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Entities such as employers with group health plans that provide prescription drug coverage to individuals that are eligible for Medicare Part D have two major disclosure requirements that they must meet at least annually:

  • Provide annual written notice to all Medicare eligible individuals (employees, spouses, dependents, retirees, COBRA participants, etc.) who are covered under the prescription drug plan.
  • Disclose to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) whether the coverage is “creditable prescription drug coverage.”

Because there is often ambiguity regarding who in a covered population is Medicare eligible, it is best practice for employers to provide the notice to all plan participants.

CMS provides guidance for disclosure of creditable coverage for both individuals and employers.

Who Must Disclose?

These disclosure requirements apply regardless of whether the plan is large or small, is self-funded or fully insured, or whether the group health plan pays primary or secondary to Medicare. Entities that provide prescription drug coverage through a group health plan must provide the disclosures. Group health plans include:

  • Group health plans under ERISA, including health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), dental and vision plans, certain cancer policies, and employee assistance plans (EAPs) if they provide medical care
  • Group health plans sponsored for employees or retirees by a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA)
  • Qualified prescription drug plans

Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs), Archer medical savings accounts, and health savings accounts (HSAs) do not have disclosure requirements. In contrast, the high deductible health plan (HDHP) offered in conjunction with the HSA would have disclosure requirements.

There are no exceptions for church plans or government plans.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

There is no denying our industry is changing rapidly, and it’s not about to slow down. Combined with disruptive advances in technology and evolving consumer expectations, we’re seeing consumer-driven health care emerge. Take, for example, the fact that employees now spend more than nine hours a day on digital devices.

There’s no doubt that all this screen time takes a toll.

  • Device screens expose users to blue light. It’s the light of the day and helps us wake up and regulate our sleep/wake cycle.
  • Research suggests blue light may lead to eye strain and fatigue. Digital eye strain is the physical eye discomfort felt by many individuals after two or more hours in front of a digital screen.
  • In fact, digital eye strain has surpassed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis as the leading computer-related workplace injury in America1.

Employees are demanding visibility into health care costs and transparency in the options available so they can take control of their own health. Consumers are more knowledgeable and sensitive to cost, and as a result becoming very selective about their care.

 

Technology Exposure Spends more than nine hours
a day on digital devices
Millennials 2 in 5
Gen-Xers 1 in 3
Baby Boomers 1 in 4

 

Lack of preventive care

Preventive screenings are a crucial piece of overall health and wellness. In fact, the largest investment companies make to detect illnesses and manage medical costs is in their health plan. But if employees don’t take advantage of preventive care, this investment will not pay off. Only one out of 10 employees get the preventive screenings you’d expect during an annual medical visit2.

It’s a big lost opportunity for organizations that are looking for a low-cost, high-engagement option to drive employee wellness.

How a vision plan can help

The good news is that the right vision plan can help your employees build a bigger safety net to catch chronic conditions early. It all starts with education on the importance of an eye exam.

Eye exams are preventive screenings that most people seek out as a noninvasive, inexpensive way to check in on their health; it’s a win-win for employers and employees.

  • A comprehensive eye exam can reveal health conditions even if the person being examined doesn’t have symptoms.
  • The eyes are the only unobtrusive place in a person’s body with a clear view of their blood vessels.
  • And, an eye exam provides an opportunity to learn about the many options available to take control of their health and how to protect their vision.

By screening for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol during eye exams, optometrists are often the ones to detect early signs of these conditions and put the patient on a quicker path to managing the condition. In a study conducted in partnership with Human Capital Management Services (HCMS), VSP doctors were the first to detect signs of3:

  • Diabetes – 34 percent of the time
  • Hypertension – 39 percent of the time
  • High cholesterol – 62 percent of the time

To learn more about the changing landscape of employee benefits, watch the UBA WisdomWorkplace webinar How Telehealth and Technology is Changing the Landscape of Employee Benefits. VSP Global offers world-class products and services to eye care professionals, employers, and more than 80 million members.

By Pat McClelland
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), individuals are required to have health insurance while applicable large employers (ALEs) are required to offer health benefits to their full-time employees.

In order for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to verify that (1) individuals have the required minimum essential coverage, (2) individuals who request premium tax credits are entitled to them, and (3) ALEs are meeting their shared responsibility (play or pay) obligations, employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees and insurers will be required to report on the health coverage they offer. Similarly, insurers and employers with less than 50 full time employees but that have a self-funded plan also have reporting obligations. All of this reporting is done on IRS Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C.

Final instructions for both the 1094-B and 1095-B and the 1094-C and 1095-C were released in September 2015, as were the final forms for 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C.

Form 1094-C is used in combination with Form 1095-C to determine employer shared responsibility penalties. It is often referred to as the “transmittal form” or “cover sheet.” IRS Form 1095-C will primarily be used to meet the Section 6056 reporting requirement, which relates to the employer shared responsibility/play or pay requirement. Information from Form 1095-C will also be used in determining whether an individual is eligible for a premium tax credit.

Form 1094-C contains information about the ALE, and is how an employer identifies as being part of a controlled group. It also has a section labeled “Certifications of Eligibility” and instructs employers to “select all that apply” with four boxes that can be checked. The section is often referred to as the “Line 22” question or boxes. Many employers find this section confusing and are unsure what, if any, boxes they should select. The boxes are labeled:

  1. Qualifying Offer Method
  2. Reserved
  3. Section 4980H Transition Relief
  4. 98% Offer Method

Different real world situations will lead an employer to select any combination of boxes on Line 22, including leaving all four boxes blank. Practically speaking, only employers who met the requirements of using code 1A on the 1095-C, offered coverage to virtually all employees, or qualified for transition relief in 2015 and had a non-calendar year plan will check any of the boxes on Line 22. Notably, employers who do not use the federal poverty level safe harbor for affordability will never select Box A, and corresponding with that, will never use codes 1A or 1I on Line 14 of a 1095-C form.

To fully understand each box, including plain language explanations of the form instructions, request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “IRS Reporting Tip: Form 1094-C, Line 22”.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Our Firm is making a big push to provide compliance assessments for our clients and using them as a marketing tool with prospects. Since the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) began its Health Benefits Security Project in October 2012, there has been increased scrutiny. While none of our clients have been audited yet, we expect it is only a matter of time and we want to make sure they are prepared.

We knew most fully-insured groups did not have a Summary Plan Description (SPD) for their health and welfare plans, but we have been surprised by some of the other things that were missing. Here are the top five compliance surprises we found.

  1. COBRA Initial Notice. The initial notice is a core piece of compliance with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and we have been very surprised by how many clients are not distributing this notice. Our clients using a third-party administrator (TPA), or self-administering COBRA, are doing a good job of sending out the required letters after qualifying events. However, we have found that many clients are not distributing the required COBRA initial notice to new enrollees. The DOL has recently updated the COBRA model notices with expiration dates of December 31, 2019. We are trying to get our clients to update their notices and, if they haven’t consistently distributed the initial notice to all participants, to send it out to everyone now and document how it was sent and to whom.
  2. Prescription Drug Plan Reporting to CMS. To comply with the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, passed in 2003, employer groups offering prescription benefits to Medicare-eligible individuals need to take two actions each year. The first is an annual report on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website regarding whether the prescription drug plan offered by the group is creditable or non-creditable. The second is distributing a notice annually to Medicare-eligible plan members prior to the October 15 beginning of Medicare open enrollment, disclosing whether the prescription coverage is creditable or non-creditable. We have found that the vast majority (but not 100 percent) of our clients are complying with the second requirement by annually distributing notices to employees. Many clients are not complying with the first requirement and do not go to the CMS website annually to update their information. The annual notice on the CMS website must be made within:
  • 60 days after the beginning of the plan year,
  • 30 days after the termination of the prescription drug plan, or
  • 30 days after any change in the creditability status of the prescription drug plan.
  1. ACA Notice of Exchange Rights. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) required that, starting in September 2013, all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) distribute written notices to all employees regarding the state exchanges, eligibility for coverage through the employer, and whether the coverage was qualifying coverage. This notice was to be given to all employees at that time and to all new hires within 14 days of their date of hire. We have found many groups have not included this notice in the information they routinely give to new hires. The DOL has acknowledged that there are no penalties for not distributing the notice, but since it is so easy to comply, why take the chance in case of an audit?
  2. USERRA Notices. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects the job rights of individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave employment for military service or service in the National Disaster Medical System. USERRA also prohibits employers from discriminating against past and present members of the uniformed services. Employers are required to provide a notice of the rights, benefits and obligations under USERRA. Many employers meet the obligation by posting the DOL’s “Your Rights Under USERRA” poster, or including text in their employee handbook. However, even though USERRA has been around since 1994, we are finding many employers are not providing this information.
  3. Section 79. Internal Revenue Code Section 79 provides regulations for the taxation of employer-provided life insurance. This code has been around since 1964, and while there have been some changes, the basics have been in place for many years. Despite the length of time it has been in place, we have found a number of groups that are not calculating the imputed income. In essence, if an employer provides more than $50,000 in life insurance, then the employee should be paying tax on the excess coverage based on the IRS’s age rated table 2-2. With many employers outsourcing their payroll or using software programs for payroll, calculating the imputed income usually only takes a couple of mouse clicks. However, we have been surprised by how many employers are not complying with this part of the Internal Revenue Code, and are therefore putting their employees’ beneficiaries at risk.

There have been other surprises through this process, but these are a few of the more striking examples. The feedback we received from our compliance assessments has been overwhelmingly positive. Groups don’t always like to change their processes, but they do appreciate knowing what needs to be done.

Audit-proof your company with UBA’s latest white paper: Don’t Roll the Dice on Department of Labor Audits. This free resource offers valuable information about how to prepare for an audit, the best way to acclimate staff to the audit process, and the most important elements of complying with requests.

By Bob Bentley, Manager
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Last fall I had the pleasure of hosting a UBA WisdomWorkplace webinar called “Success in Voluntary through Strategic Benefits Communication.” I discussed recent Sun Life survey data regarding employee engagement and understanding of the value of voluntary benefits.

In the world of voluntary insurance carriers, success in voluntary benefits can be measured in various ways. A key metric is employee participation. For carriers, this is important because the greater the employee participation in a voluntary product, the better the spread of risk, which leads to appropriate margins and sustainable pricing.

But in the world of HR, this has not been a key metric. While good participation can reflect employee acceptance (and low participation might raise the question about whether the product is worth the time it takes to administer payroll deductions and facilitate billing), employee engagement has become more important.

This concept of knowing what you’re participating in makes me think about a good friend of mine who, a few years ago, reached out to me in a panic. He works for a large corporation with employees spread across the country. His employer was dropping all medical plan PPO options for the coming year and switching to a high- and higher-deductible option. He was sent an e-mail that provided few details but explained the action was due to high health care costs. There was no indication that more information was forthcoming, and the communication as a whole was insufficient because he couldn’t find answers to the questions he needed, the most important being, “what does this mean to me and my family?” I explained recent trends and how a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) could be advantageous to him, but as we all know, not everyone is knowledgeable about their benefits or has friends in the business to explain their options.

When employees aren’t engaged in good benefits decision making, they can misunderstand or underuse their plans. Our recent survey showed that while employees are becoming more aware of changes in their medical plans, 54 percent still don’t know their out-of-pocket maximum, and 33 percent don’t know their deductible.

Employees are, however, concerned about their financial risks, and most do not have emergency savings or a cash flow to handle unexpected medical expenses. Moreover, research from the Federal Reserve shows that some people actually choose to forgo needed medical care simply because they cannot afford it.1

While these data point out employee challenges, our research does provide some encouraging feedback that shows how we might be able to help employees become knowledgeable about their benefits choices.

For example, though employees understand the benefits gap, 62 percent of those surveyed say they need additional coverage. We also learned that 70 percent were not familiar with the term “voluntary benefits,” but once they understood what voluntary products are, 63 percent agreed that these benefits are helpful in filling the gaps in health care coverage, even if they have to pay for these benefits themselves.

The real kicker is that 87 percent say more customized benefits choices that fit their specific lifestyles would help them make the right health plan choices.

This is where strategic benefits communication can play a vital role. In addition to ensuring that employees really understand the value of all of their benefits, including true total compensation, a well-planned communication effort engages employees by empowering them with information so they are confident in their open enrollment decisions.

How will you know whether you have been a successful communicator? In subsequent posts, we will talk about gathering employee feedback.

Over the next few months, this blog series will examine the ways HR benefits professionals can achieve success—not just in offering voluntary products to employees, but more important, in their overall benefits communications.

By Kevin D. Seeker
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Last fall, President Barack Obama signed the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE), which preserved the historical definition of small employer to mean an employer that employs 1 to 50 employees. Prior to this newly signed legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was set to expand the definition of a small employer to include companies with 51 to 100 employees (mid-size segment) beginning January 1, 2016.

If not for PACE, the mid-size segment would have become subject to the ACA provisions that impact small employers. Included in these provisions is a mandate that requires coverage for essential health benefits (not to be confused with minimum essential coverage, which the ACA requires of applicable large employers) and a requirement that small group plans provide coverage levels that equate to specific actuarial values. The original intent of expanding the definition of small group plans was to lower premium costs and to increase mandated benefits to a larger portion of the population.

The lower cost theory was based on the premise that broadening the risk pool of covered individuals within the small group market would spread the costs over a larger population, thereby reducing premiums to all. However, after further scrutiny and comments, there was concern that the expanded definition would actually increase premium costs to the mid-size segment because they would now be subject to community rating insurance standards. This shift to small group plans might also encourage mid-size groups to leave the fully-insured market by self-insuring – a move that could actually negate the intended benefits of the expanded definition.

Another issue with the ACA’s expanded definition of small group plans was that it would have resulted in a double standard for the mid-size segment. Not only would they be subject to the small group coverage requirements, but they would also be subject to the large employer mandate because they would meet the ACA’s definition of an applicable large employer.

Note: Although this bill preserves the traditional definition of a small employer, it does allow states to expand the definition to include organizations with 51 to 100 employees, if so desired.

By Vicki Randall
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

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

On December 13, 2016, former President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The Cures Act has numerous components, but employers should be aware of the impact the Act will have on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, as well as provisions that will impact how small employers can use health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). There will also be new guidance for permitted uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). We review the implications with HRAs below; for a discussion of all the implications, view UBA’s Compliance Advisor, “21st Century Cares Act”.

The Cures Act provides a method for certain small employers to reimburse individual health coverage premiums up to a dollar limit through HRAs called “Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements” (QSE HRAs). This provision will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

Previously, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-17 addressing employer payment or reimbursement of individual premiums in light of the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). For many years, employers had been permitted to reimburse premiums paid for individual coverage on a tax-favored basis, and many smaller employers adopted this type of an arrangement instead of sponsoring a group health plan. However, these “employer payment plans” are often unable to meet all of the ACA requirements that took effect in 2014, and in a series of Notices and frequently asked questions (FAQs) the IRS made it clear that an employer may not either directly pay premiums for individual policies or reimburse employees for individual premiums on either an after-tax or pre-tax basis. This was the case whether payment or reimbursement is done through an HRA, a Section 125 plan, a Section 105 plan, or another mechanism.

The Cures Act now allows employers with less than 50 full-time employees (under ACA counting methods) who do not offer group health plans to use QSE HRAs that are fully employer funded to reimburse employees for the purchase of individual health care, so long as the reimbursement does not exceed $4,950 annually for single coverage, and $10,000 annually for family coverage. The amount is prorated by month for individuals who are not covered by the arrangement for the entire year. Practically speaking, the monthly limit for single coverage reimbursement is $412, and the monthly limit for family coverage reimbursement is $833. The limits will be updated annually.

Impact on Subsidy Eligibility. For any month an individual is covered by a QSE HRA/individual policy arrangement, their subsidy eligibility would be reduced by the dollar amount provided for the month through the QSE HRA if the QSE HRA provides “unaffordable” coverage under ACA standards. If the QSE HRA provides affordable coverage, individuals would lose subsidy eligibility entirely. Caution should be taken to fully education employees on this impact.

COBRA and ERISA Implications. QSE HRAs are not subject to COBRA or ERISA.

Annual Notice Requirement. The new QSE HRA benefit has an annual notice requirement for employers who wish to implement it. Written notice must be provided to eligible employees no later than 90 days prior to the beginning of the benefit year that contains the following:

  • The dollar figure the individual is eligible to receive through the QSE HRA
  • A statement that the eligible employee should provide information about the QSE HRA to the Marketplace or Exchange if they have applied for an advance premium tax credit
  • A statement that employees who are not covered by minimum essential coverage (MEC) for any month may be subject to penalty

Recordkeeping, IRS Reporting. Because QSE HRAs can only provide reimbursement for documented healthcare expense, employers with QSE HRAs should have a method in place to obtain and retain receipts or confirmation for the premiums that are paid with the account. Employers sponsoring QSE HRAs would be subject to ACA related reporting with Form 1095-B as the sponsor of MEC. Money provided through a QSE HRA must be reported on an employee’s W-2 under the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored coverage. It is unclear if the existing safe harbor on reporting the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored coverage for employers with fewer than 250 W-2s would apply, as arguably many of the small employers eligible to offer QSE HRAs would have fewer than 250 W-2s.

Individual Premium Reimbursement, Generally. Outside of the exception for small employers using QSE HRAs for reimbursement of individual premiums, all of the prior prohibitions from IRS Notice 2015-17 remain. There is no method for an employer with 50 or more full time employees to reimburse individual premiums, or for small employers with a group health plan to reimburse individual premiums. There is no mechanism for employers of any size to allow employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase individual premiums. Reimbursing individual premiums in a non-compliant manner will subject an employer to a penalty of $100 a day per individual they provide reimbursement to, with the potential for other penalties based on the mechanism of the non-compliant reimbursement.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Employer-sponsored health insurance is greatly affected by geographic region, industry, and employer size. While some cost trends have been fairly consistent since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was put in place, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) finds several surprises in their 2016 Health Plan Survey.

Based on responses from more than 11,000 employers, UBA announces the top five best and worst states for group health care costs.

Check out this video and contact us to go over the UBA Health Plan Survey.

 

 

 

 

Determining how an employer develops the most effective formulary, while protecting the financial stability of the plan, is certainly the challenge of this decade. Prescription management used to mean monitoring that the right people are taking medications to control their disease while creating strategies to move them from brand name to generic medications. With the dawn of specialty medications, formulary management has become a game of maximizing the pass-through of rebates, creating the best prior authorization strategies and tiering of benefits to create some barrier to more expensive medications, all without becoming too disruptive. As benefits managers know, that is a difficult challenge. The latest UBA Health Plan Survey revealed that 53.6 percent of plans offer four tiers or more, a 21.5 percent increase from last year and nearly a 55.5 percent increase in just two years. Thus, making “tiering” a top strategy to control drug costs. There are many additional opportunities to improve and help control the pharmacy investment, but focusing on the key components of formulary management and working on solutions that decrease the demands for medications are critical to successful plan management.

When developing a formulary, Brenda Motheral, RPh, MBA, Ph.D., CEO of Archimedes, suggests that chasing rebates is not a strategy to optimize your investment. Some of the highest rebates may be from medications that add no better therapeutic value than an inexpensive medication that does not offer a rebate, but net cost is much lower than the brand or specialty medication being offered. Best formulary management will mean that specific medications that do not offer a significant therapeutic value are removed from the formulary, or are covered at a “referenced price” so the member pays the cost difference. Formulary management will need to focus on where the drug is filled and which medications are available.

When setting up parameters on where a drug is to be filled, the decision needs to be made if a plan will promote mail order. Mail order, if used and monitored appropriately, makes it more convenient for a patient to receive their regularly used medications and may provide savings. In fact, the UBA Health Plan Survey finds that more than one-third (36.3 percent) of prescription drug plans provide a 90-day supply at a cost of two times retail copays. But if mail order programs are not monitored, people can continue to receive medications that are no longer required and never used, adding to medical spend waste. Furthermore, in our analysis, we are finding that not all medications are less expensive through mail order, as shown in Figure 1 below. Therefore, examining the cost differential is critical in a decision to promote, or not promote, mail order.

Figure 1

Drug Name Rx Category Mail Order Retail
Zytiga® Malignancies $8,749 $6,027
Sumatriptan Succinate Migrane / Neurologic $575 $308
Ranexa® Cardiovascular $259 $413

 

Another formulary consideration is in monitoring the increase in same drug pricing. The stories surrounding the price increases of EpiPens® has been well-documented, but how well do you understand the impact of price increases on your plan? Monitoring price increases, as shown in Figure 2, may help an employer turn to their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) to ask for help in controlling these price increases, or help in decisions related to formulary inclusion.

Figure 2

Drug Name Rx Category Plan Paid per
30-day Supply
(SPLY)
Plan Paid per
30-day Supply
Cialis® Genito-Urinary / Acute Minor $287 $442
AndroGel® Endocrine / Chronic Meidcal $471 $523
Viagra® Genito-Urinary / Acute Minor $615 $978

 

Formulary management solutions can become a cat-and-mouse game. The ultimate approach to manage the total spending on medications is by managing the growing demand. There has been significant press related to the opioid overutilization in the U.S., as illustrated in the article “Prescription Addiction.” But that issue is much broader in our society and relates to taking a pill as a quick solution to solve our medical problems. In March 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated that 30 percent of the growth in spending related to medications was due to an increase in prescriptions per person. Certainly, medications should be used when there are no alternatives to control disease or pain. However, turning to medications as a first option for chronic condition control for issues like hypertension, blood sugar control, cholesterol control versus improving diet and exercise, etc., is just a band-aid solution that, in most cases, does not resolve the root issue. Yet, because this is sold as a quick fix, we see an increase in the number of individuals on medications. In 2012, 34 percent of plan members engaged in Vital Incite were taking four or more (active ingredients) medications, and that has grown to more than 45 percent in 2016. The data also illustrates that in 2012 more than 42 percent of members were not on any medications, but that group size has shrunk to only 27 percent. No formulary can impact this issue.

Active Ingredient Use, All Clients, All Members 21 Years and Older

This increased use could be considered an improvement in care if their disease were more controlled. Appropriate and medically-impactful utilization would mean that a person is working toward improving diet and exercise and is taking the least expensive, yet effective, medication to control his or her disease.

Considering that diabetes medication options have really expanded, an employer would hope that the more expensive medication is providing the best control of disease. But, taking the medication alone will not control the disease and, at times, the progression of the medication cost can be related to progression of the disease due to a lack of disease management. For instance, a diabetic may have progressed from taking metphormin (marketed under the tradename Glucophage® among others), which costs approximately $27 per month, to metphormin ER (Glucophage® XR), which allows a person to take only one pill a day, so it may provide increased compliance, but costs $274 per month. Now, the option of taking Glumetza® is offered, which can be reimbursed at up to $3,620 per month, and is said to provide more stable results. But, if we examine the A1c control values from Vital Incite, do we find the reduction in A1c values as evidence that this additional investment in medication options is providing better control? Figure 3 provides an example of A1c control by prescription status. The goal would be that those on medications will become controlled. But, in our data, we are not seeing a significant improvement in persons with HgA1c levels above 7 percent. Control is achieved from diet, exercise, and appropriate medications. There are theories that people on these more expensive medications are using that as an approach to help them maintain their unhealthy behaviors. Therefore, taking medications alone does not appear to provide an effective solution and, in fact, providing chronic condition medications for free, without requiring any other effort, may not be the best investment for an employer.

Figure 3

HgA1c Level In Treatment Untreated Discontinued
Treatment
Possibly
Untreated
< 5.7 6 1 2 3
5.7 to 6.4 21 2 1 11
6.5 to 7.0 17 7
> 7.0 53 4 5

 

In conclusion, determining which issues are having the most impact on an employer group will allow benefits managers to determine the company’s priorities. This is not an easy task, but with pharmacy spend increasing at a national average of 7.3 percent annually and becoming a higher percentage of the overall medical spend, new strategies need to be considered. Focusing on the key components that balance formulary management with the correct approach to manage the demand on medications can influence total pharmacy spend.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com