Want to tackle rising health costs? Consider self-funding ancillary lines

This article was published on February 05, 2018 on Employee Benefit News, written by Liisa Granfors-Hunt.

If your medical plan is fully insured, switching to self-funding (and covering catastrophic claims) can be downright intimidating, even with stop-loss insurance. That’s why many employers are sticking a toe in the financial risk pool by self-funding one or two ancillary lines of coverage.

The most commonly self-funded ancillary benefits are dental and short-term disability, followed by vision. These benefits are relatively low risk: Chances are, your employees don’t typically use dental services much beyond bi-annual checkups and a filling here and there. Short-term disability is a popular benefit for employees needing maternity leave. However, if you plan accordingly, these claims won’t drastically affect the benefit spend.

Self-funding can save money and provide a greater level of transparency into how a benefits plan is performing. Here’s where you can save money: When insurance companies price products, they determine the premium by reviewing actuarial data, setting aside a portion to pay current claims, reserves to pay future claims, plus a profit. Why let the insurance company hold your reserves? By self-funding, employers hold that money.


Photo Source: Employee Benefit News

If you’re interested in trying self-funding for dental or short-term disability coverages, you’ll need some claims data to work with. When you self-fund a benefit such as dental care, an underwriter will review your claims history, taking into account the number of people covered under the plan, and determine what your expected claims will be based on past data and future trends. You’ll set a budget that includes your fee for plan administration, based and your expected claims. We don’t recommend self-funding the benefit the first year you offer it.

What to consider

When self-funding short term disability, depending on your comfort level, there are varying levels of help to administer the plan. Third-party administrators can handle the full range of managing a self-funded plan, such as adjudicating the claim, calculating the amount to pay and actually paying the claim. This takes some of the pressure off of plan sponsors who are completely new to self-funding, but, as with anything that conveys value, TPAs come at a cost. Therefore, you may choose to handle most of this responsibility yourself, including calculating the benefit and drawing the check. But before you make that decision, assess the availability and knowledge of your internal resources.

For both dental and short term disability, compliance is key. Depending on how your plan is structured, you may be responsible for complying with state and federal regulations that your carrier handled previously. When setting up your plan, it’s vital to ensure that you understand where responsibilities lie so you can remain compliant.

Risk should be your primary concern. Sure, this may seem obvious — for ancillary benefits such as dental and short-term disability, the risk is relatively low. Self-funding an insurance benefit means you should watch how the plan is performing more closely than you would if it were fully insured.

One example of potential savings

For companies who weigh the risk and begin self-funding dental, the savings can be very real. One company offered an employer paid dental plan to its 420 eligible employees. The plan averaged 394 enrolled members over 18 months. During that same 18-month period, the employer paid $567,474 in premiums. The insurance company paid $481,617 in dental claims, equaling a difference of $85,857. Even after adding a $4.50 per employee per month administration fee to the claims cost, the employer would have saved nearly $54,000, or 9.5% of the total cost.

Medical costs continue to rise steeply; self-funding some of your ancillary cove rages can give you greater insight into how your program is performing and help you save money.


Is It Time to Self-Fund Your Benefit Plans?

After reading the article included below, we couldn’t help but agree that the question every employer should be asking this year is…Should I self-fund my employee benefit plan?

As the article discusses, this is a great time of year for companies to review their status, evaluate changes that have been made and consider new items for their 2018 benefit to-do list. The article includes 8 questions benefits managers should be asking themselves this year. But, we’d like to help you address one key question – Is Self-Funding Right for You or Your Client?

Whether you’ve been asking this question for some time or you’re new to the concept of self-funding, we’d be happy to explain the flexibility and potential for savings that a self-insured plan can offer. Gain control over your group health plan, eliminate the high costs of insurance premiums and obtain access to monthly claim reports – all with help from Diversified Group!

8 benefit management items to evaluate in 2018

This article was published on January 24, 2018 on Employee Benefit News, written by Zack Pace


Even 20 years into the benefits business, I still can’t always immediately remember details about my clients’ benefits plan — a given employer’s standard measurement period, affordability safe harbor or health savings account trustee, for example. That’s why I track all of these details across 32 columns in a simple spreadsheet.

While I use this reference tool most every day, I find that January is a great month to go even further with the employers I work with, carefully reviewing each company, considering how the employer’s circumstances have changed, and proposing items of consideration for our mutual 2018 benefit to-do list.

Employers are wise to have a similar benefit to-do list when it comes to their 2018 planning process. Here are eight common questions that benefits managers may find wise to ask.

1. For calendar year 2018, is your organization a “large employer” subject to ACA employer shared responsibility? Meanwhile, is your organization a “large employer” per your state’s fully insured group health plan market?

Generally, employers that averaged 50 or more full-time employees + full-time equivalents in calendar year 2017 are subject to ACA shared responsibility for all of calendar year 2018. Importantly, penalty risks generally now begin accruing in January, not when the plan year begins (if the date differs).


However, confusingly, in most states, the threshold to be considered a large employer for group health insurance contracts is an average of 51 or more full-time employee + full-time equivalents in the previous calendar year. How do the rules work in your state?

Now’s the time to finalize your 2017 calculation and determine your 2018 status for both employer shared responsibility and your state’s group health insurance market. And, yes, I’ve seen several employers average exactly 50 and be deemed a large employer regarding ACA employer shared responsibility and a small employer in reference to their fully insured group health plan contract. Talk about bad luck.

2. Is it time to self-fund the group medical plan?

The financial headwinds faced by fully insured plans have never been greater. Fully insured premiums are laden with the roughly 4% ACA premium tax (aka the Health Insurer Annual Fee), state premium taxes, the cost of various state-mandated benefits, and often robust retention and pooling point charges.

Thus, employers sponsoring group fully insured health plans should consider if moving to a self-funded contract (including so-called level-funding contracts) could be advantageous. Given the varying state regulations, state stop-loss minimums, organizational risk tolerance, reserve requirements and other variables, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Especially good times to perform a comprehensive self-funding evaluation are when your company crosses over from small group to large group and/or when meaningful claims experience becomes available from your fully insured vendor.

3. Is it time to self-fund the dental and short-term disability plans?

For most employers of size sponsoring plans that are not 100% employee paid (aka not voluntary), the answer to this question is simply “yes.” Run the math and make your decision.

4. Does benefit eligibility for life and disability vary by class?

For start-up companies, it’s not uncommon to offer better group life and disability benefits to certain classes, including management and executives. However, as employers grow, the budgetary and cultural reasons for doing so can quickly diminish or go away. A quick litmus test is simply asking yourself if the continuing benefit discrimination still makes sense.

Regardless if these benefits vary by class, is your group life plan compliant with the Section 79 nondiscrimination rules? Double-check with your attorney, accountant and benefits consultant.

5. Who is the health savings account trustee (i.e., the bank)? Is it linked to the health insurer?

If your organization sponsors a qualified high-deductible health plan, you likely allow employees to contribute to an HSA pre-tax through your Section 125 plan. Is the bank you selected still the best fit? Is the bank tied to your fully insured group health vendor? If yes, if you change your group health vendor, are your employees allowed to maintain the HSAs with this trustee with no fee changes? Should you consider moving to a quality stand-alone HSA vendor?

6. Does your firm employ anyone in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Puerto Rico?

Most employers headquartered in these states (and territory) are acutely aware of the state disability requirements. However, given the advent of liberal telecommuting policies, it’s becoming more common for employers without physical locations in these states to employ individuals in these states. If you answered yes to this question, double-check your compliance with the state disability requirements. Your disability insurer or administrator can assist.

And, please note that, just this month (January 2018), New York became the latest state/jurisdiction to require paid family leave.

7. For firms offering retiree health plan benefits, are benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees and spouses self-funded?

While retiree health benefits have generally gone the way of the American chestnut tree, these benefits remain fairly common among certain sectors, such as higher education, government and certain nonprofits. Historically, most employers simply allowed Medicare-eligible retirees to remain on the employer’s active health plan, with the employer’s plan paying secondary to Medicare for Part A and Part B expenses and primary for prescription drug costs.

This arrangement was just fine when a really high annual prescription claim was $15,000. Now, $90,000 claims are not uncommon and $225,000 claims are possible. Does it still make sense to self-fund this retiree risk? In states where it is permissible, would it be prudent to transfer the risk by adopting a fully insured group Medicare Advantage plan or supplement program?

Regardless, all employers self-funding retiree health benefits should double-check that their individual stop-loss policy includes retirees.

And, regardless if retiree benefits are offered, all employers sponsoring self-funded health benefits should double-check that their individual stop-loss policy covers prescription drugs.

8. Is your firm required to file health and welfare Form 5550s? If so, who is handling the filings?

Generally, employers subject to ERISA that sponsor benefit plans that, at the beginning of the plan year, cover 100 or more participants, are required to file health and welfare 5500s and the related schedules. Some smaller employers must also file. Most multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) must file.

It’s very easy for health and welfare Form 5500 filing requirements to fall through the cracks. While U.S. Treasury’s penalties for non-filers are substantial, Treasury doesn’t keep track of who is required to file and thus doesn’t individually remind employers of this requirement. Further, this requirement doesn’t seem to be on the checklist of most auditors and accountants.

Employers should review all enrollment counts of all plans at the beginning of each year and consult with their accountant, attorney, and benefits consultant on the filing requirement and next steps.

I recommend avoiding the shortcut of saying “5500” in these discussions. Always say “the health and welfare 5500.” This practice will mitigate the risk that someone hears “5500” and thinks retirement plan 5500.


Congress Must Preserve CT Employers’ Right to Self-Insure

Self-Insurance in CT

This article appeared on HartfordBusiness.com on December 18, 2017 from Brooks Goodison, President of Diversified Group.

Connecticut health insurers recently announced their 2018 premiums. Employers won’t like them. Rates for some small business plans will rise more than 25 percent. That follows an average increase of 5 percent last year.

Many Connecticut firms are understandably looking for ways to avoid these premium hikes. Some are opting to “self-insure,” or pay their workers’ health claims directly instead of turning to traditional insurers for coverage.

Unfortunately, officials in some states want to effectively ban self-insurance. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would counteract those efforts. But it’s stalled in the Senate.

The upper chamber must stall no longer. Scores of Connecticut businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities — not to mention their workers — are counting on Congress to safeguard their self-insured health benefits.

When employers buy health plans from traditional insurers, they typically pay far more than their employees’ care actually costs. Their premiums cover insurers’ overhead, administrative costs and profits.

Insurers also have to protect themselves against a potential worst-case scenario, where multiple employees face huge medical bills. That pushes premiums even higher.

But if an employer has a good year, with low medical costs, his insurer doesn’t send him a rebate. That insurer keeps the excess, perhaps to cover another employer in its risk pool that wasn’t so lucky.

Self-insured organizations, by contrast, pay only for the care their employees consume. According to one study, employers can cut their health expenses by about 10 percent over the first five years following a switch to self-insurance.

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Self-Funding Keeps Growing

Self-FundingWith time running out on an opportunity for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment season approaching, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses are likely bracing for another round of premium increases. A growing number of employers, however, will choose to avoid the uncertainty plaguing traditional group insurance markets by moving to a self-funded health plan – an option that provides an opportunity for savings and far more plan design flexibility.

Healthcare benefits continue to be perhaps the biggest obstacle facing small and mid-sized businesses. The Self Insurance Institute of America reports that between 2011 and 2016, the average annual deductible for employer-sponsored plans increased by 49% and the percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees still providing health benefits fell from 68% in 2010 to 55% in 2016.

Self-funding on the other hand, has proven to be a far more responsible alternative for employers, enabling thousands to not only use their health benefit plan to attract and retain high quality employees, but to do so at an a affordable cost. While self-funding has long been a staple for the nation’s largest employers, nearly a third of companies with 200 or more employees now offer at least one self-funded option.


SPBA Releases Industry Update & 2018 Forecast for TPAs & Self-Funding

The article below was published on October 17, 2017 by PRWEB, written by Chevy Chase, MD.

The Society of Professional Benefit Administrators (SPBA) has released its State of the TPA Industry & Forecast for 2018. Developed annually for the last 37 years, this report shares current happenings in health benefits and self-funding along with projections for the future.

dgb-spba-blogIn preparing for the year ahead, the Society of Professional Benefit Administrators (SPBA) has released its State of the TPA Industry & Forecast for 2018.

Fred Hunt, SPBA’s active past president, has been writing this report annually for the past 37 years with the intent to shed light on what is happening with third party administrators (TPAs) and the self-funded industry.

As with years past, the 2018 Forecast shares a candid perspective on current issues affecting the health benefits landscape as well as projections for the future. In it, Hunt describes the state of the TPA industry as “very good” amid the uncertainty in health care regulation the U.S. is facing and the ever-changing compliance requirements.

Some of his main projections include:

  • TPA growth – TPAs are positioned for a growth expansion as employers will continue to move to self-funding for the ability to design and fully customize health plans that fit their specific work populations.
  • State-level health care – With solutions for health care being debated, there will be more interest in exploring a state-centric approach as the 2018 Congressional and 2020 Presidential elections draw closer. Education will become key as careful consideration must be taken to address the many complications that would arise for the large number of companies with multi-state operations and plan participants.
  • Increase in “well-being” services – Employees will be looking for more benefits that enhance their well-being – things like wellness solutions (whole health and niche), student loan assistance, pension management, work-schedule management, etc. They will also rely on employers for help in overseeing these solutions.

“Fred has become such a trusted source for these forecasts based on his many years of experience in the self-funded industry and the fact that he stays so well-connected to regulators, policymakers and TPAs,” explained Anne Lennan, SPBA president. “He has a unique vantage point as he sees what is happening with health benefits from so many different angles.”

In sharing the 2018 Forecast, SPBA also includes background on the history of self-funding, why these health plans have become so widely adopted among companies of all sizes and formats and how ERISA serves as the main source of regulation. It also provides definitions of TPAs, including comprehensive service, specialty, minimal, ASOs and TPAs-of-convenience.

“Year after year, these forecasts provide a helpful, insightful look at the big picture for TPAs and self-funding,” Lennan said. “SPBA is happy to make them available to the public.”


Legislators forsake $60M in savings by rejecting self-insurance

The article below was published on August 19, 2017 by Green Bay Press-Gazette, written by Mike Ferguson.

Wisconsin lawmakers are at an impasse over the state budget. Senate leaders can’t agree with their Assembly counterparts on how to fund road repairs, schools, and various agencies.

Resolving this dispute would be easier if lawmakers hadn’t rejected a reform of the state’s costly health insurance program. Switching state employees and their families to a “self-insured” plan could have freed up tens of millions of dollars.

Under such a plan, the state would have covered employees’ medical expenses directly, instead of paying a traditional health insurer and hoping premiums don’t increase. Cutting out the insurance company middleman could have saved millions and enabled Wisconsin to offer higher quality benefits to government workers. It’s a missed opportunity — one that lawmakers should reconsider next year.

The purpose of health insurance is to minimize financial risk. Individuals’ health spending can fluctuate from one year to the next. That’s why people pay premiums to insurers to protect themselves against costly, unpredictable events.

Organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees like the state of Wisconsin don’t experience such fluctuations. They have a steady mix of young and old workers, and healthy and sick ones, making expenses for the entire organization predictable.

The risk of a spike in expenses is virtually nonexistent. So it makes sense for employers like Wisconsin — which offers health coverage to 250,000 government workers and family members — to pay for care directly rather than fork over premiums to traditional insurers.

Budget analysts predicted that self-insuring would save Wisconsin at least $60 million over two years, according to the Wisconsin Group Insurance Board. Private research firm Segal Consulting found that switching to a self-insured plan would save the government $42 million annually.

Despite these projections, Wisconsin’s politicians rejected self-insurance. Instead, the state will continue buying traditional premiums from 17 local insurance carriers.

Some legislators worried that shifting state employees onto a self-insurance plan would deprive traditional insurers of business and force them to raise premiums on other large organizations.

That’s akin to arguing that taxpayers should continue wasting millions of dollars on inflated premiums to subsidize coverage for other large organizations.

Others argued that a switch to a self-insured plan is risky, given the uncertainty surrounding Congress’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But this uncertainty is actually an excellent reason to switch. Self-insured organizations don’t have to worry about premiums swinging wildly or facing a raft of new compliance burdens. Self-insurance is governed by a 40-year-old federal law that will be largely unaffected no matter what happens in Washington.

Instead of addressing the rising health care costs that drive up premiums, Wisconsin lawmakers have decided to shift those costs onto workers in the form of higher deductibles. They’re also raiding the state’s rainy day fund to help pay the coming year’s premiums. This isn’t a strategy for cutting costs.

Twenty-nine states already self-insure their employees’ coverage. Nineteen others self-insure at least some of their health plans. In fact, Wisconsin has been self-insuring its employees’ dental and pharmaceutical benefits for years with excellent results.

Private companies further prove the model’s effectiveness. Fifty-eight percent of all private sector employees are enrolled in self-funded plans. Businesses that self-insure save up to 12 percent on health expenses.

It’s unclear why state lawmakers left tens of millions of dollars on the table by rejecting self-insurance this budget session. But they’ll have the chance to correct their mistake during next year’s inevitable budget crunch.

For the sake of taxpayers and state employees, let’s hope they take it.


Stop Loss Legislation

stop-lossIn New York, industry efforts to support self-funding for smaller groups have led to legislation extending the grandfathering of existing stop-loss policies for groups of 51 to 100 for an additional year, through January 1, 2019.

Other legislation impacting access to stop-loss insurance products by smaller groups has taken effect in Minnesota and is slated to become effective in New Mexico on July 1st. Attachment points are still being discussed in New Mexico and it appears that new opportunities for smaller groups may emerge in Minnesota as well. Since our last newsletter, legislation prohibiting small group stop-loss failed to advance beyond committee debate in the State of Maine.