penalties

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.

Now That ACA Remains in Place Maybe We Should Keep An Eye On This Recent HHS Letter to Governors.

“……We are seeking to empower states with new opportunities that will strengthen their health insurance markets.”

Thomas E. Price, M.D., The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), A Letter To Governors, dated March 13, 2017

 

On March 13, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a letter to state governors to highlight Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Beginning in 2017, Section 1332 allows states to apply for a State Innovation Waiver from certain ACA requirements.

With the lawmakers firmly stuck in the healthcare mud, one wonders if some states might start to make health insurance changes on their own. Under a little known provision of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1332) called the State Innovation Waiver, states have the ability to make changes by applying for waivers from certain major provisions of the law beginning this year (2017).  These waivers are intended to allow states the flexibility to pursue innovative strategies for providing their residents with access to high quality, affordable health insurance, while retaining some of the consumer protections of the ACA.

Examples of things that may be waived include:

  • Establishment of qualified health plans (QHPs);
  • Consumer choices and insurance competition through the Exchanges;
  • Premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for plans offered within the Exchanges;
  • The employer shared responsibility rules; and
  • The individual mandate.

While this provision and Price’s recent letter on the subject seemingly flew under the radar, you have to wonder if we might start to see some states initiating their own changes to Obamacare. If this is going to happen, we’ll likely start hearing about it in the next few months.  Sometime this summer is when carriers submit rate increases or announce intentions to withdraw from the individual market all together.  Analysts are predicting both to happen.  It’s anticipated carriers will request huge rate increases — sticker shock on steroids — for individual plans on and off exchange.  And, more carriers are expected to be leaving the individual market.  Aetna and UnitedHealthcare are already out, and Bloomberg recently reported that Anthem (BlueCross and Blue Shield in 14 states) is leaning toward exiting in most if not all of its markets.

I doubt anyone really knows where all this is going, or where it will end up. Maybe some states will act, maybe not.

One thing that’s almost certain: Access to employer sponsored health plans will be more important than any time since Obamacare (ACA) became law.

Here’s a link to more info:  HHS Promotes ACA Section 1332 Waivers

ARE YOU WONDERING ABOUT THE “CONTROLLED GROUP” QUESTION? HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The “Controlled Group” question is popping up for many employers with much greater frequency as part of various and sundry regulatory applications, audits, surveys, reporting requirements and underwriting questionnaires.

Netting it out in layman’s terms — at least as it relates to health insurance and ACA compliance — a controlled group may exist when multiple companies fall under common ownership.

The ACA includes a provision under which companies that have a common owner (or are otherwise generally related) are combined and treated as a single employer for purposes of determining if the companies collectively employ at least 50 FTEs (the combo of full-time EEs and full-time equivalent EEs).

EMPLOYER REIMBURSEMENT OF INDIVIDUAL HEALTHPLAN PREMIUMS REMAINS A BANNED PRACTICE UNDER ACA

While this was more of a hot topic when the full monty of healthcare reform was implemented back in 2014, some employers perhaps unaware of the turmoil in the individual marketplace still ask about reimbursing employees for individual health insurance policies.

The IRS, the Department of Labor and Health and Human Services have all released several directives and guidelines that pretty clearly prohibit the practice. The most recent was issued in December 2015 (n-15-17).

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