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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.

If you currently have an individual health insurance plan, you will be in for a big change when you sign up for your coverage in 2014.

 

Approximately 50% of the individual health plans that are currently being sold in the marketplace do not meet the standards of Obamacare to be sold in 2014. The reason for this is because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) sets new minimums for the basic coverage every individual health care plan must provide effective on renewals on or after January 1, 2014.

 

About 15 million Americans (or about 6% of non-elderly adults) currently have coverage in the individual health market. Beginning in the fall of 2013, they will be able to shop for and enroll in health insurance through state-based exchanges (aka SHOP or The Exchange) with coverage taking effect in January. By 2016, it is projected that around 24 million people will get their insurance through the exchanges, while another 12 million will continue to obtain individual coverage outside of the exchange.

 

Beginning in 2014, nearly all plans, both group and individual, will be required to cover an array of “essential” services regardless of if they are purchased within the exchange or not. These “essential” services will include medication, maternity, and mental health care. Many individual plans do not currently offer these benefits.

 

What will happen to the plans that do not meet the new minimum standards? They will more than likely disappear and you will not be allowed to renew your existing coverage on the plan you currently have. A handful of existing plans will be grandfathered in, but the qualifying criteria for a grandfathered plan is hard to meet. In order for your existing individual plan to be considered “grandfathered”, (1) you have to have been enrolled on this plan before the ACA was passed in 2010 and (2) the plan has to have maintained fairly steady co-pay, deductible and coverage rates until now.

 

Many insurers in the individual marketplace have already acknowledged that the majority of their existing individual plans do not meet Obamacare standards for 2014 and they are currently working to ready new product lineups for 2014.

 

In the future, consumers buying individual plans will be able to choose between four levels of coverage: platinum, gold, silver, and bronze.

 

Platinum plans will carry the highest premiums but will offer the lowest out of pocket expenses, with enrollees paying no more than 10%, on average. At the other end of the spectrum are the bronze plans, which will have the lowest monthly premiums but will have higher deductibles and copayments totaling up to 40% of the out of pocket costs on average.

 

Starting also in 2014, all Americans will be required to carry health care coverage or face fines. Those penalties will start at $95 per adult or 1% of the adjusted family income, whichever is greater, and will escalate in later years.

 

Individuals will annual incomes of up to 400% of the poverty line (or roughly $45,000 for an individual and about $92,000 for a family of four) will get federal subsidies to help defray the premium costs.

 

Most individual plans sold next year, even the lowest level bronze plans, are likely to charge higher premiums than today’s most “bare-bones” individual insurance plans. Many consumers feel the costs will be offset by having lower out of pocket costs and more comprehensive coverage than their current “bare-bones” plan offers.

 

In today’s marketplace, with deductibles of $10,000, an individual can buy a policy and then when they get sick, they may go broke because the policy leaves them with such a high level of out of pocket expenses to pay.  Many insurance industry experts feel, however, that consumers may now wind up with more coverage–and higher monthly costs– than they want. As a result, some individuals may just choose to simply pay the fine instead of obtaining health insurance coverage they will not use or can not afford.

 

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