Healthcare Hiring Slows

healthcare-hiringThe Altarum Center for Sustainable Health Spending reports a significant drop in health hiring, pricing and spending during the first five months of this year. On average, 22,000 jobs per month were added by hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, compared to 32,000 per month during the same period in 2016. While the healthcare sector continues to be the biggest contributor to overall U.S. job growth, Founding Director Dr. Charles Roehrig expects the 3-year run of greater than 5% growth in overall health spending to end, mostly due to uncertainty over efforts to repeal and replace ACA and a smaller increase in overall spending by consumers.

self-fundingCTA

Saving Private Health Insurance

The article below is from The Wall Street Journal, published on March 20, 2017.

The House ‘stability fund’ would help states help high-risk patients.

image001The biggest gamble in the House health-care bill is whether it includes enough reform to arrest the current death spiral in the individual insurance market. No one knows for sure, but critics are overlooking important provisions that will help people who are now exposed to ObamaCare’s rapidly rising premiums.

Notably, the bill includes a new 10-year $100 billion “stability fund” that allows states to start to repair their individual insurance markets. Before ObamaCare, it wasn’t inevitable that costs would increase by 25% on average this year, or that nearly a third of U.S. counties would become single-insurer monopolies. With better policy choices, states can make coverage cheaper and more attractive for consumers and coax insurers back into the market, and the stability fund is a powerful tool.

Governors could draw on the stability fund, for instance, to reestablish the high-risk pools that prevailed in 35 states before ObamaCare. The Affordable Care Act uses regulatory mispricing to force the young to make a transfer to the old, and the healthy to the sick. The result has been insurance that the young and healthy don’t want to buy or can’t afford.

Risk pools can mitigate this cycle by removing the people with the highest costs. Over time, they can generate a compounding effect with stable or even falling premiums, which begets growing enrollment, which begets more insurer participation.

We know risk pools work in practice.

In 1993 Maine adopted community rating (the same rule in ObamaCare) that limits how much premiums can vary based on age. Enrollment had plunged by 65% by 2011 and premiums were skyrocketing. So in 2011 Maine relaxed the age rules and created an “invisible” high-risk pool. People with pre-existing conditions like cancer or congestive heart failure enrolled in regular insurance—about 14% of the insured population. Behind the scenes, the pool picked up the total cost of claims above $10,000.

Rates plunged by as much as 70% for everyone. In a recent Health Affairs study, Joel Allumbaugh, Tarren Bragdon and Josh Archambault of the Foundation for Government Accountability found that people in their early 20s saved about $5,000 a year while those in their 60s got a bonus of more than $7,000. Enrollment with Maine’s largest insurer jumped by 13% in 18 months.

States could also decide to use the stability fund to supplement premiums and out-of-pocket costs to help people with lower incomes or chronic conditions. Or they could target the heroin and fentanyl crisis. Death rates from opiod overdoses now exceed those from HIV/AIDS at the height of the epidemic in the 1990s.

The larger goal is to start to restore the traditional state regulatory authority over heath insurance that ObamaCare supplanted for federal control. Local governments understand local needs best. With more flexibility, autonomy and accountability, the GOP hope is that reform Governors can pry open markets and help promote a larger and more dynamic business.

To accelerate progress, last week Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price invited Governors to apply for expedited 1332 innovation waivers, which suspend ObamaCare regulations when states test new insurance models. The ObamaHHS mostly used these for liberal states like Vermont that tried to take a flyer on single payer, but Mr. Price is repurposing 1332.

Republicans are talking about repeal-and-replace as “three pronged”—pass the current House bill, deregulation through Mr. Price’s executive action, and then measures that can later be attached to must-pass bills. Mr. Price’s letter is the beginning of prong two.

Republicans have an obligation to try to revitalize insurance markets, and not only because Americans depend on coverage. Repealing and replacing ObamaCare is also an opportunity to show that conservative ideas can work in health care. The reason the opposition is so furious is that liberals fear they might succeed.

Appeared in the Mar. 21, 2017, print edition.

Study Shows a 36.8% Increase for Self-Insured Plans In Private-Sector Establishments & More…

A recent Notes article from Employee Benefit Research Institute (ebri.org) examines 1996-2015 trends in self-insured health plans among private-sector establishments offering health plans and among their covered workers, with a particular focus on 2013 to 2015, so as to assess whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might have affected these trends. The data comes from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Insurance Component (MEPS-IC).

Self-Insured Health Plans: Recent Trends by Firm Size, 1996-2015

by Paul Fronstin, Ph.D., Employee Benefit Research Institute

Here are the key findings from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI):

  • The percentage of private-sector establishments offering health plans at least one of which is self-insured has increased from 28.5% in 1996 to 39% in 2015 (36.8% increase).
  • Between 2013 and 2015, the percentages of establishments offering health plans with at least one self-insured plan has increased for midsized establishments from 25.3% to 30.1% (a 19% increase); for small establishments from 13.3% to 14.2% (a 7% increase); and has decreased from 83.9% to 80.4% for large establishments (a 4% decrease).
  • Similarly, the percentage of health-plan-covered workers enrolled in self-insured health plans has increased from 58.2% to 60% (a 3% increase) from 2013 to 2015. The largest increases in self-insured plan coverage among covered workers have occurred in establishments with 25-99 employees and with 100-999 employees.

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Unfortunately, Businesses Choosing to ‘Start Up’ in New York Will Have to Start Without Affordable Health Care

It’s amazing how states spend millions of dollars to try and attract new businesses. They run impressive TV commercials offering 10 year state tax exemptions to “start-ups” that accept their invitation to launch their business in their state.

Only problem is when the start-up locates there, they discover that the same governing body that is offering economic development incentives is barring their small business from partially self-funding their employee health care plan – a strategy that has helped two-thirds of America’s leading employers control health care costs for decades.

In a recent article by Michael W. Ferguson featured on HartfordBusiness.com, a publication of the Hartford Business Journal, Mr. Ferguson discusses how Connecticut may be able to benefit from New York’s self-insurance restrictions – following their recent prohibition of small firms within their borders from providing their employees with health benefits via self-insurance. This article is featured below:

Connecticut might soon be overrun by New Yorkers — and their small businesses.

dg-news-article-nyOn Jan. 1, the Empire State effectively prohibited small firms within its borders from providing their employees with health benefits via a popular practice called self-insurance.

That practice is alive and well in Connecticut. Just recently, the state insurance commissioner issued improved regulations protecting firms that choose to self-insure.

That’s good news not just for Connecticut’s small businesses but for thousands of workers with self-insured plans. The commissioner’s actions could even benefit the Connecticut economy — if they attract New York firms that have long self-insured across the border.

Today, more than 57 percent of Connecticut’s private-sector workers are covered by employer-sponsored, self-insured plans. These entities pay their employees’ medical expenses out of their own pockets. Instead of purchasing conventional, one-size-fits-all insurance coverage, self-insured firms can adjust their health benefits to meet the unique needs of their workers.

Self-insurance has become especially valuable in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, as the cost of traditional health plans has surged. In the past year, premiums shot up 21 percent for some individual and small-group plans in Connecticut. Businesses that self-insure can shield themselves from this volatility.

Self-insurers still have unpredictable costs to account for, though. If just one employee contracts cancer or a rare disease, for example, the astronomical medical bills that result could imperil a smaller company’s finances.

To hedge against this possibility, many smaller self-insured businesses buy stop-loss insurance. Once their medical expenses per employee reach a certain level — known as the “attachment point” — the stop-loss policy kicks in and reimburses the business for any additional medical costs.

Sometimes, employers will agree to higher attachment points for their higher-risk employees in exchange for lower premiums on their stop-loss policies. That can save them real money.

Employers also then have a significant incentive to keep their staffers healthy — especially those with potentially costly medical conditions. After all, they’re on the hook for a greater share, if not all, of the cost of their care.

In cases like these, self-insured businesses will offer excellent preventive care and disease-management programs to address workers’ health problems early on — rather than down the line, when they may be more serious and more expensive to treat.

An employer with a diabetic employee, for instance, could create a wellness program that helps the employee manage his or her condition. The employer could pay a specialist to do monthly check-ups, hire a nutritionist to create a dietary plan, and cover all the employee’s medical supplies.

That could keep the worker healthy — and allow the company to avoid hefty, unexpected and preventable medical bills.

All in all, it’s a good deal for Connecticut’s job creators. If their workforces stay healthy, self-insured businesses can save big on medical expenses. In less healthy years, stop-loss insurance guarantees that the company can continue to provide great benefits without breaking the bank.

Despite all these advantages, some states have begun to attack self-insurance by targeting the stop-loss coverage that keeps it financially feasible.

Connecticut’s neighbor to the west has pursued particularly destructive policies. New York already forbids small businesses — those with 50 or fewer full-time employees — from buying stop-loss insurance. On Jan. 1, the state expanded that definition — barring companies with up to 100 full-timers from the stop-loss market.

The self-funded benefits that many New York businesses in this latter group have been furnishing for decades became untenable overnight.

Fortunately, Connecticut has avoided New York’s missteps. State Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade recently issued a bulletin allowing self-insurers’ to create more flexible health-benefits plans. Without that freedom, stop-loss insurance would become much more expensive — and potentially unaffordable.

Michael W. Ferguson is president of the Self-Insurance Institute of America.

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Brooks Goodison Comments on State Interference with Self-Insurance in Self Insurer Magazine

The May, 2016 issue of The Self-Insurer magazine, Outside the Beltway article discusses how various states – and agencies within states – are challenging self-insured plans through claims tax schemes, limits on stop-loss insurance, demands for propriety data and other burdens.

self-insurer-magazine-may-2016Brooks Goodison, President of Diversified Group, contributed insight, citing specific examples of state burdens on self-insured plans.

Below you will find an excerpt from the article that features Brooks’ comments as quoted in the The Self-Insurer article, “Seemingly Every Day We Wake Up to New Challenges from the States,” as well as a link to view the entire article written by Dave Kirby.

In the comedy movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character wakes up each morning to the very same events as the day before in a seemingly unending succession of identical days into the future.

Some in the self-insurance industry may have a similar feeling as a succession of state encroachments on self-insured employee health plans continue to arise. Various states – and agencies within states – are engaged in challenges to self-insured plans in the form of claims tax schemes, limits on stop-loss insurance, demands for proprietary data and other burdens.

These challenges appear to ignore the reality that ERISA preemption of state interference with self-insured health plans has been upheld at the highest level, the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite that, states continue to pester the self-insurance industry, often with the tacit if not outright support of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

“It’s usually a question of money,” says SIIA Vice President of State Government Relations Adam Brackemyre. “Most states’ budgets are very tight, many trying to work out of projected deficits. Any revenue they can find short of general public tax increases is coveted by legislators.”

The cost of states’ interference with self-insurance is a burden shared by employers and TPAs alike. Naturally, taxes on health claims revert to employers but there are also in-state demands by various agencies that accrue financial and administrative costs, according to Brooks Goodison, president of Diversified Group TPA in Marlborough, CT.

Goodison cited specific examples of state burdens on self-insured plans:

We have to pass on costs of collecting fees such as the New York and Massachusetts Public Goods Surcharge or fees for childhood immunization in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine. And we have administrative costs that provide no value to our clients,” Goodison said.

“In some states we may have three or even four different agencies demanding data from us for various purposes such as studies of outcomes-based payment plans, penetration of childhood immunization, incentive-based payment systems or taxes on claims,” Goodison said. “For any of these purposes we are required by law to report data that’s not ours to give. But states find it convenient to come to TPAs to gather aggregate data rather than take the trouble to contact individual employers.”

Click to read the entire article as seen in the May issue of The Self-Insurer magazine.

Survey Finds Working With Independent TPAs Is Preferred

MyHealthGuide Source: Kevin Weinstein, 4/28/2016, Valence HealthTo view this article in the MyHealthGuide e-newsletter, please click here.

Valence Health, a leading provider of clinical integration, population health, and value-based solutions and services, and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources (ASHHRA), announced new research indicating that healthcare providers increasingly use their employee health plans as laboratories for value-based innovations.

The survey, conducted with human resources and finance executives at more than 150 hospitals, health systems and other provider organizations, found that narrow networks, site of care utilization, benefit design and physician incentive models are increasingly part of employee health plans.

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Trends in Employer-Sponsored Insurance Eligibility and Coverage

Michelle Long, MPH; Matthew Rae, MPH, MPA; Gary Claxon; Anne Jankiewicz; David Rousseau, MPH ; for the Kaiser Family Foundation

The graphics below examine eligibility and coverage trends in employer-sponsored health insurance. Since 2000, the share of workers covered by employers’ health benefits at both offering and non-offering firms has dropped to 56%, with the biggest decrease among employees working for small firms (3-199 workers). Among people younger than 65 years, those with lower incomes continued to be less likely to have coverage from an employer-sponsored health plan, as has been the trend since 1999. In 2015, larger firms were more likely than smaller ones to offer health benefits, as were organizations with more higher-wage employees, fewer lower-wage employees, and fewer workers 26 years or younger. Most large employers offered coverage to spouses and other dependents, while fewer than half of these firms offered coverage to same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners. Few firms took action in 2015 in response to the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, including changing some jobs from part-time to full-time so employees would be eligible for coverage.

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Source: Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. Original data and detailed source information are available at http://kff.org/JAMA_5-03-2016.