All posts tagged health care costs

Cafeteria plans, or plans governed by IRS Code Section 125, allow employers to help employees pay for expenses such as health insurance with pre-tax dollars. Employees are given a choice between a taxable benefit (cash) and two or more specified pre-tax qualified benefits, for example, health insurance. Employees are given the opportunity to select the benefits they want, just like an individual standing in the cafeteria line at lunch.

Only certain benefits can be offered through a cafeteria plan:

  • Coverage under an accident or health plan (which can include traditional health insurance, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), self-insured medical reimbursement plans, dental, vision, and more);
  • Dependent care assistance benefits or DCAPs
  • Group term life insurance
  • Paid time off, which allows employees the opportunity to buy or sell paid time off days
  • 401(k) contributions
  • Adoption assistance benefits
  • Health savings accounts or HSAs under IRS Code Section 223

Some employers want to offer other benefits through a cafeteria plan, but this is prohibited. Benefits that you cannot offer through a cafeteria plan include scholarships, group term life insurance for non-employees, transportation and other fringe benefits, long-term care, and health reimbursement arrangements (unless very specific rules are met by providing one in conjunction with a high deductible health plan). Benefits that defer compensation are also prohibited under cafeteria plan rules.

Cafeteria plans as a whole are not subject to ERISA, but all or some of the underlying benefits or components under the plan can be. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has also affected aspects of cafeteria plan administration.

Employees are allowed to choose the benefits they want by making elections. Only the employee can make elections, but they can make choices that cover other individuals such as spouses or dependents. Employees must be considered eligible by the plan to make elections. Elections, with an exception for new hires, must be prospective. Cafeteria plan selections are considered irrevocable and cannot be changed during the plan year, unless a permitted change in status occurs. There is an exception for mandatory two-year elections relating to dental or vision plans that meet certain requirements.

Plans may allow participants to change elections based on the following changes in status:

  • Change in marital status
  • Change in the number of dependents
  • Change in employment status
  • A dependent satisfying or ceasing to satisfy dependent eligibility requirements
  • Change in residence
  • Commencement or termination of adoption proceedings

Plans may also allow participants to change elections based on the following changes that are not a change in status but nonetheless can trigger an election change:

  • Significant cost changes
  • Significant curtailment (or reduction) of coverage
  • Addition or improvement of benefit package option
  • Change in coverage of spouse or dependent under another employer plan
  • Loss of certain other health coverage (such as government provided coverage, such as Medicaid)
  • Changes in 401(k) contributions (employees are free to change their 401(k) contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the administrator’s change process)
  • HIPAA special enrollment rights (contains requirements for HIPAA subject plans)
  • COBRA qualifying event
  • Judgment, decrees, or orders
  • Entitlement to Medicare or Medicaid
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave
  • Pre-tax health savings account (HSA) contributions (employees are free to change their HSA contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the their payroll/accounting department process)
  • Reduction of hours (new under the ACA)
  • Exchange/Marketplace enrollment (new under the ACA)

Together, the change in status events and other recognized changes are considered “permitted election change events.”

Common changes that do not constitute a permitted election change event are: a provider leaving a network (unless, based on very narrow circumstances, it resulted in a significant reduction of coverage), a legal separation (unless the separation leads to a loss of eligibility under the plan), commencement of a domestic partner relationship, or a change in financial condition.

There are some events not in the regulations that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections in order to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, an individual might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children, or an employer might withhold $100 dollars per pay period for a flexible spending arrangement (FSA) when the individual elected to withhold $50.

Plans are permitted to make automatic payroll election increases or decreases for insignificant amounts in the middle of the plan year, so long as automatic election language is in the plan documents. An “insignificant” amount is considered one percent or less.

Plans should consider which change in status events to allow, how to track change in status requests, and the time limit to impose on employees who wish to make an election.

Cafeteria plans are not required to allow employees to change their elections, but plans that do allow changes must follow IRS requirements. These requirements include consistency, plan document allowance, documentation, and timing of the election change. For complete details on each of these requirements—as well as numerous examples of change in status events, including scenarios involving employees or their spouses or dependents entering into domestic partnerships, ending periods of incarceration, losing or gaining TRICARE coverage, and cost changes to an employer health plan—request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Cafeteria Plans: Qualifying Events and Changing Employee Elections”.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

One of President Donald Trump’s first actions in office was to make good on a campaign promise to move quickly to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He issued Executive Order 13765, Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal. The one-page executive order (EO) is effective immediately and very light on details, with the goal to minimize the financial and regulatory burdens of the ACA while its repeal is pending. The EO directs the Executive Branch agency heads (those in the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury) in charge of enforcing the ACA to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”

While Congress works on the ACA repeal through budget reconciliation, which allows for quick consideration of tax, spending, and debt limit legislation, President Trump is tackling the regulatory enforcement actions of the law. The practical impact of the EO is limited to agency enforcement discretion and requires agencies to implement the EO in a manner consistent with current law, including assuring that any required changes to applicable regulations will follow all administrative requirements for notice and comment periods.

The bottom line is that until the agency heads in Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury are confirmed and take charge of their departments, there will probably be little change in agency enforcement action right away. The broader changes to amend or repeal the ACA will take even more time to implement.

What Employers and Plan Sponsors Should Know Now

While the EO does not specifically refer to the ACA compliance burdens on employers or plan sponsors, such as the employer or individual mandates, required health benefits coverage, reporting or employee notification requirements, the language addresses the actions that the federal agencies can take to soften enforcement until the repeal is accomplished. It does direct the government to address the taxes and penalties associated with the ACA. So what does that mean for employers and plan sponsors now?

IRS employer reporting delay? Not yet. The top concern of employers is whether or not those subject to the shared responsibility provisions of the law would need to submit their 1094/1095 reports of coverage to the IRS by February 28 (or March 31, if filing electronically) and provide their employees with individual 1095-C statements by March 2. These reports are essential for the IRS to assess penalties under the law, and this reporting has been a burden for employers. Unfortunately for employers, the order did not mention delaying or eliminating this reporting requirement.

What employers should do now:

  • Applicable large employers (ALEs) subject to the employer mandate should plan to comply with their 1094/1095 reporting obligations this year.
  • All employers should continue to comply with all current ACA requirements until there is further guidance from the lawmakers.

We’ve Got You Covered

We’ll be monitoring President Trump’s actions to reduce regulatory burdens on American businesses along with Congressional legislative actions that can impact your business operations. Look for ThinkHR’s practical updates where we’ll analyze these developments and break them down into actionable information you need to comply with the changing laws and regulations.

By Laura Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Many employee benefit limits are automatically adjusted each year for inflation (this is often referred to as an “indexed” limit). UBA offers a quick reference chart showing the 2017 cost of living adjustments for health and Section 125 plans, qualified plans, Social Security/Medicare withholding, compensation amounts and more. This at-a-glance resource is a valuable desk tool for employers and HR practitioners.

Here’s a snapshot of a section of the 2017 health plan limits; be sure to request the complete chart from a UBA Partner.

2017 health plan limits

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has brought about many changes to the health insurance industry. As we are now in the sixth year of implementation of the Act, we are seeing more changes coming just around the corner.

Generally speaking, most health plans can be classified into two categories: HMO and PPO. With an HMO plan, you choose your physician group where you will seek services, and you choose a primary care physician that you will see for all of your needs, who will refer you to a specialist or other service facility, if needed. The HMO model is designed to be as cost-effective as possible, only providing services when the physician deems it necessary, or solely for the benefit of the patient.

Due to the ACA, with an HMO plan, a woman is no longer required to get a referral from her primary care physician to an OB-GYN, and a parent is not required to get a referral to a pediatrician for his or her children even though neither are classified as primary care physicians.

In contrast, a PPO plan has more flexibility for the patient. With a PPO plan you are encouraged to see physicians and providers that are participating in your plan’s network, but are not required to do so. You can, in fact, see any doctor or provider that you wish, when you wish to see them, and without a referral from your primary care physician.

However, times they are a-changin’. Beginning January 1, 2017, Covered California, California’s state insurance exchange, will require both HMO and PPO enrollees to specify their primary care physician during the enrollment process. If one is not selected, the plan will select one for the plan participant. A plan participant is allowed to change their primary care physician at any time. Right now, this is only being implemented for individual plan subscribers.

It is expected that this change will be implemented for group PPO plan subscribers in 2018.

Beginning in 2012, the ACA implemented the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee. This is a charge of $1 to $2 per enrollee, per year in a plan. If the plan is fully insured, the fee is paid to the government directly by the insurance carrier. If the plan is self-funded it is paid by the plan sponsor using IRS Form 720 and is due by July 31 for the previous plan year.

The purpose of the PCORI is to help analyze the overall costs of health care and identify trends to find ways to best reduce the overall cost of health care.

HMOs like Kaiser Permanente have fully integrated information systems that allow them to track each patient electronically so that they can see everything about the patient in one place. By tracking each patient, notes from the nurses and physicians, treatments, and medications, they can track costs and trends easily by mining the data from the system.

Most PPO plans do not track this data, in part because patients in the past have not had to choose a primary care physician or provider group. When they can see whomever they choose, it makes tracking of this data very difficult across multiple providers. In addition, participants in a small group, fully-insured plan are pooled with other small groups where claim data is not shared with the plan sponsor, and there is no need to track it closely as the information at the patient level is not relevant to the actuaries that calculate plan costs and premiums.

However, that is going to change. In order to study the overall cost of medical care, identify trends, and discover ways to curb inflating costs, data is needed, and selecting a primary care physician for plan participants is the first step.

Cigna, which provides both HMO and PPO plans, has implemented a Collaborative Care Program with more than 120 physician groups in 29 states, including provider group Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in the San Francisco Bay area. By tracking client claims data and patient outreach programs to help patients to remember to take their medications as prescribed and continue with follow up treatments, PAMF has been able to reduce its inflation trend by 5 percent compared to other providers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The goal is to duplicate and build on the success that Cigna has already shown through its program and control and reduce the cost of health care.

So when you or your employees are applying for health insurance, make sure that primary care physician information is handy, because it is going to be needed.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

UBA’s Special Report – Trends in Prescription Drug Benefits explores our Health Plan Survey findings in more detail, particularly examining what’s happening with prescription drug plan design among different group sizes, regions and industries. When it comes to copay amounts, median retail prescription drug copays are $10/$30 for two-tier plans, $10/$35/$55 for three-tier plans, and $10/$35/$60/$100 for four-tier plans. These amounts have remained largely flat from 2014.

Generic drugs in the lowest tier generally cost less than $10, so employees are paying all or most of the generic cost with the tier 1 copay. This makes it difficult to raise that amount, especially if employers are concerned about medication adherence. But in four-tier models, the tier 3 copay increased 20%. Since this tier covers non-formulary brands, copay increases may continue as drug costs in this category soar.

Median Prescription Retail Copays by Plan Design            © 2016 United Benefit Advisors. All rights reserved.

While median copays in four-tier plans see no fluctuation among region, size or industry, three-tier plans show some creative cost management among some groups. For example, the largest employers (1,000+ employees) and Northeastern groups are pushing up the tier 3 copay above average. With employers flocking to 4+ tier plans, copay hikes in three-tier models may become more common for those hesitant to expand drug tiers.

As five-tier plans emerge, the median copays are $10/$10/$40/$70/$100. This will be an important baseline to watch now that the UBA Health Plan Survey will start to break this out separately. In predictable fashion, small groups tend to set copays higher than average, while the large groups are below average. Regionally, the West is experimenting with driving the fifth tier copay significantly higher than average ($150) while keeping the other copays at or below average. The Central U.S. is pushing most copays in five-tier plans higher than average.

Originally published by United Benefit Advisors – Read More

The Latest UBA Survey data shows employers are flocking to two strategies to control rising prescription drug costs: moving to blended copay/coinsurance models vs. copay only, and adding tiers to the prescription drug plans. Almost half (48.9%) of prescription drug plans utilize three tiers (generic, formulary brand, and non-formulary brand), 4.3% retain a two-tier plan, and 44.1% offer four tiers or more. The number of employers offering drug plans with four tiers or more increased 34% from 2014 to 2015. The fourth tier (and additional tiers) pays for biotech drugs, which are the most expensive. By segmenting these drugs into another category with significantly higher copays, employers are able to pass along a little more of the cost of these drugs to employees. Over the last two years, the number of plans with four or more tiers grew 58.1%, making this a rapidly growing strategy to control costs.

Employers with 1 to 99 employees have been driving the trend to adopt prescription drug plans with four or more tiers. In three years, plans with four or more tiers increased approximately 60% among these groups, making this the top cost-containment strategy for small employers, who make up the backbone of America.

Even the largest employers (1,000+ employees), 81% of which historically have offered plans with two or three tiers, have seen a 12.9% decrease in these plans as they, too, migrate to plans with four or more tiers (albeit more slowly).

The construction, mining and retail industries have also been steadily leading the migration to plans with four or more tiers over the last three years, and in the latest UBA survey, 47.5%, 53.2% and 46.3% of their respective plans fall in this category. But this year, the utilities industry has made a more sudden switch, with 58.3% of those plans now consisting of four or more tiers, leapfrogging its perennial tier-climbing peers. This is a significant jump, considering nearly 20% of plans in the utilities industry were still two-tier plans just three years ago—far more two-tier plans than any other industry group at that time. However, this wasn’t a total surprise since, in the 2014 survey year, the industry had an above-average amount of three-tier plans (65.9% vs. an average of 57.1%).

The education and manufacturing industries are more reluctant to shift to plans with four or more tiers. Over the last three years those industries have maintained the highest amounts of three-tier plans, and in the latest survey, 52.8% of their plans remain at three tiers.

Two-tier plans are becoming nearly as rare as single-tier plans, shrinking 45% to 4.3% of all prescription plans in three years. Agriculture has the most holdouts, with 14.8% of plans still comprised of one or two tiers.

Regionally, the East Central U.S. has been leading the migration to plans with four or more tiers for the last three years, followed by North Central and Southeast employers. In the 2015 survey year, Southeast employers eclipsed East Central employers with 60.7% of their plans with four or more tiers.

Strangely enough, East Central and Southeast employers have the lowest percentage of three-tier plans (34.3% and 34.1%, respectively) but the highest percentage of single-tier plans (4.7% and 4.2%, respectively). Other Western employers (excluding California) also have below-average three-tier plans (40.6%), above-average four-tier plans (49.1%) and above-average (10.2%) one- to two-tier plans.

Groups increasing tiers most aggressively for cost savings

California employers have the most two-tier plans (22.9% vs. the average of 4.3%) which, although still off the charts, represents a 20% decline from the previous survey year.

Mid-Atlantic and New England employers have had the most three-tier plans for the last three years, making them the top resisters of plans with four or more tiers over time.

Groups resisting 4+ tier plans

For more information on prescription drug trends, including the companies making an early leap to five-tier plans, download UBA’s free (no form!) publication: Special Report: Trends in Prescription Drug Benefits.

Originally published by UBABenefits.com

 

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in full swing, private insurance exchanges are picking up steam among midsize employers (those with 50 or more employees) that desire to offer a competitive benefits package and “a new way to buy insurance.” However, the solutions available to employers in this underserved mid-market are limited to a suite of insurance products and a single enrollment system, and many employers are seeking a broader scope of options to fit their individual needs. 

A recent study by Accenture indicates that by 2018, private exchange enrollments will exceed public exchange enrollments. According to Mathew Augustine, CEO of Hanna Global Solutions, the power behind the United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Benefits Passport® private exchange solution, “this trend will be accentuated by solutions that go beyond an insurance exchange and enrollment system by offering more services that can also be unbundled. In addition to insurance, employers want access to advisory services, eligibility management, accounting and auditing, and employee support packaged comprehensively as a single, seamless, elegant, solution – yet they want the flexibility to choose a la carte solutions.” 

This comprehensive solution now offers a great new way, especially for medium sized businesses, to offer their employees a ‘big company experience’ with their employee benefit program. With UBA Benefits Passport, employers get a complete benefits program management solution, and not just a suite of insurance products bundled into an enrollment system. UBA Benefits Passport also offers employers a choice of insurance carriers. If an employer prefers a carrier that is not one of the national insurance carriers currently offered through the UBA Benefits Passport network, it has the capacity to add a carrier of choice in order to better serve that employer. 

UBA Benefits Passport has realized strong momentum in a very short period of time and added 30 new employer groups in the last six months alone. Richard Kosinski, Partner with Brio Benefit Consulting, Inc., a UBA Partner Firm in New York City, said, “my client was not only extremely satisfied, but ‘thrilled’ with what UBA’s Benefits Passport technology is capable of doing and the level of professionalism UBA’s Benefits Passport team showed during the implementation process. In fact, the advanced technology was one of the primary reasons why the employer selected UBA’s Benefits Passport.” 

This is also a new way for employers to ease into cost-effective HR outsourcing, which was previously too expensive for mid-market employers to consider. Because pricing is different for various combinations of services, employers should seek the help of a trusted UBA Partner advisor to develop a cost-effective, custom solution to support their overall benefits and HR staffing strategy,” said Mathew Augustine. 

According to UBA’s Senior V.P. of Partner Relations, Paul Zumbrook, “Benefits Passport is a perfect answer for the mid-market employer who wants to continue to offer group benefits, and believes it is a critical component of their employment value proposition. We are seeing a huge increase in interest and adoption of this benefits management program because of its flexibility, and we expect this to continue well into 2015 and beyond.” 

Learn more about how UBA Benefits Passport can provide simple solutions for you and your employees.

About United Benefit Advisors
United Benefit Advisors is the nation’s leading independent employee benefits advisory organization with more than 200 offices throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.  As trusted and knowledgeable advisors, UBA Partners collaborate with more than 2,000 fellow professionals to deliver expertise, thought leadership and best-in-class solutions that positively impact employers and make a real difference in the lives of their employees and families.  Employers, advisors and industry-related organizations interested in obtaining powerful results from the shared wisdom of our Partners should visit UBA online at www.UBAbenefits.com.

 

Financial fears have many workers planning to delay retirement

Categories: Team K Blog
Comments Off on Financial fears have many workers planning to delay retirement
Although U.S. workers on a whole are more satisfied with their current financial situation than in years past, most (58%) remain concerned about financial stability in retirement and say they plan to continue working until age 70 or later, a new Towers Watson survey shows. Read more