Paid Sick Leave Bug Spreading

paid-sickAs if businesses in Illinois don’t have enough concerns, the General Assembly has introduced bills mandating a minimum of five (5) paid sick days per year for Illinois workers. Employees would be able to use the time to care for themselves or a family member, attend a medical appointment for themselves or a family member, miss work due to a public health emergency or because they or a family member has experienced domestic violence abuse. The bills were presented for a second reading earlier this spring, with no resolution to date.

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Why employers should be thinking TPA

The article below was published on September 5, 2017 by Employee Benefit News, written by Arthur Jonokuchi.

When it comes to healthcare plan administration, ASOs (administrative services only) say they offer a big discount to self-funded plans. If you look closer, however, you’ll see that they actually do come with a cost, both monetarily and in terms of lack of flexibility.

ASO’s omnipresence would make you think they are the only game in town. The reality, however, is that a combination of a third party administrator, along with robust internal plan administration, can do everything and more than an ASO does.

Here are five benefits of working with a TPA.

Unbundling drives down rates. When you unbundle plans, you invite competition for medical, prescription, dental, vision, wellness, disease management and stop-loss plans, and plan administration. Employers can choose premium providers with the services at the best rates.

This is a very powerful advantage not only for your current plan choices, but also for future rate increases. Competition helps reduce future rate increases by improving your company’s negotiation leverage. The big insurance carriers would like you to think that bundling saves money, but that’s often a lot of smoke and mirrors. Yes, some of the plan will be competitively priced, but other parts may be excessively high; there is no transparency. Transparency encourages competitive pricing.

Claims analysis catches errors and excessive billing. We’ve all heard about the $100 Tylenol tablet that appears on hospital bills. A strong TPA will perform comprehensive claims analysis. It will catch billing errors and line items that are excessive, egregious and unnecessarily expensive and go back to the provider before paying. The Tylenol tablet can be just the tip of the iceberg; some of these charges can be tens of thousands of dollars more than they should be.

Claims adjudication. ASOs often pay claims without performing due diligence; this is referred to as auto-adjudication. When ASOs occasionally go back and audit payments to doctors and hospitals, they keep a portion of the recovered amount. So they first overpay, then they keep some of the overpayment. But employers end up paying. As impartial third parties, TPAs will review large bills for accuracy. It is part of their service to contest bills that appear out of line and save the employer money, which could add up to six figures or more.

Cost containment through data analysis. For all the money that you pay an ASO, you would think that you get to own your own data. But think again. Information is power and, despite ERISA regulations, ASOs are not into sharing. In contrast, with a TPA, the employer owns the plan and member-level claims data.

When you own your data, your company can measure claims activity, such as top diagnoses and high claimants, evaluate preventative care and routine exam usage, make more informed decisions about plan strategy, develop better financial models and forecasts, and compare your company’s activity to industry and regional benchmarks.

Increased plan flexibility. ASOs limit clients to their own carrier’s plans. Large carriers can and often do curtail offerings to pre-defined plan options. What makes it easier for them doesn’t necessarily make it right for your company. With a TPA, you get to pick the best providers with the services that are right for your company and employees.

A strong TPA can make all the difference in how your self-funded healthcare benefit program is managed. It will make the difference in employee satisfaction, cost savings and quality service.

Don’t be misled by what appears to be bundled discounts. Dig deeper and you will see that savings is a relative term. Once you take apart the pieces and competitively price each service plan, you see that the parts add up to a lot less than what you are being charged for. TPAs offer savings and flexibility, transparency and objectivity. Isn’t that what you want for your company and employees?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Compliance Issues Keep Coming

ComplianceAll the talk about repeal and replace seems to have lulled many plan sponsors into a false sense of security, thinking that ACA regulations weren’t going to be enforced. Unfortunately, the IRS is preparing to begin penalizing non-compliant plans, which is why we continue to encourage our clients to keep their eye on the ball even though it is easier to follow the media frenzy coming from Capitol Hill.

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More Smaller Companies Are Self-Insuring Health Benefits

The article below was published on August 7, 2017 by Bloomberg BNA, written by Sara Hansard.

Small and midsized companies are increasingly providing their own health coverage for employees instead of buying fully insured plans since Obamacare was enacted in 2010.

As the Affordable Care Act drives up premiums because of more requirements and taxes, self-insurance has become a more attractive option because it is often less expensive than purchasing fully insured plans, people with knowledge of health insurance markets say. But some policy analysts argue the companies that are self-insuring generally have healthy employees and that leaving the fully insured risk pool results in higher costs for fully insured companies with older, less healthy employees.

Workers in Self-Insured Plans Rising
Percent of Private-Sector Enrollees in Self-Insured Plan

Photo source: BNA

Between 2013 and 2015, as a result of an increase in self-insured plans among small and midsized employers, the percentage of covered workers enrolled in self-insured plans increased from 58.2 percent to 60 percent, according to data from about 40,000 employers interviewed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and compiled by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Under self-insurance, expenses are paid directly by companies as they are incurred. Under fully insured policies, employers pay premiums to insurance companies that take the risk of covering employees. Sponsors of self-insured plans often purchase stop-loss policies that reimburse for catastrophic claims and/or aggregate claim totals that exceed pre-determined limits. Most large companies use self-insurance administered by insurers or third-party administrators.

The largest increases in self-insured coverage occurred in establishments with 100-999 employees, rising 21 percent from 33.6 percent of employees in 2013 to 40.5 percent in 2015, and among establishments with 25-99 employees, where the practice increased from 13.2 percent to 15.2 percent, a 15 percent increase.

For the midsized companies, “That is a sizable jump,” Paul Fronstin, director of health research and education at the Washington-based EBRI, told Bloomberg BNA. “You don’t see that kind of change too often.”

More Small Companies Capable

Data for 2016, which EBRI plans to publish shortly, show that self-insurance among small companies has continued to rise to 17 percent, Fronstin said. Many health-care policy observers predicted that increased regulations under the ACA would drive more small employers to self-insure, Fronstin said. “This is confirming the anecdotes.”

Self-insured plans generally have to follow the same regulations that govern fully insured plans under the ACA, Fronstin said. But “the ACA piled on. A lot of things added up,” such as covering part-time employees who work 30 hours a week and having to cover dependent children up to the age of 26, he said.

Healthier Risk Pool

Employers have found they can counteract some of the increased cost by self-insuring, “especially if you have a decent risk pool” of healthier employees, Fronstin said.

Mercer Health & Benefits LLC, which provides health-care consulting and brokerage services, has also found increases in the use of self-funding among the employers it surveys annually, principal James Bernstein told Bloomberg BNA. Bernstein is based in Mercer’s Cincinnati office.

The largest movement Mercer found was among midsized companies with 500 to 1,000 employees. Fifty-one percent of those companies self-insured in 2014, while 66 percent did so in 2016, Bernstein said. There are geographical differences as well, he said. Employers in the Midwest led the pack with about 74 percent self-insuring, while fewer employers in the Northeast and West Coast self-insured because health maintenance organizations such as Kaiser Permanente are more prevalent there, he said.

Self-insurance is gaining more traction among midsized companies because they can take advantages of discount programs with pharmacy benefit managers, national stop-loss carriers, and health management programs, Bernstein said. Those programs aren’t generally available to smaller companies, he said.

Companies Using Self-Insurance

Over the past five years that Hardwood Products Co. has been self-insured, health-care spending has decreased by about $900,000 even as the number of employees increased by 50 to about 470, Chief Financial Officer Scott Wellman told Bloomberg BNA. The company, based in Guilford, Maine, manufactures tongue depressors and other medical and nonmedical woodenware.

“The biggest reason we self-insure is the cost savings,” Wellman said. “It’s a misnomer to say you’re fully insured versus self-insured because you pay the claims anyway. I’d rather pay my claims as they happen, not a year after the fact.”

About 90 percent of Hardwood Products’ employees are in high-deductible plans with companion health savings accounts. For the past three years, premiums have stayed the same and deductibles have been lowered, Wellman said. “Our costs have stayed steady so we’ve given back to the employees.”

More Ability to Cut Costs

One of the main reasons employers self-insure is it gives them more power to lower medical expenses. Hardwood Products has about 30 diabetics, and the company partners with Tufts Health Plan in Boston on disease management practices, Wellman said. Costs for treating those patients average under $1,800 annually, far below national average costs between $4,500-$5,000 for claims, he said. “And they’re getting better care,” he said.

Hardwood Products has a stop-loss policy with Pareto Captive Services LLC to cover annual claims above $80,000. The average employee size of the 400 companies served by Pareto is about 120 employees, Andrew Cavenagh, founder and managing director of the Philadelphia-based company, told Bloomberg BNA.

The smallest employer covered by Pareto is 50 employees, Pareto said. The company, which started in 2011, has been growing at a rate of 30 percent to 40 percent per year, and the average stop-loss threshold level is $35,000 a year, he said. Pareto has contracts with employers that cover a total of about 50,000 employees,

Over the past year premium increases for long-term members “were effectively zero,” Cavenagh said. Typical stop-loss policies only cover excess claims for one year. Pareto’s stop-loss policies provide more protection from multiyear claims that exceed the threshold by pooling assets from its members, he said.

Service Uniform, a Denver-based company that rents work uniforms, decided to self-insure in 2014 as a result of the ACA, corporate general manager Dennis Tschida told Bloomberg BNA. “It scared us to death because there’s a lot of unknowns,” such as ensuring that plans met the law’s requirements for affordability and taking action to prevent being subject to the Cadillac tax on high-cost plans, he said. The Cadillac tax has been delayed until 2020.

Service Uniform, which has about 180 employees, still has to meet ACA requirements, but being self-insured “gives us a heck of a lot more control over everything,” Tschida said. “We can design the plans for the needs of the people.”

The company was able to modify its plan to provide employees better access to physical therapy treatments; improve the design of its pharmaceutical plan; and add telemedicine and concierge medicine services, Tschida said. The company, which had experienced 15 percent to 18 percent premium increases in prior years, was able to save about $200,000 in the first two years, he said.

AEgis Technologies Group Inc., a Huntsville, Ala.-based defense contractor, has had modest health-care cost increases from $8,355 in 2013 to $9,657 in 2016 after it began self-insuring, an increase of about 16 percent, Chief Financial Officer Rodney Kreps told Bloomberg BNA. During this period, he said, fully insured rates have climbed at annual rates of 15 percent to 20 percent. The company has about 325 employees.

AEgis also uses high-deductible plans coupled with health savings accounts, which the company helps fund. That gives employees incentives to be cost-conscious, and some employees have been able to build up HSA accounts to $1 million, which can be carried over from year to year, Kreps said.

“Every time the world has made a major shift to get costs under control it’s because you put decision power back in the hands of the consumer,” Kreps said. “That’s what self-insurance does.”

Stop-Loss Plans Offered to Healthy Groups

But some health-care policy analysts argue there is a downside to the trend of self-insurance. More insurers are offering self-funding and stop-loss plans to attract healthy employer groups, according to a study recently published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Self-insurance plans are “marketed almost exclusively to healthy groups, groups that have very, very good claims experience,” Sabrina Corlette, a research professor with Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms and an author of the study, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Once they self-fund they are no longer part of the risk pool for the ACA fully insured market,” Corlette said. “If you have a critical mass of healthy employers leaving the market, that can lead to premium hikes in the traditional, fully insured market,” she said. “You can have ever-increasing premiums for the employers that can’t qualify for the self-funded plans because they can’t pass underwriting.” In the past some states have acted to limit the use of stop-loss policy sales to small groups, Corlette said. But more recently, states such as New Mexico, Vermont and Minnesota have made it easier to sell stop-loss policies to small groups, she said. “Insurers and brokers are encouraging them to do that,” she said of the states moving in that direction.

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