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In Acquiring Aetna, CVS Health is Aspiring to Become “the Trusted Front Door to Health Care”. What’s the Impact on Current Aetna Customers?

In a letter to the broker community Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini provided a glimpse of where the combined CVS/Aetna entity hopes to head once everything is completed. If approved, the blockbuster transaction is expected to close late in 2018.

Here’s what Bertolini had to say:

“CVS Health and Aetna are joining to become the trusted front door to health care. Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within three miles of a CVS Health retail store and nearly five million Americans visit CVS Health every day. We will use CVS Health’s 9,700 retail locations to establish entirely new community health hubs dedicated to improving consumer wellbeing and answering questions about health, prescription drugs and health care benefits.

Our company will deliver care by utilizing CVS Health’s network of 1,100 in-store clinics, which are significantly less expensive than traditional health care delivery settings. Further integration of our pharmacy operations will help offset some of the projected increases in prescription drug prices, resulting in cost savings for employers and consumers.”

How Does This Week’s Announcement Impact Our Employer Clients Currently on Aetna Plans? And, Should You Be Concerned?

If you have an Aetna plan in place now or are considering switching to an Aetna plan in 2018 there’s no cause for any immediate concern.

According to Bertolini the pending transaction would have no immediate effect on the Aetna products already in place or any Aetna products offered in the market in 2018.

Or, as the title of a recent Wall Street Journal article analyzing the effects of the acquisition proclaimed CVS-Aetna Is More Tortoise Than Hare.

Health Savings Accounts: The Metrics You Need To Know For 2018

In case you missed the IRS announcement in May, here’s a snapshot of the key inflation-adjusted limits for next year as we roll toward 2018.

Health Savings Accounts (and the IRS compliant health plans that must be paired with HSA’s) are subject to annual dollar limits that are periodically updated for inflation.

 

BBG Snapshot: HSA’s By-The-Numbers 2018

Pharmacy Coupons and Insurance Companies Making Adjustments

This is an example of one Ohio company adjusting how they administer coupons people use at the pharmacyThe program helps make sure members’ out-of-pocket cost for prescription drugs are properly applied to deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket amounts.

The benefit of the coupon is easy to grasp.  Someone on an expensive brand medication can obtain it at low or no cost.

The problem can be that the carrier processes it as a paid claim and the member never pays what the plan requires.  There are reasons both employers and carriers want real out of pocket to be met by the member.

The carriers now are adjusting and working on ensuring that the member is not given credit or given a reimbursement for something they never paid for personally.  Members can use the coupons, but the carrier will credit only what the member actually paid.

This seems like a reasonable solution.  It will likely become a normal way coupons are processed.

If You Have Employees Who Are Turning 65 And Confused About Medicare Advantage, This Article Will Help Them

With more and more folks remaining in the workforce past age 65, we are often asked by clients to help explain Medicare eligibility and options to those employees on the cusp of turning 65.  This article from Kaiser Health News (reprinted with permission) provides some really solid information about Medicare Advantage, including pros and cons, that’s worth sharing and bookmarking.  Embedded in the article are numerous click-throughs to more information.

Medicare Vs. Medicare Advantage: How To Choose

As health insurers struggle with shifting government policies and considerable uncertainty, one market remains remarkably stable: Medicare Advantage plans.

That’s good news for seniors as they select coverage for the year ahead during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period (this year running from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7).

For 2018, 2,317 Medicare Advantage plans will be available across the country, “the most we’ve seen since 2009,” said Gretchen Jacobson, associate director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program on Medicare policy. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare. Run by private insurance companies, the plans — mostly health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) — are expected to serve a record 20.4 million people next year, or slightly more than one-third of Medicare’s 59 million members.

On average, seniors will have a choice of 21 plans, though in some counties and large metropolitan areas at least 40 plans will be accessible, Jacobson said. Availability tends to be far more restricted in rural locations.

While a few insurers are entering or exiting the Medicare Advantage market, most established players are remaining in place. Eight insurers dominate the market: UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Anthem, plans affiliated with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Cigna and WellCare. (Kaiser Health News is unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Despite Medicare Advantage plans’ increasing popularity, several features — notably, the costs that older adults face in these plans and the extent to which members’ choice of doctors and hospitals is restricted — remain poorly understood.

Here are some essential facts to consider:

The Basics

Medicare Advantage plans must provide the same benefits offered through traditional Medicare (services from hospitals, physicians, home health care agencies, laboratories, medical equipment companies and rehabilitation facilities, among others). Nearly 90 percent of plans also supply drug coverage.

In 2018, 68 percent of plans offered will be HMOs, while 27 percent will be PPOs, Jacobson said. The remainder are small, specialized plans that are expected to have relatively few members. In general, HMOs require members to seek care from a specific network of hospital and doctors while PPOs allow members to obtain care from providers outside the network, at a significantly higher cost.

Pros And Cons

The Center for Medicare Advocacy recently summarized the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage plans. On the plus side, it cited:

Little paperwork. (Plan members don’t have to submit claims, in most cases.)
An emphasis on preventive care.
Extra benefits, such as vision care, dental care and hearing exams, that aren’t offered under traditional Medicare.
An all-in-one approach to coverage. (Notably, members typically don’t have to purchase supplemental Medigap coverage or a standalone drug plan.)
Cost controls, including a cap on out-of-pocket costs for physician and hospital services (Medicare Part A and B benefits).

On the negative side, it cited:

Access is limited to hospitals and doctors within plan networks. (Traditional Medicare allows seniors to go to whichever doctor or hospital they want.)
Techniques to manage medical care that can erect barriers to accessing care (for example, getting prior approval from a primary care doctor before seeing a specialist).
Financial incentives to limit services. (Medicare Advantage plans receive a set per-member-per-month fee from the government and risk losing money if medical expenses exceed payments.)
Limits on care members can get when traveling. (Generally, only emergency care and urgent care is covered.)
The potential for higher costs for specific services in some circumstances. (Some plans charge more than traditional Medicare for a short hospital stay, home health care or medical equipment such as oxygen, for instance.)
Lack of flexibility. Once someone enrolls in Medicare Advantage, they’re locked in for the year. There are two exceptions: a special disenrollment period from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 (anyone who leaves during this time must go back to traditional Medicare) and a chance to make changes during open enrollment (shifting to a different plan or going back to traditional Medicare are options at this point).

Medigap Implications

Choosing a Medicare Advantage plan has implications for the future as well as the present. Notably, if someone enrolls in a Medicare Advantage plan when she first joins Medicare and stays with a plan for at least a year, she may not qualify for supplemental Medigap coverage if she wants to join traditional Medicare at a later date.

Medigap policies cover charges such as deductibles, coinsurance and copayments that seniors with Medicare coverage are expected to pay out-of-pocket. People who join Medicare for the first time are guaranteed access to Medigap policies, no matter what their health status is, only for a limited time. Afterward, they can be denied coverage based on their health in most states.

Parsing Costs

There’s a widespread perception that Medicare Advantage plans cost less than traditional Medicare. But actual costs depend on an individual’s circumstances and aren’t always easy to calculate.

Seniors often first consider what they’ll pay in monthly premiums. This year, the average monthly premium for Medicare Advantage plans is $30, almost $2 below last year’s. But nearly half of Medicare members are enrolled in plans that don’t charge a monthly premium — so-called zero premium plans. (Seniors also need to pay Medicare Part B premiums, although some Medicare Advantage plans cover some or all of that charge.)

To get a full picture of plan costs, which can vary annually, seniors should look beyond premiums to drug expenses (including which drugs are covered by their plan, at what level and with what restrictions); deductibles (plans can charge deductibles for both medical services and drugs); what plans charge for hospital care (some have daily copayments for the first week or so); and coinsurance rates for services such as home health care or skilled nursing care, experts said.

“It’s really critical that folks dip deep and find out about all possible costs they may incur in a plan before they sign up for it,” said Chris Reeg, director of Ohio’s Senior Health Insurance Information Program. (Every state has a program of this kind; find one near you at https://www.shiptacenter.org.)

“Part of the equation has to be what you’ll have to pay if you need lots of care,” said David Lipschutz, senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy “In our experience, that’s often more than people expected.”

Since 2011, Medicare Advantage plans have limited members’ annual out-of-pocket costs to no more than $6,700 — a form of financial protection. There is no similar limit in traditional Medicare. Yet, protection isn’t complete since out-of-pocket limits don’t apply to drug costs, which can be considerable. (In PPOs, a cap of $10,000 limits costs for services received from out-of-network providers as well.)

Plans have discretion in setting out-of-pocket limits. In 2018, 43 percent of plans will have out-of-pocket limits exceeding $6,000; 31 percent will set limits between $4,000 and $6,000; 20 percent will have limits between $3,000 and $4,000; and 6 percent will set limits beneath $3,000, according to a new Avalere Health analysis.

Information about Medicare Advantage plans’ deductibles, copayments and coinsurances rates for medical services as well as coverage details for the medications you’re taking can be found at Medicare’s plan finder.

Finding A Doctor

One way that Medicare Advantage plans try to control costs and coordinate care is by working with a limited group of physicians and hospitals. But reliable information about these networks is hard to find and published directories often contain mistaken or out-of-date information.

“It’s not easy to determine who’s in-network for a Medicare Advantage plan,” said Fred Riccardi, director of client services at the Medicare Rights Center. “This information isn’t on Medicare’s website and there’s no one, streamlined way to search for information about provider networks across plans.” His advice to consumers: Call all your doctors to ask if they’re participating in a plan you’re considering. (Make sure you have your plan number when you do, because a single company may offer multiple plans in your market.)

Making matters even more difficult: Plans can drop physicians or hospitals from their networks during the year, leaving members without access to trusted sources of care.

A new report discloses data about the size of Medicare Advantage plans’ physician networks for the first time. It finds that, on average, Medicare Advantage HMOs included 42 percent of physicians in a county in their networks while PPOs included 57 percent. Altogether, 35 percent of Medicare Advantage members are in plans with narrow physician networks, which tend to be the cheapest plans.

Although this data highlights the choices that seniors have with regard to physicians, it doesn’t speak to the wait time they may encounter in accessing care, Jacobson said, adding that, to her knowledge, this kind of information about Medicare Advantage plans is not publicly available.

KHN’s coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.

We’re eager to hear from readers about questions you’d like answered, problems you’ve been having with your care and advice you need in dealing with the health care system. Visit khn.org/columnists to submit your requests or tips.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Health FSA Limit Will Increase for 2018

The ACA imposes a maximum dollar limit on employee contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs).  Although the ACA set this limit at $2,500, the limit is indexed for cost-of-living adjustments each year.  On Oct. 19, 2017, the IRS announced that, for taxable years beginning in 2018, the dollar limit on employees’ salary reduction contributions to a health FSA will increase to $2,650.


Employers may continue to impose their own dollar limits on employee contributions to health FSAs, as long as the employer’s limit does not exceed the ACA’s maximum limit in effect for the plan year.  For example, an employer may decide to continue limiting employee health FSA contributions for the 2018 plan year to $2,500.


Go here for more information.

Health FSA Limit Will Increase for 2018 10-19-17

Executive Order Ends the “Out-of-Pocket” Subsidy Only; the “Premium” Subsidy Remains in Place

Some folks may think that Friday’s Executive Order did away with Obamacare subsidies altogether.  It didn’t.

There are two subsidies. One was cut.  One wasn’t.

In a nutshell, one subsidy lowers the cost of premium (aka premium tax credits) for those qualified individuals and families enrolled through the exchange and making less than 400% above the poverty level.  This stays in place.

The other covers a reduction in the out-of- pocket expenses or claims costs paid to the medical provider by the patient (aka cost-sharing reductions). This subsidy applies to those earning below 250% of the poverty level and covered by a plan issued by the insurance company through the exchange.

It’s this out-of-pocket budget appropriation that was cut by Friday’s Executive Order.

From what we hear, despite Friday’s Order most of those enrollees who qualify for the out-of-pocket assistance will continue to receive it as part of their coverage at least through 2018.  Many of the insurance carriers still participating on the exchange expected the subsidy cut and planned for it when they filed their rate increases and established their pricing for 2018.

You can read more here.

Wonder Why Our Healthcare Costs Are So High?

Bob Laszewski is an insurance health industry expert we regularly track to stay up to speed on the national healthcare picture. His typically even-handed analysis has been consistently the most accurate of any of the opinion leaders we follow.  Here’s how Laszewski summed up the primary reason for our country’s runaway healthcare costs during a recent interview broadcast on the national news program Full Measure in a segment entitled Zombiecare: 

The healthcare establishment has been getting unlimited dollars from government, from employers, from consumers. They built this incredible infrastructure now that’s very expensive. And the only way we’re going to make healthcare more affordable is to deal with all this infrastructure we’ve got and get it to an efficient place.

 When asked how we address this infrastructure problem, here’s the pragmatic Laszewski take:

“We’re going to have to do it over many years. In the private sector and the public sector, we’re going to have to put them on a diet. It really is the prices we charge. We’re going to have to, in real terms, ratchet those back so that hospitals and doctors understand there’s going to be less money in the years to come.”

During the interview Laszewski addressed several things related to the current status of health insurance and the Affordable Care Act. Among the items he addressed:

The Individual Mandate and Paying the Penalty

“The law technically says that you have to have health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you will pay a fine. But the Trump administration has told the Internal Revenue Service, who is in charge of collecting the fines, that when people file their tax returns, if they refuse to say whether they have health insurance or not, the IRS should not pursue them. You technically have to pay it. Your accountant’s probably going to tell you, you technically have to pay it, but it’s not being enforced.”

ObamaCare as Zombie Care(because a Zombie is the walking dead)

“Obamacare is still there, it’s still walking around. It’s still selling health insurance plans to people. But it has no chance in its present form of ever offering affordable and attractive health insurance. And more and more people are just exiting it and going uncovered because they can’t afford it.”

Our takeaway from all this? Be smart.  Stay incredibly vigilant.  Take full advantage of every tool we have at our disposal to do the best we can to help our clients control costs and navigate the turbulent healthcare waters.

There’s still no clear big picture path anywhere in sight.

To watch the entire interview or to read the full transcript, go here.

The Check’s in the Mail — MLR Premium Rebate Checks and What Do We Do with Them

Some BBG employer clients are reporting that they have received MLR rebate checks from their carrier.

What are MLR rebate checks and why do only some employers receive them?

Affordable Care Act rules stipulate that insurance carriers must spend a certain percentage of health insurance premiums on medical claims and other specified related activities. This is referred to as a Medical Loss Ratio (MLR).

The MLR ratio for small groups is 80/20, For large groups it’s 85/15.

If an insurance company spends less than the MLR amount designated by Obamacare then the insurance company must rebate the unspent portion back to the employer sponsoring the plan.

Wondering what to do if you are one of those employers receiving an MLR rebate check?

There are rules established by the Department of Labor governing distribution. Employers must use these as guide when allocating and distributing the rebate dollars. The rules can be found here http://dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/tr11-04.html.

In a nutshell:

Employer groups are required to treat the rebate as a plan asset.  Uses may include, but are not limited to, reducing future premiums or premium increases, or rebating a portion back to the subscribers.  The rebate is required to be used for the benefit of the subscribers in one of the following ways:

• To reduce subscribers’ portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for all subscribers covered under any group health policy offered by the plan;
• To reduce subscribers’ portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for only those
subscribers covered by the group health policy on which the rebate was based; or
• To provide a cash refund only to the subscribers who were covered by the group health policy on which the rebate is based.

A more thorough review of what to do with MLR Rebate Checks can be found by clicking here How Employers Should Handle MLR Rebates

Clients can contact BBG for assistance.

Example Rebate Check

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