Two Minute Blog
Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announces new contribution limits for tax-advantaged accounts. Many of these accounts are indexed for inflation so the limits rise year over year. This article is geared at educating you about the new contribution limits for two tax-advantaged accounts in relation to healthcare.
Flex Spending Account (FSA) 2020 Limits:
FSA limits have been announced for 2020. If you have health insurance through your job, you can utilize an FSA for using pre-tax money to cover your out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. FSAs are more of a use it or lose it type of account so it’s best to estimate the amount of healthcare you typically consume before making your elections.
The IRS announced on October 31, 2013, that employers would be allowed to either offer a carryover or a grace period for FSAs effective in 2014. If you have access to an FSA through your employer we advise you check with them on whether or not they offer one of the following options:
- Two and a half months grace period in the new year to use up the previous year’s dollars
- $500 carryover to use in the new year
Here are the health FSA contribution limits for 2020 compared to 2019 and 2018:
Dependent care FSA limits are not indexed for inflation and so they remain at:
Health Savings Account (HSA) 2020 Limits:
If you are on an HSA qualified plan you are able to contribute to an HSA. If you qualify, HSAs have several benefits over FSAs:
- The contribution limits are higher
- You never lose the money
- You can invest HSA funds in mutual funds
Here are the HSA contribution limits for 2020 in comparison to 2019 and 2018:
We realize healthcare costs continue to increase so any opportunity to save on taxes should be considered. Please check with your employer’s human resource department to confirm which of these accounts you may be eligible for.
Theme pic by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash
On Friday Medicare announced the Part B rates that most Medicare enrollees will be responsible for paying in 2020. Effective January 1, 2020 the standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will be $144.60. This represents an increase of $9.10 from the $135.50 enrollees paid in 2019.
Starting in 2007, a beneficiary’s Part B monthly premium has been based on income. Income-related monthly adjustment amounts (IRMAA) affect approximately 7 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries. The 2020 Part B premium levels adjusted for income as well as the Part D (Prescription Drug Plan) are shown in the following tables:
2020 Medicare Part B Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amounts
Part D (Prescription Drug Plans) IRMAA in 2020
And, If your modified adjusted gross income is above a certain amount, you may also pay a Part D income-related monthly adjustment amount (Part D IRMAA). Those amounts for 2020 are listed below.
‘Tis the season for open enrollment in the world of health insurance! Open enrollment for Medicare 2020 has already begun (October 15th – December 7th, 2019). Additionally, individual open enrollment is underway (November 1st – December 15, 2019). Lastly and most important to this article is the fact that many employers are in the midst of their group health plan open enrollment. Many group plans renew January 1st so it’s a busy time of year for employers, brokers, and insurance carriers.
This article is designed to assist employers in knowing what to focus on during this busy season.
The most important thing we need to focus on is the premiums that you pay to the insurance carriers. We know this is a huge expense and we work with you to keep this competitive to what’s available in the marketplace.
Most of the January 1st group health insurance renewals are out. Perhaps your increase is palatable enough to forgo shopping and just renew as is. However, that is more the outlier than the norm. Typically, it’s best to assist us with the necessary data needed in order to shop your policy with the competing carriers in the marketplace. By now, your account managers at BBG have been working hard to gather the necessary data for shopping. These items include:
- Current Census
- Average Total Number of Employees (ATNE). This is based on how many total employees you employed each month and dividing by 12. Estimates are used for the remaining months of the year.
- Names of your employees who are eligible but waive off the plan
- The reason they are waiving
- If you are a 51+ group we’ll need what is called an Employer Risk Assessment Form (ERAF)
The above will allow us to obtain street rates in the small group market place and potentially underwritten rates in the 51+ marketplace. Street rates are off the shelf rates that are based on your group’s census alone. They are still subject to underwriting but give us a good benchmark to know if we should pursue underwritten rates
Medical Health Questionnaires (MHQs)
The dreaded MHQs need not be so dreaded anymore! Most insurance carriers prefer to receive electronic MHQs via programs like FormFire. Some carriers now require FormFire MHQs. BBG has dedicated team members who can assist your employees in completing this process. We’ve worked hard this year to streamline the process to allow us to help a larger number of you in a shorter amount of time.
So when are MHQs needed? This answer is different depending upon what market segment you are in…
1-50 Small Groups
If you have 50 and under total employees, FormFire MHQs will be needed to obtain underwritten rates from any competing carriers. However, BBG is all about efficiency so we first obtain street rates to determine if this is even worthy of your time. If we determine that it is then we highly suggest proceeding with FormFire.
The only exception here is when we obtain community rates. Community rates are different from underwritten rates and are typically more expensive than their underwritten counterparts. We’ve been finding that mostly micro groups and other groups with certain characteristics that may adversely impact underwriting are served best by community rates.
51-99 Mid-Size Groups
If you have between 51-99 total employees some carriers require MHQs to release any underwritten rates. However, there are a few carriers who will release underwritten rates if your renewal is <25% and you’ve completed an ERAF.
100+ Large Groups
Typically MHQs are not needed in the 100+ market segment; although, there are exceptions where MHQs can be helpful. Your account manager will assist to know when this applies to you.
When Not to Shop the Market
There are only two instances when it makes sense to not shop the market. 1.) If you are in the 51-99 market and your incumbent carrier asks for your “no shop” number. A no shop number is an increase you are willing to accept in agreement for not shopping.
In our experience, if a carrier is asking for your “no shop” number, they are willing to play ball and negotiate. If you are not sure what a reasonable no shop number is, talk to your account manager and they can assist you with this. However, you can always be aggressive and ask for a flat increase. What’s the worst they can say? No? If the carrier cannot meet it, we can always shop your policy.
2.) Or if you are in the 1-50 market your incumbent carrier may be able to provide some rate relief in an agreement to not shop your policy. The amount of rate relief available in the small group market is much smaller but if you received a favorable renewal a few points of rate relief may be enough for you to decide to stay put. Your account manager and BBG will let you know if this is a feasible option for your specific group.
At BBG, we are fully aware that the most important work we do is to assist the employers we work for in keeping healthcare costs and the coverage your employees receive competitive to what’s in the marketplace. The most important benchmark number we look at is your average cost per employee per year. This number is found by taking your total costs and dividing by your total employees enrolled in the health plan. We realize your enrollment can fluctuate and by looking at this number we are looking at a comparable number year over year.
Open enrollment is always a busy time of the year but the exercise of shopping, completing FormFire, and allowing BBG to negotiate with the carriers on your behalf is the important work. This work allows you to maintain strong benefits year after year.
An ‘Annual poll of employers by Kaiser Family Foundation finds premiums rose 5% for family plans; ‘It’s the cost of buying an economy car.’
Let us show you how we help our employees operate at substantially below this scary number through SharedFunding.
Click here for The Wall Street Journal article for more insights into the survey results.
Groupons have been in the medical news lately (for example “Groupons For Medical Treatment? Welcome To Today’s U.S. Health Care” and “Groupons for medical care are helping patients save money“) with stories of deeply discounted rates for some medical tests in several local markets across the country.
Here’s the net of the good and bad from a smattering of the news reports.
Good because the lower rates may make the tests affordable for some who need them and who may otherwise pass because they simply can’t afford. In other words, if you have to have a test and don’t have coverage or if you have coverage but your plan’s deductible coupled with your network’s contracted rate for the test are out of reach, the Groupon rate may make it affordable.
Bad because the discounted rates sometimes prompt people to undergo testing unnecessarily and often without their doctor’s input or supervision. In some respects, it could be a cousin to a practice known as “predatory testing” (offering free initial tests designed to encourage more not so free tests and/or costly treatments…….when they may not be necessary or advisable in the first place.)
And, bad because the quality is sometimes not up to par leading to a retest which usually ends up being performed somewhere else at an additional cost. Essentially, patients end up having to pay multiple times to have the test done right.
According to one of the reports “Groupon dictates the price for its deals based on the competition in the area — and then takes a substantial cut”…
‘They take about half. It’s kind of brutal. It’s a tough place to market,’ said a provider that signed on with Groupon to market for his testing facility.”
Makes me think we could do just as well or even better fending for ourselves with a qualified provider of our choosing without Groupon as the middleman. If a test is needed, first talk to your doc and ask for a list of multiple qualified providers. And/or, check your insurance carrier’s online provider network directory for participating providers. Most insurance carriers now have online cost comparison tools that you can access by logging into your account. They are simple to use and allow you to shop for where you receive your healthcare. Once you have your lists of providers, check for quality ratings and pricing information.
After you do a little homework, select a few qualified providers. Ask each of the providers for their best rates; and, what kind of break they’ll give you for pre-payment or paying in cash.
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- Tom Barrett
- September 23, 2019
- affordable, cost, costs, coverage, employees, employers, health plans, healthcare, high deductible, insurance, kaiser, medical
- 0 Comments
Medicare can be daunting and confusing and quite difficult to grasp.
This is true in the case of existing Medicare beneficiaries as well as their care givers. And, it’s especially true for those prospective new enrollees who are about to turn 65 and have to deal with trying to understand their Medicare options for the very first time.
The Medicare Minute was created and sponsored by the Medicare Rights Center to help address and alleviate some of the confusion surrounding Medicare. The program consists of an ongoing series of free monthly educational programs designed to equip people with the knowledge to more clearly understand their Medicare options, to make more informed decisions, and to ultimately utilize their Medicare coverage more effectively.
Volunteers from across the country with experience in how health benefits work serve as facilitators for the Medicare Minute educational programs. And, bbg65Plus is now certified and appointed to serve as a Facilitator of the Medicare Minute program.
The Medicare Minute educational program is available free of charge to employers, organizations, and community groups interested in educating members on the ABC’s (and Part D) of Medicare. And now readers of our blog will be able to read a summary of some of highlights and key tips from those programs in this space each month.
To learn more about the Medicare Minute educational programs and how you can schedule Medicare Minute presentations for your organization, contact Tom Barrett, Medicare Minute Facilitator for bbg65Plus at 866.845.8600 x130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information — go here 1 Medicare Minute Overview and here 2 Medicare Minute FAQ
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- Tom Barrett
- August 29, 2019
- confusion, employees, employers, enrollment, federal, health plans, healthcare, insurance, medical, medicare, open enrollment
- 0 Comments
A dog’s sense of smell can be 10,000+ times more powerful than humans. It’s no surprise that we ingenious humans have figured out how to train these loving creatures with their amazing sniffing abilities.
We’ve all seen dogs at the airport and/or in cop cars. These dogs are particularly trained to sniff out illegal drugs. However, dogs can also be an effective solution in some healthcare situations.
Disclaimer: All dogs featured in this post belong to (or previously belonged) a BBG team member. The theme photo may just happen to be the president’s dog…or should I say the dog who owns the president may just happen to be featured in the theme. 😉
Life is good!
Wait, you want me to work??
Did you know there are seizure alert dogs? That’s right if you have a loved one who is challenged with epilepsy, there are organizations who can pair them with a trained seizure alert dog.
Here are several such organizations that we’ve come across in our research on the internet:
Ready to please!
According to Canine Partners for Life these dogs can do the following:
- Alert its partner of an oncoming seizure
- Stay close to its partner in the event of a seizure to prevent injury
- Alert a caretaker
- Fetch an alert device
- Open a door and/or turn on a light
The Epilepsy Foundation states that “dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures, just like they can be trained to serve people with other disabilities. The law protects a person’s right to use a service animal in any public place.”
It’s quite amazing that these fuzzy, friendly creatures can not only be our best friend but also provide a valuable service.
Everyone needs a best friend.
Diabetes is another health condition for which dogs can be trained to detect. The key with many medical conditions is early detection. Blood sugar levels which go too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) pose serious health risks.
Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert their partner in advance of levels becoming dangerous.
According to the American Kennel Club, “diabetic alert dogs can function as blood sugar level detectors.” While dogs cannot give exact measurements of blood sugar levels, like a blood glucose meter, they can preemptively alert their partners when levels are out of range.
If you are looking for organizations to pair you or your loved one with a diabetic alert dog, here are several organizations and resources:
Early Cancer Detection
Did you know I have 220 million smell receptors?
So if a dog’s sniffing ability is so phenomenal at early detection of certain health conditions, what about cancer? If so, wouldn’t it seem like a grand solution to have dogs in our primary care physicians waiting room? Well, we are probably a long way from that ever happening but there are dogs being trained.
However, no one can deny that some dogs are already being credited with life-saving abilities. This article from American Veterinarian has some great stories of normal dogs alerting their owners in creative ways about cancer. Many of the owners have good reason to believe their dogs saved their lives!
According to Medical News Today, dogs can detect certain cancers in a person’s:
This seems like a no brainer, right? It’s a low-risk, noninvasive method; however, there are still many inconsistencies.
Who me? I’d never present a challenge.
The first double-blinded studies were published in 2006. Dr. Klaus Hackner, a pulmonary physician at Krems University Hospital in Austria reports in this article on Scientific American.
First, let’s look at why/how dogs can detect cancers. Cells give off volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. According to Hackner, each type of cancer would have a distinct smell and it would be different from a normal cell.
“Given that dogs have more than 220 million smell receptors in their noses, they’re excellent animals for sniffing out disease,” Hackner said. “In comparison, humans have a ‘mere’ 5 million smell receptors in their noses,” he said.
Most dogs can be trained, in about 6 months, to detect the odors associated with certain cancers. However, the study failed due to the lab environment being set up in a way that neither dog nor handler knew if samples selected by the dogs were actually cancerous. Dogs will lose interest without positive reinforcement.
In this same article from Scientific American, Dr. Hilary Brodie, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of California, expounds on some arguments of why dog detection of cancer is not ideal even if the lab situation was different:
- It would take an immense amount of time and energy to train dogs on the many types of cancer.
- Dogs can have a bad day and misdiagnose.
- No test is perfect but doctors know the accuracy of certain tests such as mammograms while rates would vary from dog to dog.
Both Hackner and Brodie believe it may be more feasible to think that dogs will be aiding researchers in the creation of biochemical “nose” machines, known as e-noses.
The nose knows.
Dogs make wonderful companions and very apparently aid in improving our lives in various ways and especially with those who are challenged with health conditions. Dogs are already making a positive impact in the world of healthcare in regards to seizure and diabetic alert.
There is more research needed before dogs can be of assistance in the detection of certain cancers. However, the good news is that they possess a valuable key component (amazing sniffing abilities) and now it’s up to us to figure out how to best train and utilize them.
We are capable of more than just looking cute.
We have some very exciting news to share with you. Earlier this year, with great encouragement from our clients, we launched bbg65Plus.
Thinking about Medicare can be truly daunting. For years our clients have leaned on our knowledge, experience, and hallmark customer service for guidance on what to do and where to start when it comes to all things Medicare.
Now you can also turn to us to find the right coverage. We provide the full range of:
- Medicare Advantage Plans,
- Medicare Supplemental or Medigap Plans, and
- Prescription Drug Plans
We match each person with the plan that’s right for them. And, we simplify the enrollment process making the transition to Medicare smooth and pain-free.
The age 65 and over demographic represents the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce. Today, Medicare plays a much more significant role in the workplace.
Successfully transitioning to Medicare is a big deal that can also be a big cost and coverage win when done the right way. We can help.
Our goal centers on providing Medicare Peace of Mind. We remove the mystery and help you make the right decision about your Medicare coverage.
In launching bbg65Plus, we’re excited to serve the needs of our business clients as well as the Medicare needs of our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors in the communities where we live and work.
So, for anyone needing assistance and hoping to experience Medicare Peace of Mind, please contact us. We’d love to help.
And, of course, we’d be very grateful if you’d help us spread the word.
(e) 65Plus@bbginc.net; (p) 866.845.8600 x130
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- Tom Barrett
- July 18, 2019
- confusion, cost, coverage, employees, employers, federal, health plans, healthcare, HHS, insurance, medical, medicare, open enrollment
- 0 Comments