Isn’t Everyone Entitled to Know the Cost of Care?

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The President’s Executive Order Demands Healthcare Cost Transparency

We have long chronicled the huge price swings that often exist among healthcare providers in the same locales. To combat this situation and help patients find low cost, high-quality care, the President recently signed an executive order directing HHS to develop rules requiring hospitals to publish clear and understandable pricing that reflects what people will actually pay for tests, surgeries and other procedures. HHS also wants the rules to ensure that providers and insurers give patients information about their potential out-of-pocket costs before receiving care.

While lobbyists argue that this requirement will only drive prices higher, the administration sees enabling patients to know how much hospitals charge as a relatively simple idea – one that will promote greater competition for health services and reduce costs for consumers.

When the Administration required hospitals to post prices online earlier this year, the step had little impact. Data included billing codes that few people could decipher and list prices which few people ever pay. While the rules for this order must be developed, it is intended to require that hospitals disclose what patients and insurers actually pay in a format that patients can understand.

We’re certain that the rules will not be written overnight and not without loads of input. But if an executive order can lead to an environment where patients can understand what costs lie ahead and how to find more affordable, high-quality options, then let’s give it a shot.

Tell Us How You Feel!

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Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

On June 25, 2019, Governor Ned Lamont signed into law Connecticut’s Paid Family and Medical Leave law. Below are some highlights from the new law:

Connecticut Paid Family and Medical Leave Law
Key Dates June 25, 2019 – CT Governor signs legislation into law;
January 1, 2021 – Employee payroll tax begins;
January 1, 2022 – Benefits become available and final regulations are due;
July 1, 2022 – Annual notice of benefits to all new employees required.
Governing Body New state agency, the Paid Family Leave Insurance Authority.
Covered Employers Employers with at least one employee working in the state. The law exempts municipalities, local or regional boards of education, and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. Municipal union employees can bargain to be covered under the state program. If the union bargains and is granted inclusion, non-union employees for that municipality will automatically be included.
Eligible Employees An employee who has earned at least $2,325 in a base period (ex:  first four of the five most recently completed calendar quarters) and have been employed at least 3 months preceding the leave request. Available to full-time, part-time and former employees (if they apply within 12 weeks of losing their job).
Leaves Covered Family leave to bond with a newborn or adopted child. Medical leave to care for a family member with a serious illness (family member’s include spouse, child, parent, parent-in-law, stepparent, others who are equivalent to a family member, grandchild, grandparent or sibling).  Medical leave is also available for the employee’s own serious illness. Paid leave is also available to serve as an organ or bone marrow donor.

Intermittent leave will also be allowed except in the case of bonding with a newborn or adoption.

Length of Leave Up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave during a 12 month period, with another two weeks available for a serious health condition related to pregnancy.
Benefit Amount 95% of base weekly earnings up to 60 times the minimum wage rate (maximum weekly amount will be approximately $780 per week in 2022 up to $900 per week in 2023).
Payroll Contribution Beginning January 1, 2021, a new payroll tax up to .5 percent of the employee’s wages will be deducted to fund the program. Wages are capped at the Social Security wage base ($132,900 in 2019).
Concurrent Benefits If an employee is receiving worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation and another other state or federal wage replacement, they will not be eligible for benefits under the CT Paid Family and Medical Leave.
Private Employer Plans Connecticut employers can opt out of the state program if they have an employer sponsored private plan that provides the same or more generous benefit. Private plans must be approved by a majority of covered employees.

The above is a brief overview of the law as it stands today and is subject to change. Final regulations are due by January 1, 2022 which is the same date that benefits are first payable. The regulations should clarify issues surrounding implementation, coordination with CT’s unpaid FMLA leave and provide sample model notices. Diversified Group will keep you informed of any developments.

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Flying to Centers of Excellence

hospital hall

CNBC recently featured a story about Walmart and their history of not only suggesting that employees visit Centers of Excellence for surgeries and second opinions but flying them all expenses paid. The case study revealed that between 2015 and 2018, more than half of their employees suffering from spine pain were able to avoid surgery by seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.

Shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates, fewer episodes of postsurgical care and a faster return to work were other benefits gained when results were compared to patients who chose other hospitals for treatment. Walmart reported that even though they spent more per surgery at Mayo Clinic than what other hospitals were charging, they saved money because of better outcomes and surgeries that were avoided.

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MA Paid Family and Medical Leave – Delay of Payroll Tax Deduction

Compliance

The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave law (effective in 2021) requires employers to start making financial contributions to support the paid leave program starting on July 1, 2019. The law allows employers to deduct a part of the required contribution from each employee’s wages (along with an employer contribution*) to fund the program. The initial contributions are set at 0.63% of each employee’s wages.

On June 12th, the Governor, Charlie Baker, announced a three-month delay to the start of the payroll tax which would have begun July 1st. The delay is to help clarify the provisions of the program and to give employers adequate time to adjust and implement the program. The goal is to have the new tax in place by the fall. This delay comes in part due to the May 20th request from Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and various labor groups requesting the delay, as well as fixes to the policy that better align the law with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

*Employers with fewer than 25 employees do not have to pay the employer share of the cost. 

Diversified Group will stay up-to-date on this issue and pass along any further developments.

More Value-Based Payments

According to a public-private partnership launched by HHS, the percentage of U.S. healthcare payments tied to value-based care rose to 34% in 2017, a 23% increase since 2015. Fee-for-service Medicare data and data from 61 health plans and 3 fee-for-service Medicaid states with spending tied to shared savings, shared risk, population-based payments and bundled payments were examined in the analysis.

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Proposals on Many Wish Lists

self-fundingNow that the makeup of the new Congress has been decided, many employers are hoping Washington can work together to address a few of their important concerns. High on many lists, especially those belonging to large employers, would be doing away with the Cadillac Tax on high-cost health plans once and for all. While implementation has been delayed until the 2022 tax year, the law will require insurers and large employers to pay a 40% excise tax on the costs that exceed $11,100 for employee-only coverage and $29,750 for family coverage.

Other items that employers have been talking about for a long time include making HSAs considerably more user friendly and easing ACA reporting requirements to allow employee statements to be provided electronically rather than by mail.

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What Good Is Information If People Can’t Use It?

medical expenses

CMS Administrator Seema Verma calls the new rule a small step. We couldn’t agree more!

According to recent reports, what was touted as a giant step for healthcare cost transparency has turned out to be little more than a puzzle few can solve. The rule, which took effect on January 1, 2019, requires that hospitals post their prices online in a machine-readable format for consumers to download. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into retail-priced, coded components that are meaningless to the general consumer.

A law professor describes chargemasters as huge spreadsheets containing complex codes that only a billing expert could interpret. Determining the cost of a visit to the ER, for example, would require knowing the codes and locating the costs for all parts involved in the visit. Really? If the goal is to help people understand what medical services really cost, shouldn’t hospitals display prices they accept from health plans, or at least a typical range from low to high?

The Goal Is to Help Who?
HHS is currently seeking public comment on whether or not patients should have the right to see discounted or negotiated prices before choosing a provider. While most providers and payers and their respective associations cite antitrust violations and other concerns, it seems that providing healthcare consumers with price information in an easy-to-understand format could be a BIG step towards lowering costs for health plans and plan members. Isn’t that what healthcare cost transparency is supposed to do?

Tell Us How You Feel!

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