements, you should consider appealing.


You may think that appealing a subsidy and potentially getting in the way of your employee receiving a tax credit could create complications. Believe it or not, you may actually be doing your employee a favor. If an employee receives a subsidy when they weren’t supposed to, they’ll likely have to repay some (or all) of the subsidy amount back when they file their taxes. Your appeal can help minimize the chance of this happening since they will learn sooner rather than later that they didn’t qualify for the subsidy. Plus, the appeal can help prevent unnecessary fines impacting your organization by showing that qualifying coverage was in fact offered. 


Step 3


If you have grounds to appeal, you can complete an Employer Appeal Request Form and submit it to the appropriate exchange / marketplace (Note: this particular form is intended to appeal subsidies through the Federal exchange). The form will ask for information about your organization, the employee whose subsidy you’re appealing, and why you’re appealing it. Once sent, the exchange will notify both you and the employee when the appeal was received.


Step 4


Next, the exchange will review the case and make a decision. In some cases, the exchange may choose to hold a hearing. Once a decision is made, you and your employee will be notified. But it doesn’t necessarily end there. Your employee will have an opportunity to appeal the exchange’s decision with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If HHS decides to hold a hearing, you may be called to testify. In this situation, HHS will review the case and make a final decision. If HHS decides that the employee isn’t eligible for the subsidy, then the employee may have to repay the subsidy amount for the last few months. On the other hand, if the HHS decides the employee is eligible for the subsidy, it will be important for you to keep your appeal on file since this can potentially result in a fine from the IRS later in the year.


Sound complicated? It certainly can be. Managing subsidies and appeals could quickly add up to a substantial time investment, and if handled improperly you could see additional impacts to your bottom line in the form of fines. Handling subsidy notifications and appeals properly up front can lead to fewer fines down the road, benefiting both you and your employees.

HHS Announces New Health Plan Out of Pocket Limits for 2017

March 07 - Posted at 3:00 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

On March 1, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the finalized 2017 health plan out-of-pocket (OOP) maximums.   Applicable to non-grandfathered health plans, the OOP limits for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017 are $7,150 for single coverage and $14,300  for family coverage, up from $6,850 single/$13,700 family in 2016. The OOP maximum includes the annual deductible and any in-network cost-sharing  obligations members have after the deductible is met.  Premiums,  pre-authorization penalties, and OOP expenses associated with out-of-network benefits are not required to be included in the OOP maximums.


In addition to the new OOP maximum limits, employers offering high deductible health plans need to be particularly mindful of the embedded OOP maximum requirement. Beginning in 2016, all  non-grandfathered health plans, whether self-funded or fully insured, must apply  an embedded OOP maximum to each individual enrolled in family coverage if the plan’s family OOP maximum exceeds the ACA’s OOP limit for self-only coverage  ($7,150 for 2017).  The ACA-required embedded OOP maximum is a new and  often confusing concept for employers offering a high deductible health plan  (HDHP). Prior to ACA, HDHPs commonly imposed one overall family OOP limit  on family coverage (called an aggregate OOP) without an underlying individual  OOP maximum for each covered family member.  Now, HDHPs must comply with  the IRS deductible and OOP parameters for self-only and family coverage in  addition to ACA’s OOP embedded single limit requirement.     


The IRS is expected to announce the 2017 HDHP  deductible and OOP limits in May 2016.

Plans and insurers must cover all 18 contraception methods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a new set of questions and answers on the Affordable Care Act’s preventive care coverage requirements.


“Reasonable medical management” still may be used to steer members to specific products within those methods of contraception. A plan or insurer may impose cost-sharing on non-preferred items within a given method, as long as at least one form of contraception in each method is covered without cost-sharing.


However, an individual’s physician must be allowed to override the plan’s drug management techniques if the physician finds it medically necessary to cover without cost-sharing an item that a given plan or insurer has classified as non-preferred, according to one of the frequently asked questions from the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury.

The ACA mandated all plans and insurers to cover preventive care items, as defined by the Public Health Service Act, without cost-sharing. Eighteen forms of female contraception are included under the preventive care list. The individual FAQs on contraception clarified the following requirements.


  • Plans and insurers must cover without cost-sharing at least one version of all the contraception methods identified in the FDA Birth Control Guide. Currently, the guide lists 18  forms of contraception that must be thus covered (see  bottom of article).


  • Plans  may use “reasonable medical management” to control the offerings within  the 18 contraceptive forms covered. This includes encouraging the use of generic instead of brand-name drugs, by imposing cost-sharing on non-preferred brand-name drugs or items.
    However, policies that impose costs on non-preferred drugs and items must be subject to an exception process that is “easily accessible, transparent and sufficiently expedient.” The process must not be unduly burdensome on the individual, provider or individual acting on the individual’s behalf,  and must cover an item or service without cost-sharing if a treating physician deems it medically necessary. “The plan or issuer must defer to the determination of the attending provider with respect to the individual involved,” the guidance states.


  • Plans that try to offer coverage for some — but not all — FDA-identified   contraceptive methods will not comply with the health care reform law and its rules. For example, plans cannot cover barrier and hormonal methods of  contraception while excluding coverage for implants or sterilization.


The FAQ comes just weeks after reports and news coverage detailed health plan violations of the women coverage provisions of the ACA.


Testing and Dependent Care Answers

In questions separate from contraception, plans and insurers were told they must cover breast cancer susceptibility (BRCA-1 or BRCA-2) testing without cost-sharing. The test identifies whether the woman has genetic mutations that make her more susceptible to BRCA-related breast cancer.


Another question stated that if colonoscopies are performed as preventive screening without cost-sharing, then plans could not impose cost-sharing on the anesthesia component of that service.


image

Proposed Changes for the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC)

January 16 - Posted at 6:35 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On December 22, 2014, the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued proposed regulations for changes to the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC).

 

The proposed regulations clarify when and how a plan administrator or insurer must provide an SBC, shortens the SBC template, adds a third cost example, and revises the uniform glossary. The proposed regulations provide new information and also incorporate several FAQs that have been issued since the final SBC regulations were issued in 2012.

 

These proposed changes are effective for plan years and open enrollment period beginning on or after September 1, 2015. Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted until March 2,2015 and are encourages on many of the provisions.

 

New Template

 

The new SBC template eliminates a significant amount of information that the Departments characterized as not being required by law and/or as having been identified by consumer testing as less useful for choosing coverage.

 

The sample completed SBC template for a standard group health plan has been reduced from four double-sided pages to two-and-a-half double-sided pages. Some of the other changes include:

 

  • An additional cost example for a simple foot fracture treated in an emergency room, which will be added to the two current examples. This new example is proposed as a health problem that any individual could experience, while the two current examples- having a baby and managing type 2 diabetes- affect only certain individuals.
  • The coverage example calculator will be authorized for continued use and updated claims and pricing data for the two existing exampled and the third example will be provided.
  • References to annual limits for essential health benefits (EHBs) and preexisting condition exclusions  will be removed.
  • Information regarding minimum essential coverage (MEC) and minimum value (MV) has been revised and must be included in the SBC. This effectively ends a temporary enforcement safe harbor that previously permitted statements about MEC and MV to be included in a cover letter rather than in the SBC.
  • Premium information may be included in an SBC, but it is not required.
  • All SBCs must include an issuer website where the individual policy or group certificate of coverage can be reviewed and obtained. Plan administrators are not required to include a website separate from the issuer website.
  • SBCs for individual policies will be required to disclose whether abortion services are covered or excluded and whether coverage is limited to services for which federal funding is allowed.

 

Glossary Revisions

Revisions to the uniform glossary have also been proposed. The glossary must be available to plan participants upon request. Some definitions have been changed and new medical terms such as claim, screening, referral and specialty drug have been added. Additional terms related to health care reform such as individual responsibility requirement, minimum value and cost-sharing reductions have also been added.

 

Paper vs Electronic Distribution

SBCs may continue to be provided electronically to group plan participants in connection with their online enrollment or online renewal of coverage. SBCs may also be provided electronically to participants who request an SBC online. These individuals must also have the option to receive a paper copy upon request.

 

SBCs for self-insured non-federal government plans may continue to be provided electronically if the plan conforms to either the electronic distribution requirements that apply ERISA plan or the rules that apply to individual health insurance coverage.

 

Types of Plans to Which SBCs Apply

The regulations confirm that SBCs are not required for expatriate health plans, Medicare Advantage plans or plans that qualify as excepted benefits. Excepted benefits include:

 

  • Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) that meet the requirements to be excepted benefits
  • Health Savings Account (HSAs) because they are not group health plans
  • Dental and vision coverage that meet the requirements to be excepted benefits

 

SBCs are required for:

  • Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) because they are considered group health plans
  • Health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) if they do not qualify as excepted benefits
© 2022 Administrators Advisory Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved