Why brokers should be afraid of Amazon & Co.’s new venture

This article was published on September 5, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Kevin Trokey.

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Source: BenefitsPro

You don’t have to scroll very far in your social media feeds to see posts of outrage and calls for transparency aimed at the players in today’s health care game. The waste, fraud and at times seemingly criminal behavior of some carriers, pharma and providers is a travesty. All of them need to be called to account for their contributions to this mess.

Oh, it’s happening sweetheart

The Bezos-Buffett-Dimon (BBD) health care venture is heating up. While I have serious doubts about their ability to solve the crisis (I believe that will happen on a much smaller, more local scale), there is one thing that this trio will certainly bring: visibility and outrage.

I predict BBD will open the floodgates of horror stories from victims of the travesty that has befallen our health care system. We will see and hear, at the most publicly visible level, stories we are already sharing within our relatively small inner circles on a daily basis:

  • Lives lost due to inaccessibility of care.
  • Couples who opt for divorce so their child can get the care they need.
  • Artificially inflated insurance premiums that have stifled business growth.

I can feel you getting excited. I can hear you saying, “Bring it on, BBD!”

Be careful what you wish for

The spotlight will be shone into every perceived dark corner of the system, with a particular intensity on anyone seen as a middleman. If you aren’t concerned yet, you should be. Make no mistake: benefits advisors will be next.

I know most of you work your asses off every day with the best interests of your clients in mind. I know the decisions you help your clients make are some of the most complex they face. I get it.

But, perception is reality, and you need to brace yourself for the picture BBD will paint. Be prepared to deal with the perception of being nothing more than a distribution channel for carriers—a middleman.

The carriers are going to be a big target. But when your compensation ties you directly to them, when you are contractually tied to them more closely than you are to your clients, it is going to be very difficult to separate yourself from the carriers.

No time to spare

Now is the time to re-engineer your business to separate yourself from the carriers and to formally serve your clients. I get that there are significant changes you will have to make, many of which are not going to be easy. But there are a couple of things that will take you in that direction.

  1. Sit down with each of your clients and have a stewardship meeting where you explain very clearly the various ways in which you bring them value.
  2. Have a transparent conversation about how much you are being paid for delivering that value. If possible, let them know you will be asking the carriers to remove your commissions and switch to a fee-based arrangement.
  3. Educate them about what is broken about the system and the solutions we are starting to see. Let them know you will be there to help them take advantage of every solution that makes sense.

These may be difficult discussions to have but I promise you, they are nowhere near as difficult as the discussion you will have to have if you wait for BBD to tell the story on your behalf.

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3 reasons self-funding is a great option for smaller companies

This article was published on September 10, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Darick Bradford.

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Source: BenefitsPro

“Wait, what’s a self-funded plan again? And why does it make sense for my clients?”

These are questions I hear from brokers all the time. And I get it. Self-funding can be complex. But it’s time to get smarter about self-funded health benefit plan designs as this type of product could be a game-changer for your smaller clients.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a self-funded plan? Self-funding is an arrangement where an employer sponsors a self-funded health benefit plan and is financially responsible for employee covered claims up to a certain dollar amount. Covered claims in excess of this dollar amount are reimbursed to the employer through stop-loss insurance.

Larger organizations have used self-funding for years as a way to save costs, but more recently we’re also seeing smaller businesses offering self-funded health benefit plans to their employees.

The numbers back it up. Between 2013 and 2016, the percentage of small employers offering at least one self-funded health benefit plan increased from 13.3 percent to 17.4 percent—a 31 percent increase.

Why are more small businesses offering self-funded health benefit plans? I see three big reasons:

1: Self-funding can be a great tool to attract and retain employees.

When it comes to health care, employees want choice and affordable options. Self-funded health benefit plans can give your employees both. From comprehensive medical to preventive-only coverage, your employees will have a variety of options. And, they’ll have those choices at affordable prices. That can be a key tool to attracting and retaining employees in an increasingly tight labor market.

2: Self-funding provides flexibility.

Employers can customize their self-funded health benefit plans with different deductibles and coinsurance choices to fit their needs, whether it’s a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan design, consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) design, or a reference-based pricing or preventive-only plan design.

3: Self-funding can help lower employer costs.

There are a variety of ways self-funded health benefit plans can help employers lower costs. First, employers can receive refunds if there is a surplus of claim dollars in their prefund account at the end of the plan year. Second, claim dollars are not subject to state health insurance premium taxes, which can help lower costs (premium taxes average around 2 percent). And finally, self-funded health benefit plans give employers access to aggregate health claims data and demographic information. This data — available exclusively under a self-funded arrangement versus traditional health insurance — allows employers to better manage costs and encourage cost-savings measures their employees can practice, such as switching to generic medications, using in-network providers, and selecting a different level of care.

In the end, better understanding the ins and outs of self-funding will mean more choices for your small employer clients—and more success for you.

With some research and education on how self-funding works and the carriers/TPAs that offer administrative services, self-funded health benefit plan designs and stop-loss insurance, you can become well-versed in what’s available in the marketplace and learn if and when a self-funded health benefit plan design could be a potential fit for your smaller clients. Having a solid knowledge is a good start to have the advantage over another broker who didn’t evaluate self-funding as a viable option.

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Medicare D Credible Coverage Notices Due by October 15th

dg-medicare-partd-blogThe Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 implemented prescription drug coverage under Medicare (Medicare D), requiring all employers that offer prescription drug benefits to provide an annual notice of Medicare open enrollment. The notice must go to all Medicare eligible plan participants and qualified beneficiaries before October 15th each year. The notice requirement applies to all employers offering prescription drug benefits regardless of size, whether fully-insured or self-funded, or regardless of ACA grandfathered status. Notification must go to all Medicare eligible plan participants, including active employees and their dependents, retirees and COBRA participants. For most employers, it is easier to issue the notice to all participants as a blanket notice than to identify Medicare eligible employees.

The notice requires that the plan sponsor first determine if their plan offers creditable coverage (meaning it is on average at least as comprehensive as Medicare D coverage), or non-creditable. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides a simple process to determine whether prescription drug coverage is creditable or not. Once that determination is made, CMS provides model notices to send to participants in both English and Spanish. Notices may be sent separately, included as part of open enrollment or other benefit related materials, or electronically as long as the DOL’s rules on electronic delivery are followed.

Additionally, all plan sponsors are required to notify CMS within 60 days of the start of each plan year as to whether or not their prescription drug plan is creditable or not creditable. This notification is done online at CMS here.

For Diversified Group clients who have elected to have Diversified Group handle your Medicare D notices, DG will determine if the plan is considered creditable or not and will then send the notice either to the client or directly to the plan participant depending upon which service was elected.

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IRS Penalties Are Being Issued

capitalThe Internal Revenue Service is finally issuing penalty letters to employers who failed to provide health coverage in compliance with the employer shared responsibility provisions of the ACA for the 2015 tax year. Some letters may describe a no coverage excise tax while others may assess an excise tax for failure to provide “adequate or affordable” coverage. The notices are catching many employers off guard because issuance of these letters was delayed several times.

Those who receive a letter describing the specific violation could be liable for penalties ranging from $2,080 to $3,480 per affected employee, depending on the violation and the plan year involved. Regulatory experts recommend that employers refer to the data submitted on forms 1094-C and 1095-C and respond to the IRS on time, even if they don’t believe the tax is owed.

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Value Based Pricing Gaining

dgb-valuebased-blogWhile plenty of folks talk about value based, or reference based, pricing as though it’s a fad that has come and gone, we’re finding more interest from employers all the time. This may be because many like to brand it as another form of disruption, but regardless of how you brand it, value based pricing is becoming a more important part of our value proposition all the time. It’s becoming more widespread because it enables a self-funded plan to limit costs to an extent that few other measures, if any, can match. This is primarily because by negotiating in advance with hospitals to accept a schedule of fixed payments for certain healthcare services, carrier-sponsored provider networks can be bypassed.

The fact is that while value based pricing may be considered disruptive by many hospitals, it works. It is a transparent approach that can save a lot of money for self-funded health plans and their members. And finding ways to help self-funded employer plans provide high quality, high value healthcare to their members is our most important job.

Considering a TPA to administer your health plan? Ask these 8 questions first

This article was published on August 7, 2018 on Employee Benefit News, written by Corte Larossi.

We all know that making changes to your health plan can have major consequences for your company. It can impact your medical costs and company bottom line, the health and welfare of your employees, employee satisfaction and performance, as well as your ability to hire and retain high performing staff. If your health plan is currently self-funded — or you are considering moving to a self-funded arrangement — the stakes can be even higher since you’re responsible for part or even all the medical costs, depending on the size of your company and risk tolerance.

One of the most critical functions is the administration of your medical claims. Your claims payer — whether a traditional insurance carrier or a third-party administrator — can help make or break the success of a self-funded plan. Many times, these entities also will provide other services directly, or through strategic partnerships including pharmacy benefits management, medical management, stop-loss, employee and provider portal access, voluntary products and telemedicine — just to name a few.

For many small to medium-size employers (25-1,000 employees), and even some larger companies, a TPA may be a good option. The advantage of the traditional carriers is often the medical claim discounts they offer along with nationwide access, which is clearly important, but they might not provide the flexibility smaller employers may need to meet their plan objectives. Additionally, some carriers do allow TPAs to access their networks, which can provide TPA clients deeper savings than may be available through rental PPOs.

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Photo Source: Employee Benefit News

Here are eight important questions employers should ask when vetting TPA partners.

1. What is their claims administration platform?

This is one of the most critical issues when choosing a TPA. Do they have an older legacy system that may be less flexible, or are they using a platform that provides the ability to manage newer, more sophisticated products? Also, can they adjudicate a high volume of claims on an automated basis, or is the process more manual? This is not to say that manual processing isn’t necessary since there could be plan nuances and exceptions that need to be addressed outside of the standard adjudication process. But in general, the higher degree of automation, the more cost effective the process for both the TPA and the client.

Can they easily and accurately manage service/provider carve outs or additions? What is their process and commitment to meeting your objectives? Can they administer other types of services including, but not limited to dental, vision, HRAs, HSAs, COBRA, subrogation and COB? Continue reading

Million-dollar medical claims increase by 87 percent

This article was published on July 18, 2018 on Employee Benefit News, written by Cort Olsen. Photo Source: Employee Benefit News.

The number of million-dollar medical claims has nearly doubled, with cancer care remaining the most costly health condition, according to a new Sun Life Financial report.

Cancer made up $798.7 million in reimbursements to self-funded employers from 2014 to 2017, followed by metabolic disorder and hemophilia disorder, according to Sun Life’s 2018 High-Cost Claims Report.

The report, based on analysis of Sun Life’s database of over 62,000 medical stop-loss claimants, shows that high-cost conditions totaled $6.9 billion in paid charges over the four-year period.

The number of patients with million dollar claims rose 87%, to 194 in 2017 from 104 in 2014, with most charges ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million, and totaling over $935 million in charges.

cubing costs stats

The growth in million-dollar claims can be expected to expand further due to new life-saving treatment options coming to market, along with existing treatments getting approved for expanded use.

“This means better care and outcomes for patients,” says Dan Fishbein, president of Sun Life Financial, who notes that the trend is an important consideration for employers who self-fund their medical plans. “We partner with our clients to protect them from the financial risks of these high-dollar claims, but also to work with them to identify opportunities for cost savings that may improve patient care as well.”

Other analysis from the report showed that rare conditions hit highest dollars. The two highest claims for a patient in a single policy year were for metabolic disorder in 2016, with a total of $6.7 million in treatment costs, followed by hemophilia disorder with a total treatment cost of $5 million in 2017.

Million-dollar cases left a big footprint. Patients with claims of more than $1 million represented only 2% of the total number of stop-loss claims from 2014 to 2017, but roughly 20%, or nearly $600 million, of the total $3 billion in stop-loss reimbursement.

The impact of injectable drugs peaked in 2017 with four of the five costliest injectable drugs, used to treat cancer or related conditions, accounting for approximately $45 million, or 24% of the total $186.3 million spent that year.

Employers had an 85% chance of seeing a high-dollar claim in any given policy, according to the report. Those who self-insure their health plans use a stop-loss coverage to protect themselves from excessive financial losses from high-dollar claims.

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