Healthcare Issues

Compromising on Contraceptives and Religion. Say what?

Recently the Obama Administration compromised to allow waivers for religious organizations to restrict paying for contraceptives on their health plans.

What does that mean for most religious groups that offer health benefits? Unless a group is self funded and writes their own plan, it will be difficult to change things. As we have discussed in earlier blogs posts, 98% of all employers purchase fully insured plans from insurance companies. Insurance companies file their plans and, for the most part, are abiding by the original requirements in ACA on what to cover. Therefore, if a group is fully insured, they cannot just change their plan.

WSJ-Apr222014-AdminOffersContraceptionCompromise

It is possible that the insurance carriers may roll out plans that give these types of groups a chance to change their plan. However, at this point that is not possible and we usually see insurance companies move slowly on these events.

The administration rolled this out to allow for waivers. The carriers will probably wait and see if there are a lot of requests and then decide if they will react.

To read more on this topic, please read Administration Offers Contraception Compromise for Religious Employers, an article that appeared on WSJ Online.

 

Domino Effect: Challenge to Subsidies Make Mandates and Penalties Endangered Species?

If the healthcare picture wasn’t already muddy enough, now we have more bumps in the road ahead. Most of the press coverage and discussion over this past week has been focused on the subsidy ruling and where that’s headed. And, rightly so.

However, the domino effect may be equally impactful, maybe even more so. Expect the subsidy discussion to broaden and include the legitimacy and relevance of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposed coverage mandates and penalties – both for individuals and for employers.

domino effect, dominoes falling

If the subsidies are struck down, even temporarily, it stands to reason that mandates and penalties – both individual and employer – will also be called into question and perhaps disappear.

If in the majority of states subsidies are not available for eligible individuals, then the vast majority of individuals in those states would have no mandate to purchase coverage. It follows then that employer penalties in those states would effectively disappear.

By many accounts, the challenge to the subsidies is headed to the Supreme Court.  Whether or not that really happens is up in the air and still anyone’s guess. If it does, then short of some sort of political resolution (possible but highly unlikely) we will have to wait at least a year or more for resolution. And, all bets would be off on the outcome.

Until then the subsidies remain available and mandates and penalties remain in play.

What does this mean for employers?

A sure signal of plenty more bumps in the in the healthcare road until things settle down with the ACA. Expect plenty of foggy conditions and winding roads under construction before any “new normal” sets in.

Make sure you pick the right driver when it comes to driving your health coverage bus.

Work with people that:

  • Are keenly tuned in to what’s going on;
  • Are savvy in understanding and interpreting your interests;
  • Are not afraid to innovate, and
  • Are nimble enough to help you make the right adjustments as conditions change.

You’ll need them to help you avoid any obstacles in the road, keep your employees protected and make sure the bus keeps traveling in the right direction.

More Clouds on the Horizon: Fate of Obamacare Subsidies Up in the Air

We’ve long contended that it will take years for all the implications of the Affordable Care Act to play out. There’s still so much to be determined and so many factors, moving parts and unintended consequences that will ultimately shape the outcome.

On the heels of last week’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby (the court ruled that Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with regards to closely held for-profit corporations) looms a series of potentially even more far-reaching court challenges to a major tenet of Obamacare — premium subsidies.

Photo credit: Reuters/John Gress as seen at TheFiscalTimes.com

Photo credit: Reuters/John Gress as seen at TheFiscalTimes.com

The arguments are now at the Appellate Court level and center on very specific language in the Affordable Care Act. The challenges contend that the subsidies cannot be provided to people in states aligned with the federal exchange; and, further, only those who signed up for coverage through the state insurance marketplaces are entitled to subsidies.

Who knows how the courts will rule? If they do rule against the government like they did in the Hobby Lobby case, the potential impact looms large. Only 14 states set up their own insurance marketplaces. 36 other states opted to let the federal government build and run their exchanges.

It will also probably take any rulings that go against premium subsidies as much as a year or more to play out. And, no doubt they will be challenged by the government — all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

One thing’s for sure, any Appellate Court rulings against the subsidies will almost certainly make an already cloudy picture even cloudier.

There have been many challenges to Obamacare — some real, some grasping at straws. This one is garnering some serious attention from both sides of the fence lending credence to the belief that the fate of the subsidies for now could be very much up in the air.

For more details, read Court Challenges Subsidies, Threaten Obamacare and Halbig and King – a Simple Case of IRS Overreach

See our previous article regarding Hobby Lobby: Hobby Lobby Politics-Will The Brand Win or Lose?

Lawsuit filed by patients against narrow network of major PPO – isolated or bellwether?

Something’s gotta give…….. and apparently it is.

Patients want to receive quality care from familiar providers on a timely basis at lower costs.

Doctors and hospitals want to maintain and increase current levels of reimbursement.

Insurance companies needing to comply with the new ACA requirements and control costs are squeezing provider reimbursement rates and eliminating those providers that won’t accept lower rates.

With all this going on employers and their employees are more concerned than ever about cost, coverage, and access to doctors and hospitals. Some feel cornered and are starting to take action.

A lawsuit was recently filed by some new customers of a major California PPO. The outcome of the suit, and others like it that are to follow, could signal how things will take shape down the road in terms of reliable and continued access to a given doctor or hospital at any point in time.

According to the suit filed against Blue Shield of California, the customers did their homework before signing on with one of Blue Shield’s narrow network products. Before purchasing their plans they checked the insurance carrier’s website directory and called the insurance carrier, the respective treating providers, and the providers from whom they would be seeking treatment to confirm participation in the specific network. Later they came to find out that those providers were either dropped from the network without notice or were never considered in the network at all.

In layman’s terms the lawsuit appears to center on a combination of misrepresentation, false advertising, and lack of good faith effort to communicate changes as it pertains to provider network composition and how services will be covered.

We’ll report back on anything significant as this story plays.  In the meantime look for a series of posts from us highlighting pragmatic and creative approaches taken by some engaged employers to maintain employee and dependent access to key providers without increasing costs. If you have something you’d like us to address or have your own story to share please drop us a line.

You can read more about the California lawsuit in When a PPO isn’t.”

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